Table of Contents
When making my 25 Years of Games mega-project I needed a good source that had genres for thousands of games. After looking around a bit I decided MobyGames was as good as I was going to find, despite some issues I had with it. It kept nagging at me though, was there really nothing better out there than MobyGames’ 10 (at the time) genre system? The idea that we can fit all the varied video games out there into a handful of nice genres that communicate meaningful and useful information continued to intrigue me.
In the years since I have found myself poking around other sites, checking out how they handle genres. I have also started and abandoned a few projects where I compare how a handful of games are categorized by genre amongst several sources. I wasn’t sure what exactly this was going to be when I started it, and it has become much larger than I ever envisioned it could be.
For this project I have scoured how a large number of sources handle video game genres. Video game databases, review outlets, academic papers, digital stores, video game award shows, I wanted to sample everything I could. Not just what genres they use, but also basic information about the source for context, which inclusions and exclusions stand out, how the information is presented, other genre-adjacent information, and my thoughts on their genre system. I will mostly be discussing the shortcomings and oddities of each approach, fully recognizing that there is no perfect way to sort games that accurately and fully describes them and that many of these sources are not setting out to do so. Please don’t take any of my criticisms as mean-spirited, I’m sure genres are not the top priority for any of these sources. It’s just not useful or interesting to comment on the basic things they all get right, after all.
All genre names will be capitalized, even lists straight from the source, so it will always be clear when I am talking about a genre versus a concept, like sports. When I use the phrase “video game” I am including computer, mobile, and other electronic games. I will be using Spore (2008) as an example when possible because it is a difficult game to categorize, with several different types of gameplay.
Wikis and Game Databases
Wikipedia has several ways of breaking video games down into genres and is difficult to get a handle on. As it is being edited by thousands of people around the world with constantly changing ideas it is also in constant flux, making small adjustments constantly, and there is no definitive source of video game genres to draw from. There is no exact way to know how many games have pages on Wikipedia, but I have seen estimates between 27,600 and 39,000.
List of Video Game Genres
The list of video game genres has 12 genres, subdivided into 76 subgenres and is not very consistent with the rest of Wikipedia, but is very inclusive of small genres. The full list of genres:
- 1 Action
- 1.1 Platform games
- 1.2 Shooter games
- 1.3 Fighting games
- 1.4 Beat ’em up games
- 1.5 Stealth game
- 1.6 Survival games
- 1.7 Rhythm games
- 1.8 Battle Royale games
- 2 Action-Adventure
- 2.1 Survival Horror
- 2.2 Metroidvania
- 3 Adventure
- 3.1 Text Adventures
- 3.2 Graphic Adventures
- 3.3 Visual Novels
- 3.4 Interactive Movie
- 3.5 Real-Time 3D Adventures
- 4 Puzzle
- 4.1 Breakout Clone game
- 4.2 Logical game
- 4.2.1 Physics game
- 4.2.2 Coding game
- 4.3 Trial-and-Error / Exploration
- 4.4 Hidden Object game
- 4.5 Reveal the Picture game
- 4.6 Tile-Matching game
- 4.7 Traditional Puzzle game
- 4.8 Puzzle-Platform game
- 5 Role-Playing
- 5.1 Action RPG
- 5.2 MMORPG
- 5.3 Roguelikes
- 5.4 Tactical RPG
- 5.5 Sandbox RPG
- 5.6 First-Person Party-Based RPG
- 5.7 JRPG
- 5.8 Monster Tamer
- 6 Simulation
- 6.1 Construction and Management Simulation
- 6.2 Life Simulation
- 6.3 Vehicle Simulation
- 7 Strategy
- 7.1 4X game
- 7.2 Artillery game
- 7.3 Auto Battler (Auto chess)
- 7.4 Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
- 7.5 Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
- 7.6 Real-Time Tactics (RTT)
- 7.7 Tower Defense
- 7.8 Turn-Based Strategy (TBS)
- 7.9 Turn-Based Tactics (TBT)
- 7.10 Wargame
- 7.11 Grand Strategy Wargame
- 8 Sports
- 8.1 Racing
- 8.2 Sports game
- 8.3 Competitive
- 8.4 Sports-Based Fighting
- 9 MMO
- 10 Other Notable Genres
- 10.1 Board Game or Card Game
- 10.2 Casino game
- 10.3 Casual games
- 10.4 Digital Collectible Card game
- 10.5 Gacha game
- 10.6 Horror game
- 10.7 Idle game
- 10.8 Logic game
- 10.9 Party game
- 10.10 Photography game
- 10.11 Programming game
- 10.12 Social deduction game
- 10.13 Trivia game
- 10.14 Typing game
- 11 Video Game Genres by Purpose
- 11.1 Advergame
- 11.2 Art game
- 11.3 Casual game
- 11.4 Christian game
- 11.5 Educational game
- 11.6 Esports
- 11.7 Exergame
- 11.8 Personalized game
- 11.9 Serious game
- 12 Sandbox / Open World games
- 12.1 Sandbox
- 12.2 Creative
- 12.3 Open World
Unlike many of the other sources we’ll be looking at it does not shy away from relatively new genres or ones that seem to have sprouted from fan discussions, such as Metroidvania, Monster Tamer, Roguelike, or Auto Battler. In fact, Auto Battler/Auto Chess is likely the newest video game genre, the page for it was made in 2020. Wikipedia is also the only resource I found that uses it as a genre.
MMO seems like a strange choice for a top level genre, as all massively multiplayer games are also some other genre, but has been made in a way that many people can it play online. MMORPG also exists under Role-Playing.
The Other Notable Genres is a kludgy way to fit miscellaneous things together, and many would fit under Strategy, Simulation, or Action.
Video Game Genres by Purpose contains subgenres relating to why people play games for reasons other than pure entertainment, such as Educational, Esports, and Advergame. This is a valid way to categorize games, but does it belong on this list? Genre to me is first and foremost a way to describe gameplay. There are many ways to categorize games, they don’t all have to be genres.
Interestingly, there are separate top level genres for Action, Adventure, and Action-Adventure. The Adventure genre has been used for a long time, but the definition is one of the more variable. Here on Wikipedia it is defined as games that don’t rely on reflexes or action. Myst is the given example but it seems to me like chess would technically fit this particular definition as well. Action-Adventure has the subgenres Metroidvania and Survival Horror and is defined as combing action and adventure elements and often utilizing puzzles, exploration, and tools. This definition can cover a huge number of games.
Five years ago the list looked a bit different. MMO was under Other Notable Genres, the Puzzle genre does not exist, but Idle Games does. There is a “Cultural differences” section under Role-Playing explaining the difference between Japanese and Western made RPGs, but the current list has JRPG as a distinct subgenre. Whether JRPGs are an actual subgenre has been a contentious issue on this list for years.
There is also a video game subsection on the general list of genres that seems to be updated less often and has its own thing going on. In short it only includes 6 genres, “Action” and “Adventure and Action-Adventure” exist under the top level Action genre, Puzzle is put under “Other”, there’s no Sports or Racing, and overall seems neglected.
Template: Video Game Genre
There is also a template of video game genres, used on the bottom of individual genre pages. While it has some similarities to the list of genres, it is essentially a completely different way to divide up genres. There are 11 top level genres, including an “Other”, and a related concepts section which has some things that are called genres in other places on Wikipedia. There are even some third level genres in parenthesis, which I have instead rendered with additional indentation:
- Beat ’em Up
- Hack and Slash
- Pac-Man Clone
- Endless Runner
- Light Gun
- Shoot ’em Up
- Battle Royale
- Beat ’em Up
- Grand Theft Auto Clone
- Immersive Sim
- Graphic Adventure
- Escape the Room
- Interactive Fiction
- Interactive Film
- Visual Novel
- Survival Horror
- Action Role-Playing
- Dungeon Crawl
- Tactial Role-Playing
- Action Role-Playing
- Construction and Management
- Theme Park
- Falling Sand
- Life Simulation
- Dating Sim
- Virtual Pet
- Social Simulation
- Construction and Management
- Auto Battler
- Multiplayer online battle arena
- Real-Time Strategy
- Time Management
- Real-Time Tactics
- Tower Defense
- Turn-Based Strategy
- Turn-Based Tactics
- Grand Strategy Wargame
- American Football
- Association Football
- Australian Rules Football
- Professional Wrestling
- Ice Hockey
- Kart Racing
- Sim Racing
- Rugby Union
- Vehicle Simulation
- Flight Simulator
- Lunar Lander
- Driving Simulator
- Submarine Simulator
- Train Simulator
- Vehicular Combat
- Flight Simulator
- Other Genres
- Roguelike Deck-Building
- Digital Tabletop
- Digital Collectible Card
- Hidden Object
- Alternate Reality
- Related Concepts
- AAA Game
- Arcade Game
- Art Game
- Audio Game
- Casual Game
- Christian Game
- Crossover Game
- Educational Game
- Indie Game
- Multiplayer Video Game
- Nonlinear Gameplay
- Open World
- Sandbox Game
- Nonviolent Video Game
- Online Game
- Browser Game
- Online Gambling
- Social-Network Game
- Pervasive Game
- Serious Game
- Twitch Gameplay
- Virtual Reality Game
- Video Game Clone
- Cooperative Video Game
With over 100 genres this genre breakdown feels a bit like people remembering games that don’t exactly fit anywhere else and making them a genre. Sand Falling? Lunar Lander? MMORTS? It raises an interesting point about how exhaustive a full list of video game genres should be. Even if there have technically been a dozen games over several decades that could be lumped together, does it make sense to do so? And what makes a game important enough to call similar games “clones”?
Almost all of these do actually have Wikipedia pages with examples listed, no matter how obscure. The more obscure genre concepts are rarely ever mentioned on the individual game pages they supposedly apply to. For example, Super Metroid is described as Action-Adventure in its infobox, despite being one of the foundational examples of Metroidvanias. It does have the Metroidvania category, though.
Puzzle being relegated to Other seems very odd to me. It sure has more subgenres than Horror, which is more of a theme anyway.
Even though Amateur Flight Simulators are distinct enough from regular Flight Simulators to be their own genre, Japanese Role-Playing Games are apparently not distinct enough.
While Wikipedia’s list of genres is a noble attempt at creating a comprehensive guide it is not reflective of how Wikipedia actually categorizes individual game pages. Category: Video game genres contains the 103 pages (while there are 105 pages in this category, two are not pages about a specific genre) categorized as being pages about a video game genre. Several genres that are not on the list of genres are notable enough to have their own Wikipedia page such as Masocore, Roguelike Deck-Building Game, Soulslike, and Kart Racing. On the other hand, some genres from the list do not have their own page, such as Text Adventure and Breakout Clone Game.
Full list of genres with Wikipedia pages that are categorized as such:
4X, Action game, Action Role-Playing game, Action-Adventure game, Adventure game, Alternate Reality game, Arena Shooter, Art game, Artillery game, Auto Battler, Battle Royale game, Beat ’em Up, Bishōjo game, Browser game, Business Simulation game, Casual game, Christian video game, City-Building game, Collectible Card game, Combat Flight Simulation game, Computer Wargame, Construction and Management Simulation, Dating Sim, Digital Tabletop game, Dungeon Crawl, Endless Runner, Eroge, Escape the Room, Falling-Sand game, Fighting game, First-Person Shooter, Girls’ video games, God game, Government Simulation game, Grand Strategy Wargame, Grand Theft Auto Clone, Hack and Slash, Hero Shooter, Horror game, Hyper-Casual game, Immersive Sim, Incremental game, Interactive Film, Kaizo, Kart Racing game, Life Simulation game, Light Gun Shooter, Masocore, Massively Multiplayer Online First-Person Shooter game, Massively Multiplayer Online game, Massively Multiplayer Online Real-Time Strategy game, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing game, Metroidvania, MUD, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, Multiverse (video games), Music video game, Non-Game, Nonviolent video game, Olympics in video games, Otome game, Photography game, Platform Fighter, Platform game, Programming game, Psychological Drama, Psychological Horror, Hidden Object game, Puzzle video game, Racing game, Real-Time Strategy, Real-Time Tactics, Rhythm game, Roguelike, Roguelike Deck-Building game, Role-Playing video game, Sandbox game, Shoot ’em Up, Shooter game, Sim Racing, Simulation video game, Social Network game, Social Simulation game, Soulslike, Space Flight Simulation game, Sports video game, Stealth game, Strategy video game, Survival game, Survival horror, Tactical Role-Playing game, Tactical Shooter, Third-Person Shooter, Time Management game, Tower Defense, Turn-Based Strategy, Turn-Based Tactics, Typing game, Vehicle Simulation game, List of vehicular combat games, Vertically Scrolling video game, Virtual Pet, Visual Novel
There is not just a category for video game genre pages, but also a category for genres applied to individual game pages, which is all a bit of a confusing mess. Category: Video Games by Genre is a “container category” with 48 top level genres, with many having more nested within. For example, the Health Video Games category contains the Fitness Games category, which contains the Four-Panel Dance Video Games category, which contains the Dance Dance Revolution Video Games category.
How it works is Wikipedia pages for games have infoboxes with a genre field. Any genres entered there are added as categories. There are also other genre categories added manually. These categories are usually subcategories of a larger category. While infoboxes on Wikipedia’s game pages usually link to pages that are categorized as game genres, this is not always the case. Dreams has the “Game creation system” genre, the page of which is contained within the Video game engines and Video game development software categories. You can see all of the categories at the bottom of any page on Wikipedia.
The full list of top level categories of genres:
Action video games, Action-Adventure games, Adventure games, Art games, Battle Royale games, Beat ’em Ups, Black Comedy video games, Cinematic Platform games, Construction and Management Simulation games, Digital Tabletop games, Dress-Up video games, Educational video games, Eroge, Fighting games, Hack and Slash games, Health video games, Horror video games, Immersive Sims, Incremental games, Interactive Movie video games, Metroidvania games, Music video games, Mystery video games, Neo-Noir video games, Non-Games, Nonviolent video games, Open-World video games, Party video games, Pinball video games, Platform games, Psychological Horror games, Puzzle video games, Puzzle-Platform games, Quiz video games, Racing video games, Roguelike video games, Role-Playing video games, Shooter video games, Simulation video games, Social Deduction video games, Soulslike video games, Sports video games, Stealth video games, Strategy video games, Survival video games, Tactical Role-Playing video games, Typing video games, Video Games Based on Musicians
While many of the top level categories here correspond to widely recognized, broad genres, others just don’t fit within anything else, like Neo-Noir Video Games, Video Games Based on Musicians, or Black Comedy Video Games.
The page for the video game infobox template, which describes how to fill out the genre field, states that the genre listed in the infobox should include genres as used by the developer or publisher, or how reliable sources classify it. It specifically states it should not include “broad gameplay mechanics that are frequently confused with genres, such as open world”, which is inconsistent with Wikipedia’s own list of genres, Wikipedia’s video game genre template, and Wikipedia’s video game categories, which all have an Open World or Sandbox listing.
Spore is classified as a God Game, Life Simulation, and Real-Time Strategy in its infobox, and these genres all have their own pages. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see that it also has categories that could be considered genres such as Biological Simulation Video Games and Science Fiction Video Games (I don’t think Science Fiction really qualifies as a genre, but others disagree).
There is also a category for video game themes, which has some potential overlap with genre, such as the Kaiju and Professional Wrestling themes.
MobyGames has been in operation for over 23 years and aims to be a comprehensive database of video game information. It has either 147,000 or 307,000 games, depending on if you count multiplatform releases as one game or not. Keep in mind I was not able to determine which way any other database in this study counts their games.
Anyone can propose an edit to a page on MobyGames, but proposed edits have to be accepted by someone in the “approver” group. In some ways it is like Wikipedia, but with much fewer people doing a lot of work in a very specific, and often opaque, way. I have used MobyGames for genre information for several projects, as I found it to be more comprehensive and consistent than other sites, even if I wished some things were done differently.
MobyGame’s 14 genres currently are:
Action, Adventure, Compilation, DLC / Add-on, Educational, Gambling, Idle, Puzzle, Racing / Driving, Role-Playing (RPG), Simulation, Special Edition, Sports, Strategy
DLC / Add-on and Special Edition seem to be more bookkeeping than proper genres, as these have separate entries from the games they are relevant to, and every page requires the genre field to be filled. So 12 genres might be more accurate.
Spore has the Action, Role-Playing (RPG), Simulation, and Strategy genres, and the gameplay field has Life / Social Simulation.
MobyGames has been very cautious with adding new genres, Internet Archive’s earliest snapshot of the MobyGame’s genre page from 2003 has 8 genres:
Created in 1995, GameFAQs hosts guides, message boards, questions and answers, reviews, and other game information for over 200,000 games.
GameFAQs uses 10 top-level genres (also called “category” in some places on the site) and 1 to 3 further levels of subgenres:
Action » Arcade
Action » Beat-‘Em-Up
Action » Beat-‘Em-Up » 2D
Action » Beat-‘Em-Up » 3D
Action » Fighting
Action » Fighting » 2D
Action » Fighting » 3D
Action » General
Action » Pinball
Action » Platformer
Action » Platformer » 2D
Action » Platformer » 3D
Action » Platformer » Metroidvania
Action » Rhythm
Action » Rhythm » Dancing
Action » Rhythm » Music
Action » Shooter
Action » Shooter » First-Person
Action » Shooter » First-Person » Arcade
Action » Shooter » First-Person » Tactical
Action » Shooter » Light Gun
Action » Shooter » Rail
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up » Horizontal
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up » Top-Down
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up » Vertical
Action » Shooter » Third-Person
Action » Shooter » Third-Person » Arcade
Action » Shooter » Third-Person » Tactical
Action Adventure » General
Action Adventure » Linear
Action Adventure » Open-World
Action Adventure » Sandbox
Action Adventure » Survival
Adventure » 3D
Adventure » 3D » First-Person
Adventure » 3D » Third-Person
Adventure » General
Adventure » Point-and-Click
Adventure » Text
Adventure » Visual Novel
Miscellaneous » Application
Miscellaneous » Board / Card Game
Miscellaneous » Compilation
Miscellaneous » Demo Disc
Miscellaneous » Edutainment
Miscellaneous » Exercise / Fitness
Miscellaneous » Gambling
Miscellaneous » General
Miscellaneous » Party / Minigame
Miscellaneous » Trivia / Game Show
Puzzle » Action
Puzzle » General
Puzzle » Hidden Object
Puzzle » Logic
Puzzle » Matching
Puzzle » Stacking
Racing » Arcade
Racing » Arcade » Automobile
Racing » Arcade » Futuristic
Racing » Arcade » Other
Racing » General
Racing » Simulation
Racing » Simulation » Automobile
Racing » Simulation » Other
Role-Playing » Action RPG
Role-Playing » General
Role-Playing » Japanese-Style
Role-Playing » Massively Multiplayer
Role-Playing » Roguelike
Role-Playing » Trainer
Role-Playing » Western-Style
Simulation » Flight
Simulation » Flight » Civilian
Simulation » Flight » Combat
Simulation » General
Simulation » Marine
Simulation » Marine » Civilian
Simulation » Marine » Combat
Simulation » Space
Simulation » Space » Civilian
Simulation » Space » Combat
Simulation » Vehicle
Simulation » Vehicle » Civilian
Simulation » Vehicle » Combat
Simulation » Vehicle » Train
Simulation » Virtual
Simulation » Virtual » Career
Simulation » Virtual » Pet
Simulation » Virtual » Virtual Life
Sports » General
Sports » Individual
Sports » Individual » Athletics
Sports » Individual » Biking
Sports » Individual » Billiards
Sports » Individual » Bowling
Sports » Individual » Combat
Sports » Individual » Combat » Boxing / Martial Arts
Sports » Individual » Combat » Wrestling
Sports » Individual » Golf
Sports » Individual » Golf » Arcade
Sports » Individual » Golf » Sim
Sports » Individual » Horse Racing
Sports » Individual » Nature
Sports » Individual » Nature » Fishing
Sports » Individual » Nature » Hunting
Sports » Individual » Other
Sports » Individual » Skate / Skateboard
Sports » Individual » Ski / Snowboard
Sports » Individual » Surf / Wakeboard
Sports » Individual » Tennis
Sports » Team
Sports » Team » Baseball
Sports » Team » Baseball » Arcade
Sports » Team » Baseball » Sim
Sports » Team » Basketball
Sports » Team » Basketball » Arcade
Sports » Team » Basketball » Sim
Sports » Team » Cricket
Sports » Team » Football
Sports » Team » Football » Arcade
Sports » Team » Football » Sim
Sports » Team » Futuristic
Sports » Team » Ice Hockey
Sports » Team » Ice Hockey » Arcade
Sports » Team » Ice Hockey » Sim
Sports » Team » Other
Sports » Team » Rugby
Sports » Team » Soccer
Sports » Team » Soccer » Arcade
Sports » Team » Soccer » Management
Sports » Team » Soccer » Sim
Sports » Team » Volleyball
Strategy » General
Strategy » Management
Strategy » Management » Business / Tycoon
Strategy » Management » Government
Strategy » Real-Time
Strategy » Real-Time » Command
Strategy » Real-Time » Defense
Strategy » Real-Time » General
Strategy » Real-Time » MOBA
Strategy » Real-Time » Tactics
Strategy » Turn-Based
Strategy » Turn-Based » 4X
Strategy » Turn-Based » Artillery
Strategy » Turn-Based » Card Battle
Strategy » Turn-Based » General
Strategy » Turn-Based » Tactics
If you don’t include the top-level genres (I could not find any games that were only described using just the top level) there are 149 total subgenres. Every top-level genre has a General subgenre in the second level which serves largely as “everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else”. GameFAQs does not provide descriptions of its genres.
There are some interesting divisions within subgenres though it seems a bit arbitrary as to what is given a 2D and 3D split. Fighting and Platformer sure, those play differently in 2D and 3D, but so do many others that don’t have a split.
Only a few Sports get divided in between Arcade and Sim, but there are definitely more, like Boxing and Tennis, that could be.
I think Action Adventure may have been a more popular term in the past, perhaps we will see it more often with older sources.
Overall the various ways genres are broken down are thoughtful and cover most games well, but it could be so much more descriptive if a game could have as many genres as was necessary instead of just one.
Spore here is Strategy » General. The decision between Simulation and Strategy was probably difficult, and General here is the best you could do for a game with so many play styles, but it goes to show how limited a system is where a game has to choose one genre.
The Internet Games Database was founded in 2015 and is much like MobyGames as it is a database of game information and accepts edit suggestions from anyone with an account, as well as some social features. In 2019 it was bought by and integrated into Twitch. They claim to have over 213,000 unique games catalogued.
IGDB uses both a genre and a theme field, and games can have any number of either. First here are the 23 genres:
Adventure, Arcade, Card & Board Game, Fighting, Hack and Slash/Beat ’em Up, Indie, MOBA, Music, Pinball, Platform, Point-and-Click, Puzzle, Quiz/Trivia, Racing, Real Time Strategy (RTS), Role-Playing (RPG), Shooter, Simulator, Sport, Strategy, Tactical, Turn-Based Strategy (TBS), Visual Novel
The 22 Themes:
4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate), Action, Business, Comedy, Drama, Educational, Erotic, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Kids, Mystery, Open World, Non-Fiction, Party, Romance, Sandbox, Science Fiction, Stealth, Survival, Thriller, Warfare
The biggest thing that sticks out to me here is the fact that Action is considered a theme and not a genre. Action is one of the ubiquitous video game genres, but looking at some games tagged as such I don’t even understand what it means for a game to be Action themed. Earthbound, Pac-Man, Mario Party 5, and random Pinball games all have Action as a theme. In fact, many of the other themes would be called genres on any other list.
Some of the themes make sense and could be applied to most genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Non-Fiction. These are how movie and book genres are divided up, but we generally use video game genres to describe gameplay. A separate theme field is not a bad idea, but I don’t understand the distinction here.
This is the first time we’ve seen Indie as a genre. A slippery and much argued about term for games, sometimes based on their publisher, but does it make sense as a genre? It certainly doesn’t make sense for a game’s sole genre to be “Indie”, and shouldn’t every genre be able to stand alone?
There is a page with their definitions of each genre. Indie is defined as being made by a small team, possibly without the support of publisher, and usually short. None of which speaks to gameplay. RPGs are said to include playing the role of a character (which many games do) and acting out a role in the narrative.
Reading the definitions for Strategy and Tactical it’s occurred to me that many of these video game resources treat them as different genres, but does that make sense? How many Strategy games are there where you set up big picture strategy but there’s no actual moment-to-moment or turn-to-turn tactical thinking? There are a few games you may call pure Tactics since there’s no permanent progression, where every battle is isolated and nothing carries over so you could possibly argue that it is not also a Strategy game. But these two are so intertwined, does it make sense to split them?
There is another field called mode which contains Battle Royale and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO). These were used as genres elsewhere, but it does make sense to list them alongside Co-Operative, Multiplayer, Single Player, and Split screen.
Spore is listed as Adventure, Real Time Strategy (RTS), Role-playing (RPG), Simulator, and Strategy. Five genres for Spore, a new record. The themes are 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate), Action, Comedy, Open world, and Science fiction.
Gameopedia has a video game information database maintained by its employees, but they sell access to this and other game data to businesses. It seems like they are mostly targeting game publishers and advertisers. Everything is laid out very professionally and they regularly post long blog articles about the video game industry. They claim to have over 180,000 games in their database and have been around since 2008.
They use 22 genres and have a page with definitions:
Action, Adventure, Driving, Educational, Exergaming, Fighting, Flying, MMO, Music, Party, Platform, Puzzle, Racing, Real-World, Role-Playing, Shooter, Simple Activity, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Virtual Life
Adventure is defined as games where you explore the world and experience the story through the protagonist’s eyes. They also may not be exhilarating, but more thoughtful, philosophical, or relaxed. This sounds very broad and doesn’t really cover the usual “narrative, not reflex focused” criteria that is more common.
Exergaming was a surprise to me, there can’t be a lot of games in this one, which makes the exclusion of some other, bigger, genres more puzzling.
Real-World here refers to games that simulate a “real world” game, such as Uno or poker. These would fall under a Strategy, Miscellaneous, or even Card Game genre in other systems.
Simple Activity was another genre I had not seen used. Their examples say it is for games where you draw, dress up, or cook, which sounds like what is commonly called a Simulation game. But then they are also defined by being stress-free and easy to learn which sounds like a much more casual type of game than something like SimCity. There is also Virtual Life which sounds similar to Simulation games too, but focused on mundane daily activities. The example is The Sims.
It’s not surprising that a company trying to sell data to other companies avoids using fan-made terms, which are often named after other games. Metroidvania and Roguelike are useful, descriptive terms, but they probably want to avoid using someone else’s IP.
I can’t tell you how they categorize Spore. There is not even pricing information on their website and so I was not able to look at what they have. I can show you these two promotional pictures that are probably representative of how genre information is displayed, though:
It looks like games can have as many genres as needed, as well as subgenres. Genres may be labeled as key feature, defining, notable, or element. There is a theme field as well, which has some overlap with genre.
GaintBomb was started in 2008 and features videos, written articles, podcasts, and most importantly to this project, a game wiki with over 81,000 games. Edits need to be approved by a moderator before going live. There isn’t much in the way formal guidelines and there are no definitions of the genres they use, leaving it up to editors to figure out. The following 49 genres are used:
Action, Action-Adventure, Adventure, Baseball, Basketball, Billiards, Block-Breaking, Bowling, Boxing, Brawler, Card Game, Compilation, Cricket, Driving/Racing, Dual-Joystick Shooter, Educational, Fighting, First-Person Shooter, Fishing, Fitness, Flight Simulator, Football, Gambling, Golf, Hockey, Light-Gun Shooter, Minigame Collection, MMORPG, MOBA, Music/Rhythm, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Real-Time Strategy, Role-Playing, Shoot ’em Up, Shooter, Simulation, Skateboarding, Snowboarding/Skiing, Soccer, Sports, Strategy, Surfing, Tennis, Text Adventure, Track & Field, Trivia/Board Game, Vehicular Combat, Wrestling
One thing that separates the small lists from the large ones is having to list every possible sport separately, though there is also a Sports genre. Most sport-related games on this wiki do not have the Sports genre, but some do. This is an issue with some of the larger genre lists, they contain both more general and more specific levels of detail without any hierarchy, and they aren’t used consistently. But we do have one of the rare appearances of the Boxing, Surfing, and Track & Field genres.
There is some wording that strikes me as odd. Block-Breaking is really talking about Arkanoid-like games, Dual-Joystick Shooters are overwhelmingly called Twin-Stick Shooters.
Shouldn’t any list of genres with Real-Time Strategy include Turn-Based Strategy too? Perhaps the more general Strategy genre is meant to hold all of the Turn-Based Strategy games.
GiantBomb also has a themes field for games, which again has a fair amount of overlap with genre.
Abstract, Adult, Alternate Historical, Anime, Aquatic, Civil War, Comedy, Comic Book, Crime, Cyberpunk, Dating, Egyptian, Espionage, Fantasy, Game Show, Horror, Management, Martial Arts, Mayan, Medieval, Modern Military, Motorsports, Post-Apoclyptic, Prehistoric, Sci-Fi, Steampunk, Superhero, Vietnam, Western, World War II
One of the relative few sites that does not consider Horror a genre, but a theme. Game Show and Quiz has also often been a genre.
Spore has Strategy, Adventure, and Simulation listed as genres, and Sci-Fi, Comedy, and Management as themes.
Rawg.io describes itself as the biggest video game database and as having over 809,000 games. This is 677,000 more than IGDB, the second or third largest. The PC section has 491,000 games and for comparison the largest game store, Itch.io, has 600,000 total games. It is edited by users and seems to have a strong focus on community and social features. It uses the following 19 genres:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board Games, Card, Casual, Educational, Family, Fighting, Indie, Massively Multiplayer, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy
Something I am realizing now is that the Arcade genre really refers to two different things. The machines you put quarters into (and their console ports) that had their heyday decades ago, and games that are mostly digital-only and made by indie developers that have simple arcadey action. Does it make sense to use Arcade for both? Arcade is also a system in many of these databases, and not every arcade game has the Arcade genre.
Board Games and Card are often put under Strategy or an Other genre.
Casual, Family, Indie, and Massively Multiplayer all strike me as genres that are not likely to be used on a fairly contained list.
Rawg also has a “tags” field. For every game I checked that has been released on Steam the tags were nearly identical to what Steam’s user editable tags are. This field is also user-editable, so it seems people just copy whatever Steam has listed. For games that are not on Steam there are on average much fewer tags and they seem to be less consistent.
Spore has the genres Simulation and Family. While it doesn’t have any particularly objectionable content I’m not sure why it is a “Family” game. The description for the Family genre is partially written in broken English but seems to say Family games are appropriate for everyone and not too hard or complicated. Strategy seems a better fit than Family.
TheGamesDB launched around 2010. I can’t find any information on how many games they have. The GAMEYE game collection tracking app seems use them as its game database. It is ostensibly user-edited with some oversight, but I couldn’t get any test edits to work. They have 28 genres (I have omitted the GBA and PSP Video genre, as those aren’t used for games):
Action, Adventure, Board, Construction and Management Simulation, Education, Family, Fighting, Flight Simulator, Horror, Life Simulation, MMO, Music, Party, Platform, Productivity, Puzzle, Quiz, Racing, Role-Playing, Sandbox, Shooter, Sports, Stealth, Strategy, Unofficial, Utility, Vehicle Simulation, Virtual Console
Unofficial seems to refer to unlicensed, homebrew, and bootleg games, but it is difficult to tell since you can not search by genre. There does not seem to be any page for describing genres, either. It seems like a recipe for bad data to allow user edits but also provide little to no guidelines or rules.
Virtual Console is a very odd choice to include, as that refers to a subsection of Nintendo’s online storefront on some systems.
There are four separate Simulation genres, but Sports is just one. It’s interesting how sometimes things are split up and sometimes they are not. TheGamesDB keeps a fairly large number of genres while also not splitting them up very much.
Spore has the Adventure and Life Simulation genre. Two is a small number of genres for Spore, and I would say Action, Sandbox, and Strategy would all be better choices.
Universal Videogame List
Universal Videogame List, or UVL, claims to be the biggest and oldest video game database. There is a counter of the number of games they have documented on the front page which currently sits at 151,000. This is fewer than at least GameFAQs, Gameopedia, IGDB, MobyGames (counting multiplatform releases as separate), and Rawg.io. According to their copyright notice they were founded in 1998, which makes them a bit younger than GameFAQs, but among the first.
The way UVL handles genres is unlike anywhere else. UVL has something called “groups” that games can be put into. One type of group is game genre.
The game genre page is broken into three parts, starting with genre theme which has 173 items. Many of these are “containers”, which seem to be considered too broad to be genres or just not proper genres despite being listed on the genre page. For example, the first genre theme you will see is Action, and that it has 0 games. Despite this, the Action page says “21 games” and clicking it will take you to a list of 21 games that do have the Action genre. Some links to container pages tell you that the page has games within it, and some do not even though they do. This page also says that it is the “Informal group for finding action sub-genres” and has the following subgenres: Action-Adventure, Action-RPG, Fighting, Platformer, and Shooter. Fighting and Shooter are also container groups. The Fighting page has One-on-One Fighting, Beat ’em Up (a container group itself), and Melee Combat Simulation as subgenres. Container groups are essentially genres that don’t have any games themselves (except they often do), just subgenres. There are subgenres that don’t have a higher-level container, as well.
Next, the genre page has an “entities” section with Audio Game, Collectathon, Main Game Types, and Maze. Three of these four entities look like more genres, and it’s hard to tell what exactly makes these entities. The Maze page has a “parent group” of Puzzle, which is a genre and an “informal group”. Main Game Types contains Adventure, Beat ’em Up, Platformer, Racing, and Shooter. Perhaps this is trying to tell us that these are the 5 main video game genres?
Finally, there are 51 entries in the “concepts” section. Game genre concept pages seem to behave a lot like game genre theme pages: they contain games, they can be containers, they can be subgenres, and they sometimes both appear together and undistinguished from each other in the genre field of individual game pages. It’s difficult to tell what exactly the line between genre themes and genre concepts is supposed to be. A number of genre concepts end in “elements”, such as Simulation Elements, so part of it is for categorizing games that only incorporate a few elements of another genre. There are also the “-likes”, such as Diablo-Like. Some genres are named after a popular example, but I don’t know why that is more of a genre concept than a genre theme. Most, but not all, Diablo and Grand Theft Auto games are in their own -like genre, so the site isn’t consistent about how they use these genre concepts.
There are many more genre themes and genre concepts than what are listed on the genre page. I do not know why only these particular ones appear on the page. Creating an exhaustive list seems a hopeless task, and it is not clear which the site even counts by its own standards since so many say they should not actually be used, but are.
Let’s look at how individual game pages handle this all this information. Spore has a genre field with Science Fiction, Biological Simulation, God Game, and Life Simulation. Science Fiction is the only that does not link to a page, and doesn’t seem to be a genre concept or genre theme. Many games have 1 or 2 of these unlinked entries (they don’t seem to have pages for listing all of the games with that genre, or explaining what they are), and they are generally a theme or setting. I have seen Science Fiction, Historical, Fantasy, Manga, Cartoon, and 3D displayed here. Many of these are not genres. Some games have a separate setting field, so I don’t think these unlinked entries are exactly meant as setting descriptors.
There is also a “type” field on game pages, the entries are not linked so they don’t appear to have pages with their definitions. In fact, nothing on the site seems to explain what the type field is or what it is used for. In this case Spore has the types Action/Reflex, Simulation, Manag./Econ., and Strategy. Some of these have genre pages, so I’m not sure what the difference is between genre and type, or why those are not also listed as genres.
There is also a tags section, which is divided into several categories and covers all sorts of minutiae, some of which could arguably be considered genres too. One tag category is game genre, under which are the items in the genre field, but only the ones which link to their own pages.
Overall, Universal Videogame List has a huge amount of data, categorizing games in many different useful ways. This is hampered by the needlessly complex and confusing way the data is presented. For further example, Mario games have a Mario Universe genre listed. The Mario Universe page tells you it is a theme, not a genre. The entire site is a hall of mirrors with nomenclature that is inconsistent, full of terms and distinctions that haven’t been relevant to gaming discourse for decades, and full of bloated systems that a seemingly small group of people have been busily expanding for many years without looking at how unusable the site has become.
Metacritic takes scores from various publications and averages them (with secret weights given to each publication) to give a metascore. The following 18 genres are shown on the main game page and are searchable:
Action, Adventure, Fighting Games, First-Person Shooters, Flight/Flying, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Real-Time Strategy, Role-Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Third-Person Shooter, Turn-Based Strategy, Wargames, Wrestling
The actual individual game pages are another story. There are many more unsearchable genres used on game pages, and searching via genre can even give you results that don’t have that genre listed. In fact many genre searches will not show you any games released within the last several years, suggesting that Metacritic has stopped using several of their genres internally.
These anomalies aren’t new either, Lumines for PSP has the following genres: Miscellaneous, Puzzle, Puzzle, General, Puzzle, Matching, General. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U: Action, Fighting, Fighting, 3D, 2D, 2D, 3D. Ico for PS2: Action, Adventure, Fantasy.
Back to the given list of genres we see some splits that are relatively common: both First-Person and Third-Person Shooter, both Real-Time and Turn-Based Strategy exist alongside Strategy. Wrestling is separated from Sports.
Wargames seems pretty redundant with three Strategy genres, and does indeed contain the fewest games among the searchable genres.
Spore is findable under Strategy, but its game page reads Strategy, Breeding/Constructing, General, Breeding/Constructing.
HowLongToBeat allows users to record how long it takes them to beat games, and then averages and displays the results. There are 41 genres you can search with:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Battle Arena, Beat em Up, Board Game, Breakout, Card Game, City-Building, Compilation, Educational, Fighting, Fitness, Flight, Full Motion Video (FMV), Hack and Slash, Hidden Object, Horror, Interactive Art, Management, Music/Rhythm, Open World, Party, Pinball, Platform, Puzzle, Racing/Driving, Roguelike, Role-Playing, Sandbox, Shooter, Simulation, Social, Sports, Stealth, Strategy/Tactical, Survival, Tower Defense, Trivia, Vehicular Combat, Visual Novel
For some reason a number of games also have additional genres listed, these always appear before the searchable genres. These are not consistently applied among a series. I have seen Third-Person, First-Person, Turn-Based, Real-Time, Top-Down, Strategy, Tactical, Chess, and Side.
That aside we have a large list despite relegating Sports and Strategy/Tactical to one genre. Some rare ones, too, like Battle Arena, Hidden Object, Interactive Art, Social, and Vehicular Combat.
Spore is simply Simulation, leaving out Strategy/Tactical and Sandbox at the very least.
IGN started in 1996 and is a news and reviews website for games and other media. It still has reviews on its website dating back from its genesis. Although review pages don’t actually state the genre of the game in question the individual game pages do, and you can search by 27 genres:
Action, Adventure, Battle, Board, Card, Casino, Compilation, Educational, Fighting, Flight, Hunting, Music, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Productivity, Puzzle, RPG, Racing, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Virtual Pet, Wrestling
The actual list on IGN is alphabetical, except Party is two positions later than it should be.
The Other genre can be a necessary evil, but it hasn’t used for a game in 7 years.
While Virtual Pet is quickly recognizable as a type of game, I don’t think it’s nearly common enough to be useful in anything less than a truly exhaustive list of genres. IGN hasn’t used it in over a decade.
Battle is an odd one, it is used for some board and card games, like Slay the Spire and Scrolls, but also other games that I guess are “focused on battles” like Pokémon Go and Monster Rancher games. It’s not really a term I have ever seen someone use to describe a game. Searching Google for information on the Battle video game genre doesn’t really turn up anything about it, yet we will see it several more times.
Spore is just listed as Simulation.
GameSpot and IGN may be the two longest running video game review sites, they both launched in 1996 and eventually morphed into general entertainment websites. They also don’t list a game’s genres on its review page. It uses 68 genres for games:
2D, 3D, 4X, Action, Adventure, Arcade, Baseball, Basketball, Beat-‘Em-Up, Billiards, Bowling, Boxing, Card Game, Compilation, Defense, Driving/Racing, Edutainment, Fighting, First-Person, Fitness, Fixed-Screen, Flight, Football (American), Free-to-Play, Gambling, Golf, Hidden Object, Hockey, Hunting/Fishing, Light-Gun, Management, Matching/Stacking, Metroidvania, Miscellaneous, MMO, MOBA, Music/Rhythm, On-Rails, Open-World, Party/Minigame, Pinball, Platform, Puzzle, Real-Time, Roguelike, Role-Playing, Scrolling, Shoot-‘Em-Up, Shooter, Simulation, Skateboarding/Skating, Snowboarding/Skiing, Soccer, Sports, Strategy, Survival, Tactical, Team-Based, Tennis, Text-Based, Third-Person, Track & Field, Trivia/Board Game, Turn-Based, Vehicular Combat, Wakeboarding/Surfing, Wrestling, VR
A number of these, like 2D, Free-to-Play, Real-Time, or Fixed-Screen, are descriptions of non-genre elements of the game. These don’t really tell someone what the game is about or what they will be doing. Sure, there’s little harm in throwing them into a pile of genres, but you could also separate them into their own perspective and monetization fields to make detailed searches easier. Almost any genre can be
There are only 4 games with Text-Based. None seem to be Visual Novels (an odd omission from a list this large), either, but kinds of Adventure games.
We’ve got some rare sports in this massive list, Billiards, Cricket, even Wakeboarding.
Team-Based refers to team sports, not team versus team online games.
There are no games marked with Defense. I assume it was meant for Tower Defense type games. There are also no Track & Field games.
Spore only has Strategy as its genre.
Hookshot Media runs news and reviews sites dedicated to Nintendo (Nintendo Life), PlayStation (Push Square), Xbox (Pure Xbox), and retro games (Time Extension). They all have game databases and they all share the same 24 genres. I have excluded Import (games only released in Japan) and Apps (clocks, calculators, video streaming services):
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board Game, Creative, Dancing, Driving, Education, Fighting, First Person, Fitness, FPS, Music, Other, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Relaxation, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy
Driving is usually combined with Racing in other genre lists, and is one of the least used genres here.
First Person is also one of the least used, I’m sure there’s a lot more 29 First Person games on PlayStation consoles.
The Shooter genre has a mix of First Person Shooters (despite the presence of FPS), Third Person Shooters, and Vertical and Horizontal Scrolling Shooters.
Some The Legend of Zelda games have RPG and some don’t. The one that is and always has been an RPG, Zelda II, does not.
The Other genre is usually not listed on game pages, but if you search for Other you get a pretty random assortment of popular games: Super Mario 64, Splatoon 3, No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, Sonic Frontiers.
Creative (Super Mario Maker 2, Dreams, LittleBigPlanet games) and Relaxation (Go Vacation, Potion Permit, Dorfromantik) are uncommon. What qualifies as Relaxation can be very subjective but is pretty similar to the Casual genre in its use here. Not a lot of mechanics, low stakes, forgiving.
eBay is an online marketplace that launched in 1995 and it certainly sells a lot of video games, which are divided into 39 genres. “Not Specified” has been omitted and these genres cover digital items as well as games:
Action & Adventure, Arcade, Art Game, Battle, Beat ‘Em Up, Board Games, Casino & Cards, Cooking, Crime, Detective, Educational, Family/Kids, Fantasy, Farming, Fighting, Fitness & Health, Hack and Slash, Hidden Object, Karaoke, MMORPG, Music & Dance, Mystery, Party & Compilation, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Quiz & Trivia, Racing, Robot, Role Playing, Shoot ’em up, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Survival Horror, Virtual Pet, Visual Novel, War
Just like every other time Action & Adventure are combined, it is by far the largest.
Battle is back and it is still confusing. A number of RPGs, Mario Strikers: Battle League, Klonoa: Phantasy Reverie Series, Saints Row, and lots of hacked Pokémon and Modern Warfare skins.
Party & Compilation are an odd combination. Sure, many Party games, like Mario Party feature what can be described as a “compilation” of minigames, but Compilation generally refers to several previously released games sold together as a package. Sorting by this genre does include various Mario Parties as well as the likes of Neogeo Pocket Color Selection Vol 1 and Namcot Collection.
Crime, Detective, and Mystery are not commonly used and seem to have a lot of overlap.
Robot is a very weird one and not seen on any other genre lists. Many titles do include controlling or fighting against robots, like Super Robot Wars T, Little Battlers eXperience, and Horizon Zero Dawn. There’s also Metroid Prime, which has a somewhat robotic-looking character on the box art, and ROBOTICS;NOTES ELITE & DaSH Double Pack which is a series of Visual Novels about trying to build a giant robot.
This is the only appearance of the Karaoke genre.
The listing pages for games being sold have an “Item specifics” box with basic information about the game. These seem to take a few different forms and the fields vary. A minority of games have a “Sub-Genre” field. I was able to find this list of subgenres (Not Applicable and Not Specified omitted):
American Football, Atv, Baseball, Basketball, Billiards, BMX, Bowling, Boxing, Car Racing, Cricket, Cycling, Dance, Extreme Sports, Fishing, Golf, Handball, Hockey, Horse Racing, Hunting, Ice Hockey, Karate, Martial Arts, Mixed Sports, Motorcycle, Racing, Pool, Rugby, Skateboarding, Skiing/Snowboarding, Soccer, Tennis, Wrestling
All the subgenres are Sports and Racing related. There is something going on with Boxing, it is the largest by far and applies to many games it shouldn’t, like LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Prince of Persia. I also found a listing for God of War that has Linear Action Adventure, Greek History, and Greek Adventure as subgenres and I have no idea where those came from.
Most Spore listings have Simulation, but I also found a version with a different box that had Simulation and Strategy.
My Nintendo Store
There are several large digital storefronts selling games, including the big three hardware makers. They all have their own genre systems. These stores likely use their sales data to refine a good set of genres that will help a broard range of customers find the games they want to buy.
The My Nintendo Store has around 14,500 games and lists genres under 20 “game types”:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board Game, Education, Fighting, First-Person, Lifestyle, Multiplayer, Music, Other, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Role-Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Training
Training has Fitness Boxing games, Pixel Artist, a Sudoko game, and overall a pretty random mishmash of cheap indie games that don’t appear to train you to do anything. It’s also the least populated.
About 60% of the Adventure games are also labeled as Role-Playing.
I’d argue that First-Person and Multiplayer don’t belong here as genres, though these are all labeled as “game types”. There is a seperate “No. of players” attribute that you can sort games by, which does not have an online multiplayer option. I have to wonder if there’s really a significant number of people browsing the store who choose to look for First-Person games. First-Person Shooter games are very popular, maybe it exists for finding those games without using the word “Shooter”?
I’m sure Nintendo has never used the term Metroidvania officially, despite being the partial progenitor of it, and selling a lot of indie games made to emulate Metroid.
The PlayStation Store lets you search by genre too, and has 23 of them for its 6,600 games:
Action, Adult, Adventure, Arcade, Brain Training, Casual, Driving/Racing, Educational, Family, Fighting, Fitness, Horror, Music/Rhythm, Party, Puzzle, Quiz, Role Playing Games, Shooter, Simulation, Simulator, Sport, Strategy, Unique
The Adult games mostly have anime aesthetics and most are rated Mature by the ESRB, though several are rated Teen. Most have the Sexual Themes descriptor.
I was quite surprised to see Brain Training as a genre. Not only is it pretty redundant with Educational, but Brain Age is a Nintendo series known as Brain Training in Europe and Japan. Brain Training games have not been shown to have any effect on cognitive abilities.
There are very few games focused on Driving that are not Racing games, so it makes sense to combine them. Music and Rhythm have some overlap, too. Other genre lists than have combined these genres often just call them “Racing” or just “Music”.
I couldn’t believe there was both a Simulation and Simulator genre. After looking at examples of both, I don’t understand the difference. Simulator has about one fourth as many games. Some games, like Farming Simulator 19 and 22, have both.
Some of the listed genres don’t seem to show up on actual game pages where their genre is listed, namely Family and Unique. Family has no games rated higher than Teen, a lot of multiplayer games, and little to no violence. I can’t find any common thread among Unique games, they seem randomly chosen. Minecraft and Outer Wilds might make sense, but are Far Cry 6, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Family Feud, or Ys IX: Monstrum Nox particularly unique, even within their series?
The Microsoft Store has an Xbox section with 9 genres that sells about 3,400 games for the Xbox Series, Xbox One, PC, and cloud:
Action & Adventure, Fighting, Indie, Kids & Family, Racing & Flying, Roleplaying, Shooter, Sports, Strategy
This is tied with a later entry for the smallest number of genres in this study. The main page even has a “shop games by genre” heading that only displays 8, leaving out Fighting, but Fighting does exist as a searchable genre. It is rare for Puzzle or Simulation to not be listed as genres, and Educational is very common too.
However, a small number of game pages have other genres listed. These mostly appear to be holdovers from the Xbox Games Store (see next section), though there is no way to search by them. For example, Hollow Knight is described as Platformer as well as Action & Adventure. Unpacking is Family & Kids (not Kids & Family, though it does show up if you filter by that genre, and also this genre does not exist in Xbox Games Store either), Other, Puzzle & Trivia, and Simulation. There are other genres that show up on game pages that aren’t part of either game store, such as Simulation and Tools.
Action & Adventure applies to over half of the games available, not much of a filter.
I would never expect an Indie genre if you’re only using 9, but thankfully Minecraft is not included. I was curious as to what Microsoft considers small enough to be an independent studio, but it seems no games list Indie on their individual pages. It’s also not consistent with companies, Worms W.M.D. by Team17 shows up under Indie searches, but no other Worms games do.
Xbox Games Store
The Xbox Games Store was replaced by the Microsoft Store, but is still up, selling almost 2,000 games for the Xbox 360. It uses a different set of 16 genres (Avatar does not include any games and has been omitted):
Action & Adventure, Card & Board, Classics, Educational, Family, Fighting, Kinect, Music, Other, Platformer, Puzzle & Trivia, Racing & Flying, Role Playing, Shooter, Sports & Recreation, Strategy & Simulation
Action & Adventure again encompasses over 40% of the available games.
Classics includes original Xbox games and older games not originally released on Xbox systems, such as Dig Dug and Banjo Kazooie. Such a gulf of time separates these two that I don’t think this should be called “Classics”, or there should be at least 2 genres for older games.
Other mostly consists of Xbox UI themes but also has a few games, like Life is Strange Episode 1 and Bomberman LIVE.
Some odd combinations of genres here, are Puzzle and Trivia games or Strategy and Simulation games really similar enough to lump together? “Sports & Recreation” is a phrase, but not really used to describe video games. There’s a couple fitness games, like The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout that may be what the Recreation part is referring to.
Apple’s App Store hosts about 300,000 games for iOS devices. Games are a “genre” on the App Store and within it are 18 subgenres:
Action, Adventure, Board, Card, Casino, Casual, Dice, Educational, Family, Music, Puzzle, Racing, Role Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Word
The Word genre doesn’t come up often, but a good fit for mobile games. Board, Card, Casino, and Dice seem a bit redundant, though games that feature cards other than a standard playing deck, like Slay the Spire, use it here. Dice is the strangest one here, I’m sure there’s a few games about rolling dice (maybe not enough to warrant a genre), but the App Store’s web page displays no Dice games. This third party page documenting all the genres in the App Store also lists an Arcade genre in place of Casual.
Other than not having any objectionable content, I can not really tell what a Family game is. There are some classic board and card games that would fit in other genres, and a general smattering of everything else.
Google’s Play Store has over 478,000 games for Android devices. It uses the following 17 genres:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board, Card, Casino, Casual, Educational, Music, Puzzle, Racing, Role Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Word
Extremely similar to the App Store. Compared to the App Store, The Play Store has Arcade, and does not have Dice or Family. I couldn’t find anything about the history of game genres on the two big app stores, but it clearly is not just a coincidence. Even the wording is the same. It’s also very interesting that Dice, the seemingly empty genre from the App Store, is missing here, while the one additional genre the Play Store has is Arcade, one that seems to technically exist in the App Store but is not used.
While Games on the Play Store only allow one genre they can also have many tags, some of which are essentially genres.
Steam sells PC games as well as providing news, forums, mods, and more for its games. It currently has over 50,000 games in its store. If you mouseover “Categories” on the top bar there is a display of 6 top level genres (though there are 7 or 8 genres buried in the search feature), each with 7 subgenres:
- Arcade & Rhythm
- Fighting & Martial Arts
- First-Person Shooter
- Hack & Slash
- Platformer & Runner
- Third-Person Shooter
- Adventure RPG
- Hidden Object
- Visual Novel
- Action RPG
- Adventure RPG
- Strategy RPG
- Building & Automation
- Farming & Crafting
- Hobby & Job
- Life & Immersive
- Sandbox & Physics
- Space & Flight
- Card & Board
- City & Settlement
- Grand & 4X
- Real-Time Strategy
- Tower Defense
- Turn-Based Strategy
- Sports & Racing
- All Sports
- Fishing & Hunting
- Individual Sports
- Racing Sim
- Sports Sim
- Team Sports
Trying to fit everything on Steam into a nice even 16 rows and 3 columns of genres leads to some odd choices. There are both Sports & Racing as well as All Sports pages which display a very similar selection of games. Several subgenres here don’t exist as tags (more on tags below), like Team Sports, or are combinations of things that have their own individual tags (Hobby & Job, Grand & 4X) and so these “fake” subgenres aren’t searchable. The only way to reach these listings seems to be clicking on them from the Categories menu.
There is also a robust tagging system where users can apply tags to games, and other users can essentially vote on if they are appropriate. There are over 400 of these, so I won’t list them all, but a full list of tags can be seen here. Many of these tags are the same as the above genres and lead to the same pages. There is a great deal of granularity, Rogue-like, Rogue-lite, Action Roguelike, Roguelike Deckbuilder, Traditional Roguelike, and Roguevania, are all tags. Every sport you can think of, settings, themes, perspectives, compatibility, content, vehicles, difficulty, pretty much every aspect of a game can be represented with a tag.
The Categories menu also has a “themes” section. Many of these have the same names as a tag, but the URLs have the same format that genre pages do. They display different games than the tag page does, so these are essentially more “fake genre” pages.
On actual game pages the list of tags is visible right away, while the genre field is a few pages below. The genre field can have any combination of the 6 top level genres, but can also contain some other miscellaneous information such as Massively Multiplayer, Indie, Early Access, or Free to Play. The 42 subgenres in the Categories menu don’t seem to ever actually be listed under the genre field, and there is not always a tag with the same name.
The general search page allows you to search by tag, but not by genre. On genre or tag pages if you scroll down far enough there is a “NARROW BY” option which has a TOP-LEVEL GENRES option which shows the 6 we have talked about as well as Software (not relevant to us), Casual, sometimes Sports, and sometimes both Sports and Racing. Casual can appear in a game’s genre field, and while it is also a tag, the URL for the Casual page suggests it is a genre and not a tag. There are also GENRES and SUB-GENRES that you can narrow search results by, both of which display various tags. It is not clear which user-created tags are considered genres and which are considered subgenres here.
Spore has Action, Adventure, Casual, RPG, Simulation, and Strategy as genres, a new record for number of genres. It has 20 tags, including God Game, Open World, and Colony Sim.
GOG.com, formerly Good Old Games, sells games without any form of DRM. There are more than 7,000 games available for PCs. GOG’s search has 8 genre checkboxes:
Action, Adventure, Racing, Role-Playing, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy
Confusingly, if you mouse over the word STORE, which is displayed on the top left of every page, the following 8 are displayed:
Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG, Shooters, Simulation, Sports & Racing, Strategy
Role-Playing and RPG thankfully lead to the same search. Shooter and Shooters lead to different URLs but display the same games. Otherwise, between these two lists one has Indie and combines Sports & Racing, and the other has Racing as its own genre. The Sports & Racing genre is essentially a search page for both Racing and Sports genres. There are essentially 9 genres here, tied with Microsoft Store for the least. The common Educational and Puzzle genres are notable absences.
Game pages are a bit more complicated. Every game page has 2 or 3 things listed in its genre field, the first of which is one of those 8 genres in the first list. The other one or two can also be among those, but there are more genres, and some seem more like themes or playstyles. You can click any of these to search for other games with these genres. There doesn’t seem to be a list of these anywhere, so after looking at many game pages these are the 24 additional ones I found:
Arcade, Building, Combat, Exploration, FPP, Fantasy, Fighting, Historical, Horror, JRPG, Managerial, Mystery, Narrative, Off-Road, Platformer, Point-and-Click, Puzzle, Real-Time, Sci-Fi, Stealth, Survival, TPP, Tactical, Turn-Based
FPP and TPP stand for First Person and Third Person Perspective, abbreviations I have not seen anywhere else, and not really genres. We see some of the more common expanded genres here, but also some odd ones like Combat, Exploration, and Off-Road.
Real-Time and Turn-Based feel a bit odd when not connected to Strategy or RPG. Every game is one or both, after all.
Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, and Sci-Fi are more themes than genres, but this certainly isn’t the only time we’ve seen them listed as such.
Point-and-Click is not on many lists of genres of this size, but GOG has many older computer games, when such games were very popular.
There is also a tags field on game pages. There are a whole lot of these and while there is overlap with genre they are considered separate: a search for the Fantasy genre, and a search for the Fantasy tag returns different games.
Spore is sold on GOG, in a bundle. It has Strategy, Real-Time, and Fantasy as genres here. Simulation, Managerial, and maybe Survival would have been good choices too.
Itch.io is the largest game store, with over 600,000 indie games for computers and mobile devices. All of which fits into these 18 genres, which are a kind of “tag”:
Action, Adventure, Card Game, Educational, Fighting, Interactive Fiction, Other, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Rhythm, Role Playing, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Survival, Visual Novel
A list of this size covers the absolute essentials, but also splits a few into their own genres. You could squeeze Card Game, Fighting, Interactive Fiction, Platformer, Shooter, Survival, and Visual Novel into other genres if you chose to, but these were considered important and distinct enough. Itch.io is the only game store that is dedicated to indies and I think it is reasonable to say that at least Card Game, Interactive Fiction, Platformer, Survival, and Visual Novel games are indeed more common genres for indie games than AAA games.
Itch.io also has hundreds of non-genre tags, some of which are considered genres elsewhere. Horror, Arcade, Roguelike, Music, Shoot ‘Em Up. These somewhat serve as subgenres to games.
On individual game pages you have to click “More information” to see the genre and tag fields.
Epic Games Store
The Epic Games Store is run by Epic Games and sells over 1,700 games. There are 34 genres excluding THQ Publisher Sale:
Action, Action-Adventure, Adventure, Application, Card Game, Casual, City Builder, Comedy, Dungeon Crawler, Exploration, Fighting, First Person, Horror, Indie, Music, Narration, Open World, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Retro, Rogue-Lite, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Space, Sports, Stealth, Strategy, Survival, Tower Defense, Trivia, Turn-Based
There are several things here that are more like themes (Retro, Space, and Horror), which we have seen with some other lists. Exploration is an activity some games focus on and is one of Bartle’s player types, but it’s unusual to have as a genre. Indie, Casual, and First Person could be applied to games of any genre.
Comedy is a rare one, but the likes of Untitled Goose Game, Goat Simulator, and the South Park games make sense for it. Narration essentially seems to be Visual Novels, and has a lot of crossover with Adventure.
It’s surprising to see Rogue-Lite. It refers to a kind of Rogue-Like game with permanent progression systems. Rogue-Like is more general and could cover both.
This time we have a Turn-Based genre but no Real-Time one.
Application has a wallpaper program, a digital art program, and a map and mod editor for Unreal Tournament.
Browser Game Sites
Facebook hosts a large number of games playable on mobile or in a browser. The games are sorted by 21 genres, called “categories”:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Battle, Board, Builder, Card, Casino, Design, Match, Merge, Puzzle, Quick Play, Quiz and Trivia, Racing, Role-Playing, Runner, Simulation, Solitaire, Sports, Word
These genres definitely sound like they are describing mobile games. Match, Merge, Runner, and Solitaire games aren’t exclusive to mobile, but they are strongly associated with it. Yet the two major mobile app stores don’t use them as genres.
Design seems to be a “Creative” genre with drawing, house designing, and dress up games.
Battle seems to be more PvP focused here. There are a lot of .io games in it.
Newgrounds hosts user created movies, songs, animations, and games. Founded in 1995, there are, or were, over 80,000 games on Newgrounds. The discontinuation of Flash has necessitated the use of emulators to keep many games playable. There are 13 major genres, or 52 total including subgenres:
Action – Fighting – Brawler
Action – Fighting – VS
Action – Platformer – Hop and Bop
Action – Platformer – Puzzle
Action – Platformer – Other
Action – Shooter – First Person
Action – Shooter – Fixed
Action – Shooter – Horizontal Flight
Action – Shooter – Multidirectional
Action – Shooter – Run ‘n Gun
Action – Shooter – Tube / Rail
Action – Shooter – Vertical Flight
Action – Other
Adventure – Point ‘n Click
Adventure – RPG
Adventure – Other
Gadgets – Construction Set
Gadgets – Dress Up
Gadgets – Musical
Gadgets – Soundboards
Gadgets – Webcam
Gadgets – Other
Idle / Incremental
Puzzles – Difference
Puzzles – Falling
Puzzles – Quiz
Puzzles – Sliding
Puzzles – Other
Simulation – Dating
Simulation – Job
Simulation – Pet / Buddy
Simulation – Other
Skill – Avoid
Skill – Collect
Skill – Toss
Skill – Typing
Skill – Other
Sports – Basketball
Sports – Boxing
Sports – Casino & Gambling
Sports – Golf
Sports – Racing
Sports – Soccer
Sports – Other
Strategy – Artillery
Strategy – Real-time (RTS)
Strategy – Tower Defense
Strategy – Other
This is like GameFAQ’s multi-tier approach, but several top level genres do not have any subgenres.
Only Action gets three tiers. Fighting, Platformer and Shooter could have easily just been top level genres instead of within Action. All of the Skill genres seem like they could fit under Action, too.
Very strange to relegate RPG to a subgenre of Adventure, and there are no Action RPGs.
The Gadgets genre is more interactive software than games.
Puzzles – Difference doesn’t have a lot of entries, but is indeed “spot the difference” puzzles, something unique to Newground’s genre list.
Spam seems to be low effort games. I’m not sure if game makers decide their game is Spam, but some of these are over a decade old, so they aren’t on the chopping block or anything.
PriceCharting started in 2007 and primarily tracks physical video game prices based on eBay sales. It also allows users to keep track of their collections and how much they are worth. The administrator(s) handle most of the game data, but users can edit it too. The about page says they track over 45,000 games. There are 35 genres used after excluding some of the other things the site tracks:
Action & Adventure, Arcade, Baseball, Beat ’em Up, Basketball, Board & Card, Casino, Compilation, Dance, Extreme Sports, Educational, Fighting, Football, FPS, Golf, Horror, Light Gun, Minigames, Music, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, RPG, Simulation, Shoot’em Up, Soccer, Sports, Strategy, Third Person Shooter, Trivia, Visual Novel, Wrestling
Items on PriceCharting can only use one genre, but helping people discover games by genre isn’t really the site’s focus.
Action & Adventure covers a lot of ground and seems to cover about a third of modern games.
Three kinds of shooters seems a bit much for a list of this size. There are several separate sports genres that cover the bigger ones, and a general Sports genre. Dance and Extreme Sports are rare genres. A bit of an odd mix of specificity and generalness.
Simulation is how Spore is categorized.
VGCollect was started in 2011, and I can’t find how many games they have catalogued. Users can edit game data and add new games. Games can only have one of the following 30 genres:
Action, Action-Adventure, Action-RPG, Adventure, Arcade, Beat ’em Up, Casino, Classic, Edutainment, Exercise, Fighting, First-Person Shooter, Flight Simulator, Light Gun Shooter, MMORPG, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Rhythm, RPG, Shoot ’em Up, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Survival Horror, Third-Person Shooter, Visual Novel
A generally reasonable list with a few odd choices. Action-RPG is a popular kind of game, but rarely makes genre lists, being covered by Action, RPG or both. Quite a few of these are types of Action games, yet other genres, like Sports, are not so divided up.
The musical games I checked are filed under Rhythm. The only Classic games I could find were Nintendo Mini Classics dedicated handhelds. Though not every Horror game is a Survival Horror game, that is the genre they are all put under.
Spore is considered a Simulation. It would like be that or Strategy when you can only choose one.
LaunchBox Games Database
Launchbox serves as a launching hub for digital games, seemingly with a focus on emulation. Basic information for each game, including genre, is “crowdsourced”. Launchbox started out using TheGamesDB as its game database but stopped several years ago. A lot of older data is still the same. As such its 26 genres are pretty similar to TheGamesDB:
Action, Adventure, Beat ’em Up, Board Game, Casino, Construction and Management Simulation, Education, Fighting, Flight Simulator, Horror, Life Simulation, MMO, Music, Party, Platform, Puzzle, Quiz, Racing, Role-Playing, Sandbox, Shooter, Sports, Stealth, Strategy, Vehicle Simulation, Visual Novel
The following were changed from TheGamesDB:
Beat ’em Up, Casino, and Visual Novel were added.
Family, Productivity, Unofficial, Utility, and Virtual Console were removed
I’d say the changes were a nice improvement, the removed genres were barely used on TheGamesDB and somewhat vague, and the added ones are nice distinctions from other genres. Not many places use Casino, but there’s always been a fair number of these types of games.
There are pages for their definitions of each genre, but unfortunately they are blank.
Spore uses the same genres as TheGamesDB, Adventure and Life Simulation.
Collectorz keeps track of movie, book, music, comic, and game collections. No master list of genres exists, and there are no pages listing all games of a genre. I contacted support and asked if they could tell me what their genres were, but I was told that they did not have such a list ready to send to me. So I manually looked up a whole lot of games and recorded all the genres I saw. This list may not be quite complete, but it should be pretty close. Here are the 40 genres I managed to find:
Action, Action/Adventure, Adventure, Arcade, Battle, Beat ’em Up, Board, Card, Compilation, Driving, Educational, Entertainment, Fighting, Fitness, Flight Simulation, FPS, Hack & Slash, Health & Fitness, MMORPG, Music, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Productivity, Puzzle, Racing, Real Time Strategy, Retro, RPG, Sandbox, Shooter, Simulation, Simulator, Sports, Strategy, Survival Horror, Trivia, Virtual Pet, Visual Novel
Pretty comprehensive overall, but the absence of a Rhythm genre leaves such games in Music, and many don’t really belong there. Not for the first time we have Real Time Strategy, but no Turn Based Strategy.
Several genres I could only find a one or a few instances of, even when looking at other games in the series. For example, Viva Pinata and Super Mario Maker were Entertainment games, Cave Story and ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! were Arcade. It is difficult to tell what exactly these genre labels mean.
In fact, many series had drastically changing genres, suggesting different people entered them without much communication about how genres should be applied. Some The Legend of Zelda games have RPG, some don’t. Minecraft’s various ports had different combinations of Adventure, Action, Simulation, Puzzle, Action/Adventure, Other, and Sandbox.
SEGA Bass Fishing has Adventure, Simulation, and Simulator as genres. I sure did not expect to see Simulation sitting beside Simulator again. I still don’t understand the difference.
Battle returns and I still can’t get a grip on what it is supposed to mean.
Spore (you will need an account to see this page) is listed as Simulation and Strategy.
Completionator was launched in 2014 and has almost 56,000 games in its database. Its focus is keeping track of the games its users have completed, including how long it took, but there are many other social features. It looks like the people who run the site handle all of the game data. It uses 117 genres:
4X Strategy, Action, Action RPG, Action Strategy, Action-Adventure, Adventure, Amateur Flight Simulation, Artillery, Battle Royale, Beat ’em Up, Biological Simulation, Board Game, Breakout, Business Simulation, Card Game, Cinematic-Platform, City-Builder, Combat Flight Simulation, Compilation, Dating Simulation, Dungeon Crawler, Educational, Exercise / Fitness, Exploration, Fighting, First-Person Shooter, Fitness, Fixed Shooter, Flight Sim, Gambling, Game Show, God Game, Graphic Adventure, Hack and Slash (Action), Hack and Slash (RPG), Hidden Object, Incremental Game, Interactive Movie, JRPG, Light Gun Shooter, Management, Maze, Minigame Collection, Miscellaneous (General), MMO, MOBA, Monster Tamer RPG, Multidirectional Shooter, Party, Pet-raising Simulation, Pinball, Platform-Adventure, Platformer, Puzzle, Puzzle-Platform, Racing, Rail Shooter, Real-time Strategy, Real-Time Tactics, Rhythm, RPG, Run and Gun, Scrolling Shooter, Shoot ’em Up, Shooter, Shooting Gallery, Simulation, Social Simulation, Space Combat Simulation, Space Trading and Combat Simulation, Sports (Baseball), Sports (Basketball), Sports (Biking), Sports (Billiards), Sports (Bowling), Sports (Boxing / Martial Arts), Sports (Dodgeball), Sports (Fishing), Sports (Football), Sports (Futuristic), Sports (General), Sports (Golf), Sports (Hockey), Sports (Horse Racing), Sports (Hunting), Sports (Rugby), Sports (Skateboarding), Sports (Skiing / Snowboarding), Sports (Soccer), Sports (Surfing), Sports (Tennis), Sports (Track and Field), Sports (Volleyball), Sports (Wrestling), Stealth, Strategy, Survival, Survival Horror, Tactical RPG, Tactical Shooter, Tank Simulation, Text Adventure, Third-Person Shooter, Time Management, Top-Down Shooter, Tower Defense, Train Simulation, Tube Shooter, Turn-Based Strategy, Turn-Based Tactics, Utility, Vehicle Simulation (General), Vehicle-Based Shooter, Vehicular Combat, Visual Novel, Wargame, Word Game
Despite having one of the smaller game totals Completionator has one of the largest amount of genres. This is a pretty exhaustive list with over 20 Sports, even including Dodgeball. I was quite surprised to see Amateur Flight Simulation appear on another list.
Games can only have one genre on Completionator. This hides how redundant some of them are, but makes more sense for such a large list, as long as a game can be fit into a single pigeonhole. Games with varied playmodes have to go with whatever is considered the most dominant one. Spore for instance is listed as Biological Simulation, ignoring its Strategy and other Simulation aspects.
An issue that comes up with some of these large lists is lumping together what I would call top level genres in with pretty much all of the subgenres you could come up with. Do you need RPG if you also have every flavor of RPG subgenres to choose from?
RF Generation is a collection site with over 140,000 games in its database. It was launched in 2004 and all data is edited by its users. Discounting Accessory, Cables, Controller, Memory/Backup, Non-Game and System it uses 19 genres:
Action, Action/Adventure, Adventure, Classic Shooter, Compilation, Education, Fighting, Fitness, Game Creator, Game Simulator, Music/Rhythm, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, RPG, Shooter, Simulator, Sports, Strategy
Games can only have one genre. There is also a subgenre field but it is a text field, so editors can write whatever they want. There is no standardization as to what a subgenre is, some examples are Game Show, Board Game / Mystery, Board, Pinball, Party, Various, and Fighting / 3D Beat ‘Em Up.
Classic Shooter refers to what is more often called “Shoot ’em Up”.
Game Creator has level editors, pinball table makers, Dreams, the RPG Makers, Super Mario Maker and the like. This is a coherent idea for a genre that we don’t see often.
Game Simulator refers to games simulating non-video games, like solitaire or Family Feud. Other places might divide these into genres like Quiz or Board Game.
Visual Novels have to choose between between Action/Adventure, Adventure, and Puzzle, and it does not stay consistent within a series.
There are a number of video game awards that honor the best games of the year. Some of these award shows include genre-specific awards. None of these organizations set out to give an award for every genre, so rather than an exhaustive list these are the genres considered most important and recognizable and which have enough eligible games to be considered competitive.
This should hopefully give us a good idea of when various genres come into and out of prominence and how our perceptions of the boundaries of a genre change over time. I have organized these lists by genre rather than year to help show this more clearly. Although a small number of game awards include Multiplayer, VR, and certain other terms that don’t really describe a genre even though they have appeared on a genre list, I have not included them when they are used.
Golden Joystick Awards
The longest-running video game award ceremony, the Golden Joystick Awards, started in 1983. Anyone can currently vote for the nominees online, although it used to only be open to the British public. Some time in the late 80s eligible games were expanded from just computers to include console games. There was no 1993 or 1995 ceremony, the 1997 ceremony covered games from the previous 2 years, and there was no ceremony from 1998 to 2001.
- Action/Adventure: 2010-2012
- Adventure: 1984-1988
- Arcade: 1983-1987
- Fighting: 2010-2012
- Indie: 2013-2021
- MMO: 2011-2012
- Music: 2010-2011
- Puzzle: 2010
- Racing: 2010-2012
- RPG: 2010-2012
- Shooter: 2010-2012
- Simulation: 1988-1994
- Sports: 2002, 2010-2012
- Strategy: 1983-1987, 2010-2012
Game Critics Awards
The Game Critics Awards occur after E3 and only games that made an appearance at E3 are eligible. The judges are a select group of media outlets. There were 65 judges in 2019, which was the last time the awards were held.
- Action: 1998-2019
- Action/Adventure: 1998-2019
- Fighting: 1998-2018
- Independent: 2014-2019
- Platformer: 1999
- Racing: 1998-2019
- Real-Time Strategy: 1998
- Role-Playing: 1998-2019
- Simulation: 2000-2006, 2008
- Simulation (Combat): 1998-1999
- Simulation (Non-Combat): 1998-1999
- Simulation (Flight): 1999
- Social/Casual/Puzzle/Family: 1998-2019
- Sports: 1998-2019
- Strategy: 1999-2019
- Turn-Based Strategy: 1998
The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences is a video game industry non-profit organization that holds the D.I.C.E. awards every year since 1998. The AIAS selects over 100 professionals in the video game industry to choose the nominees, which are then voted on by AIAS members.
- Action: 2005-2021
- Action (Console): 1997-2004
- Action (Computer): 1997-2004
- Action Sports (Console): 2003-2004
- Adventure: 2005-2021
- Adventure (Console): 1997-1999, 2001-2004
- Adventure (Computer): 1997-1999, 2001-2004
- Adventure/Role-Playing (Console): 2000
- Adventure/Role-Playing (Computer): 2000
- Casual: 2008-2013
- Educational/Skills (Computer): 1997-2002
- Family: 1997-1998, 2004-2021
- Family (Console): 1999-2001, 2003
- Family (Computer): 1999-2001, 2003
- Family/Children’s (Computer): 1998-2002, 2004
- Fighting: 1997-2021
- First Person Action (Console): 2002-2006
- First Person Action (Computer): 2002-2006
- Massively Multiplayer/Persistent World/Online/Online Role-Playing: 1997-2008
- Racing: 1997-2021
- Role-Playing: 2005-2008, 2017-2021
- Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year: 2009-2016
- Role-Playing (Console): 1997, 2002-2004
- Role-Playing (Computer): 1997-1998, 2002-2004
- Simulation: 2004-2006
- Simulation (Computer): 1997-2003
- Sports: 2004-2021
- Sports (Console): 1997-2002
- Sports (Computer): 1997-2003
- Sports Simulation: 2004
- Sports Simulation (Console): 2003
- Strategy: 2004-2006
- Strategy (Computer): 1997-2003
- Strategy/Simulation: 2007-2021
British Academy Games Awards
The BAFTA Games Awards are run by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, a trade organization in the United Kingdom. Presumably because two consecutive ceremonies went from March of 2005 (games of 2004) to October of 2006 (games of the last 18 or so months), there was no “2005” ceremony.
- Action: 2003-2004, 2009-2012
- Action and Adventure: 2006-2008
- Adventure: 2003
- Casual: 2007-2008
- Casual & Social: 2006
- Children’s: 2003-2006
- Family: 2010-2021
- Family & Social: 2009
- Puzzle: 2010
- Racing: 2003-2004
- Simulation: 2006
- Sports: 2003-2010, 2013-2015
- Sports/Fitness: 2011-2012
- Strategy: 2003, 2006-2012
- Strategy & Simulation: 2007
Spike Video Game Awards
The Spike Video Game Awards aired on Spike TV from to 2003 to 2013. A small group of a few dozen publications formed an advisory council to decide the nominees and vote on them. It was produced by Geoff Keighley during its run.
- Action: 2003-2007
- Action Adventure: 2008-2012
- Comedy: 2009
- Driving: 2003-2013
- Fantasy: 2003
- Fighting: 2003-2006, 2008-2009, 2011-2013
- First Person Action: 2003-2005
- Independent: 2008-2013
- Individual Sports: 2005-2012
- Massively Multiplayer: 2004
- Military: 2004-2007
- Motion: 2011
- Music: 2008-2010
- Rhythm: 2007
- RPG: 2004-2013
- Social: 2012
- Shooter: 2006-2013
- Sports: 2003-2004, 2013
- Team Sports: 2005-2012
The Game Awards
After moving on from the Spike Video Game Awards Geoff Keighley started the The Game Awards. A committee is put together of major publishers and hardware makers which selects around 30 game industry news organizations to come up with nominees and then vote on the winners. These organizations get a 90% share of the votes, with 10% going to the public. I am omitting Indie Debut (later known as Indie), which is the best first game by an independent studio because it’s pretty redundant with Independent.
- Action: 2016-2022
- Action/Adventure: 2014-2022
- Family: 2014-2022
- Fighting: 2014-2022
- Independent: 2014-2022
- Role Playing: 2014-2022
- Shooter: 2014-2015
- Sim/Strategy: 2020-2022
- Sports/Racing: 2014-2022
- Strategy: 2016-2019
Electronic Gaming Monthly
Electronic Gaming Monthly was a multi-format gaming magazine that covered console but not PC (for most of its run) games. Once a year writers and readers of the magazine voted in separate polls for various categories. The Gamer’s Choice Awards continued after 2003, but without categories for genres. I could not find the award categories for 1993 or 1995, but they probably included Action, Fighting, RPG, and Sports.
- Action: 1994, 1996-2003
- Action RPG: 1998-1999
- Action/Adventure: 1992
- Adventure: 1996-2003
- Arcade: 1996
- Compilation: 1997
- Driving: 1994, 2002
- Fighting: 1994, 1996-2003
- First-Person Shooter: 1997, 2002
- Flying: 1996
- Light Gun: 1997
- Puzzle: 1996-2001
- Racing: 1997-2001, 2003
- Role-Playing: 1989-1992, 1994, 1996-2003
- Shooter: 1994, 1996-1999, 2003
- Side-Scrolling: 1996-1997
- Sports: 1989-1992, 1994, 1996-2000, 2003
- Sports (Action): 2001
- Sports (Simulation): 2001
- Strategy: 1996-2001, 2003
Early and Miscellaneous Genre Systems
Nintendo’s Black Box series refers to the first 30 games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. One feature of these boxes was a graphic showing the genre of the game in the corner. The genres that appeared were:
Action Series, Adventure Series, Arcade Series, Education Series, Light Gun Series, Programmable Series, Robot Series, Sports Series
Light Gun and Robot were to show off special accessories of the NES and are specific to it. The idea of Programmable games has faded over time, and it was only a minor feature in the games that were labeled with it. You can make your own track (but not save it) in Excitebike, for instance.
The Adventure Series graphic shows a child swinging on a rope over water, implying the games feature daring adventures, quite different from the “story heavy and slower paced” meaning that we generally use for it now.
Sega games released in Japan had a genre identifier on their box, using 10 genres:
Sega Retro says that Master System (third generation) games used this system, but I couldn’t find any boxes from this era with them. Early Genesis/Mega Drive (fourth generation) games did, though. The logo for Adventure games tells a different story than Nintendo’s, with a Sherlock Holmes-like detective making a question mark with pipe smoke.
Shoot-’em-Up includes Shooters of all kinds. The icon for Table says “HOME” and has a die suggesting it is for Card and Board games, but it also seems to be a miscellaneous genre, including Educational and Compilation games.
Softalk was a magazine dedicated to the Apple II that ran from 1980 to 1984. It broke games into Adventure, Arcade, Fantasy, and Strategy genres. Fantasy’s description of “in which you create one or more characters with whom you identify as the game progresses” is essentially an RPG.
Computer Gaming World was another computer game magazine and in 1982 polled readers as to whether they preferred Adventure, Arcade or Wargame games. In 1989 this would be amended to Action/Arcade, Adventure, Role-Playing Adventure, Simulation, Strategy, and Wargames.
The Entertainment Software Association is the U.S. trade association of video games and lobbies the government, fights against copyright infringement, runs E3, and releases statistics about the industry. In these reports they break games into Action, Adventure, Fighting, Racing, Role-Playing, Shooter, Sports, Strategy, and Miscellaneous genres.
Academic Approaches to Genre
Eric Solomon, in his Games Programming book from 1984, splits games into three genres: Simulations, Abstract, and Sports. By today’s standards there seems to be little distinction between the realism of games from that era, none of them come close to really accurately simulating anything. It also seems like the great majority of what would be simulated would be sports, so why separate Sports of all things?
John C Wright et all in their paper (which I am unable to read, I am only going off what Wikipedia has to say) American children’s use of electronic media in 1997: A national survey divide video games into Educational or Informative, Sports, Sensorimotor, Other Vehicular Simulations, Strategy, and Other. Sensorimotor covers Action, Fighting, Driving, and more, while Strategy covers RPG, Puzzle, and Tactics games. This paper seems to be focused on how electronic games, not just video games, effect children, and this is reflected in the broad genre choices centered on psychological effects.
Jeanne B Funk and Debra B Buchman in Video Game Controversies (again, I am not able to read this article from a science journal) use 6 genres: General Entertainment, Educational, Fantasy Violence, Human Violence, Sports Violence. General Entertainment in this case refers to games with no fighting or destruction. From what I can gather this paper is about how video game violence affects children.
In Game Type and Game Genre Lindsay Grace draws a distinction between type and genre. According to him, game types describe game play, with following being a “brief list”: Action, Adventure, Puzzle, Role Playing, Simulation, and Strategy. Game genre on the other hand, describes the story. The list given is Crime, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Western/Eastern/Frontier.
The most substantive academic work about video game genres I was able to find was Mark Wolf’s 2000 paper Genre and the Video Game. It uses the following 40 genres:
Abstract, Adaptation, Adventure, Artificial Life, Board Games, Capturing, Card Games, Catching, Chase, Collecting, Combat, Demo, Diagnostic, Dodging, Driving, Educational, Escape, Fighting, Flying, Gambling, Interactive Movie, Management Simulation, Maze, Obstacle Course, Pencil-and-Paper Games, Pinball, Platform, Programming Games, Puzzle, Quiz, Racing, Role-Playing, Rhythm and Dance, Shoot ’Em Up, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Table-Top Games, Target, Text Adventure, Training Simulation, Utility
Many of these have not been seen elsewhere, but thankfully definitions are provided.
Abstract involves “nonrepresentational graphics” and is not focused on a narrative. The examples include Tetris, Pipe Dream, Pac-Man and Q*Bert, mostly Puzzle games.
Adaptation refers to games trying to mimic real life activities, such as poker, sports, or the narrative of a book. Many of the examples are licensed games, such as The Simpsons and Wheel of Fortune.
His definition of Adventure refers to going places on multiple screens or many rooms, finding keys, and a particular setting. There is no mention of being story focused and the examples include Myst, the Tomb Raider series, and the Ultima series.
Capturing is a very specific one where players capture something that is evading them. All of the examples are from before 1990.
Catching on the other hand is like Capturing, but the object being pursued does not evade.
Combat games feature 1 on 1 battles involving projectiles where the player tries to shoot their opponent before they get shot. Examples include Battletech, Battlezone, and Combat.
The Fighting description specifically says “without the use of firearms or projectiles”, but one of the examples is the Mortal Kombat series, which does feature some fireballs and other projectiles.
Platform games are said to be strictly from a side view, not a top-down one.
Target games involve shooting at non-moving targets and not being shot at.
Utility games have a function or purpose beyond entertainment. Some of the examples include programming guides, learning to type games, and household finance software. There is a lot of overlap with Educational games, Mario Teaches Typing is an example for both.
In the introduction Demo, Diagnostic, Educational, Puzzle, Simulation, and Utility are lumped together as “arguably not games” and included only because they are sold in the same format as games, and sometimes collected as such. While some argue that Visual Novels or Walking Simulators should not be considered “real games” I have not seen the idea that Educational, Puzzle or Simulation games are not.
Overall, almost all of the examples are 2nd and 3rd generation games. Even in 2000 when this was published many of these genres were just common gameplay elements that existed in many games and would not be considered genres of their own. Many of the distinctions between genres like Capturing, Chase, and Catching feel uncessary. Very few of the genre definitions seem to consider 3D games at all, though a few are cited as examples, such as Myst, Samba de Amigo and Diablo. Overall, the paper seems a decade out of date.
Conclusions and Building a Better Genre System
Nine genres stick out as the bedrock, seen almost everywhere almost since the beginning of splitting games into genres, even if sometimes combined with each other or divided into smaller ones. I feel these 9 stand out as being the most common and recognizable, even if various subgenres like First-Person Shooters may be talked about more often. These are very close to the genres MobyGames uses, too.
Action: A very broad genre for fast-paced games relying on quick reactions and precise button inputs. Although many of the other foundational genres share these traits, they seem to take precedence. Pretty much every Sports or Racing game fits the Action criteria, but would be called Sports or Racing games first and foremost. In many ways Action is the most recognizable of the genres, it is emblematic of video games. If you are using a list of genres larger than the smallest possible a large portion of them will be split off from Action, like Music, Rhythm, Platformer, First-Person Shooter, Shoot-’em-Up, and Fighting.
Adventure: This genre has seen the most varied definitions, despite being the only one given a definitive start point: 1980’s Adventure-though MobyGames does list Wander as preceding it. Some aspects attributed to this genre are a narrative focus, not depending on precise player inputs to succeed, traveling to a variety of places, being mental in nature rather than physical, investigation, interacting with your surroundings, and a focus on decision making and puzzle solving. Adventure (the game) generally fulfills these, except there are enemies to avoid so there is definitely an element of precise control needed. Adventure games have taken several forms over the years, from Point-and-Clicks and Text Adventures, to Visual Novels, and FMV games.
Despite being defined almost as the opposite of Action, Action Adventure is sometimes considered a distinct genre of its own. Sometimes neither Action nor Adventure will be used, leaving Action Adventure to take on a huge number of games. When allowed to exist alongside Action and Adventure, Action Adventure is sort of a modern generic gamey game, where there is a fair amount of story, you travel around killing enemies, you explore, solve some puzzles along the way, manage your items, maybe choose some upgrades and talk to some NPCs. The Last of Us, the Uncharted series, the Tomb raider series, all sort of cinematic experiences with broad appeal.
Educational: It may be the smallest of the nine, but Educational has appeared on most genre lists, and has been recognized as a genre for a very long time. There are overall a small number of directly educational games, almost always made for children and relating to reading, math, and typing. The computer and video game industry saw a big edutainment boom in the 80s and 90s.
Although often segregated as something only children would play, and often only begrudgingly, there are some games appealing to adults which can be educational as well. Art Academy and Mario Paint are often classified as Educational and people of all ages enjoy making art. There are games that can teach you something about history (Civilization), urban planning (Sim City), or computer programming (Zachtronics’ games), yet these games are almost never considered Educational.
Puzzle: Featuring color matching, falling blocks, pattern and spatial recognition, moving objects around a grid, word games, logic problems, physics problems, and more, Puzzle games come in a variety of real-time and turn-based forms. Although many games incorporate puzzles in some way, few games today outside of indie and mobile releases are outright Puzzle games.
Tetris has cast a long shadow, being a breakout hit and the longest running Puzzle series. Falling Block games are likely among the first type of Puzzle game one thinks of. Matching Tile games are very popular on mobile devices.
Racing: Racing games have maintained a strong presence throughout gaming history. Broadly divided into Simulation and Arcade, Racing games can feature a wide variety of vehicles or means of locomotion, but cars are most common. Usually there is a track and a number of competitors that you are trying to beat to a finish line. Some games like Crazy Taxi are considered Racing games because they focus on getting from one place to another quickly, even though you are not racing against anyone, just a timer. This seems to only apply to games where you control a vehicle, as other speed focused games like Neon White are not considered Racing.
This genre is occasionally combined with Sports. Both are competitive and athletic, pitting racers or athletes against each other, and racing is usually considered a sport. Yet most lists of genres include Racing but not other individual sports as genres.
Racing is also often combined with Driving games. The Driving genre involves driving a vehicle, but not racing it, such as Euro Truck Simulator. Most Driving games are also Simulation games.
Role-Playing: Like Adventure games, Role-Playing games tend to have a lot of narrative and involve going to many places and solving some puzzles. But Role-Playing games also focus on character progression with some mixture of levels, stats, new skills to learn, passive abilities, equipment, and other party members with their own traits. While many non-RPG games have incorporated these elements over time, RPGs have kept their identity and thrived more than Puzzle games have.
There are a couple major divides within the RPG genre. There are Computer/Western/Classic RPGs, which used to be mainly released on computers, follow Dungeons & Dragons tropes, give the player choice in the story and when to do things, and are not developed in Japan. On the other hand Japanese RPGs, are developed in Japan (although it depends on who you ask if this is a hard requirement), usually have a party of characters with a set backstory, influenced by Dragon Quest, and usually have linear storylines.
There are also Turn-Based RPGs (which includes most Strategy RPGs) and Action RPGs. The line between RPGs with action combat and Action games with RPG elements can get quite blurry.
Simulation: In Simulation games the player controls some kind of simulation. Simulations can range from as realistic as possible to completely ridiculous for humor. The thing being simulated can vary wildly, there are games about running some kind of business (theme parks, zoos hospitals), living a character’s life, operating a vehicle (cars, planes, submarines), a specific job (chef, photographer), playing or managing a sports team (especially football), and more.
There aren’t a lot of Simulation games made, but they have been a steady force in gaming. Maxis and their Sim games were synonymous with the genre for many years. Animal Crossing and The Sims continue to be big sellers and have little competition in their niches.
Sports: Sports are a natural fit for games, there are clearly defined rules, there’s inherent competition, and they appeal to fans of the real life sport. Virtually every sport has had a Sports game dedicated to it, even back in the 8-bit era when games could barely represent what they were meant to portray. Sports games are generally split between Simulation and Arcade. The Simulation side, concerned with realism and often with an official league license tend to release annually. The Arcade side focuses on fast-paced action and doesn’t necessarily follow all the rules of the sport. There are even fictional sport games.
Sports Manager, or GM games, are also often classified as Sports games, though they can be Simulations too. These games don’t involve playing the sport yourself, but managing a team through menu-based choices.
Strategy: Styled as another “thinking over action” genre, Strategy games often depict battles and war, two or more sides making careful moves, managing resources, scouting the enemy, planning upgrades, and picking the right time to strike. Some Strategy games feature RPG elements where units level up or have equipment.
The major split in Strategy games is Real-Time versus Turn-Based. More intertwined is the distinction between Strategy and Tactics. Strategy generally refers to big picture plans, things that happen outside of combat missions, while Tactics refers to the small scale plans of what each unit should be doing at any time. Though there are a number of games with “Tactics” in their title and few with “Strategy”, pretty much any Strategy game has both, and almost any game calling itself a Tactics game is also a Strategy game.
An Idealized System
If I was going to build some kind of video game database there would be several fields dividing genres and genre-adjacent concepts.
First, every game would have one or more of the nine above genres as its “Top Level Genre”. I believe you can reasonably fit everything within at least one of these nine, but perhaps an Other would be necessary occasionally. It’s not an issue that Action is so big if there’s plenty more subgenres and other ways to refine a search.
A “Contains Elements” field could be filled in with one the big 9 genres. This would be useful to describe games that just have some of an element, but it’s not the main focus and it doesn’t quite deserve to be listed as one of the Top Level Genre.
Next, there would be a “Subgenre” field. Subgenre refers to any specific genre that is not one of the nine, like Card Game, Hockey, Rhythm, or Platformer. There are potentially hundreds of these, and there’s no reason to hold back.
Themes and settings appeared in a lot of genre lists, but I think they should be their own field. Horror, science fiction, western, space, historical, and fantasy can be applied to a game of any genre. Survival Horror is a distinct subgenre and can still have horror as a theme.
A few other things like VR, 3D, compilation or multiplayer crept into a lot of genre lists as well, and should have their own appropriate fields concerning the number of players, visual formats, camera perspectives, etc. It’s hard to go wrong with more fields, as long as you have a robust search function to utilize it.
A lot of what I’ve said here may sound like minor quibbles, but as I went through all of these lists of genres a lot of the time genre seemed like an afterthought. Like the makers of these giant game databases just put down what came to mind first. I think this does a disservice to the greater video game playing community. To able to find games you may be interested in, or to research some aspect of video game history, it’s important that games are properly categorized. Well thought out genre systematization makes these resources more useful.
Sources and Further Reading