More content

The first part of this project has some important context about how this study was conducted.

I realized I had a lot of data I could find that wouldn’t really make for a good graph, and some trivia that didn’t fit anywhere. This is a more loosely structured post, so please forgive the abrupt changes of subject.

More on Metascores

The day with the most games released with a 90+ metascore was, well, a two way tie.

  • February 29th, 2000
    • Dead Or Alive 2 (Dreamcast)
    • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (N64)
    • Rayman 2: The Great Escape (Dreamcast)
    • Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Dreamcast)
  • November 18th, 2001
    • Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (Gamecube)
    • Madden NFL 2002 (Gamecube)
    • IL2-Sturmovik (PC)
    • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (Gamecube)

Great days for Dreamcast and Gamecube. Wow, Dreamcast had 7 games release on Leap Day, and Chu Chu Rocket was pretty close to the 90+ club.

The greatest drought between games with a 90+ metascore was… ok, I was going to say between Realms of the Haunting and Dungeon Keeper, but in double checking I have now found 3 possible release dates for Realms and the one I have recorded is probably wrong.

Let’s instead go with Out of the Park Baseball (3/23/06) and Company of Heroes (9/13/06), a period of 174 days. Remember how 2006 saw that dip in metascores?

Two games, one name, two developers, one score.

More on Descriptors

Are you ready for more content descriptor details? The game with the most descriptors I could find was 9, and it’s not something you would expect:

I didn’t get into this before, but the ESRB combines substance descriptors if they’re both “use” or both “reference” for some reason. Not sure any game has all three. That was a bit of a pain to deal with.

Anyway, I have no idea why this singing game has so many, and oddly enough the Switch version only has 8, no Partial Nudity.

Several other games had 8 descriptors, most are current generation:

  • Constructor Plus (Switch, 3DS, PS4)
    • Blood, Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco, Violence
  • Constructor HD (Xbox One, PS4)
    • Blood, Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco, Violence
  • Night in the Woods (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
    • Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Sexual Themes, Drug Reference, Language, Crude Humor, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco
  • The Red Strings Club (Switch)
    • Blood, Drug Reference, Nudity, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco, Violence
  • Thimbleweed Park (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
    • Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Language, MildBlooo, MildVio, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco
  • Def Jam Rapstar (Wii, PS3, Xbox 360)
    • Drug Reference, Mild Blood, Mild Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Lyrics, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco
  • Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)
    • Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs, Use of Alcohol
  • Duke Nukem Forever (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
    • Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs, Use of Alcohol
  • Skylight Freerange (Vita)
    • Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Nudity, Drug Reference, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco
  • Skylight Freerange 2 (Vita)
    • Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Nudity, Drug Reference, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Use of Tobacco

The only game with both Mild Fantasy Violence and Mild Cartoon Violence was Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged Vol. 1. Okay, a compilation, but it doesn’t seem like there should be a reason those don’t ever appear together otherwise.

The only game with Nudity and Simulating Gambling was Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.

I had to check the box to make sure it wasn’t an error on the ESRB website. But yes, Loons has two degrees of violence. I don’t think any other game I looked at had two “tiers” of something. I have to imagine it was a mistake.

Is there any actual content differences between these versions? I believe the Vita version was released before the “rate it yourself for cheaper” program.

I’m again not familiar with these two games, but could the Cartoon Violence really be significantly more major in one version? Usually when a game is released on multiple platforms, even months apart, it gets one entry if they have the same content. Maybe for some reason different people handled these two and had different opinions?

Fantasy Violence wasn’t a descriptor when the original was released, so fair enough there, but that is quite a difference in descriptors.

 

More on the ESRB Website and ESRB Weirdness

This game was known as Speedster in Europe, and Rush Hour in North America. Why does a North American rating system website have the European title at all? This was the only two name case like this I came across.

Released on “Nintendo”, I came across a few of those.

I was pretty confused by this when I saw it, but I found an article where the creator discusses what and why he tones down the Wii U version.

Should a crossword game where the clues are a bit off-color (this actually sounds extreme for a newspaper puzzle) count as much as if there were actual characters engaging in these acts? It’s a bit of an edge case. It’s also funny that they censored “ass” on this website aimed at adult parents.

The ESRB’s website will ignore spaces when searching titles. Finding the rating of a Playstation game called “One” was quite an experience. It was on something like the 37th page (results are chronological) and you can only go forward one page at a time. You can filter by system, but only for some newer systems because why would would anyone care about something old.

If you were wondering why I didn’t just look at a picture of One’s case on eBay, I did. Games are supposed to list their descriptors on the back, below the ESRB rating, but this one didn’t.

This My Little Pony game doesn’t have any ESRB information at all on the back. I can’t find much information about game box art requirements, like what size things have to be, where they need to be placed, just “in June 2003 — the ESRB announced new labeling procedures (requiring the prominent display of back-of-the-box information)“, which is odd since the overwhelming majority of games already had that. I suppose publishers handle box art, but there is still enough structure to them that they must have a lot of requirements.

After a bit of browsing, I found this E.T. game for Game Boy Advance without any ESRB information on the back.

The Best, worst and Most Average game

I realized that with all of the data I have that I can construct what would theoretically be the best and worst game possible, based on averages. This is a for fun exercise, please don’t take it too seriously.

The worst possible game, based on average metascores:

  • System: Wii
  • Release Date: August 4th, 2007
  • Genre: Educational
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone (Early Childhood games don’t even get ratings so I won’t assume)
  • ESRB Content Descriptors: None
  • Length: As short as possible, definitely less than 4.5 hours to beat

The best possible game, based on average metascores:

  • System: Xbox One
  • Release Date: December 28, 2019
  • Genre: Role-Playing and Compilation
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • ESRB Content Descriptors: Sexual Content, Nudity, Use of Tobacco, Use of Alcohol, Use of Drugs, Intense Violence, Blood and Gore
  • Length: As long as possible, at least 15 hours to beat

That best possible game sounds a bit like a Mass Effect trilogy compilation, which has been rumored as of this writing (May 9th).

Most average game, based on average metascores:

  • System: Game Boy Color
  • Release Date: February 3, 2010
  • Genre: Simulation
  • ESRB Rating: E10+
  • ESRB Content Descriptors: Crude Humor
  • Length: 7.5 hours to beat

Ignoring system, but considering proximity to the actual average score of 70.25, we might label The Urbz: Sims in the City to be the most average game of the past 25 years. It doesn’t quite fit every parameter, but nothing will. I’m sure there’s better ways of finding “most average” than looking at what parameters line up in the middle of metascores, too.

That’s all for the 25 year project. Is there a specific thing that I could find quickly with the information I have that you’re curious about?

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

Content Descriptors Background

The first part of this project has some important context about how this study was conducted.

The ESRB does not just give games ratings, it also uses content descriptors to more specifically describe content that consumers may find objectionable. Very similar, appearing in the same place as content descriptors on the back of game boxes, are also “Interactive Elements” that describe online features that consumers may want to know about before buying a game, such as In-Game Purchases or Shares Location. I did not include interactive elements in this study.

I find these content descriptors so interesting for two reasons. One, because it’s a look at how an organization tries to organize and sort thousands of games based largely on what parents might not want their children to be exposed to, and two, because it’s a formal description of what kind things happen inside a game. No one else is going to make a list of games that have “Cartoon Violence, but it’s pretty mild” but a ratings agency.

By my count there have been 49 content descriptors used during the life of the ESRB. Several have been retired. A couple seem to be “retired” in that they have been replaced with other descriptors but have been used a few times since their retirement, perhaps in error. Two, as far as I can tell, have never been used.

Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed shows up on many lists of content descriptors, including Wikipedia’s, but does not appear on the ESRB’s list of descriptors, though presumably it did at some point. These lists say that it is exclusive to Early Childhood games. MobyGames claims a single game has received this descriptor, Disney’s Little Einsteins. This game is rated Everyone, not Early Childhood. The ESRB’s page for the game says it has no descriptors. GameFAQ’s scans of the box also show no descriptors.

Real Gambling, used for games where real money is exchanged while gambling, is listed on the ESRB’s list of descriptors, but I can find no evidence it has ever been used. You may be aware that Peak Entertainment Casinos is the only game to receive an Adults Only rating for having real gambling, and that is true. However, it has the content descriptor “Gambling”, a descriptor that was retired, seemingly split into Simulated Gambling and Real Gambling. The Gambling descriptor was also used for Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which only features gambling for in-game currency.

There are many descriptors with “mild” prefixes, but the ESRB does not acknowledge these as separate descriptors from the non-prefixed versions (except for the substance ones, which are worded differently), on their website, but do list the “strong” prefixed versions.

The ESRB categorizes content descriptors, but I did not realize this before I had already categorized them myself. The only difference ended up being that I put blood and violence in the same category, and I included retired descriptors.

ESRB Content Descriptors – Distribution

I’m starting with this mammoth chart so I can list all of the descriptors and their approximate dates of use. You’ll notice some descriptors used once or twice and then not used for years before being used regularly, like Tobacco Reference appearing in one game, 4 years before any other substance reference descriptor appeared.

I looked it up and that game was Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty (an expansion pack, but a standalone one, so it counts). If you go to ESRB.org (where I got most of my ESRB information) and search for that game, you’ll see this:

But if you go to Steam, where it is currently for sale, you’ll see this:

So, which is correct? The Steam listing has “Animated Violence”, one of those “retired but not” descriptors, which makes it look much older than the ESRB one. It’s possible Steam used the game’s old, original ESRB rating for some reason (the back of the box seems to confirm this was the original rating), and then the game got re-rated by the ESRB some time later. Why would the game get re-rated if if not for the Steam release, though?

I spent at least 20 minutes putting together the evidence for this one specific game and I still don’t know what should “count”. The ESRB website has a lot of odd conflicting information and I didn’t have the will to double check and investigate every single one.

Furthering my point that it’s very hard to determine the history of descriptors let’s look at MobyGame’s list of games with Animated Violence. One game in 2018, one in 2011, a handful until 2003, and then dozens every year before that. The ESRB’s content descriptor list in February 2004 doesn’t mention it, but a list from February 2001 has it under “discontinued content descriptors”. And yet that MobyGames list has dozens of uses of the descriptor in 2001 and 2002! And looking at that ESRB page from 2001 page I am seeing for the first time the descriptor “Reading Skills, Fine Motor Skills, Higher-Level Thinking Skills”. Searching for that exact phrase in Google right now returns 25 results, all pretty much verbatim copies of that outdated list, no games mentioned as using it, so I guess that’s three never used descriptors. No one has found it interesting enough to discuss until now, either. I have really been down a rabbit hole on this subject.

So, as I discuss when these descriptors began and ended I will be ignoring some outliers. If nothing is stated, then the descriptor has been in continuous use since the start of this study, in 1995.

  • Substances
    • Alcohol Reference – Started in 2003 with the other [Substance] Reference descriptors
    • Use of Alcohol
    • Drug Reference – Started in 2003 with the other [Substance] Reference descriptors
    • Use of Drugs – Started in 2002, it seems odd it took longer than Alcohol and Tobacco.
    • Tobacco Reference – Started in 2003 with the other [Substance] Reference descriptors
    • Use of Tobacco
  • Violence
    • Animated Blood – Animated in these descriptors means “cartoony”, not that it is moving.
    • Animated Blood and Gore – Probably meant to be retired in 2002, but has popped up once in a while since then.
    • Mild Animated Violence – Probably meant to be retired in 2002, but has popped up once in a while since then.
    • Animated Violence – Probably meant to be retired in 2002, but has popped up once in a while since then.
    • Mild Blood – Probably started in 2006, that was the first year I have with more than one use.
    • Blood – Started in 1997, or I just got very unlucky with my small number of games from 1995 and 1996.
    • Realistic Blood – Stopped being seen after 2000, the other “Realistic” descriptors were last seen in 2001.
    • Blood and Gore
    • Realistic Blood and Gore – This may have been intended as a stronger version of Blood and Gore because they coexisted, but last seen in 2001.
    • Mild Cartoon Violence – Started 2003.
    • Cartoon Violence – Started 2003. One of “4” (they didn’t include mild versions as separate, so it should be 6) new descriptors announced in June 2003.
    • Mild Fantasy Violence – Started 2003.
    • Fantasy Violence – One of the “4” new descriptors announced in June 2003. I have several from before then, somehow.
    • Intense Violence – One of the “4” new descriptors announced in June 2003.
    • Mild Realistic Violence – Discontinued in 1996 or 1999.
    • Realistic Violence – Gone after 2001.
    • Mild Violence
    • Violence
    • Violent References – Began in 2007.
  • Humor and Mischief
    • Comic Mischief
    • Crude Humor – Probably started use in 2003, although never got a press release like the “4” did.
    • Mature Humor – Probably started use in 2003. Likely a “Strong” version of Crude Humor as we’ll see later.
  • Educational
    • Edutainment – Last seen in 2008.
    • Informational – Last seen 2001.
  • Gambling
    • Simulated Gambling – Started in 2004.
    • Gambling – In use 2000-2004, probably split into Simulated Gambling and the never seen Real Gambling.
    • Gaming – Last seen 2000. Seems to have been replaced with the short lived Gambling. This word is occasionally used as a way to say “gambling” but feels a bit old fashioned, perhaps due to the rise of video and computer games.
  • Language
    • Mild Language
    • Language – Either started in 1998, or I got unlucky with my sample. MobyGame’s list makes it look like it may have indeed started then. It would be odd if it was introduced after its Mild and Strong versions.
    • Strong Language
    • Mild Lyrics – Introduced in 2001.
    • Lyrics – Seemingly introduced in 2004, also after its Mild and Strong versions.
    • Strong Lyrics – Introduced in 2001.
  • Sexual Content
    • Partial Nudity – First used 2001, maybe 2002.
    • Nudity – First used 2002.
    • Sexual Content – First used 2008, or maybe 2006.
    • Strong Sexual Content – Probably around for 25+ years. Oddly, I have no 2019 games with this after a 17 year run.
    • Mild Sexual Themes – Introduced 2008, significantly after its non-prefixed version.
    • Sexual Themes – I’m inclined to think this started in 2004, if not then it’s an odd case of a descriptor suddenly rocketing up in use.
    • Mature Sexual Themes – Last used 2004. It’s possible this was replaced with Sexual Themes, which seems like maybe a way to downplay it.
    • Sexual Violence – This is so rare it’s hard to say. Only seen in 2014. In fact, it was only seen in one game in this study, which was ported to 4 systems: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
    • Mild Suggestive Themes – Began use in 2004.
    • Suggestive Themes

Alright, now I can get to the graphs I usually start with. Please note the Y-axis of these graphs, some categories of descriptors are much more common than others. Alcohol is the most common substance overall and drugs the least. There seems to be more and more smoking in video games over time, quite the opposite of the movie industry.

It’s odd how Animated Violence was semi-retired just as Violence took off (but it did already exist). They are distinct things so it wasn’t a replacement.

A sharp decline in Comic Mischief after a huge spike. I have to wonder how the raters are trained on this kind of thing, do they just read a list of descriptors? Has the public perception of what is Comic Mischief changed over time, or have game developers decided to employ it less than a tenth as often as they did a decade ago?

Two very rarely used descriptors that haven’t been seen in a long time. Informational is an odd one, it was for games with reference material, data, that kind of thing. The only games I have using it were Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, Virtual Kasparaov, Timeline, and Timescape: Journey to Pompeii.

It took a few tries, but the ESRB eventually decided what term to use. Gambling is pretty low overall, perhaps PEGI (the European equivalent of the ESRB) standards for games with gambling influenced developers worldwide.

It took a while before technology allowed the playing of music with potentially objectionable lyrics, but it’s never been very common. I wonder if the shift towards real voice clips over text influenced the rise of bad language.

Many of these descriptors sound similar. Aren’t they all “Sexual Content”, why is that a separate descriptor? This article is a good overview of how all of these differ. Mild Suggestive Themes was sure big for a while, but then drastically fell in use.

I see now that the long bar graph is missing Alcohol Reference, sorry about that. Violence is by far the most common descriptor used, with Blood at #2 with just over half as many uses . Four ports of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes makes Sexual Violence the second rarest descriptor. But the rarest, Mild Realistic Violence, was only seen in Noir: A Shadowy Thriller and Professional Bull Rider.

Overall, all kinds of violence dominate games.

 

Here is how common every combination of descriptors is. The white cells are the overall percent of games that have that descriptor, and then the pink cells at the bottom are what percent of games have that descriptor as their sole descriptor.

It’s safe to say that games have added more and more things to warn about over time, but the ESRB has also expanded what kinds of things they have descriptors for over time. Referring to substance use wasn’t deemed worthy of note until 2003, for instance. I’m sure a number of games released before then would have qualified.

This graph fits pretty well with the general trends of more descriptors over time, and how descriptors relate to ESRB ratings, which we’ll look at later.

ESRB Content Descriptors + Metascores

The better a game is, the more content descriptors it has on average, with quite a jump in the highest tier. Do you think people are more satisfied the more realistic the violence, the more graphic the sexual content?

Games with Sexual Content are more liked than games with any other descriptor. Yet Strong Sexual Content doesn’t do quite as well. Sex in general is a pretty strong indicator of quality, remember that the overall metascore average is 70.25, every sex descriptor is above that. The three substance use descriptors are very close in scores and above average, but merely referring to those same substances scores several fewer metascore points.

Simulated Gambling, perhaps an in-game casino, really seems to turn off reviewers. Cartoon Violence may be so low due to being common in cheap licensed games or just kiddie fare in general. Referring to violence is evidently less satisfying than seeing it.

ESRB Content Descriptors + Genres

In some genres a substance will be alluded to more often than used, and in other genres it’s the other way around. Makes sense for the narrative genres to have more substance descriptors in general.

Role-Playing heavily favors Fantasy Violence due to usually being have some kind of magical or supernatural combat. Compilations have the most Cartoon Violence for some reason.

Again, please note the Y-axis on these graphs will change. Action really favors Crude Humor over Comic Mischief. Not a single Educational, Puzzle, or Simulation game had Mature Humor.

No surprise that Educational games have educational descriptors.

It’s odd that a genre as general as Action is so low in gambling compared to others. I don’t associate Compilations with gambling, I have no idea why that is so high.

The lyrics descriptors more or less work as an indication of how much English language licensed music appears in games, very rarely in Role-Playing, but fairly often in Sports. Simulation includes the likes of Rock Band, so that’s why it has such a showing for lyrical content.

I’m baffled as to why Racing / Driving has the highest rates of Nudity. Role-Playing games overall rank pretty high when it comes to sexual descriptors, while Educational, Puzzle, and Sports games are decidedly unsexy.

Role-Playing attracts a lot of potential content descriptors, Compilation’s high number makes sense, every game can add a few more.

All that Genre + Descriptor data in a chart.

ESRB Content Descriptors + Game Lengths

The longer a game is the more descriptors it has on average.

ESRB Content Descriptors + ESRb Ratings

 

 

The two (of 22) Early Childhood games with descriptors had Edutainment descriptors. There were only two Adults Only games included, but there’s also only a few dozen ever published. Steady increases in descriptors as rating become more severe.

Games rated Everyone rarely have any sexual or substance descriptors, and the violence tends to be fantasy or cartoon based. About 11 descriptors appear in more than 2% of E rated games.

Fantasy Violence suddenly becomes much more prevalent with E10+ games. More descriptors in general, 20 over 2%.

Violence now rockets up in use. Only slightly more descriptors used above 2% of the time, 21.

Blood and Gore and Strong Language now become much more prevalent. Only 18 descriptors used over 2% of the time. Teen games seem to employ the largest variety of descriptors, although it’s pretty close and 2% was an arbitrary cut off.

And here is how common every descriptor is with every rating. I wonder if the ESRB has hard rules for which descriptors can be used with which ratings. It would make sense for a game with Use of Drugs to not be allowed less than a Teen rating, but is there a rule against Mild Fantasy Violence in a Mature rated game, or has there just not been any (any in this study, at least) games that have done that?

And that’s all my graphs and charts for content descriptors. There will be one more bonus post before the next project. It will have some trivia and odd things I found in the course of making all this.

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

System Infographics

The first part of this project has some important context about how this study was conducted.

As a bonus today I have system infographics summarizing some of the information I’ve gone over so far. It’s nice to directly compare systems on a variety of statistics.

There is some important information about how these numbers were obtained in the other parts of this project, please see Part 1 if you haven’t already.

Nintendo Systems

Sony Systems

Sega Systems

Microsoft Systems

Personal Computer

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

ESRB Ratings Background

The first part of this project has some important context about how this study was conducted.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board gives content ratings to games and is recognized in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The first games to receive ratings were released midway into the 4th generation in September 1994 and included Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Sonic Triple Trouble, Super Punch Out!!, Donkey Kong Country, and Doom (32X). The data we’re looking at starts at the fifth generation, so most of the ESRB’s history is included.

The following summaries of the ESRB ratings are based on the ESRB’s descriptions of them, the content descriptors post will go into more detail:

Early Childhood was aimed at young children and was mostly educational games. This rating was retired in 2018 with no announcement until the ESRB replied to a tweet asking about it in 2019. I find it interesting and odd that there being few eC games would be a reason to ditch a useful label. These games had no objectionable content and can only have a small number of content descriptors, I found one used on two games in this study.

The ESRB removed any mention of this rating from their rating description page. In fact, they removed the image of the rating from their website completely:

I took that screen capture several months ago and I was double checking a few things while writing this and it now seems to be impossible to find Early Childhood games by searching the ESRB website:

But they can still be found with a google search, although there’s just a blank space now instead of a broken image:

Everyone was known as “Kids to Adults” until 1998. These games can have only mildly objectionable content such as mild language or violence. Some games rated Everyone have content descriptors, some do not.

Everyone 10+ was introduced in March 2005 as a rating for games in between Everyone and Teen and suitable for players at least 10 years old. All E10+ games have at least one content descriptor.

Some games that got re-rated later were changed from E or T to E10+:

Teen rated games are intended for audiences at least 13 years old. Games with this rating may include simulated gambling or some blood. All Teen games have at least one content descriptor.

Mature rated games are intended for ages 17 and up. They can include intense and realistic violence, language, and sexual content and they all have at least one content descriptor.

Adults Only rated games are for those 18 and up. Games with this rating can have extreme violence, graphic sexual content, and gambling with real money (Peak Entertainment Casinos is the only game to have received this rating for gambling). The big four console manufacturers never allowed games with this rating to be released on their platform, and few retail stores will sell PC games with it, making it quite rare. Wikipedia has a nice list of these games.

ESRB Ratings Distribution

To start with here is the overall distribution of ESRB ratings. The extreme ends of the scale are quite small, but roughly 1 in 1,000 games are eC, and roughly 1 in 10,000 are Ao. Eight of the 22 eC games in this study were Sesame Street games, the two Ao games were Hatred and Seduce Me.

Games rated Everyone have only recently been overtaken by Teen games and the overall distribution of the ratings have become closer. What was it about 2001 and 2008 that kicked off a trend of games becoming less for Everyone?

This 6 year old article claims that E ratings represent 70% of all games. It seems like the source is the ESRB itself, which would probably want to paint games in a child-friendly light, but that number seems incredibly high to me. Sure, the kinds of games not included in this study might trend towards inoffensive, and there are mobile and other platforms not included here, but that still seems very high.

The N64 and Wii have the largest number of Early Childhood games, and Nintendo systems in general have more games on the child-friendly side.

The Game Boy Color has the highest percent of Everyone rated games, and at 93% this is the largest share of a rating for a system. If you don’t count the PC (and you shouldn’t, the unrated games take a chunk out of everything) the PS4 has the smallest percent.

The Wii U has the largest share of E10+ games, while the PS3 has the smallest, if you discount the systems that were out when the rating started to be used.

Meanwhile the Xbox is the most Teenage system, while the Game Boy Color is the least.

Most Mature goes to PS3, and there were zero Game Boy Color games rated Mature, and not just of games included in this study.

All two Adults Only titles included were for the PC.

Handhelds definitely get fewer games with objectionable content. For a while it certainly helped that they were less capable of rendering anything realistic, but even past that developers just don’t put those kinds of games there.

ESRB Ratings + Metascores

But what ratings do people prefer for their games? None of the Early Childhood games had metascores, and the very small sample size of two Adults Only games averaged 43.16.

Everyone, Everyone 10+, and Teen rated games are quite close, and their average, mean, and mode paint slightly different pictures. There is a small bump in metascores for Mature rated games. This may partly be because few cheaply made games are rated Mature and there is almost certainly a correlation between budget and metascore.

Mature rated games come out on top, both in overall 90+ metascores and in the percentage of games scoring that high.

ESRB Ratings + Genres

Adventure and Role-Playing, the narrative-driven genres, have the highest ratings overall. Is it harder to tell a compelling story without graphic violence, sexual situations, and bad language?

Educational, Puzzle, and Sports are all understandably low in objectionable content.

ESRB Ratings + Game Lengths

Games tend towards the Mature rated side of the scale the longer they are, although the longest main stories are a bit of an exception. Role-Playing games are such a large part of the longest buckets that their overall more adult ratings push things in that direction. Longer games also have more opportunities to present scenes that earn severe content descriptors such as Strong Language, Strong Sexual Themes, and Mature Humor.

But more on that next time, where I’ll go into more depth about content descriptors than you ever imagined possible.

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

Game Lengths Background

The first part of this project has some important context about how this study was conducted.

Today’s post is all about how long it takes to complete a game, both the main story, and to complete everything, which I will refer to as “game lengths”.

The data is from HowLongToBeat.com which takes user-submitted times which are averaged. This is the smallest data set involved in this study, only about half of the games included in the study had main story times, and about 40% had completionist times. The site also allows users to submit “Main + Extras” times in between Main Story and Completionist, which I found too vague and not very interesting. Most people aren’t submitting “I did the bare minimum” times for Main Story.

I didn’t include games that use the Solo/Co-Op/Vs. categories, which are mainly used for games that are solely PvP. There were a number of games that seem to have been given this designation in error.

There is a quirk with how HowLongToBeat.com displays information. Games under an hour long will display the number of minutes, while games an hour or longer will display X or X.5 hours. I suppose this is to make things look tidy, but it’s an unfortunate loss of detail.

Game Lengths – General

Games have gotten longer over time, but the gap between just beating the game, and doing everything the game has to offer has grown larger over time. Xbox’s achievement system debuted in 2005, while Playstation’s debuted in 2008, which may be responsible for that big completion jump in 2008. Game developers may have started designing their games with an idea in mind of long or difficult it should be to get every achievement and were afraid of making their games too short. A contributing factor may also be that people were less sure when to call a game “completed” when playing games without achievement systems.

Every game with game length data. These scatter plots give you an idea of the overall distribution of game lengths and how far the outliers are from the norm. There are so many types of games, and so many ways to play them. Less than a fourth of games make it beyond the first minor gridline of 25 and 50 hours, respectively.

I know you’re curious about those longest games. The longest main story games were 7 Football Manager games (2010-2016) at 287 to 519 hours. After that are The Secret World (281) , Destiny of Spirits (248), and Final Fantasy XIV (242).

For completion times we have Rock Band 4 on two different systems at 937 hours, followed by Dragon Quest IX (746), Animal Crossing: City Folk (690), and Gran Turismo 5 (636).

As someone that has played a lot of 3DS I never would have guessed it has the longest games on average. Sega was known for arcadey games that emphasized replaying over and over for better scores or times, so it makes sense to see Saturn and Dreamcast so short.

The structure of games can vary quite a bit, beating a fighting game’s campaign mode will almost always take under an hour, so systems with lots of fighting games may be skewed shorter, while people are likely to do many optional side quests in already long RPGs.

With these direct comparisons it we can see that handheld games don’t really have a tendency to be shorter than their console siblings, with the DS, 3DS, and PSP beating their console counterparts.

Although the trend is for games to get longer over time, the Wii is a notable example of games getting shorter compared to its predecessor, though only for main story.

Game Lengths + Metascores

I broke up the lengths of main story and completion into 4 buckets that each have approximately the same number of games.

People like long games. There may also be a correlation between game length, budget, polish and refinement.

Game Lengths + Genre

No surprise that Role-Playing comes out as the longest genre, with a big gap between main story and completion. I might have expected Strategy / Tactics to take second over the grab bag of games that make up Simulation. Despite a fair number of long visual novels Adventure comes in short due Western episodic games. It’s interesting that a Compilation of several games is still on average shorter than an individual game of several genres.

 

And here is how the genres are distributed in the 4 buckets. Adventure and Puzzle are the only genres that consistently become rarer as we increase time. Role-Playing really has the biggest difference between the shortest and longest bucket.

This post was a bit short, but we’re adding more and more combinations of metrics. Next time is ESRB ratings.

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

Genre Background

The first part of this project has some important context about how this study was conducted.

I searched several sites with large video game databases to decide how I was going to approach the genre section. I wasn’t totally satisfied with any of them, but I found MobyGames to be the best compromise. GameFAQs has an odd tiered system with a variable number of tiers that is inconsistent about describing certain aspects that I wouldn’t exactly call genres. GiantBomb was inconsistent and less complete. I made a list of 30ish tricky games to assign genre to and looked them up on 4 sites, and MobyGames seemed the best to me. I’m still about to point out a lot of issues, but no genre system is going to be perfect. MobyGames is also essentially a tightly controlled wiki, but things slip through the cracks and don’t get fixed, so I made changes and made things more consistent when it seemed obvious.

MobyGames has 10 genres: Action, Adventure, Compilation, Educational, Puzzle, Racing / Driving, Role-Playing (RPG), Simulation, Sports, Strategy/Tactics. That’s verbatim, and yes it drove me crazy how Racing / Driving has a space on either side of the slash, but Strategy/Tactics doesn’t, and we’re reminded how Role-Playing games are abbreviated. Games can be labeled with as many genres as needed.

Action is very general, covering fighting games, music and rhythm games, platformers, first-person shooters, and sometimes seemingly anything that isn’t turned based or menu driven. Some Sports games included it and some didn’t, confusingly. I made an effort to make it more consistent by removing it from any games that were more on the “sim” side, that weren’t arcadey or had an Actiony side mode.

Adventure, as MobyGames defines it, focuses on narrative over action, and emphasizes dialog and puzzle solving. Includes visual novels, point and clicks, walking simulators, and many games without combat.

Compilations have multiple games in one package. Does not include minigame collections like Mario Party. I removed compilation from many games that included DLC that was sold separately in a previous release, only full games put together counted for this project.

Educational doesn’t seem like it should be a genre at all to me, but these are mostly games for young children about the alphabet or basic math.

Puzzle seems to be used exclusively for games that are all about puzzles, not games that have some puzzles to solve, like the Legend of Zelda series.

Racing / Driving is included in some games with vehicular minigames or sections, like Grand Theft Auto.

Role-Playing games includes games like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter as well the The Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, and Persona.

Simulation for our purposes includes Cooking Mama, Nintendogs, most of the Imagine and Petz series, Phoenix Wright, and Guitar Hero. This is probably the most eclectic genre.

Sports includes wrestling, hunting, billiards, fitness, and some horse games.

Strategy/Tactics includes the Jackbox games, city builders, war games, board games, card games, and the Worms series.

Genre – General Distribution

Overall, nothing comes close to action. Yearly releases of many sports games keeps them the second most common. Role-Playing is higher than I would have expected, especially compared to Racing / Driving games.

I really like this chart, you can see how the industry has changed and how what kinds of games it makes has evolved over time. Although classic point-and-click adventures are rare now, the genre has managed to become the second largest. Some of this is because many adventure games are released episodically, and then bundled, resulting in a lot of separate game entries.

Sports games have actually become less common over time, perhaps it’s become too hard to compete with the big franchises?

PC is really an outlier here, where in other metrics it’s very close to the overall average due to making up about a fifth of the games included. It’s difficult to really see any trends among hardware companies. The time period a system exists in is probably much more important.

A bit easier to see some minimums and maximums here. Playstation Vita just barely coming out on top for RPGs. Switch really has a different makeup than other Nintendo consoles or handhelds have had. Lots of Racing / Driving games in the 5th generation. The N64 somehow has the largest percentage of Sports titles in its library.

Genre – Genre Combinations

Since games can have any number of genres, let’s look at what Action appears alongside. Not too hard to apply Action to any other genre.

Adventure games come packaged in Compilations fairly often. Almost every Adventure game released episodically eventually had a Compiled edition. I can’t think of any Racing / Driving or Sports games that were also Adventure games. Let’s see, Barbie Horse Adventures: Riding Camp is listed as Adventure and Sports, Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2 are too (with Action as well). That’s one thing they have in common.

As said before, lots of Adventure Compilations, but a surprising number of Puzzle games in Compilations too.

There are so few Educational games that we can expect a very different graph.

“What is a Puzzle and Sports game?”, you may be asking. A few include Pocket Card Jockey, Vertigo, and Clubhouse Games.

Surprisingly few Racing / Driving games are purely their own genre. Simulation seems like a natural pairing. Racing / Driving games that are also Adventure games include Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society and L.A. Noire.

Strategy/Tactics games are a natural fit for RPG mechanics, while driving a car isn’t. I just checked and Final Fantasy XV didn’t count as a Racing / Driving game for some reason.

Simulating playing a Sport or Racing a car make sense, while other genres probably have a side mode or minigame with some kind of Simulation.

Most Sports games don’t intermingle other genres into their gameplay.

Strategy/Tactics games are often about solving the puzzle of how to win, but few are also Puzzle games.

 

The above graphs in chart form. Here we can see the least combination of genres is Role-Playing and Educational, which makes good sense, these genres serve very different groups and tend to have very different budgets. There were only three such games: Fossil League: Dino Tournament Challenge, Bookworm Adventures, and Bookworm Adventures: Volume 2.

Here is an overall look at what percent of games are one genre. This is different than the previous “This Genre Alone” statistics because those were only considering the subset of games with a particular genre.

Genre and Metascore

The y-axis of this graph starts at 60 to make the differences more apparent, but keep in mind the range of values is 5.13. Action is by far the most common genre, but has the second-lowest average score. Compilation’s high scores could be influenced by the perceived value of a good cost to gameplay time ratio.

And here are the the genres of the best-reviewed games. Adventure, Puzzle, Simulation, and Strategy/Tactics all pretty low considering how many games of each there are.

That’s all for genres, next time it’s completion times.

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

Introduction

This study covers 23,630 games for 21 systems and 8 metrics of information: release date, system released on, critical metascore, genre(s), length of time to beat the main story, length of time to complete everything, ESRB ratings, and ESRB content descriptors. These games were all released in North America between the second quarter of 1995 and the third quarter of 2019. The selection of games is not comprehensive of anything, it is a sample, and it is important to know how the games were chosen.

I started with games that had at least 5 critical reviews on GameRankings, a now-closed review aggregator which was similar to Metacritic, but had some great sorting options. I chose GameRankings over Metacritic  because of those sorting options and because it included older games. Although it had 4th generation games it was mostly the greatest hits of the era, so I started with 5th generation games. I included all systems from the “Big Four” (Nintendo, Sony, Sega, Microsoft) and the PC from the 5th generation to the current 8th generation. I also chose to start at the 5th generation because the ESRB didn’t start rating games until partway through the 4th generation and this way all the games included could potentially have data for each metric. For some systems I included the full list of games from wikipedia. For example, I included all 3DS games because only about 40% of its library has a metascore. For PC games I instead needed a way to cut down the number of titles, so every PC game with a GameRankings metascore was included.

All games had to have a release date, this actually disqualified some older games with unknown dates. One issue I ran into was many PC games from 1995 to 1997 supposedly had release dates on the last day of the month, way too many to be a coincidence. Multiple sources listed the same release dates, but I wasn’t able to find any information as to whether this was just when games were released at the time or if only the approximate release date is known and everyone decided to just round to the nearest last day of the month and offer no disclaimer that it is only an estimate.

All games had to have a genre. I’ll go into more detail on this later, but my genres were from MobyGames, which had genres listed for almost every game. For some of the few games without genres listed, I did my best to guess how MobyGames would have assigned it.

For games that are released on multiple platforms each occurrence is counted as a separate game. Although they are usually almost identical, exceptions do exist, and review scores are often a bit different even when games perform the same on different platforms.

All non-PC games had to have an ESRB rating. PC games were excluded because quite a few PC games, even some big exclusives, don’t have ratings. This was an issue with some obscure digital-only games, especially ones that had been removed from stores.

No expansion packs or DLC were included, unless they could be played without the base game.

So ultimately we have 23,630 games, all with release dates, genres, and systems. 17,192 have metascores, 12,652 have time to complete main story, 9,687 have completionist times, 22,651 have ESRB ratings and content descriptors.

This was a mammoth project, probably the largest I’ll ever do at once, that took over 9 months. It is complete, but it is so large (over 100 images) that I will be posting it in several chunks while I work on other projects. It will be 5 parts total (plus some bonuses) going over each metric, and also the interesting combinations.

Here is how the games included number by year. Note that this is not meant to be fully proportional to how many games were actually released each year. Some of the by-year graphs will have big swings in the first few years, this is because there weren’t many games included for those years. The Wii was released in 2006 and Steam Greenlight debuted in 2012, two platforms that attracted a lot of new developers and may be responsible for big increases in the number of games released shortly thereafter.

Metascores – General

First, let’s look at metascores. I got all of my data from GameRankings a few months before it was shut down. While I’m saddened that this easy to use site was shut down, there are some archives if you want to see it: The Internet Archive has a full copy, there is an archive website created by someone named Matúš, and they also have a google spreadsheet of all the scores.

Usually when you hear about game metascores, it is Metacritic’s metascore. GameRankings metascores were very similar, rarely ever more than 2 points different, but they included different review outlets. However, unlike Metacritic, they seem to use a straight average, rather than weighing some outlets more than others. They also give metascores with accuracy to hundredths digit.

Let’s start with the average metascore by year. A pretty steady increase in scores for over a decade. This may not be entirely about the quality of the games released, but rather have more to do with outlets reviewing fewer small digital-only titles, but this is speculation. One has to wonder what caused the 2006-2008 crater. This video of a GDC talk by EEDAR blames the Wii alone for a dip in review scores in 2006 and 2007, but their data looks a bit different than mine. This article about a reddit post focuses on 2007 and theorizes about the Wii, but also budget PS2 and DS games.

But maybe you want to argue about which system has the best games. Here we have the averages, worst rated, and best rated game for Nintendo systems. For the mode on all of these metascores I rounded the scores to the nearest whole number, otherwise you end up with the mode occuring 2 or 3 times and not having much to do with the typical game. The Wii and DS do have the lowest averages, giving some weight to them dragging down the overall average. The Wii U did better than you might expect, although there’s plenty of RCMADIAX games that weren’t included. The Switch comes out on top, a real crowd pleaser despite a glut of shovelware.

You’re probably shocked that the Sega Saturn has the highest GameRankings metascore. It’s worth an asterisk because it has the same problem as systems from the previous generation: only the cream of the crop were included. GameRankings launched in 1999, the same year as the Dreamcast was released, so they would have had to go through old magazines and website reviews to record scores, and they must have prioritized the most popular games, moreso than the N64 or PS1. In fact, there are about one ninth as many Saturn game reviews as N64. A contributing factor may also be that publications just weren’t interested in reviewing the more average Saturn games, due to its low sales in North America.

Here’s all that system data in a nice chart, including the overall. A lot of Rockstar games topping the system bests. I find it interesting how many of the worst games aren’t even famous for being bad, they were just quietly forgotten. But who could forget the classic Metal Gear Solid? For Game Boy Color. We can also see that the best selling console or handheld never has the highest average score compared to its competition.

Let’s go deeper, here’s every Nintendo system’s average metascore by quarter. Something to note is that some quarters, especially the first and the last several, only have 1-4 games, causing some large swings. That last Wii U quarter is less impressive when you consider it was solely Breath of the Wild.

There were also a few quarters with no scored games in between quarters that did have them. Lines have been connected in between data points. That said, the general trend seems to be upward, especially with the 3DS.

The PS1 has the distinction of the worst quarter ever. The only game with a GameRankings metascore for that quarter was Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 which got a 32.03. I apologize but in finding out that tidbit of information I see that I did not include Q2 2003 for the PS1. Three games from that period average 67.68.
These charts are fairly good at showing how system’s life spans overlap, quite a few years had three Sony systems coming out with new games worth reviewing, 2014 even had four!

The short life of the Saturn and Dreamcast can be seen here. Xbox consoles seem to have a shorter overlap than Playstation. Overall, these charts make it hard to point to any “golden age” for a system, ratings jump up and down all the time.

In case you don’t like all of those lines, here’s the full chart, with the PS1 correction. There were quite a few gaps late in the PSP’s life.

People often refer to a lack of games and a lack good games during the first part of the year. And during the summer. Here I took every game with a metascore and changed the release year to 2000 to find when the best and worst games are released throughout the year. Daily scores are all over the place, there’s not much to glean from them. 12/28 is the highest, but only 4 metascored games were released that day.

Weekly averages have more of a story to tell but still have some odd peaks and valleys. Monthly averages show a gradual rise and fall, but only vary by about 3 percent.

The raw numbers show August, September, and October as the critical highlight of the year, quickly followed by the December and January low points. Despite August’s strong performance, it has the weakest day of the whole year on the 4th. The highest rated months also seem to have daily values that are less variable.

Metascores – Specifics

Sure, 70.25 might be the overall average metascore, but how are those distributed? While scores have crept up over the years, 90+s have consistently stayed under 5%. On the other end of the scale games scoring under 60% aren’t a whole lot more common.

Percentiles are the value needed to be in the top x% percent(ile). So if you get a 95% on a test in a class of 100 students, and only one person scored better than you, you would be in the 99th percentile and the value of the 99th percentile is a score of 95. The 100th percentile is the highest score, and the 0th percentile is the lowest.

I should have reversed the order of the legend, oops. Just over an 85% metascore will put a game among the 10% highest rated. The gaps between percentiles get larger the lower you go, but overall they are pretty evenly spaced among their small range.

The standard deviation is a measure of how much values disperse (deviate) compared the average (standard). A low standard deviation means values are mostly close together, of which game metascores are an example, and they have become closer for several straight years.

You really like numbers if you look through this chart detailing the last three graphs.

Metascores – 90+

Games that score at least a 90 can be considered the very best games with cross-genre appeal that are part of the conversation about the best games of all time, classics that are discussed for many years. The number of 90+ games doesn’t follow average review scores too closely, although 2006 is still a bad year. Keep in mind I have few games from 1995-1997, I know a lot of great stuff came out then, this is not percent based at all. Even with average review scores creeping upward, the number of 90+ games has generally gone down. Do you think 2003 really had a classic coming out more than every other week on average?

Keep in mind that pre-1999 games were more likely to be included if they were the best and most famous games. 2006 is again a low point, but we can see 2011 being a turning point as well. My cutoff was before the likely highest scoring time of year for 2019, so it probably wouldn’t be as low as shown here if I included all of it.

But enough about percentages, maybe you just want to buy the system with the most high quality games available. Well, you can’t go wrong the system that has been around the longest, the PC. But to put that into perspective, if we consider the average system’s lifespan to be 6 years, then the PC has been around for 4 and one sixth system lifespans (for the purposes of this 25 year study). If we divide that 97 by 4 and one sixth, we get an average of 23.28 per system lifespan, pretty close to the Gamecube. At 5 year lifespans, 19.4.

The massive libraries of the PS2, PS3, and Xbox 360 help them achieve top status if we disregard the PC. Other than the exceptionally successful PS2 the numbers remain pretty close between Sony and Microsoft when comparing competing consoles. The Dreamcast had quite a few in its short lifetime.

That’s all for this post, next up is genres.

Sources

GameRankings.com for metascores and some release dates. Archives: 1, 2, 3

MobyGames.com for genres, some release dates, some ESRB ratings, and some ESRB content descriptors

HowLongToBeat.com for main story and completionist times.

ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and ESRB content descriptors

Wikipedia for its many lists of games

 

This was originally posted on reddit and I was overwhelmed with the response. So overwhelmed that I decided I wanted to do a lot more of this kind of thing. Please keep in mind that this was written in mid 2019. This post has been slightly edited.

One day I found myself wondering just how many Japanese exclusives there are and where games are being made and how it has changed over time. I really wanted to know, but I couldn’t find anything substantial. I started this project in November, 2018 and that is the cutoff, any games released after that date are not included. I made a collection of spreadsheets with every game, system, country(ies) of origin, developer(s), publisher(s), and release status among North America, Europe, and Japan. I used this data to create charts and infographics to answer my questions and look into video game history.

I stuck to Nintendo because they have a long history in games and I know them well. Even if you’re not into Nintendo, I think there is a lot of interesting information about the industry here and how it has changed since the 80s.

I know 15,000 is a suspiciously round number, but I didn’t plan it that way. After I pasted wikipedia’s lists into my spreadsheets, and added some games I found missing, it was about 15,035. I got rid of some stuff that didn’t belong, detailed below, and ended up with exactly 15,000.

What is included:
  • All officially licensed and released games on consoles and handhelds by Nintendo.

  • 64DD

  • Virtual Boy

  • Famicom Disk Drive

  • Digital-only titles, DSiWare, WiiWare

What is not included:
  • Virtual Console titles. These I considered the same thing as the original.

  • Satellaview. Many games have very incomplete information, and it’s not always clear if a game is “different enough” from its original SNES version to be considered a different game.

  • Non-games software. So no Game Boy Advance Video, Hulu app, or system settings. This also includes a few oddities like a sweater design program or 8 keys you can press to make music. I was very broad minded about this one, for example a study guide for taking a learner’s permit test for the DS said it had mini games, so I included it.

  • Games that didn’t release in North America, Europe, or Japan. There were fewer than 10 of these, but I did uncover a Hello Kitty and Bomberman game exclusive to South Korea, and some rugby/soccer and singing games exclusive to Australia. If I were to include them, I’d need release information for South Korea and Australia on every other game, and that information does not seem to exist.

  • Philips CD-i

  • Game & Watch and other miscellaneous electronic Nintendo gadgets.

Some Important Details

There are some important things to note about how I structured this data. I combined development studios and publishing companies that were owned by another company into one. For example, Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Barcelona are both Ubisoft studios, so they both just count as “Ubisoft”. Ubisoft bought Red Storm Entertainment in 2000, so it counts as Red Storm Entertainment before they were bought, and as Ubisoft after. Sometimes video game companies are bought by non-video game companies, I ignored these unless that company also owned at least one other video game company. For example, Atlus was bought by Index, which also owned Interchannel, so those companies were counted as Index. I counted a company as owned by another if they owned more than 50% of it, so D3 Publisher counts as Bandai Namco from the date that they acquired most of their stock.

Merged companies I counted as a new company. So Squaresoft and Enix are counted separately from Square Enix.

If a company changed their name, I used the most recent.

When games were ported, I credited the porting studio, whether that was the original creator or not. I found quite a few Switch games were handled by porting companies, but there are probably some that I missed on other systems because wikipedia is inconsistent about who gets credit.

Because of all this, some titles are credited to companies that might seem odd.

I wanted to get some stats about second parties, but that is a bit more complicated than it may seem. If you look for a list of Nintendo second parties, you will see different companies included and the likes of Intelligent Systems, Next Level Games, and HAL Laboratory. Developers that often or exclusively work with Nintendo. But most of these companies are not owned by Nintendo. Only four external studios are owned by Nintendo: Retro, 1-up, Monolith, and NDcube. I did actually make special note of these companies, they released 50 games total, on about half of Nintendo’s systems. This was pretty minor and not very interesting so I didn’t give them special sections in anything.

Sometimes companies were bought and sold and merged and went independent several times. Researching all of this took a lot of time. Have a quick look at the many Atari pages on wikipedia if you’d like to see how fun it was. I have about 10 pages of notes about company name changes and ownership.

There were also many cases of different sites having different information. On one occasion I found 5 unique developer and publisher combinations listed for a game on 5 different sites.

Some games (mainly tie ins and other very cheap stuff) will have a very obvious publisher that you can find anywhere, but the developer is unlisted. I did my best here, researching hundreds of games to try to find the company that made them. When I couldn’t find anything I credited the publisher as being the developer, which will be true in some cases and not in others. Konami and Bandai Namco seem especially likely to not credit development companies. Many of these are probably done by low profile and often anonymous outsourcing companies. You can read more about these companies here and here.

The Charts

First I’ll go through system by system, and then some charts detailing the overall progression of various things over time.

System Charts

This includes the Famicom, Famicom Disk System, and NES. Wikipedia lists them separately so I had to combine games when they were ported overseas. We can see right away that Japan dominates releases here in the 80s. Eight of the nine companies that developers or published the most games are Japanese, and most of them are still around! Most games were released in Japan and a majority were exclusive.

Nintendo’s next piece of hardware was the Game Boy. Not quite as Japan-dominated as their home console. That 7th developer is Graphic Research. Given its long life and how cheap it was to make games for, you might have expected more than 1053 games.

1751 games, a figure that would not be surpassed until digital distribution. If you’re not familiar with TOSE, here’s a quote from their wikipedia page:

“We’re always behind the scenes,” said Masa Agarida, Vice President of Tose’s U.S. division. “Our policy is not to have a vision. Instead, we follow our customers’ visions. Most of the time we refuse to put our name on the games, not even staff names.”

Many of the games they are now credited with weren’t known at release. There’s a whole wiki dedicated to finding the developers of games. That 7th developer is Telenet Japan. This is the system with the highest percentage of games available in Japan, other than the Virtual Boy.

And speaking of the Virtual Boy, here it is, the holder of many distinctions. Two of the developers, Betop and Nacoty were so obscure they have no known logos. Probably the only video game system in the world to boast more than 18% of its library consisting of bowling or Tetris games.

Other than the Virtual Boy, the N64 had a publisher controlling the highest percentage of the catalog. It’s tough when your third party support vanishes so quickly. Also other than the Virtual Boy, the smallest number of games released on a Nintendo system. Few systems are as synonymous with a single developer as the N64 is with Rare, which managed to create the 6th most games for the system, all of them pretty well regarded upon release. We see a big uptick in the percent of games released in North America here, a trend that would continue with consoles. A big drop in the percent of games developed in Japan, too.

Quite a few games were released on the Game Boy Color, even though its successor was not far away. Many of these were ports of Game Boy titles, however. Nintendo made fewer games for the GBC than any other system except the Virtual Boy. The top developers is odd mix with several companies that we won’t see in the top 7 again. Please note that the Atari in the publishers is Atari, SA, which was at the time known as Infogrames. An incredibly even distribution of games available in each region, yet so few available in all.

The Game Boy Advance saw a flood of cheap tie in games. This is also towards the end of the era where even many small budget games would get separate versions released on handhelds, made by different developers. It’s very likely that many of those Konami games were not developed by them, but by third parties who did not want to be credited.

I was pretty shocked by how many Electronic Arts games there were on Gamecube. Several yearly sports titles all hit the Gamecube while Japan largely avoided the console. Over 85% of the library was available in North America, a new high for a region (excluding the Virtual Boy). Despite their last console coming out during the same generation as the Gamecube, Sega managed to make a substantial portion of its library.

Still the Nintendo system with the most titles, the DS was a phenomenon that became the second-best selling video game system. There was a big jump here in the number of countries that developed games. Nintendo developed 65 games for the system, second only to the NES/Famicom’s 72.

Japan’s lowest share of game development yet, with a lot of North American support. Like the DS, there were a lot of new or new-to-Nintendo developers for the Wii, trying to catch the zeitgeist. Unfortunately, a lot of these titles were shovelware. High Voltage Software and Data Design Interactive don’t come close to this level of output again.

The 3DS bucks the trends and has a lot more Japanese support. One of the things I wanted to look into was the Japanese preference for handhelds and here we can see the difference it makes. Despite this, we see a lot more titles released in all regions than ever before. Four companies make their first appearance in a top 7, all Japanese.

The U.S. takes first place in development for the first and only time with the Wii U. That was largely because of RCMADIAX, who was second in development and publishing output. RCMADIAX was a one man operation that flooded the eShop with cheap, barebones games. He submitted a game for approval on the Switch but was denied and left the video game industry shortly afterward. Skunk Software was also a one-man operation. At 8.41% the Wii U had my highest unknown country of origin. There were quite a few tiny indies that never even had a website and only existed for a couple years.

Keep in mind that the Switch has several years left so its library will change, but here is where we stood in November, 2018. At roughly 1000 games every two years, the Switch should eclipse the DS in number of games eventually. You may notice that the top developers and publishers have lower percents than usual. There are tons of new studios that are making Switch games, so it’s very spread out. I had to do the most research for this system because there were so many errors on the wikipedia list. Spain is so high here because there are a lot of Spanish porting studios and lots of those medium to large indie games seem to outsource their Switch ports. We also see an unprecedented surge in all-territory releases, with very few region exclusives. Despite combining their console and handheld teams, Nintendo has thus far developed and published a smaller percent of the Switch library than any of their other systems, largely because of the huge number of titles being released.

Overall Charts

 

We can see that more games have been coming to more regions over time, although a varying number of games have reached Japan.

While Japan had a large chunk of the exclusives in the early days, that number has fallen greatly. Europe has never had many exclusives.

Here’s a chart with all of the available in and exclusive to numbers, but also with combinations of two regions. Japan and Europe exclusives are mostly soccer/football games.

These are the top 8 countries that have developed the most games. Every console has seen Japan’s relative output drop, though they have rallied a bit with every handheld, while it’s mostly the opposite with the United States. Gamecube’s Canada spike was because of EA Vancouver’s sports titles. From the Wii forward Europe and Australia seem to go up and down together.

 

Here’s a chart with every country’s percentage of games and a map of every system put together. As you can see most countries represented only worked on a handful of games, while Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and a few Western European countries made the bulk of games. I’d say the Game Boy Advance was the start of more countries getting involved in development.

I wanted to measure how similar the group of developers/publishers were from system to system. For instance, maybe a lot of developers were only interested in the handhelds, or maybe publishers would only touch systems that were market leaders. This is a difficult thing to measure, but I gave it a try. Please consider the results as experimental and potentially inaccurate as I am not sure my methods were sufficient. The numbers are not percents, but more like “scores” where the maximum (the exact same developers/publishers in the exact same proportions) is 100. Mostly we see that systems are most similar to systems released close in time to them, which makes sense but is not very enlightening.

I listed the top 7 of each system, but here are the top 25 overall, by number instead of percent this time. Konami’s lead will erode over time, but it will take a few generations with how long it takes to make games nowadays. TOSE is not a well-known name, but it probably worked on a fair number of games they weren’t credited for. Bandai Namco could take both second places if you add their pre-merger companies together. Sunsoft largely left video games by 2001, yet still makes both lists.

In case you wanted an even bigger list, here are the top 100. Please remember that because of the way I combined companies that some of these names will be strange. To hammer home how much cheap junk RCMADIAX pumped out, they hit the top 50 despite being active only during the Wii U.

 

Here are the developers that released at least one game for at least 10 systems. This time I did combine companies before they merged with their merged company. Lot of absences for the Virtual Boy, of course. Intelligent Systems will make its Switch debut very soon with Fire Emblem: Three Houses and become the only second/third party to support every Nintendo system. Kemco had a rare Virtual Boy title, but skipped the DS of all things. Konami only released Virtual Console titles for the Wii U, yet had a launch title ready for the Switch. Square had a bit of a falling out with Nintendo over the move of Final Fantasy 7 to the Playstation, which kept them away for a time, but they eventually made up.

And here are the publishers that have supported at least 10 systems. Square Enix let Nintendo publish Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which keeps them from the “everything but Virtual Boy” club. Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two weren’t always huge publishers, but they have been releasing games on Nintendo systems for a long time.

Have you ever wondered how popular it was to put “64” in the title of N64 games? More than a fifth of them did. Seven is the least common digit in titles. Almost every game title is made up of at least two words (this is a count of titles in which a text string occurs, not a total count).

Here’s the same data grouped into themes and maybe a bit easier to read.

And finally, some miscellaneous data, like how many developers/publishers only released one game on a system, and how many games were developed by more than studio, published by more than one company, and made in more than one country. Here we see that collaborations between studios, including studios in different countries has increased over time.

Other Facts I Came Across

  • From Ubisoft Montreal’s wikipedia page: “The studio as of 2017 employs more than 3,500 staff, making it one of the largest game development studios in the world.”

  • I recorded numbers for Hong Kong separate from China, but didn’t end up using them. There were 33 games developed in Hong Kong, and 50 elsewhere in China.

  • Similarly for the UK: England 1474, Scotland 74, Wales 18, Northern Ireland 1.

  • Just Dance 2014 for the Wii and Yo-kai Watch Dance: Just Dance Special Version for Wii U both had 7 development teams listed, although these vary a bit by source.

  • The shortest game title was X for Game Boy.

  • The longest game title, which I cannot confirm is accurate, is a 3 in 1 game collection: Kunio-kun Nekketsu Collection 3 Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo – Zenin Shūgō! Ike Ike! Nekketsu Hockey-bu: Subete Koronde Dairantō.

  • The total developer count was 2299 when combining studios owned by companies. However, the way I structured things included these subsidiary studios separately. There were 2547 developers including them (plus a few tiny ones that I lumped together).

  • Atlus was owned by Takara (7 games), Sega Sammy (12 games), Index (17 games), and was independent (46 games) which would have been good enough for 22nd most prolific developer if combined.

  • I have 14 THQ-owned, 15 Take-Two-owned, 23 Electronic Arts-owned, and 24 Ubisoft-owned developers recorded.

  • I noticed some recurring themes in developer names. The following are the number of studios with a given string in their name. 21: 3, Infinite: 5, Planet: 5, Silicon: 6, Ninja: 8, Black: 12, Dream: 14, Pixel: 20, Star: 21.

Sources

  • Wikipedia’s lists of games was my starting point, although I had to make a lot of corrections and additions. I also visited hundreds of developer, publisher, and individual game pages.

  • Moby Games has lots of great information, including port teams, developer histories, and official website links.

  • The Giant Bomb wiki has a lot of more obscure titles and some info I couldn’t find anywhere else.

  • GameFAQs has pages for almost every obscure Japanese game.

  • RF Generation was useful for a list of eShop titles.

  • Nintendo has pages for most games released on their last few platforms.

  • Dolphin wiki for some info about Gamecube and Wii games.

  • Nintendo life for some Wii U eShop game information.

  • Youtube videos showing the splash screens as games start up.

 

I was really excited to do this one, I buy almost all of my games used and wanted to quantify some things people kept repeating about prices. Originally posted on reddit.

People often say that Nintendo games are more expensive, or even that they never go down in price. Sometimes people clarify that they only mean first party titles. As someone interested in collecting I’ve been curious about this for some time, so I decided to look into the average price of games on different platforms. I entered the prices of 50 games in loose, complete in box (CIB), and new condition for 19 systems, generations 5 through 8.

Since I grouped by company, here are the generations for reference:

  • 5th: N64/Playstation/Saturn
  • 6th: Gamecube/Gameboy Advance/Playstation 2/Dreamcast/Xbox
  • 7th: Wii/DS/Playstation 3/Playstation Portable/Xbox 360
  • 8th: Wii U/Switch(I guess)/3DS/Playstation 4/Vita/Xbox One

Some notes and takeaways

None of Switch’s games are even a year old yet, while most of XBone’s and PS4’s are, which is part of why its games are so expensive. I also had to include almost every physical release on the Switch, so there is some obscure stuff there.

Nintendo games are indeed more expensive on average, although I expect the gap to be smaller when the Switch is as old as the PS4, and 3DS is basically tied with the Vita.

One to two generations old seems to be the sweet spot for cheap games.

The Xbox 360 has the cheapest games on average, but Xbox, PS2, and PS3 are pretty close.

I thought first party games would be consistently more expensive than third across the board, but it was only true for Nintendo games (sans DS) and Saturn.

The Gamecube had the largest difference between first and third party prices.

Some systems had many more first party titles among the games I used than others (N64, Wii, DS), so the third party prices could be fairly different if more games were included.

New prices don’t become too crazy until 3 generations back.

Panzer Dragoon Saga was the most expensive game included – $510.1 CIB, while Madden NFL 2002 for PS2 and World Series Baseball on Xbox were the cheapest CIB at $2.78

2,850 prices were used in total for this data.

Methodology

It’s difficult to know what a good representative sample is, but I wanted to focus on games people are likely to want to buy, and cut out shovelware. First I looked for a wikipedia page like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_PlayStation_4_video_games

and added the 15 best-selling. Then, I went to metacritic and added the 15 highest highest rated games that didn’t include anything I’d already added. I filled out the rest by going back and forth between these lists. For systems without a nice wikipedia list, or not featured on metacritic I googled for best of lists.

I only included games released in the U.S. with a physical release. Why only physical? When people discuss these game prices it’s usually in the context of the second-hand collecting market. Digital stores price games based on very different criteria, and there’s less complete data available. This means no DLC, or digital-only, and few indie games were included.

Only the most basic edition of a game was included – no collector’s edition, no Nintendo Selects or Greatest Hits, no plastic instrument bundles.

This method includes a lot of yearly sports titles, which possibly shouldn’t count. The original Xbox’s games are especially sports-laden. I’m not very familiar with these games, but someone who loves sports games, and is buying older games might pick up the ones with the specific mix of mechanics they like, right? Or maybe the ones with team rosters they enjoy. Regardless, I didn’t want to pick and choose which sports titles would count, so I included whatever came up. These sports games are a bit cheaper than other genres (it’s hard to quantify how much cheaper), somewhat dragging down the average price of systems with many of them.

I considered first party to be games published by Nintendo, Sony, Sega, or Microsoft. I originally was considering only games developed by those companies, but things get complicated and subjective quickly that way.

Price data was retrieved from https://www.pricecharting.com/ from late December 2017 to early January 2018. All prices are in US dollars.

If you want to see the whole spreadsheet with the specific games, here you go: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ssPpo68hAx3y2TjZ9I5knR26-qgprINnD0dmegrHfp8/edit?usp=sharing

It’s ugly and I didn’t care about writing the complete names or fixing typos. Scroll down for the bar graph.