When a popular video game has been out for a while and its sales have slowed the publisher may release a discounted reprint. The requirements and names for these reprints vary by system and region. In North America Nintendo calls them “Player’s Choice” or “Nintendo Selects”, Sony calls them “Greatest Hits”.

This isn’t a comprehensive history of the practice though, what I’m interested in is the secondhand market for these games. Due to the addition of strongly colored banners and other changes to the box art many collectors will turn their nose up at these, considering them an eyesore. Some may consider them too “common” or “cheap” to be worthy collector’s items. Consequently, the common thought is that they are less valuable, and thus sell for less.

It has occurred to me many times that these reprints must actually be the rarer versions, since they are only released once a game has sold most of the copies it is going to sell and the publisher is willing squeeze whatever extra money they can from a game. What an unusual situation, where the rare version of something is cheaper and less desired. Collector’s editions and other variant printings are also less common, but generally sell for more than the base game in the secondhand market.

I wanted to quantify this, just how much rarer are these discounted reprints, and how much less valuable are they? I started with Wikipedia’s lists of games to receive these reprints and recorded the complete price and sales volume from PriceCharting. While I added a few from PriceCharting’s lists that weren’t on Wikipedia, I found I had to remove far more. PriceCharting just doesn’t list the reprints separately for dozens of games.

In total 1,075 games were used, although 38 discounted reprints did not have price data, seemingly because they were so rarely sold. I only used data for “complete” games, this is more common than loose or new. PriceCharting gets its data by looking at completed listings on eBay.

Sales Volume

PriceCharting has a quirky method of displaying how often a game is being sold and I must start by explaining it. Rather than displaying the average number of sales during a standard period of time such as a year, it instead uses the format “X sale(s) per day/week/month/year”. X never contains a decimal, so it has been rounded.

Fifteen different sales volumes were observed from the games I recorded, and it is likely there are no others.

On the right is how PriceCharting describes the sales volume, in the middle is how much this comes to per year, and I broke these down into tiers for some of the graphs I will be using, shown on the left. The two gray tiers, 15, and 16, were never observed and are probably very rarely, if ever, used, considering that tier 17 consists of a single game (try guessing what it is before we get there).

This is a somewhat haphazard way of describing sales volume, and the gap between tiers varies from a factor of 1.2 times to 2.34 times.

Right away we can see that discounted reprints sell less often on average than the original version of a game. No original release was observed as being sold less than once a month, but keep in mind these are some of the most popular games for each system.

The most commonly sold discount reprint version of a game (at 2 a day) was also the most commonly sold original release of a game (6 a day): Wii Sports.

The three original releases at tier 14 (3 sales a day) are all Gamecube releases: Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Another thing I wanted to look into was how sales volume changed over time. This isn’t based on the games market overall, just games that have a discounted reprint. I wasn’t able to include the discounted reprints themselves because very few of them have reliable release dates.

The earliest games included were for the Game Boy, but there weren’t many with separate Player’s Choice listings. Volume remains pretty stable starting from 1998, probably due to 4th generation systems phasing out. I would have expected a gradual increase over time, as older games have more time to find permanent homes or be thrown away, and fewer people are interested in the retro scene. There was only one 2018 game included, God of War for PlayStation 4.

Price

I’ve done other studies on game prices before so I didn’t look too deeply into prices alone, but here’s how much the original versions of games with a discounted reprint cost over time. The three Game Boy games from 1989 (Super Mario Land, Tennis, and Tetris) aren’t terribly expensive, but the 1991-1994 games that used cardboard packaging sure are. As games get newer from there they slowly get cheaper.

Price vs Sales Volume

This scatter plot gives some idea of how spread out the prices are in some tiers, but it’s difficult to see much of any correlation between sales volume and price since so many dots overlap each other.

You might not expect the least sold games (remember, tier 1-6 are all discounted reprints) to be so consistently cheap. The most expensive of the discounted reprints was Super Mario World at $287.08, while the most expensive overall was the original release of Super Mario World at $580.00.

Are the rarest (or at least the least often sold on eBay) games actually the most expensive? It actually seems to be closer to the opposite, although there is not a clear a progression. Some of the wild swings are due to small sample size – tier 8, 14, and 17 among original releases have no more than 4 games each. Discounting them the average tends to creep up the more common a game is.

Discounted Reprint Vs Original Release

This graph shows just how much rarer discounted reprints tend to be. If a discounted reprint sold half as often the original release, it would be 50% here.

More than three fourths of discounted reprints have less than 15% the sales volume of the original release.

Curiously, for 48 games studied both versions sold in equal amounts. I did not see any particular pattern among these other than none of them being from before the 5th generation.

Here is another way of looking at the price difference between discounted reprints and original releases, we can see the overall trends better than the scatter plot. The price difference is small in most cases, but cheaper is a bit more common.

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within’s Platinum Hits version for Xbox is for some reason over 10 times more expensive than the original release.

And here are the price differences in absolute dollar amounts. For most games the difference is within $5.00 either way.

Super Mario World again holds a record for largest price between versions, with the Greatest Hits version being $292.92 cheaper, while the Sega All Stars version of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing for the Dreamcast is $165.00 more expensive. While I don’t have dates for either release I imagine Mario World’s Greatest Hits release was available for much longer and in much larger quantities.

Some More Trivia

The average cost of the discounted reprint of a game in this study was $16.59, while original releases went for $19.35 on average. Not as large of a difference as I suspected going in to this project.

The average reprint sold 52.09 times a year, while an original averaged 313.53 sales per year.

The biggest difference in sales volume was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for PlayStation 2. The original sells 2 a day, while the reprint sells 1 a year, or 0.14% as often.

 

Sources

Nintendo Selects – Wikipedia

Sega All Stars – Wikipedia

Greatest Hits (PlayStation) – Wikipedia

Platinum Hits – Wikipedia

PriceCharting

 

 

 

 

Overview

A topic that comes up from time to time among Japanese Role-Playing Game enthusiasts is “what is the best system for JRPGs?” I look at these discussions and am often baffled by some of the things people suggest, but had nothing quantitative to back my opinions. As a big fan of the genre I have been wanting to do a project centered around them so I figured this would be an interesting thing to look into. In the process I also gathered a whole lot of data that is not related to game systems which I will also be going over.

Thankfully, a few days into the project and after realizing how many hours it would take just to decide what games from the Switch should be included, I saw a thread on /r/JRPG about a “JRPG Index” of every JRPG. This project may never have happened if I had not seen it, so thank you to JRPG Chronicles and the primary editor of its index, Lucca – more links in the Sources section.

While this project mostly sticks to games in the JRPG index, my rules are slightly different. Here are the requirements for games to be included in this study:

  • Developed in Japan or South Korea – Bug Fables and Child of Light do not count, but Crimson Gem Saga and Magna Carta: Crimson Stigmata do
  • Contains “enough” RPG elements – Monster Hunter and Dark Souls count
  • Officially licensed – no homebrew, RPG maker games, or fan translations
  • Released in North America and/or Europe
  • Released on a video game console – mobile, PC, and mini/classic consoles do not count
  • Not released on a 9th generation system – The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S were still very new when I started this project and there were very few JRPGs released for them
  • Released before 2021
  • Digital ports across generations are not counted if they are emulated and identical to their original version. So the Final Fantasy VII release on 8th generation hardware that has a speed up option and graphical improvements is counted, but PS one Classics on PS3 do not count
  • Games only available on a system as part of a subscription service, such as Nintendo Switch Online or Xbox Game Pass, do not count

Game Systems – Number of Games

It’s important to get an idea of what we’re working with first. Averages don’t mean as much if the data set is small, so I’ll be starting each section with the number of games relevant to what we’re talking about. Games released on multiple platforms are counted multiple times.

Clicking on the images will expand them. You can go to the next or previous image with the arrow keys, and close the lightbox with escape.

Within the parameters of this study, there are 21 home consoles and 8 handhelds with 1,639 JRPG releases. There are a few more systems with JRPGs, notably the WonderSwan, that weren’t included because they were only released in Japan.

An important aspect of determining the best JRPG system must the number of JRPGs. More games means more chances of finding a game you enjoy. The PlayStation 4 stands above everything else by a comfortable margin as of my cutoff date of 12/31/2020, and will see a few more. But while the Switch is #2 here, it is adding roughly 33% more JRPGs to its library per year than the PS4 has been, and it has several more years of life left in it, so it will likely end up pretty close by the time both systems stop receiving releases.

People often remark on how JRPGs mostly moved to handhelds with the 7th generation, and we can see that clearly here. The 7th generation was the birth of digital distribution on video game systems, and saw a big influx of games because of it, yet the PlayStation 3 has fewer JRPGs than the PlayStation 2 or PlayStation Portable. This is even more pronounced with the Wii and the DS.

It’s quite impressive that the Vita has more JRPGs than the PSP, despite selling so much worse.

Game Systems – Metascores

But it doesn’t matter how many games are on a system if they aren’t any good, so let’s look into the quality of the JRPGs on each system, first with metascores.

Most of these metascores are from GameRankings, which closed over a year ago. GameRankings displayed scores down to the hundredth decimal place, included older games than Metacritic, and did not weigh publications differently. Games without a GameRankings metascore used a Metacritic metascore when possible. For GameRankings I only included games with at least 5 reviews, and with Metacritic, 4 reviews.

While GameRankings has metascores for some older games there is a bit of selection bias for games released before the 6th generation. Typically only the most popular and best selling games have enough reviews, driving the overall average higher.

Systems without any metascores are omitted, and please also note that the y-axis starts at 60, making differences look larger than they actually are.

While the Sega CD and Saturn’s numbers look impressive, keep in mind that they had 3 and 8 games respectively with metascores and that the worst JRPGs didn’t get reviewed at all.

The Game Boy Color and Xbox One have more games to average, but are still rarely thought of as great JRPG systems. While the Xbox One got most of the same digital-only, small developer, low budget releases as the Switch and PS4, much fewer of them got reviewed, which helped its overall average tremendously.

But the average doesn’t tell the whole story. What’s really important when you’re looking for a system to play JRPGs on is how many great JRPGs it has, right?

We have different ideas of how poor of a metascore might need to be before we wouldn’t consider looking at a game, and how high a metascore needs to be to really grab your attention, so here we have metascores broken into 10 point chunks.

The original PlayStation has had the largest number of 90+ scored games, at 6, while the DS, PS2, PS4, and Xbox One have 4. While Sega had the two systems with the highest averages, there are only 3 90+ JRPGs in Sega’s history – Panzer Dragoon Saga, Lunar: Eternal Blue, and Skies of Arcadia.

Overall, there isn’t much difference between the relative proportions of these buckets among different systems, the 70s are the largest group, followed by 60s, or sometimes the 80s.

Game Systems – Polls

To get more of the “fans who don’t happen to work for a major game reviewing outlet” viewpoint I also looked at two polls to gauge how well different systems were received.

The first was held on /r/JRPG in late March 2020. 178 users voted for up to 10 games.

The second seems to have been advertised in many places, as there were over 1500 responses. I’m not sure when it started, but it was posted to /r/JRPG in early 2021. I am using the data from the “vote for your 10 favorite games” poll. Unfortunately, I can only see the top 100 games, so many games with a few votes were not counted.

I “normalized” the votes between these two polls so that they had equal weight, despite their difference in vote totals. This resulted in a number of “points” given to each game that received at least one vote. I multiplied the number by 100 so we didn’t have to deal with a bunch of zeros, so ultimately one vote in one poll is worth .7 points, and the most voted for game (Chrono Trigger) is 100. This is what I mean when I refer to “poll points”.

Before we get to the graphs, I feel it is important to discuss the relative merits of metascores and poll points.

All metascores are of their time, based on expectations for games coming out on those systems. Metascores cover many more games, no one voted for many mediocre to bad games in either poll. However, ports often do not get enough attention to receive a metascore, especially cross generational ones.

Retrospective fan polls can favor enduring classics and foundational childhood memories. Games that are not just good for their time is also an important factor here, as some game mechanics and quality of life issues that were considered normal at the time of a game’s release may be viewed harshly in the future. Polls also favor JRPGs ported across many consoles, as more people get a chance to play a game. I chose to give all versions of a game the full number of poll points, except when the polls specifically split them into separate releases. Since people have different personal definitions of JRPGs, some games that not everyone considers to qualify will receive fewer votes. Compilations did not receive any points if a game within them was voted for.

Systems with larger libraries have more opportunities to earn poll points and are also more top of mind, so it’s not much of a surprise to see the 8th generation doing so well overall, other than the Vita.

Chrono Trigger was the most voted for game in both polls and was worth 100 points, more than a third of the SNES and DS’s point totals.

Sega’s entire catalog of JRPGs was beat many individual systems.

Game Systems – Physical Game Price

Physical game prices are always increasing, (studied in some detail here) making it difficult to play many of the best JRPGs on older systems. What good is a system if you can’t afford the games you want?

The following data is from PriceCharting, which analyzes games sold on eBay. The prices used in this study are of “complete in box” copies, which means the box, game, manual, and other inserts are included, but the shrink wrap has been removed and the game has likely been played. These prices are the most volatile data included and will be out of date the quickest. All prices are in United States Dollars. North American versions were used when possible.

If you’re curious about the overall average cost of a game on various systems, I have studied that too.

It will cost you $65,740.29 ($51.60 on average) to own a complete physical copy of every JRPG released before 2021, and that number is only getting bigger.

The SNES and PS1 are known for having many classics, and are often talked about as some of the best JRPG systems, but the DS is almost tied with them in terms of price.

While there aren’t many 3rd generation JRPGs, I was surprised how cheap they were overall.

The Saturn has several expensive games but Panzer Dragoon Saga, at $996.61, is carrying a lot of that price.

Game Systems – Digital Game Price

While I strongly prefer to have physical copies of my games, I understand many like to have digital copies instead. I did not record delisted games or anything from storefronts that have closed. All prices are without discounts.

I originally had a note here about the PS3 and PSVita storefronts closing, but that is no longer the case for now.

A complete digital collection of what is possible to buy at the moment will cost you $24,821.07 ($28.53 on average).

As digital prices are more standardized (more on price distributions later), total digital cost tracks closely with number of JRPGs.

Game Systems – Cheapest Versions

Maybe you’re agnostic about the format of your games and are happy to buy whichever is cheaper.

A complete collection of JRPGs, buying only the cheapest format, comes to $68,297.81. This is more expensive than either a complete physical or digital set, as it includes all physical-only and all digital-only games.

Systems without active digital storefronts have the same prices as the physical copies graph, but Switch, PS4, and Xbox One see a sizeable increase in the price of a complete collection.

Game Systems – Exclusivity

Some games get ported many times across multiple generations, while some are forever stuck on one system. In choosing the best JRPG system I feel that one must consider the exclusives.

For the purposes of exclusivity data (and no other data in this study) I have included ports to any system, including mobile, PC, and emulated ports. They still need to have been released in North America and/or Europe.

The two screen handhelds with touch controls are difficult to adapt to other systems, leaving many of their games stranded. I was surprised so many PS2 games have never found homes anywhere else.

Much of Sega’s JRPG library has ended up on various Nintendo systems.

The 3DO may only have 2 JRPGs, but it’s the only place you can play them.

The Saturn was an outlier in many ways but I’m still not sure why so few games managed to escape its orbit.

The 7th and 8th generation saw quickly declining exclusivity in terms of the North America, Europe, and Japan regions, so I wasn’t surprised to see system exclusivity also fall.

That’s it for the best system section. Did you find a new system to explore? I will have some final thoughts on what the best JRPG system is in the wrapup section. But I still have a lot of other data to show off.

Years – Number of Games

All games use the year of release in North America, unless they are a European exclusive, in which case their European release date is used.

For many games released in the 3rd and 4th generation only a year and month is known. In this case I entered the date as the first day of the month.

There are many games in this uncertain era that are listed as coming out on the last day of the month, including on days of the week that games have rarely been released on. These dates are consistent across sources even though it is very unlikely that they were actually released on that date. Games rarely even had definitive release dates back then, but these dates have been parroted around without disclaimers.

Dragon Quest is often said to be the first JRPG, but it took over 3 years to reach North America. It was the 9th JRPG to leave Japan.

As release dates for games of this era are hard to pin down it’s difficult to be certain, but Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord for the Sega Master System appears to have been the first JRPG to reach North America or Europe, coming out in January of 1988. Not a game you hear about often.

Generally, more JRPGs come out every year, but I’m quite puzzled by 2012 and the surrounding years. This was around the time the 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4 launched. Looking at my study on release dates, there were also fewer overall games released around this time, centered around 2013.

Years – Metascores

What year do you think had the best JRPGs? Would it be near the end of the SNES era when 2D game development had been refined? Maybe during the PS2 when games still didn’t take too long to develop and there was still a lot of experimentation?

Please note that the y-axis starts at 50.

JRPGs did not review well at first, but their scores grew quickly every year until they reached their all time high in 1995. The best scoring games of that year were Chrono Trigger, Lunar: Eternal Blue, and Earthbound.

The JRPG genre sticks closely with overall metascore trends, where 2007 was also the worst year in gaming, metascore-wise

On the other hand, 2000 doesn’t stand out in terms of averages, yet 5 90+ JRPGs were released that year, and 2020 is not far behind.

2012 for some reason only managed 6 JRPGs with an 80+ metascore.

Years – Polls

But maybe retrospective fan polls tell a different story than current-at-the-time reviews?

Much less nostalgic than I would have guessed, and bit of recency bias instead. Since the people voting in these polls are probably mostly in their 20s, it’s natural to see fewer older games. Much bigger differences between adjacent years than the metascores.

100 of 1995’s and 2008’s points come from Chrono Trigger. Very different years without it.

Only 4 games from 2002 received any poll points, Kingdom Hearts chief among them.

Publishers – Number of Games

It may seem to make more sense to study developers than publishers. Developers make the games, after all. While that’s true, publishers exercise varying control over how a game turns out and many are developed and published by the same company. There’s also many more developers, many of which have short lives, are bought and sold to different companies, and don’t make a statistically significant number of games.

I didn’t do any combining of companies based on ownership, I just kept it to how they were credited, much to Atlus’s favor. Only publishers with at least 10 releases are included. North American publishers are used when possible.

Square Enix have dominated the JRPG genre since it was created 18 years ago. Not just Final Fantasy games but also many higher budget games that they don’t develop.

Nintendo isn’t particularly known for publishing JRPGs, but their age, their willingness to bring some games overseas when the original publisher isn’t interested, and the many Pokémon games are enough for second place.

Kemco has a long history, but it wasn’t until the last decade or so that they started cranking out cheap mobile JRPGs, and then porting them to every other system possible.

Publishers – Metascores

Working Designs was a somewhat controversial and short lived publisher known for their elaborate special editions, but comes out on top in terms of metascore.

Some people feel like Square became a shell of themselves after their merger with Enix, and there is a noticeable drop in scores.

Nintendo maintains quite a large average considering their output.

Few of Kemco’s games even get enough reviews to qualify for a metascore, but when they do, it isn’t pretty.

Publishers – Polls

Square Enix wins out on fan acclaim, with Nintendo and Atlus also pretty proportionate to the number of releases under their belt.

Nippon Ichi and Kemco really don’t make much of an impression despite their large number of JRPGs. 122 Kemco releases, and not a single person counted any of them among their favorite.

It’s not entirely fair to compare publishers with many titles against those with a few, so here is the average number of poll points per release.

Square Soft gets a big boost here, with most of its games making someone’s favorites list, while Square Enix gets a big drop.

Sony also fares a bit better, but this way of looking at the data doesn’t change much else.

Series – Number of Games

Publisher loyalty isn’t common, so let’s get angry and argue about what the best JRPG series is. Series had to include at least 5 distinct games without ports. All spinoffs were included. How many do you think qualified?

Forty-four, enough to have to split them into two graphs. Hyperdimension Neptunia and The Legend of Heroes got a bit cut off to fit better.

With a long history, many spinoffs, many remakes, and many ports, Final Fantasy is by far the most prolific JRPG series.

Atelier has been releasing games almost every year, porting them widely, and remaking some of them, but few people would probably guess that it’s #2 in terms of total games.

Series – Metascores

The y-axis again starts at 50 to exaggerate differences.

The Dark Souls series are not traditional JRPGs, but only two of its releases have scored below 85, earning it highest overall.

The Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade games are much more eclectic but have done very well overall.

I was surprised to see Shin Megami Tensei (which includes Persona) so high up, with 31 games it’s difficult to keep the average so high.

Drakengard+Nier are a loose series that I forgot to include, but their metascore average is 72.5.

When I look back at old gaming magazines there were quite a few articles about Yu-Gi-Oh and Digimon being potential Pokémon killers, so it’s funny to see them dead last.

Series – Polls

Final Fantasy, with its large amount of titles and long legacy takes the most poll points by a large margin.

Chrono Trigger (both releases) and Chrono Cross aren’t a large enough series to be included, but if they were, they’d rank fourth, just under Dragon Quest.

As with publishers, it may be more meaningful to look at the average number of poll points per game, rather than the total.

Xeno, with only Xenosaga Episode II not getting any points, takes the crown from Final Fantasy.

The Legend of Heroes also gets a boost, while Shin Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest stay close to their original positions.

Big 4 Hardware Makers

Four large hardware makers have dominated the video games market: Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft. Sometimes people discuss not just the best systems, but the best hardware company. With so many games over such a long period, and so many other factors to consider, I’m not sure this is very meaningful, but I still wanted to see who came out on top.

Y-axis starts at 60, so please keep in mind the overall range here is only 5.29.

The relatively small number of JRPGs released and also considered worthy of review on Sega systems overall scored quite well. Sony’s average is no doubt hurt by its huge library.

In terms of people’s overall favorite games, though, Sony has a solid lead over Nintendo, while Microsoft and Sega are nowhere close.

Miscellaneous Findings

I have several more graphs that didn’t fit in elsewhere. I won’t always have a lot to say about them, and most are small.

While exclusives are a big draw for a system, they are a bit worse on average. Overall I would say they are more likely to be low budget games that sell less than non-exclusives and would not make a worthwhile amount of money to port.

The difference is much more pronounced with poll points.

 

Physical versions of exclusives fetch higher prices overall, while digital versions cost a bit less.

While the smaller budget exclusives have to charge less to stay competitive, the secondhand physical market covets them and sees them as rarer and more valuable.

This is not just the percent of a system’s library that is a JRPG, but a JRPG that released in North America or Europe. This is a bit more speculative and harder to measure exactly than the other data that is part of this project. I used the number of releases according to wikipedia’s lists of games for each system, not including anything after 2020. These lists have different criteria for inclusion and recieve different amounts of care.

Another thing to consider is that fewer and fewer games remain Japan-exclusive over time. Something like 90% of the Saturn’s games never left Japan, and I know there were a lot of RPGs among them.

The 7th, and especially the 8th generation of handhelds have had very JRPG-heavy libraries. Surprisingly, the Gamecube very slightly beats the PlayStation 2 here, though I’m sure the difference is within the margin of error.

Digital games didn’t exist until the 7th generation (for the purposes of this study), but there are many digital-only games now. Digital storefronts don’t stay open forever though, so it may be quite a while before the number of digital JRPGs outnumbers the physical.
This chart does not include a small number of physical Europe-exclusive releases that PriceCharting does not have.

If you remove the 50s there is some very nice symmetry here, centered around the 70s bracket.
About 83% of JRPGs score between 60 and 89.99.

If I didn’t create a ceiling on this one, it would be unreadable and mostly full of blank columns until we get to the most expensive games.

While there are quite a few expensive JRPGs I wish I could afford, there are still over 950 that are cheaper than $60.00.

This is probably very close to the overall non-PC digital games market, not just JRPGs.
The relative lack of $25.00-$29.99 games is interesting.
Summon Night 6: Lost Borders is the only JRPG that costs $54.99.

Trivia and Superlatives

The games included in this study fit a common definition of JRPGs, but are not an objective truth. I make this distinction because I want any readers of this project to exercise some caution before repeating any of the following as an absolute fact. And so I don’t have to add “for the purposes of this study” over and over to every statement.

I learned a lot about my favorite genre and still have more interesting information to share.

One interesting JRPG I didn’t get to talk about was Napoleon. Napoleon was only released in Japan and France, possibly the only game to ever have this distinction. I specifically didn’t make “available in English” a requirement so that it would be included.

I recorded the range of metascores of every JRPG series, too. Dark Souls unsurprisingly had the smallest range, at 8.06, but Etrian Odyssey was #2 with 9.45. On the other side of the scale Final Fantasy had the largest range thanks to its many spinoffs, at 45.46. Atelier has the second highest range thanks to the poorly received Mana Khemia: Student Alliance, at 41.22.

The cheapest JRPG with a metascore of over 90 is Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 2, just $6.40.

The first 5 JRPGs released in North America or Europe – remember that these dates are not exact, and are in a mm/dd/yyyy format:

  • Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord – 01/31/1988 – Master System
  • Dragon Power – 03/01/1988 – NES
  • Phantasy Star – 11/01/1988 – Master System
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – 12/01/1988 – NES
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – 12/01/1988 – NES

The oldest JRPG still exclusive to one system is SpellCaster on the Master System, released 09/01/89. The first digital-only JRPG was Ape Quest for the PSP (01/10/08), though it did get a physical release in Japan.

The 5 JRPGs with the lowest metascores:

  • Magus (PlayStation 3) – 32.5
  • Fantasy Hero: Unsigned Legacy (Switch) – 34
  • Swords & Darkness (3DS) – 36
  • Arc of Alchemist (Switch) – 36
  • Medabots Infinity (GameCube) – 37.67

The 10 JRPGs with the highest metascores:

  • Chrono Trigger (SNES) – 95.64
  • Persona 5 Royal (PlayStation 4) – 95
  • Persona 4: Golden (PSVita) – 94.16
  • Final Fantasy III (what we know as VI now, SNES) – 93.96
  • Persona 5 (PlayStation 4) – 93.3
  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation) – 93.03
  • Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation Vita) – 93
  • Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition (PlayStation 4) – 93
  • Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation) – 92.72
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) – 92.52

The earliest game to earn any poll points was Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System, released around 11/01/1988.

The 10 JRPGs with the most poll points:

  • Chrono Trigger (SNES, DS) – 100 poll points
  • Persona 5 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4) – 78.33 poll points
  • Final Fantasy III/Final Fantasy VI (SNES, DS) – 65.89 poll points
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4/Persona 4: Golden (PlayStation 2, PlayStation Vita) – 59.60 poll points
  • Final Fantasy X (PlayStation 2) – 56.03 poll points
  • Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One) – 53.34 poll points
  • Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition (PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One) – 51.35 poll points
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable (PlayStation Portable) – 48.61 poll points
  • Nier: Automata (PlayStation 4, Xbox One) – 48.20 poll points
  • Xenoblade Chronicles/Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition (Wii, Switch) 43.26 poll points

The 5 cheapest JRPGs (complete, physical):

  • Kingdom of Paradise (PlayStation Portable) – $3.75
  • Sushi Striker (3DS) – $4.39
  • Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (3DS) – $4.47
  • Dragon’s Dogma (Xbox 360) – $4.60
  • Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters – Daybreak Special Gigs (PlayStation 4) – $4.90

The 5 most expensive JRPGs (complete, physical):

  • Earthbound (SNES) – $1,275.78
  • Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) – $996.61
  • Magic Knight Rayearth (Saturn) – $742.50
  • E.V.O.: Search for Eden (SNES) – $624.99
  • Chrono Trigger (SNES) – $546.93

I should have made this a graph, but the most to least expensive average price of a physical game by system:

  • Saturn: $300.21
  • 3DO: $196.87
  • SNES: $192.38
  • Sega CD: $175.05
  • Turbografx: $155.60
  • Game Boy: $140.36
  • N64: $125.70
  • Game Boy Color: $93.55
  • NES: $87.76
  • Gamecube: $85.31
  • Game Boy Advance: $82.17
  • PlayStation: $77.28
  • Genesis: $72.70
  • Game Gear: $62.96
  • Master System: $55.48
  • Dreamcast: $46.18
  • DS: $46.00
  • PlayStation 2: $37.63
  • Wii: $33.13
  • Switch: $26.24
  • PlayStation Vita: $22.96
  • PlayStation 4: $22.87
  • Wii U: $21.06
  • Xbox One: $18.56
  • PlayStation 3: $18.56
  • 3DS: $17.65
  • PlayStation Portable: $17.20
  • Xbox: $13.95
  • Xbox 360: $13.77

The overall average was $41.67, in between the DS and PlayStation 2.

The Best JRPG System

Back to the central question of this study, first let us discuss individual systems and just their libraries, without backwards compatibility.

I have to give it to the PlayStation 4. It has the most JRPGs scoring at least 80 by a good margin, has a large and diverse library, it’s modern enough to not have the headaches of battery or memory card saves, it has online features, and it has trophy support if you’re into that. The games are also cheaper on average than the Switch, and will likely fall much more over the next ten years.

The 3DS and Switch are also excellent systems, with lots of highly rated games, and are handhelds/can be handheld. The 3DS has cheaper games on average (4th cheapest average physical price), while the Switch has a more eclectic selection of ports from different eras, but fewer exclusives.

If we’re to include backwards compatibility I think a “fat” PlayStation 3 that can play PlayStation 2 and PlayStation discs offers the best overall value with a huge and mostly affordable library. Unfortunately, finding one in working condition is becoming harder and more expensive. While a fix for the Yellow Ring of Death has fairly recently come to light, it still requires buying specific capacitors and a willingness to open up your system and solder. In addition there are quite a few PS one Classics and PlayStation 2 Classics if you want cheap digital JRPGs.

If you’re not willing to do hardware fixes or you’re not looking to buy digital games, the PlayStation 2 and non-fat PlayStation 3 both play original PlayStation discs natively, which is a nice if expensive addition to their libraries.

The 3DS, which can play DS games, is another excellent choice, with a large number of JRPGs that are unlikely to ever get ported elsewhere, and overall cheap prices with a few expensive outliers.

If you are into older handheld JRPGs, the GameCube with a Game Boy Player is actually capable of playing games from the entire Game Boy line. Those 4 systems are among the 11 most expensive systems to buy JRPGs for, so it’s not for everyone.

So overall, depending on your tastes and wallet, the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Switch, and 3DS are all great systems with lots of quality JRPGs to play, many of which are quite affordable.

Wrapup

After reading all this did you change your mind at all? What do you value most when considering a JRPG system? Should cost be a factor at all? Is library size the only important metric? Or maybe you only care about your favorite series?

I would like to include a copy of the spreadsheet I used to make this project. Perhaps you will find it helpful in finding a new JRPG to play or perhaps you would like to study the statistics your own way. You can save this as an HTML file and then copy and paste into your preferred spreadsheet program. Some of the formatting is sloppy and I am sure I made some mistakes.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vRivdWr57EDcnjZLQSfPzZI3Z9pJ0urTARI9ErGF-z3zPjUvGqq5Sh5gKqOfLEo6dlnYWS-jTSO5PPZ/pubhtml

Sources

The JRPG Index, by Lucca, part of JRPG Chronicles, for the base list of games.

/r/JRPG wiki’s list of JRPGs for a lot of publisher and release date information.

Wikipedia’s various lists of games for publisher, release date, and other information.

https://gr.blade.sk/#/ for an archive of GameRankings’s metascores.

MetaCritic for other metascores.

/r/JRPG’s Greatest JRPGs of All-Time poll results for providing poll numbers.

The Greatest JRPG Games and Battle Systems of All Time Poll for also providing poll numbers.

PriceCharting for physical game prices.

Nintendo Game Store for digital prices of Nintendo games.

Official PlayStation Store for digital prices of Sony games.

Microsoft Store for digital prices of Microsoft games.

MobyGames for exclusivity and miscellaneous information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In part 1 I went over when games are released, and how that varies by the North American, European, and Japanese regions. What I’m covering in this post is the distribution of games between regions and how long it takes for a game to reach those regions.

Regions Over Time and By System

Almost every console and handheld game once saw a Japanese release, despite having a much smaller population than either North America or Europe, but now fewer and fewer games do. North America and Europe have both seen a consistent rise in the percent of games they receive. There’s a spike of multiregionalism in 2017 that we will see in many of these graphs.

This isn’t a breakdown of how well each system has sold in each region, but it’s pretty close. While Nintendo has seen more games released in North America and Europe than in Japan,  the difference is more extreme for Microsoft systems. The Saturn’s huge number of games released in Japan is the opposite of the Xbox. The PS2 to PS3 is a dramatic shift with around twice the percent of games coming to North America.

Regional Exclusivity

The number of games exclusive to Japan has been dropping pretty steadily for 25 years as fewer games are made there and more of them that do need international sales. The spike in 2020 is probably because many games that will see further releases later just hadn’t been yet at the time I gathered my data. There have never been many European exclusives but they have almost completely disappeared in the last 5 years. 2010 was an odd year with North American exclusives briefly overtaking Japanese exclusives.

We’re not likely to ever see another video game system so focused on one market than the Sega Saturn. The Wii U had a ton of digital games developed by one person or a very small team in America that weren’t able to even release their games in Europe. One region exclusives have largely gone out of style, the Switch, PS4, and Xbox One just having a handful in many regions.

Two Regions, but Not Necessarily Exclusively

I know this is an odd category, but it was easy to do. These are the percent of games released in two regions, and maybe the third. We can see that if a game was released in Japan it has always been almost equally likely to also be released in Europe or North America. But more games overall release in both North America and Europe.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, all systems have kept roughly the same proportions of each combination, except the Saturn.

Two Regions Exclusively

Games released in North American and Europe but not Japan have risen over time as the Japanese market has shrunk. Although it’s just one more language, compared to the several of Europe, there are some unique challenges to localizing a game for Japan, which has made it less worth it for publishers. Meanwhile few games have ever excluded just North America or just Europe and that number has shrunk over time.

No system has bucked the trend of North America + Europe but not Japan being by far the most common combination of regions.

All Three Regions

It costs a lot of money to release a game in the three major regions, and generally only games with the widest possible appeal get the chance. This has increased over time as digital distribution has reduced some of that cost. Even rarer has been the simultaneous release, which requires a lot of coordination and perhaps sitting on a completed game for some time.

The earliest game I could find with a simultaneous release that I could verify (there’s some spotty and inconsistent information on some earlier DS titles) was Gran Turismo for the PSP on October 1st, 2009. It was even sold physically.

It’s clear here that simultaneous releases were unheard of until the 7th generation, but still rare. In the 8th generation they make up a fair portion of all games. Handhelds have been a bit behind their console counterparts on both three region releases and simultaneous releases.

Regions Charts

Sorry about the wording and coloring being a bit different, but here are the charts covering all of the data seen so far in this post. Not a single PS4 game exclusive to Europe and Japan, and not a single Xbox One game exclusive to North America and Japan.

Region Gaps

Sometimes there is a short amount of time between the release of a game in two regions, and sometimes there is a long amount of time. I am calling the number of days between a release in two regions the “gap”. Games released in only one region have no gap and are not figured into the calculations below, but games released in two regions on the same day have a gap of 0.

These gaps can be for several reasons: a game may not sell well in its initial region, a game has a lot of text, a game may have aspects that are difficult make understandable to a foreign audience, localization teams are busy with other projects, a game may have been made in a way that makes it technically difficult to add support for text that works in different ways and takes a different amount of space, or logistical issues.

The “relative gap” is handy because it also shows us which region gets games first, on average. The difference between positive and negative values is in which region gets a game first. If it takes an equally long amount for a game to reach either region it will stay at 0. This graph shows us that North America has gotten games before Europe on average for every Nintendo system, although it has taken a shorter and shorter amount of time. Games released in Japan used to overwhelmingly be released in Japan before heading to North America and Europe, but this has turned around with the Wii U and Switch.

The “absolute gap”, meanwhile, does not take the first region into account, it is just the total number of days between a release in two regions. Handhelds for some reason have taken longer to leave Japan than console games. Although the 3DS and Switch are handheld neighbors there is a large difference in localization times.

The Playstation has the largest average relative gap with Japanese games taking hundreds of days to reach Europe. Sony’s handheld games have also taken much longer to leave Japan compared to their console counterparts.

The Japanese-European difference only grows in the absolute graph, showing that games released in Europe before Japan take even longer to be localized. Sony’s console games have overall taken a bit longer than Nintendo’s to make the jump to second and third regions.

Despite its overwhelmingly Japan-only library the Saturn’s multi-region games are almost perfectly balanced between how long it takes to reach each region. The Xbox was an outlier for its time, with Japan having to wait on North American and European games instead of the other way around.

Interestingly, the Dreamcast is the only 6th generation console that took longer to release games in other regions than its 5th generation counterpart. The average number of days for a game to reach Japan has stayed very equal between North America and Europe on Microsoft systems.

 

 

 

Here’s the chart for the relative and absolute gaps. The Xbox One wins the award for smallest absolute gap with just 1.77 average days between North American and European releases, no doubt many of them on the same day. Meanwhile Europe to Japan or vice versa took almost a year on average for Playstation games.

I couldn’t resist finding what games took the longest amount of time to cross regional borders for each system. The PS1’s Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 also came up in my metascore study as being responsible for the worst quarter for any system, scoring a 32.03% and being very late in the system’s life. I was surprised that three Pokemon games appeared on this list, as Nintendo was really pushing it hard.

The game that, as far as I can tell, has taken the longest amount of time to be released between two regions is Breath of Fire III for the PSP. 3,820 days after the August 3rd, 2005 Japanese release (physical and digital), North America got a digital-only release on February 9th, 2016. That’s over a decade – the PSVita was about to celebrate its fourth birthday in North America at the time. Europe got a physical and digital release on February 3, 2006, which makes the North America-Europe gap the second longest regional gap.

Sources

Wikipedia’s lists of games by system – for release dates

MobyGames – for release dates

 

Release dates for games are something we take for granted now, but it didn’t use to be that way. Even big releases generally only had an estimate of what month you might be able to buy them. Super Mario Bros, one of the most important video games ever released, does not have a definitive North American release date

Sonic 2sday, November 24th, 1992, was a promotion by Sega for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that led to games having set release dates like other media, and less like toys. This was an event to look forward to, rather than different outlets getting a game at different times and maybe not putting it out for sale for a few weeks. This wasn’t quite a worldwide release, with Japan getting Sonic 2 a few days earlier, but a near-simultaneous worldwide release was an impressive and unique feat for the time and was likely the reason games continued to be released predominately on Tuesdays for years to come.

This project looks at the evolving history of video game release dates, starting with the 5th generation – N64/PS1/Saturn/GBC. I didn’t include games from the 4th, Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s generation, because there were still so many games without an exact release date.

To qualify for inclusion games had to have been released in at least the North America, Europe, or Japan region and have at least one known exact release date. I only included consoles and handhelds from Nintendo, Sony, Sega, and Microsoft. The earliest games were Japan-only Sega Saturn games from 1994, and the latest games have announced dates later in 2020.

In total 31,338 games were included with 58,055 release dates.

Date information was mostly from Wikipedia’s lists of games, but several only had the first release date or no dates at all, so I had to manually look up and enter thousands of dates from MobyGames.  I ran many checks on the dates when I was done to find suspicious outliers and made many corrections, but I don’t claim my data to be perfect. My two sources, Wikipedia and MobyGames, also disagree on many release dates and I have no way to confirm which is true.

Sometimes games in Europe are released on slightly different days in different countries. When this was the case I used the United Kingdom’s release date. If there was no known United Kingdom release date I used the earliest known date.

Dates are shown in the mm/dd/yyyy format.

The distribution of Included Games

I’m including these first two graphs to give an idea of the sample sizes involved. 1994 and 1995 were early in the 5th generation and don’t have many games, so averages aren’t very reliable. Most of my data was gathered in early 2020 so there weren’t many games from that year either.

Some systems just didn’t have many games, like the N64, and some, like the GBA, had very spotty information so many games couldn’t be included.

Dates


Here is the average percent of games released in North America on every day of the year. The year on the next several graphs and charts are shown as 2000 because the tools I use won’t accept a date without a year, but it is the average from the full range of years used in the study. The dotted line at 0.27 (1/366*100) represents the frequency we would expect if every date saw an equal number of games released.

There are several outliers but there is a general trend of releases becoming rarer in late November and hitting rock bottom around the end and beginning of the year. Releases pick up slowly but steadily through February and March but then abruptly fall with the start of April. Things are slow but steady until the end of June which sees a surge of releases, before abruptly falling again as July starts. The end of March and June surge may have to do with financial quarters ending. Releases then grow quickly through the end of summer and throughout the fall as holiday shopping picks up, with the biggest release days in November.

Europe follows much of the same trends as North America. February and March see a few more releases, more spread out. There is another end of June surge. The fall flurry is a bit more spread out too, never reaching the same peaks, and ending a bit later.

Japan’s near total lack of releases in the early part of the year is more pronounced than North America’s or Europe’s. Very differently from the other two regions, Japan sees many releases in the last week of every month, but not quite at the very end of them. The middle of the year has fewer releases overall, but not by much.

(I suggest opening these in new tabs) First is the exact percent of games of every date, and second is every date sorted with the total number of games released on that date.

January 4th in Japan is the date with the smallest number of releases, at just one! The game in question was a DSi game known as Trajectile in North America and Reflect Missile in Europe and Japan. Unfortunately, I can’t say for sure it really came out on January 4th, wikipedia says it did, while Nintendo Life says it was the 20th. Regardless, January 4th may get so few releases in part because Japanese workers return from their New Year’s break on this date.

Speaking of Japan, holidays don’t have much of an impact on game releases. Golden Week is a series of 4 holidays on April 29th, May 3rd, May 4th, and ending with Children’s Day on May 5th. But April 29th is pretty average for an end of month date, and early May sees some of the fewest releases. August 15th stood out to me as an unusually light day, but some googling reminded me that this is the day Japan surrendered to the Allied powers, a somber day of mourning those who died in the war.

I was surprised that Halloween is the most common release date in North America, and only slightly less popular in Europe. It’s not a day I associate with buying video games. July 4th, the USA’s Independence Day, is among the least common, and Christmas Eve and Day also see few releases in either region.

North America and Europe have many holidays that can occur on different days of the year, making it difficult to determine if they have any impact.

Days of the Week

Sonic 2sday is sometimes credited as being the reason North American games continue to be released on Tuesdays as well as Tuesday just being the day books, albums, and DVDs come out, so of course video games do too. But is that really true? It wasn’t until 1998 that Tuesday became the most common release day, and it was a pretty small lead until 2003.

If you google when games are released in North America you’ll find plenty of articles and discussions about Tuesdays, but this actually stopped being true a few years ago. Thursdays have taken over and no one seems to have noticed.

Fridays have also seen a surge in releases, while Mondays and especially Sundays have become less popular. Wednesdays have stayed pretty stable.

Europe is pretty similar to North America in terms of dates of the year, but not in terms of days of the week. Friday long dominated releases until the early ’10s, when Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday all got a larger share. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday have always had few releases.

This article discusses several factors contributing to the history of Friday game releases in Europe, such as it being the traditional pay day, and to differentiate itself from other media that releases on other days of the week.

Japan, meanwhile, also has its own thing going on. Friday seems to be the big day for the mid 90s (remember that I had very few 1994 dates), but that changed very quickly in 1997 and 1998, instead becoming Thursday. Thursday continued to see most releases for many years, but lost ground in the 10s before reclaiming much of the ground it had lost. I don’t have a lot of 2020 releases for Japan, but it seems like it may have seen another sudden shift, back to Friday.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays have seen a smaller number of releases since 2008, while Saturday, Sunday, and Monday have had very few.

I can’t find any information about why games are released this way in Japan.

Here is a chart showing the exact values for the previous three charts. If we exclude 1994, 1995, and 2020, the lowest value is Sundays in 2018 in Japan, at 0.10%. The highest is Fridays in Japan in 1996 at 92.42% of releases, followed closely by Thursdays in Japan in 2005, at 91.77%.

Days of the Month

I have put the days of the month into 6 groups here because 31 nearly identically sized bars wouldn’t be very enlightening. We don’t hear about what days of the month games come out very often, so I was curious if there would be any interesting trends, and alas, they are almost equal, other than the first part of the month seeing a few less releases.

In the first part of the 25 Years of Games Project, I noted that almost all computer game release dates from the mid to late 90s seemed to be on the last day of the month. I was not sure if those games really did overwhelmingly release on those days, or if the exact date was unknown but every source I could find just said that they did without acknowledging the uncertainty. What I did not notice was a smaller, but still significant, portion of console games with listed dates on the last day of the month too. Looking through them it seems to be more common with N64 and PS1 games than Saturn. I still don’t know if this is a case of a legitimate industry trend, or poor record keeping of the time. 1995 would likely have shown the same bias towards the last day of the month if I had more data from that year.

Europe’s day of month releases look very similar to the North America’s, except that mysterious last day of the month trend is not there. In my findings fewer European releases have exact known dates, so I would expect there to be more uncertainty, more rough estimates, not fewer.

Japan’s major difference from North America and Europe is fewer releases in the beginning of the month, and more at the end, as we saw from the dates dot graph. The difference is still less extreme than day of the week differences, and has seen much less change over time.

Here is every single ungrouped day of the month, with all years combined. The 25th, 26th, 27th, and 28th stand out among Japanese releases. North America and Europe stay pretty similar to each other, with a few exceptions like the 1st, 7th, 18th, 29th, and 31st.

I provide these huge tables so you can find patterns yourself if you really want, and to “show my work” and be transparent about my data.

Months

The distribution of months hasn’t changed much in North America over time. The holiday shopping season of October and November has gotten fewer releases over time. 2019 stands out, with May having more releases than October or November after being one of the slowest months for many years.

Europe is not too different from North America in terms of months of releases. 1999 was quite an odd year with over half of all games releasing in October or later.

Japanese releases are more spread out through the year, with a small bump at the end of the year. January and May have few releases in all regions.

Here is the overall month distribution of each region. I didn’t mark it but 8.33% is where the these bars would be if every month had an equal number of games. I’m not sure why March is so popular. It may get some games that were intended for September-November but got delayed, or maybe there is just a need to get games out before the slow spring and summer season. Japan has quite a large drop from December to January.

This is all of the month data. January 2000 in Europe was the slowest month in the years included in the study, just 1% of the games that year. On the other side of the spectrum, in North America one fourth of the releases in 1998 were during October.

That is all of the detailed date data I have for you. With this data set I was also able to learn a lot about how many games are released in different combinations of regions, and how long it takes for games to release outside of their home region, so please come back next month for part 2.

 

Sources

Wikipedia’s lists of games by system – for release dates

MobyGames – for release dates

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – information about Sonic 2sday

Happy Sonic 2sday (almost) – more information about Sonic 2sday

Al Nilsen – former Sega employee for the Sonic 2sday sticker image

 

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

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

 

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.