When making my 25 Years of Games mega-project I needed a good source that had genres for thousands of games. After looking around a bit I decided MobyGames was as good as I was going to find, despite some issues I had with it. It kept nagging at me though, was there really nothing better out there than MobyGames’ 10 (at the time) genre system? The idea that we can fit all the varied video games out there into a handful of nice genres that communicate meaningful and useful information continued to intrigue me.
In the years since I have found myself poking around other sites, checking out how they handle genres. I have also started and abandoned a few projects where I compare how a handful of games are categorized by genre amongst several sources. I wasn’t sure what exactly this was going to be when I started it, and it has become much larger than I ever envisioned it could be.
For this project I have scoured how a large number of sources handle video game genres. Video game databases, review outlets, academic papers, digital stores, video game award shows, I wanted to sample everything I could. Not just what genres they use, but also basic information about the source for context, which inclusions and exclusions stand out, how the information is presented, other genre-adjacent information, and my thoughts on their genre system. I will mostly be discussing the shortcomings and oddities of each approach, fully recognizing that there is no perfect way to sort games that accurately and fully describes them and that many of these sources are not setting out to do so. Please don’t take any of my criticisms as mean-spirited, I’m sure genres are not the top priority for any of these sources. It’s just not useful or interesting to comment on the basic things they all get right, after all.
All genre names will be capitalized, even lists straight from the source, so it will always be clear when I am talking about a genre versus a concept, like sports. When I use the phrase “video game” I am including computer, mobile, and other electronic games. I will be using Spore (2008) as an example when possible because it is a difficult game to categorize, with several different types of gameplay.
Wikis and Game Databases
Wikipedia has several ways of breaking video games down into genres and is difficult to get a handle on. As it is being edited by thousands of people around the world with constantly changing ideas it is also in constant flux, making small adjustments constantly, and there is no definitive source of video game genres to draw from. There is no exact way to know how many games have pages on Wikipedia, but I have seen estimates between 27,600 and 39,000.
List of Video Game Genres
The list of video game genres has 12 genres, subdivided into 76 subgenres and is not very consistent with the rest of Wikipedia, but is very inclusive of small genres. The full list of genres:
- 1 Action
- 1.1 Platform games
- 1.2 Shooter games
- 1.3 Fighting games
- 1.4 Beat ’em up games
- 1.5 Stealth game
- 1.6 Survival games
- 1.7 Rhythm games
- 1.8 Battle Royale games
- 2 Action-Adventure
- 2.1 Survival Horror
- 2.2 Metroidvania
- 3 Adventure
- 3.1 Text Adventures
- 3.2 Graphic Adventures
- 3.3 Visual Novels
- 3.4 Interactive Movie
- 3.5 Real-Time 3D Adventures
- 4 Puzzle
- 4.1 Breakout Clone game
- 4.2 Logical game
- 4.2.1 Physics game
- 4.2.2 Coding game
- 4.3 Trial-and-Error / Exploration
- 4.4 Hidden Object game
- 4.5 Reveal the Picture game
- 4.6 Tile-Matching game
- 4.7 Traditional Puzzle game
- 4.8 Puzzle-Platform game
- 5 Role-Playing
- 5.1 Action RPG
- 5.2 MMORPG
- 5.3 Roguelikes
- 5.4 Tactical RPG
- 5.5 Sandbox RPG
- 5.6 First-Person Party-Based RPG
- 5.7 JRPG
- 5.8 Monster Tamer
- 6 Simulation
- 6.1 Construction and Management Simulation
- 6.2 Life Simulation
- 6.3 Vehicle Simulation
- 7 Strategy
- 7.1 4X game
- 7.2 Artillery game
- 7.3 Auto Battler (Auto chess)
- 7.4 Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
- 7.5 Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
- 7.6 Real-Time Tactics (RTT)
- 7.7 Tower Defense
- 7.8 Turn-Based Strategy (TBS)
- 7.9 Turn-Based Tactics (TBT)
- 7.10 Wargame
- 7.11 Grand Strategy Wargame
- 8 Sports
- 8.1 Racing
- 8.2 Sports game
- 8.3 Competitive
- 8.4 Sports-Based Fighting
- 9 MMO
- 10 Other Notable Genres
- 10.1 Board Game or Card Game
- 10.2 Casino game
- 10.3 Casual games
- 10.4 Digital Collectible Card game
- 10.5 Gacha game
- 10.6 Horror game
- 10.7 Idle game
- 10.8 Logic game
- 10.9 Party game
- 10.10 Photography game
- 10.11 Programming game
- 10.12 Social deduction game
- 10.13 Trivia game
- 10.14 Typing game
- 11 Video Game Genres by Purpose
- 11.1 Advergame
- 11.2 Art game
- 11.3 Casual game
- 11.4 Christian game
- 11.5 Educational game
- 11.6 Esports
- 11.7 Exergame
- 11.8 Personalized game
- 11.9 Serious game
- 12 Sandbox / Open World games
- 12.1 Sandbox
- 12.2 Creative
- 12.3 Open World
Unlike many of the other sources we’ll be looking at it does not shy away from relatively new genres or ones that seem to have sprouted from fan discussions, such as Metroidvania, Monster Tamer, Roguelike, or Auto Battler. In fact, Auto Battler/Auto Chess is likely the newest video game genre, the page for it was made in 2020. Wikipedia is also the only resource I found that uses it as a genre.
MMO seems like a strange choice for a top level genre, as all massively multiplayer games are also some other genre, but has been made in a way that many people can it play online. MMORPG also exists under Role-Playing.
The Other Notable Genres is a kludgy way to fit miscellaneous things together, and many would fit under Strategy, Simulation, or Action.
Video Game Genres by Purpose contains subgenres relating to why people play games for reasons other than pure entertainment, such as Educational, Esports, and Advergame. This is a valid way to categorize games, but does it belong on this list? Genre to me is first and foremost a way to describe gameplay. There are many ways to categorize games, they don’t all have to be genres.
Interestingly, there are separate top level genres for Action, Adventure, and Action-Adventure. The Adventure genre has been used for a long time, but the definition is one of the more variable. Here on Wikipedia it is defined as games that don’t rely on reflexes or action. Myst is the given example but it seems to me like chess would technically fit this particular definition as well. Action-Adventure has the subgenres Metroidvania and Survival Horror and is defined as combing action and adventure elements and often utilizing puzzles, exploration, and tools. This definition can cover a huge number of games.
Five years ago the list looked a bit different. MMO was under Other Notable Genres, the Puzzle genre does not exist, but Idle Games does. There is a “Cultural differences” section under Role-Playing explaining the difference between Japanese and Western made RPGs, but the current list has JRPG as a distinct subgenre. Whether JRPGs are an actual subgenre has been a contentious issue on this list for years.
There is also a video game subsection on the general list of genres that seems to be updated less often and has its own thing going on. In short it only includes 6 genres, “Action” and “Adventure and Action-Adventure” exist under the top level Action genre, Puzzle is put under “Other”, there’s no Sports or Racing, and overall seems neglected.
Template: Video Game Genre
There is also a template of video game genres, used on the bottom of individual genre pages. While it has some similarities to the list of genres, it is essentially a completely different way to divide up genres. There are 11 top level genres, including an “Other”, and a related concepts section which has some things that are called genres in other places on Wikipedia. There are even some third level genres in parenthesis, which I have instead rendered with additional indentation:
- Beat ’em Up
- Hack and Slash
- Pac-Man Clone
- Endless Runner
- Light Gun
- Shoot ’em Up
- Battle Royale
- Beat ’em Up
- Grand Theft Auto Clone
- Immersive Sim
- Graphic Adventure
- Escape the Room
- Interactive Fiction
- Interactive Film
- Visual Novel
- Survival Horror
- Action Role-Playing
- Dungeon Crawl
- Tactial Role-Playing
- Action Role-Playing
- Construction and Management
- Theme Park
- Falling Sand
- Life Simulation
- Dating Sim
- Virtual Pet
- Social Simulation
- Construction and Management
- Auto Battler
- Multiplayer online battle arena
- Real-Time Strategy
- Time Management
- Real-Time Tactics
- Tower Defense
- Turn-Based Strategy
- Turn-Based Tactics
- Grand Strategy Wargame
- American Football
- Association Football
- Australian Rules Football
- Professional Wrestling
- Ice Hockey
- Kart Racing
- Sim Racing
- Rugby Union
- Vehicle Simulation
- Flight Simulator
- Lunar Lander
- Driving Simulator
- Submarine Simulator
- Train Simulator
- Vehicular Combat
- Flight Simulator
- Other Genres
- Roguelike Deck-Building
- Digital Tabletop
- Digital Collectible Card
- Hidden Object
- Alternate Reality
- Related Concepts
- AAA Game
- Arcade Game
- Art Game
- Audio Game
- Casual Game
- Christian Game
- Crossover Game
- Educational Game
- Indie Game
- Multiplayer Video Game
- Nonlinear Gameplay
- Open World
- Sandbox Game
- Nonviolent Video Game
- Online Game
- Browser Game
- Online Gambling
- Social-Network Game
- Pervasive Game
- Serious Game
- Twitch Gameplay
- Virtual Reality Game
- Video Game Clone
- Cooperative Video Game
With over 100 genres this genre breakdown feels a bit like people remembering games that don’t exactly fit anywhere else and making them a genre. Sand Falling? Lunar Lander? MMORTS? It raises an interesting point about how exhaustive a full list of video game genres should be. Even if there have technically been a dozen games over several decades that could be lumped together, does it make sense to do so? And what makes a game important enough to call similar games “clones”?
Almost all of these do actually have Wikipedia pages with examples listed, no matter how obscure. The more obscure genre concepts are rarely ever mentioned on the individual game pages they supposedly apply to. For example, Super Metroid is described as Action-Adventure in its infobox, despite being one of the foundational examples of Metroidvanias. It does have the Metroidvania category, though.
Puzzle being relegated to Other seems very odd to me. It sure has more subgenres than Horror, which is more of a theme anyway.
Even though Amateur Flight Simulators are distinct enough from regular Flight Simulators to be their own genre, Japanese Role-Playing Games are apparently not distinct enough.
While Wikipedia’s list of genres is a noble attempt at creating a comprehensive guide it is not reflective of how Wikipedia actually categorizes individual game pages. Category: Video game genres contains the 103 pages (while there are 105 pages in this category, two are not pages about a specific genre) categorized as being pages about a video game genre. Several genres that are not on the list of genres are notable enough to have their own Wikipedia page such as Masocore, Roguelike Deck-Building Game, Soulslike, and Kart Racing. On the other hand, some genres from the list do not have their own page, such as Text Adventure and Breakout Clone Game.
Full list of genres with Wikipedia pages that are categorized as such:
4X, Action game, Action Role-Playing game, Action-Adventure game, Adventure game, Alternate Reality game, Arena Shooter, Art game, Artillery game, Auto Battler, Battle Royale game, Beat ’em Up, Bishōjo game, Browser game, Business Simulation game, Casual game, Christian video game, City-Building game, Collectible Card game, Combat Flight Simulation game, Computer Wargame, Construction and Management Simulation, Dating Sim, Digital Tabletop game, Dungeon Crawl, Endless Runner, Eroge, Escape the Room, Falling-Sand game, Fighting game, First-Person Shooter, Girls’ video games, God game, Government Simulation game, Grand Strategy Wargame, Grand Theft Auto Clone, Hack and Slash, Hero Shooter, Horror game, Hyper-Casual game, Immersive Sim, Incremental game, Interactive Film, Kaizo, Kart Racing game, Life Simulation game, Light Gun Shooter, Masocore, Massively Multiplayer Online First-Person Shooter game, Massively Multiplayer Online game, Massively Multiplayer Online Real-Time Strategy game, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing game, Metroidvania, MUD, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, Multiverse (video games), Music video game, Non-Game, Nonviolent video game, Olympics in video games, Otome game, Photography game, Platform Fighter, Platform game, Programming game, Psychological Drama, Psychological Horror, Hidden Object game, Puzzle video game, Racing game, Real-Time Strategy, Real-Time Tactics, Rhythm game, Roguelike, Roguelike Deck-Building game, Role-Playing video game, Sandbox game, Shoot ’em Up, Shooter game, Sim Racing, Simulation video game, Social Network game, Social Simulation game, Soulslike, Space Flight Simulation game, Sports video game, Stealth game, Strategy video game, Survival game, Survival horror, Tactical Role-Playing game, Tactical Shooter, Third-Person Shooter, Time Management game, Tower Defense, Turn-Based Strategy, Turn-Based Tactics, Typing game, Vehicle Simulation game, List of vehicular combat games, Vertically Scrolling video game, Virtual Pet, Visual Novel
There is not just a category for video game genre pages, but also a category for genres applied to individual game pages, which is all a bit of a confusing mess. Category: Video Games by Genre is a “container category” with 48 top level genres, with many having more nested within. For example, the Health Video Games category contains the Fitness Games category, which contains the Four-Panel Dance Video Games category, which contains the Dance Dance Revolution Video Games category.
How it works is Wikipedia pages for games have infoboxes with a genre field. Any genres entered there are added as categories. There are also other genre categories added manually. These categories are usually subcategories of a larger category. While infoboxes on Wikipedia’s game pages usually link to pages that are categorized as game genres, this is not always the case. Dreams has the “Game creation system” genre, the page of which is contained within the Video game engines and Video game development software categories. You can see all of the categories at the bottom of any page on Wikipedia.
The full list of top level categories of genres:
Action video games, Action-Adventure games, Adventure games, Art games, Battle Royale games, Beat ’em Ups, Black Comedy video games, Cinematic Platform games, Construction and Management Simulation games, Digital Tabletop games, Dress-Up video games, Educational video games, Eroge, Fighting games, Hack and Slash games, Health video games, Horror video games, Immersive Sims, Incremental games, Interactive Movie video games, Metroidvania games, Music video games, Mystery video games, Neo-Noir video games, Non-Games, Nonviolent video games, Open-World video games, Party video games, Pinball video games, Platform games, Psychological Horror games, Puzzle video games, Puzzle-Platform games, Quiz video games, Racing video games, Roguelike video games, Role-Playing video games, Shooter video games, Simulation video games, Social Deduction video games, Soulslike video games, Sports video games, Stealth video games, Strategy video games, Survival video games, Tactical Role-Playing video games, Typing video games, Video Games Based on Musicians
While many of the top level categories here correspond to widely recognized, broad genres, others just don’t fit within anything else, like Neo-Noir Video Games, Video Games Based on Musicians, or Black Comedy Video Games.
The page for the video game infobox template, which describes how to fill out the genre field, states that the genre listed in the infobox should include genres as used by the developer or publisher, or how reliable sources classify it. It specifically states it should not include “broad gameplay mechanics that are frequently confused with genres, such as open world”, which is inconsistent with Wikipedia’s own list of genres, Wikipedia’s video game genre template, and Wikipedia’s video game categories, which all have an Open World or Sandbox listing.
Spore is classified as a God Game, Life Simulation, and Real-Time Strategy in its infobox, and these genres all have their own pages. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see that it also has categories that could be considered genres such as Biological Simulation Video Games and Science Fiction Video Games (I don’t think Science Fiction really qualifies as a genre, but others disagree).
There is also a category for video game themes, which has some potential overlap with genre, such as the Kaiju and Professional Wrestling themes.
MobyGames has been in operation for over 23 years and aims to be a comprehensive database of video game information. It has either 147,000 or 307,000 games, depending on if you count multiplatform releases as one game or not. Keep in mind I was not able to determine which way any other database in this study counts their games.
Anyone can propose an edit to a page on MobyGames, but proposed edits have to be accepted by someone in the “approver” group. In some ways it is like Wikipedia, but with much fewer people doing a lot of work in a very specific, and often opaque, way. I have used MobyGames for genre information for several projects, as I found it to be more comprehensive and consistent than other sites, even if I wished some things were done differently.
MobyGame’s 14 genres currently are:
Action, Adventure, Compilation, DLC / Add-on, Educational, Gambling, Idle, Puzzle, Racing / Driving, Role-Playing (RPG), Simulation, Special Edition, Sports, Strategy
DLC / Add-on and Special Edition seem to be more bookkeeping than proper genres, as these have separate entries from the games they are relevant to, and every page requires the genre field to be filled. So 12 genres might be more accurate.
Spore has the Action, Role-Playing (RPG), Simulation, and Strategy genres, and the gameplay field has Life / Social Simulation.
MobyGames has been very cautious with adding new genres, Internet Archive’s earliest snapshot of the MobyGame’s genre page from 2003 has 8 genres:
Created in 1995, GameFAQs hosts guides, message boards, questions and answers, reviews, and other game information for over 200,000 games.
GameFAQs uses 10 top-level genres (also called “category” in some places on the site) and 1 to 3 further levels of subgenres:
Action » Arcade
Action » Beat-‘Em-Up
Action » Beat-‘Em-Up » 2D
Action » Beat-‘Em-Up » 3D
Action » Fighting
Action » Fighting » 2D
Action » Fighting » 3D
Action » General
Action » Pinball
Action » Platformer
Action » Platformer » 2D
Action » Platformer » 3D
Action » Platformer » Metroidvania
Action » Rhythm
Action » Rhythm » Dancing
Action » Rhythm » Music
Action » Shooter
Action » Shooter » First-Person
Action » Shooter » First-Person » Arcade
Action » Shooter » First-Person » Tactical
Action » Shooter » Light Gun
Action » Shooter » Rail
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up » Horizontal
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up » Top-Down
Action » Shooter » Shoot-‘Em-Up » Vertical
Action » Shooter » Third-Person
Action » Shooter » Third-Person » Arcade
Action » Shooter » Third-Person » Tactical
Action Adventure » General
Action Adventure » Linear
Action Adventure » Open-World
Action Adventure » Sandbox
Action Adventure » Survival
Adventure » 3D
Adventure » 3D » First-Person
Adventure » 3D » Third-Person
Adventure » General
Adventure » Point-and-Click
Adventure » Text
Adventure » Visual Novel
Miscellaneous » Application
Miscellaneous » Board / Card Game
Miscellaneous » Compilation
Miscellaneous » Demo Disc
Miscellaneous » Edutainment
Miscellaneous » Exercise / Fitness
Miscellaneous » Gambling
Miscellaneous » General
Miscellaneous » Party / Minigame
Miscellaneous » Trivia / Game Show
Puzzle » Action
Puzzle » General
Puzzle » Hidden Object
Puzzle » Logic
Puzzle » Matching
Puzzle » Stacking
Racing » Arcade
Racing » Arcade » Automobile
Racing » Arcade » Futuristic
Racing » Arcade » Other
Racing » General
Racing » Simulation
Racing » Simulation » Automobile
Racing » Simulation » Other
Role-Playing » Action RPG
Role-Playing » General
Role-Playing » Japanese-Style
Role-Playing » Massively Multiplayer
Role-Playing » Roguelike
Role-Playing » Trainer
Role-Playing » Western-Style
Simulation » Flight
Simulation » Flight » Civilian
Simulation » Flight » Combat
Simulation » General
Simulation » Marine
Simulation » Marine » Civilian
Simulation » Marine » Combat
Simulation » Space
Simulation » Space » Civilian
Simulation » Space » Combat
Simulation » Vehicle
Simulation » Vehicle » Civilian
Simulation » Vehicle » Combat
Simulation » Vehicle » Train
Simulation » Virtual
Simulation » Virtual » Career
Simulation » Virtual » Pet
Simulation » Virtual » Virtual Life
Sports » General
Sports » Individual
Sports » Individual » Athletics
Sports » Individual » Biking
Sports » Individual » Billiards
Sports » Individual » Bowling
Sports » Individual » Combat
Sports » Individual » Combat » Boxing / Martial Arts
Sports » Individual » Combat » Wrestling
Sports » Individual » Golf
Sports » Individual » Golf » Arcade
Sports » Individual » Golf » Sim
Sports » Individual » Horse Racing
Sports » Individual » Nature
Sports » Individual » Nature » Fishing
Sports » Individual » Nature » Hunting
Sports » Individual » Other
Sports » Individual » Skate / Skateboard
Sports » Individual » Ski / Snowboard
Sports » Individual » Surf / Wakeboard
Sports » Individual » Tennis
Sports » Team
Sports » Team » Baseball
Sports » Team » Baseball » Arcade
Sports » Team » Baseball » Sim
Sports » Team » Basketball
Sports » Team » Basketball » Arcade
Sports » Team » Basketball » Sim
Sports » Team » Cricket
Sports » Team » Football
Sports » Team » Football » Arcade
Sports » Team » Football » Sim
Sports » Team » Futuristic
Sports » Team » Ice Hockey
Sports » Team » Ice Hockey » Arcade
Sports » Team » Ice Hockey » Sim
Sports » Team » Other
Sports » Team » Rugby
Sports » Team » Soccer
Sports » Team » Soccer » Arcade
Sports » Team » Soccer » Management
Sports » Team » Soccer » Sim
Sports » Team » Volleyball
Strategy » General
Strategy » Management
Strategy » Management » Business / Tycoon
Strategy » Management » Government
Strategy » Real-Time
Strategy » Real-Time » Command
Strategy » Real-Time » Defense
Strategy » Real-Time » General
Strategy » Real-Time » MOBA
Strategy » Real-Time » Tactics
Strategy » Turn-Based
Strategy » Turn-Based » 4X
Strategy » Turn-Based » Artillery
Strategy » Turn-Based » Card Battle
Strategy » Turn-Based » General
Strategy » Turn-Based » Tactics
If you don’t include the top-level genres (I could not find any games that were only described using just the top level) there are 149 total subgenres. Every top-level genre has a General subgenre in the second level which serves largely as “everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else”. GameFAQs does not provide descriptions of its genres.
There are some interesting divisions within subgenres though it seems a bit arbitrary as to what is given a 2D and 3D split. Fighting and Platformer sure, those play differently in 2D and 3D, but so do many others that don’t have a split.
Only a few Sports get divided in between Arcade and Sim, but there are definitely more, like Boxing and Tennis, that could be.
I think Action Adventure may have been a more popular term in the past, perhaps we will see it more often with older sources.
Overall the various ways genres are broken down are thoughtful and cover most games well, but it could be so much more descriptive if a game could have as many genres as was necessary instead of just one.
Spore here is Strategy » General. The decision between Simulation and Strategy was probably difficult, and General here is the best you could do for a game with so many play styles, but it goes to show how limited a system is where a game has to choose one genre.
The Internet Games Database was founded in 2015 and is much like MobyGames as it is a database of game information and accepts edit suggestions from anyone with an account, as well as some social features. In 2019 it was bought by and integrated into Twitch. They claim to have over 213,000 unique games catalogued.
IGDB uses both a genre and a theme field, and games can have any number of either. First here are the 23 genres:
Adventure, Arcade, Card & Board Game, Fighting, Hack and Slash/Beat ’em Up, Indie, MOBA, Music, Pinball, Platform, Point-and-Click, Puzzle, Quiz/Trivia, Racing, Real Time Strategy (RTS), Role-Playing (RPG), Shooter, Simulator, Sport, Strategy, Tactical, Turn-Based Strategy (TBS), Visual Novel
The 22 Themes:
4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate), Action, Business, Comedy, Drama, Educational, Erotic, Fantasy, Historical, Horror, Kids, Mystery, Open World, Non-Fiction, Party, Romance, Sandbox, Science Fiction, Stealth, Survival, Thriller, Warfare
The biggest thing that sticks out to me here is the fact that Action is considered a theme and not a genre. Action is one of the ubiquitous video game genres, but looking at some games tagged as such I don’t even understand what it means for a game to be Action themed. Earthbound, Pac-Man, Mario Party 5, and random Pinball games all have Action as a theme. In fact, many of the other themes would be called genres on any other list.
Some of the themes make sense and could be applied to most genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Non-Fiction. These are how movie and book genres are divided up, but we generally use video game genres to describe gameplay. A separate theme field is not a bad idea, but I don’t understand the distinction here.
This is the first time we’ve seen Indie as a genre. A slippery and much argued about term for games, sometimes based on their publisher, but does it make sense as a genre? It certainly doesn’t make sense for a game’s sole genre to be “Indie”, and shouldn’t every genre be able to stand alone?
There is a page with their definitions of each genre. Indie is defined as being made by a small team, possibly without the support of publisher, and usually short. None of which speaks to gameplay. RPGs are said to include playing the role of a character (which many games do) and acting out a role in the narrative.
Reading the definitions for Strategy and Tactical it’s occurred to me that many of these video game resources treat them as different genres, but does that make sense? How many Strategy games are there where you set up big picture strategy but there’s no actual moment-to-moment or turn-to-turn tactical thinking? There are a few games you may call pure Tactics since there’s no permanent progression, where every battle is isolated and nothing carries over so you could possibly argue that it is not also a Strategy game. But these two are so intertwined, does it make sense to split them?
There is another field called mode which contains Battle Royale and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO). These were used as genres elsewhere, but it does make sense to list them alongside Co-Operative, Multiplayer, Single Player, and Split screen.
Spore is listed as Adventure, Real Time Strategy (RTS), Role-playing (RPG), Simulator, and Strategy. Five genres for Spore, a new record. The themes are 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate), Action, Comedy, Open world, and Science fiction.
Gameopedia has a video game information database maintained by its employees, but they sell access to this and other game data to businesses. It seems like they are mostly targeting game publishers and advertisers. Everything is laid out very professionally and they regularly post long blog articles about the video game industry. They claim to have over 180,000 games in their database and have been around since 2008.
They use 22 genres and have a page with definitions:
Action, Adventure, Driving, Educational, Exergaming, Fighting, Flying, MMO, Music, Party, Platform, Puzzle, Racing, Real-World, Role-Playing, Shooter, Simple Activity, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Virtual Life
Adventure is defined as games where you explore the world and experience the story through the protagonist’s eyes. They also may not be exhilarating, but more thoughtful, philosophical, or relaxed. This sounds very broad and doesn’t really cover the usual “narrative, not reflex focused” criteria that is more common.
Exergaming was a surprise to me, there can’t be a lot of games in this one, which makes the exclusion of some other, bigger, genres more puzzling.
Real-World here refers to games that simulate a “real world” game, such as Uno or poker. These would fall under a Strategy, Miscellaneous, or even Card Game genre in other systems.
Simple Activity was another genre I had not seen used. Their examples say it is for games where you draw, dress up, or cook, which sounds like what is commonly called a Simulation game. But then they are also defined by being stress-free and easy to learn which sounds like a much more casual type of game than something like SimCity. There is also Virtual Life which sounds similar to Simulation games too, but focused on mundane daily activities. The example is The Sims.
It’s not surprising that a company trying to sell data to other companies avoids using fan-made terms, which are often named after other games. Metroidvania and Roguelike are useful, descriptive terms, but they probably want to avoid using someone else’s IP.
I can’t tell you how they categorize Spore. There is not even pricing information on their website and so I was not able to look at what they have. I can show you these two promotional pictures that are probably representative of how genre information is displayed, though:
It looks like games can have as many genres as needed, as well as subgenres. Genres may be labeled as key feature, defining, notable, or element. There is a theme field as well, which has some overlap with genre.
GaintBomb was started in 2008 and features videos, written articles, podcasts, and most importantly to this project, a game wiki with over 81,000 games. Edits need to be approved by a moderator before going live. There isn’t much in the way formal guidelines and there are no definitions of the genres they use, leaving it up to editors to figure out. The following 49 genres are used:
Action, Action-Adventure, Adventure, Baseball, Basketball, Billiards, Block-Breaking, Bowling, Boxing, Brawler, Card Game, Compilation, Cricket, Driving/Racing, Dual-Joystick Shooter, Educational, Fighting, First-Person Shooter, Fishing, Fitness, Flight Simulator, Football, Gambling, Golf, Hockey, Light-Gun Shooter, Minigame Collection, MMORPG, MOBA, Music/Rhythm, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Real-Time Strategy, Role-Playing, Shoot ’em Up, Shooter, Simulation, Skateboarding, Snowboarding/Skiing, Soccer, Sports, Strategy, Surfing, Tennis, Text Adventure, Track & Field, Trivia/Board Game, Vehicular Combat, Wrestling
One thing that separates the small lists from the large ones is having to list every possible sport separately, though there is also a Sports genre. Most sport-related games on this wiki do not have the Sports genre, but some do. This is an issue with some of the larger genre lists, they contain both more general and more specific levels of detail without any hierarchy, and they aren’t used consistently. But we do have one of the rare appearances of the Boxing, Surfing, and Track & Field genres.
There is some wording that strikes me as odd. Block-Breaking is really talking about Arkanoid-like games, Dual-Joystick Shooters are overwhelmingly called Twin-Stick Shooters.
Shouldn’t any list of genres with Real-Time Strategy include Turn-Based Strategy too? Perhaps the more general Strategy genre is meant to hold all of the Turn-Based Strategy games.
GiantBomb also has a themes field for games, which again has a fair amount of overlap with genre.
Abstract, Adult, Alternate Historical, Anime, Aquatic, Civil War, Comedy, Comic Book, Crime, Cyberpunk, Dating, Egyptian, Espionage, Fantasy, Game Show, Horror, Management, Martial Arts, Mayan, Medieval, Modern Military, Motorsports, Post-Apoclyptic, Prehistoric, Sci-Fi, Steampunk, Superhero, Vietnam, Western, World War II
One of the relative few sites that does not consider Horror a genre, but a theme. Game Show and Quiz has also often been a genre.
Spore has Strategy, Adventure, and Simulation listed as genres, and Sci-Fi, Comedy, and Management as themes.
Rawg.io describes itself as the biggest video game database and as having over 809,000 games. This is 677,000 more than IGDB, the second or third largest. The PC section has 491,000 games and for comparison the largest game store, Itch.io, has 600,000 total games. It is edited by users and seems to have a strong focus on community and social features. It uses the following 19 genres:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board Games, Card, Casual, Educational, Family, Fighting, Indie, Massively Multiplayer, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy
Something I am realizing now is that the Arcade genre really refers to two different things. The machines you put quarters into (and their console ports) that had their heyday decades ago, and games that are mostly digital-only and made by indie developers that have simple arcadey action. Does it make sense to use Arcade for both? Arcade is also a system in many of these databases, and not every arcade game has the Arcade genre.
Board Games and Card are often put under Strategy or an Other genre.
Casual, Family, Indie, and Massively Multiplayer all strike me as genres that are not likely to be used on a fairly contained list.
Rawg also has a “tags” field. For every game I checked that has been released on Steam the tags were nearly identical to what Steam’s user editable tags are. This field is also user-editable, so it seems people just copy whatever Steam has listed. For games that are not on Steam there are on average much fewer tags and they seem to be less consistent.
Spore has the genres Simulation and Family. While it doesn’t have any particularly objectionable content I’m not sure why it is a “Family” game. The description for the Family genre is partially written in broken English but seems to say Family games are appropriate for everyone and not too hard or complicated. Strategy seems a better fit than Family.
TheGamesDB launched around 2010. I can’t find any information on how many games they have. The GAMEYE game collection tracking app seems use them as its game database. It is ostensibly user-edited with some oversight, but I couldn’t get any test edits to work. They have 28 genres (I have omitted the GBA and PSP Video genre, as those aren’t used for games):
Action, Adventure, Board, Construction and Management Simulation, Education, Family, Fighting, Flight Simulator, Horror, Life Simulation, MMO, Music, Party, Platform, Productivity, Puzzle, Quiz, Racing, Role-Playing, Sandbox, Shooter, Sports, Stealth, Strategy, Unofficial, Utility, Vehicle Simulation, Virtual Console
Unofficial seems to refer to unlicensed, homebrew, and bootleg games, but it is difficult to tell since you can not search by genre. There does not seem to be any page for describing genres, either. It seems like a recipe for bad data to allow user edits but also provide little to no guidelines or rules.
Virtual Console is a very odd choice to include, as that refers to a subsection of Nintendo’s online storefront on some systems.
There are four separate Simulation genres, but Sports is just one. It’s interesting how sometimes things are split up and sometimes they are not. TheGamesDB keeps a fairly large number of genres while also not splitting them up very much.
Spore has the Adventure and Life Simulation genre. Two is a small number of genres for Spore, and I would say Action, Sandbox, and Strategy would all be better choices.
Universal Videogame List
Universal Videogame List, or UVL, claims to be the biggest and oldest video game database. There is a counter of the number of games they have documented on the front page which currently sits at 151,000. This is fewer than at least GameFAQs, Gameopedia, IGDB, MobyGames (counting multiplatform releases as separate), and Rawg.io. According to their copyright notice they were founded in 1998, which makes them a bit younger than GameFAQs, but among the first.
The way UVL handles genres is unlike anywhere else. UVL has something called “groups” that games can be put into. One type of group is game genre.
The game genre page is broken into three parts, starting with genre theme which has 173 items. Many of these are “containers”, which seem to be considered too broad to be genres or just not proper genres despite being listed on the genre page. For example, the first genre theme you will see is Action, and that it has 0 games. Despite this, the Action page says “21 games” and clicking it will take you to a list of 21 games that do have the Action genre. Some links to container pages tell you that the page has games within it, and some do not even though they do. This page also says that it is the “Informal group for finding action sub-genres” and has the following subgenres: Action-Adventure, Action-RPG, Fighting, Platformer, and Shooter. Fighting and Shooter are also container groups. The Fighting page has One-on-One Fighting, Beat ’em Up (a container group itself), and Melee Combat Simulation as subgenres. Container groups are essentially genres that don’t have any games themselves (except they often do), just subgenres. There are subgenres that don’t have a higher-level container, as well.
Next, the genre page has an “entities” section with Audio Game, Collectathon, Main Game Types, and Maze. Three of these four entities look like more genres, and it’s hard to tell what exactly makes these entities. The Maze page has a “parent group” of Puzzle, which is a genre and an “informal group”. Main Game Types contains Adventure, Beat ’em Up, Platformer, Racing, and Shooter. Perhaps this is trying to tell us that these are the 5 main video game genres?
Finally, there are 51 entries in the “concepts” section. Game genre concept pages seem to behave a lot like game genre theme pages: they contain games, they can be containers, they can be subgenres, and they sometimes both appear together and undistinguished from each other in the genre field of individual game pages. It’s difficult to tell what exactly the line between genre themes and genre concepts is supposed to be. A number of genre concepts end in “elements”, such as Simulation Elements, so part of it is for categorizing games that only incorporate a few elements of another genre. There are also the “-likes”, such as Diablo-Like. Some genres are named after a popular example, but I don’t know why that is more of a genre concept than a genre theme. Most, but not all, Diablo and Grand Theft Auto games are in their own -like genre, so the site isn’t consistent about how they use these genre concepts.
There are many more genre themes and genre concepts than what are listed on the genre page. I do not know why only these particular ones appear on the page. Creating an exhaustive list seems a hopeless task, and it is not clear which the site even counts by its own standards since so many say they should not actually be used, but are.
Let’s look at how individual game pages handle this all this information. Spore has a genre field with Science Fiction, Biological Simulation, God Game, and Life Simulation. Science Fiction is the only that does not link to a page, and doesn’t seem to be a genre concept or genre theme. Many games have 1 or 2 of these unlinked entries (they don’t seem to have pages for listing all of the games with that genre, or explaining what they are), and they are generally a theme or setting. I have seen Science Fiction, Historical, Fantasy, Manga, Cartoon, and 3D displayed here. Many of these are not genres. Some games have a separate setting field, so I don’t think these unlinked entries are exactly meant as setting descriptors.
There is also a “type” field on game pages, the entries are not linked so they don’t appear to have pages with their definitions. In fact, nothing on the site seems to explain what the type field is or what it is used for. In this case Spore has the types Action/Reflex, Simulation, Manag./Econ., and Strategy. Some of these have genre pages, so I’m not sure what the difference is between genre and type, or why those are not also listed as genres.
There is also a tags section, which is divided into several categories and covers all sorts of minutiae, some of which could arguably be considered genres too. One tag category is game genre, under which are the items in the genre field, but only the ones which link to their own pages.
Overall, Universal Videogame List has a huge amount of data, categorizing games in many different useful ways. This is hampered by the needlessly complex and confusing way the data is presented. For further example, Mario games have a Mario Universe genre listed. The Mario Universe page tells you it is a theme, not a genre. The entire site is a hall of mirrors with nomenclature that is inconsistent, full of terms and distinctions that haven’t been relevant to gaming discourse for decades, and full of bloated systems that a seemingly small group of people have been busily expanding for many years without looking at how unusable the site has become.
Metacritic takes scores from various publications and averages them (with secret weights given to each publication) to give a metascore. The following 18 genres are shown on the main game page and are searchable:
Action, Adventure, Fighting Games, First-Person Shooters, Flight/Flying, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Real-Time Strategy, Role-Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Third-Person Shooter, Turn-Based Strategy, Wargames, Wrestling
The actual individual game pages are another story. There are many more unsearchable genres used on game pages, and searching via genre can even give you results that don’t have that genre listed. In fact many genre searches will not show you any games released within the last several years, suggesting that Metacritic has stopped using several of their genres internally.
These anomalies aren’t new either, Lumines for PSP has the following genres: Miscellaneous, Puzzle, Puzzle, General, Puzzle, Matching, General. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U: Action, Fighting, Fighting, 3D, 2D, 2D, 3D. Ico for PS2: Action, Adventure, Fantasy.
Back to the given list of genres we see some splits that are relatively common: both First-Person and Third-Person Shooter, both Real-Time and Turn-Based Strategy exist alongside Strategy. Wrestling is separated from Sports.
Wargames seems pretty redundant with three Strategy genres, and does indeed contain the fewest games among the searchable genres.
Spore is findable under Strategy, but its game page reads Strategy, Breeding/Constructing, General, Breeding/Constructing.
HowLongToBeat allows users to record how long it takes them to beat games, and then averages and displays the results. There are 41 genres you can search with:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Battle Arena, Beat em Up, Board Game, Breakout, Card Game, City-Building, Compilation, Educational, Fighting, Fitness, Flight, Full Motion Video (FMV), Hack and Slash, Hidden Object, Horror, Interactive Art, Management, Music/Rhythm, Open World, Party, Pinball, Platform, Puzzle, Racing/Driving, Roguelike, Role-Playing, Sandbox, Shooter, Simulation, Social, Sports, Stealth, Strategy/Tactical, Survival, Tower Defense, Trivia, Vehicular Combat, Visual Novel
For some reason a number of games also have additional genres listed, these always appear before the searchable genres. These are not consistently applied among a series. I have seen Third-Person, First-Person, Turn-Based, Real-Time, Top-Down, Strategy, Tactical, Chess, and Side.
That aside we have a large list despite relegating Sports and Strategy/Tactical to one genre. Some rare ones, too, like Battle Arena, Hidden Object, Interactive Art, Social, and Vehicular Combat.
Spore is simply Simulation, leaving out Strategy/Tactical and Sandbox at the very least.
IGN started in 1996 and is a news and reviews website for games and other media. It still has reviews on its website dating back from its genesis. Although review pages don’t actually state the genre of the game in question the individual game pages do, and you can search by 27 genres:
Action, Adventure, Battle, Board, Card, Casino, Compilation, Educational, Fighting, Flight, Hunting, Music, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Productivity, Puzzle, RPG, Racing, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Virtual Pet, Wrestling
The actual list on IGN is alphabetical, except Party is two positions later than it should be.
The Other genre can be a necessary evil, but it hasn’t used for a game in 7 years.
While Virtual Pet is quickly recognizable as a type of game, I don’t think it’s nearly common enough to be useful in anything less than a truly exhaustive list of genres. IGN hasn’t used it in over a decade.
Battle is an odd one, it is used for some board and card games, like Slay the Spire and Scrolls, but also other games that I guess are “focused on battles” like Pokémon Go and Monster Rancher games. It’s not really a term I have ever seen someone use to describe a game. Searching Google for information on the Battle video game genre doesn’t really turn up anything about it, yet we will see it several more times.
Spore is just listed as Simulation.
GameSpot and IGN may be the two longest running video game review sites, they both launched in 1996 and eventually morphed into general entertainment websites. They also don’t list a game’s genres on its review page. It uses 68 genres for games:
2D, 3D, 4X, Action, Adventure, Arcade, Baseball, Basketball, Beat-‘Em-Up, Billiards, Bowling, Boxing, Card Game, Compilation, Defense, Driving/Racing, Edutainment, Fighting, First-Person, Fitness, Fixed-Screen, Flight, Football (American), Free-to-Play, Gambling, Golf, Hidden Object, Hockey, Hunting/Fishing, Light-Gun, Management, Matching/Stacking, Metroidvania, Miscellaneous, MMO, MOBA, Music/Rhythm, On-Rails, Open-World, Party/Minigame, Pinball, Platform, Puzzle, Real-Time, Roguelike, Role-Playing, Scrolling, Shoot-‘Em-Up, Shooter, Simulation, Skateboarding/Skating, Snowboarding/Skiing, Soccer, Sports, Strategy, Survival, Tactical, Team-Based, Tennis, Text-Based, Third-Person, Track & Field, Trivia/Board Game, Turn-Based, Vehicular Combat, Wakeboarding/Surfing, Wrestling, VR
A number of these, like 2D, Free-to-Play, Real-Time, or Fixed-Screen, are descriptions of non-genre elements of the game. These don’t really tell someone what the game is about or what they will be doing. Sure, there’s little harm in throwing them into a pile of genres, but you could also separate them into their own perspective and monetization fields to make detailed searches easier. Almost any genre can be
There are only 4 games with Text-Based. None seem to be Visual Novels (an odd omission from a list this large), either, but kinds of Adventure games.
We’ve got some rare sports in this massive list, Billiards, Cricket, even Wakeboarding.
Team-Based refers to team sports, not team versus team online games.
There are no games marked with Defense. I assume it was meant for Tower Defense type games. There are also no Track & Field games.
Spore only has Strategy as its genre.
Hookshot Media runs news and reviews sites dedicated to Nintendo (Nintendo Life), PlayStation (Push Square), Xbox (Pure Xbox), and retro games (Time Extension). They all have game databases and they all share the same 24 genres. I have excluded Import (games only released in Japan) and Apps (clocks, calculators, video streaming services):
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board Game, Creative, Dancing, Driving, Education, Fighting, First Person, Fitness, FPS, Music, Other, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Relaxation, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy
Driving is usually combined with Racing in other genre lists, and is one of the least used genres here.
First Person is also one of the least used, I’m sure there’s a lot more 29 First Person games on PlayStation consoles.
The Shooter genre has a mix of First Person Shooters (despite the presence of FPS), Third Person Shooters, and Vertical and Horizontal Scrolling Shooters.
Some The Legend of Zelda games have RPG and some don’t. The one that is and always has been an RPG, Zelda II, does not.
The Other genre is usually not listed on game pages, but if you search for Other you get a pretty random assortment of popular games: Super Mario 64, Splatoon 3, No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, Sonic Frontiers.
Creative (Super Mario Maker 2, Dreams, LittleBigPlanet games) and Relaxation (Go Vacation, Potion Permit, Dorfromantik) are uncommon. What qualifies as Relaxation can be very subjective but is pretty similar to the Casual genre in its use here. Not a lot of mechanics, low stakes, forgiving.
eBay is an online marketplace that launched in 1995 and it certainly sells a lot of video games, which are divided into 39 genres. “Not Specified” has been omitted and these genres cover digital items as well as games:
Action & Adventure, Arcade, Art Game, Battle, Beat ‘Em Up, Board Games, Casino & Cards, Cooking, Crime, Detective, Educational, Family/Kids, Fantasy, Farming, Fighting, Fitness & Health, Hack and Slash, Hidden Object, Karaoke, MMORPG, Music & Dance, Mystery, Party & Compilation, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Quiz & Trivia, Racing, Robot, Role Playing, Shoot ’em up, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Survival Horror, Virtual Pet, Visual Novel, War
Just like every other time Action & Adventure are combined, it is by far the largest.
Battle is back and it is still confusing. A number of RPGs, Mario Strikers: Battle League, Klonoa: Phantasy Reverie Series, Saints Row, and lots of hacked Pokémon and Modern Warfare skins.
Party & Compilation are an odd combination. Sure, many Party games, like Mario Party feature what can be described as a “compilation” of minigames, but Compilation generally refers to several previously released games sold together as a package. Sorting by this genre does include various Mario Parties as well as the likes of Neogeo Pocket Color Selection Vol 1 and Namcot Collection.
Crime, Detective, and Mystery are not commonly used and seem to have a lot of overlap.
Robot is a very weird one and not seen on any other genre lists. Many titles do include controlling or fighting against robots, like Super Robot Wars T, Little Battlers eXperience, and Horizon Zero Dawn. There’s also Metroid Prime, which has a somewhat robotic-looking character on the box art, and ROBOTICS;NOTES ELITE & DaSH Double Pack which is a series of Visual Novels about trying to build a giant robot.
This is the only appearance of the Karaoke genre.
The listing pages for games being sold have an “Item specifics” box with basic information about the game. These seem to take a few different forms and the fields vary. A minority of games have a “Sub-Genre” field. I was able to find this list of subgenres (Not Applicable and Not Specified omitted):
American Football, Atv, Baseball, Basketball, Billiards, BMX, Bowling, Boxing, Car Racing, Cricket, Cycling, Dance, Extreme Sports, Fishing, Golf, Handball, Hockey, Horse Racing, Hunting, Ice Hockey, Karate, Martial Arts, Mixed Sports, Motorcycle, Racing, Pool, Rugby, Skateboarding, Skiing/Snowboarding, Soccer, Tennis, Wrestling
All the subgenres are Sports and Racing related. There is something going on with Boxing, it is the largest by far and applies to many games it shouldn’t, like LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Prince of Persia. I also found a listing for God of War that has Linear Action Adventure, Greek History, and Greek Adventure as subgenres and I have no idea where those came from.
Most Spore listings have Simulation, but I also found a version with a different box that had Simulation and Strategy.
My Nintendo Store
There are several large digital storefronts selling games, including the big three hardware makers. They all have their own genre systems. These stores likely use their sales data to refine a good set of genres that will help a broard range of customers find the games they want to buy.
The My Nintendo Store has around 14,500 games and lists genres under 20 “game types”:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board Game, Education, Fighting, First-Person, Lifestyle, Multiplayer, Music, Other, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Role-Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Training
Training has Fitness Boxing games, Pixel Artist, a Sudoko game, and overall a pretty random mishmash of cheap indie games that don’t appear to train you to do anything. It’s also the least populated.
About 60% of the Adventure games are also labeled as Role-Playing.
I’d argue that First-Person and Multiplayer don’t belong here as genres, though these are all labeled as “game types”. There is a seperate “No. of players” attribute that you can sort games by, which does not have an online multiplayer option. I have to wonder if there’s really a significant number of people browsing the store who choose to look for First-Person games. First-Person Shooter games are very popular, maybe it exists for finding those games without using the word “Shooter”?
I’m sure Nintendo has never used the term Metroidvania officially, despite being the partial progenitor of it, and selling a lot of indie games made to emulate Metroid.
The PlayStation Store lets you search by genre too, and has 23 of them for its 6,600 games:
Action, Adult, Adventure, Arcade, Brain Training, Casual, Driving/Racing, Educational, Family, Fighting, Fitness, Horror, Music/Rhythm, Party, Puzzle, Quiz, Role Playing Games, Shooter, Simulation, Simulator, Sport, Strategy, Unique
The Adult games mostly have anime aesthetics and most are rated Mature by the ESRB, though several are rated Teen. Most have the Sexual Themes descriptor.
I was quite surprised to see Brain Training as a genre. Not only is it pretty redundant with Educational, but Brain Age is a Nintendo series known as Brain Training in Europe and Japan. Brain Training games have not been shown to have any effect on cognitive abilities.
There are very few games focused on Driving that are not Racing games, so it makes sense to combine them. Music and Rhythm have some overlap, too. Other genre lists than have combined these genres often just call them “Racing” or just “Music”.
I couldn’t believe there was both a Simulation and Simulator genre. After looking at examples of both, I don’t understand the difference. Simulator has about one fourth as many games. Some games, like Farming Simulator 19 and 22, have both.
Some of the listed genres don’t seem to show up on actual game pages where their genre is listed, namely Family and Unique. Family has no games rated higher than Teen, a lot of multiplayer games, and little to no violence. I can’t find any common thread among Unique games, they seem randomly chosen. Minecraft and Outer Wilds might make sense, but are Far Cry 6, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Family Feud, or Ys IX: Monstrum Nox particularly unique, even within their series?
The Microsoft Store has an Xbox section with 9 genres that sells about 3,400 games for the Xbox Series, Xbox One, PC, and cloud:
Action & Adventure, Fighting, Indie, Kids & Family, Racing & Flying, Roleplaying, Shooter, Sports, Strategy
This is tied with a later entry for the smallest number of genres in this study. The main page even has a “shop games by genre” heading that only displays 8, leaving out Fighting, but Fighting does exist as a searchable genre. It is rare for Puzzle or Simulation to not be listed as genres, and Educational is very common too.
However, a small number of game pages have other genres listed. These mostly appear to be holdovers from the Xbox Games Store (see next section), though there is no way to search by them. For example, Hollow Knight is described as Platformer as well as Action & Adventure. Unpacking is Family & Kids (not Kids & Family, though it does show up if you filter by that genre, and also this genre does not exist in Xbox Games Store either), Other, Puzzle & Trivia, and Simulation. There are other genres that show up on game pages that aren’t part of either game store, such as Simulation and Tools.
Action & Adventure applies to over half of the games available, not much of a filter.
I would never expect an Indie genre if you’re only using 9, but thankfully Minecraft is not included. I was curious as to what Microsoft considers small enough to be an independent studio, but it seems no games list Indie on their individual pages. It’s also not consistent with companies, Worms W.M.D. by Team17 shows up under Indie searches, but no other Worms games do.
Xbox Games Store
The Xbox Games Store was replaced by the Microsoft Store, but is still up, selling almost 2,000 games for the Xbox 360. It uses a different set of 16 genres (Avatar does not include any games and has been omitted):
Action & Adventure, Card & Board, Classics, Educational, Family, Fighting, Kinect, Music, Other, Platformer, Puzzle & Trivia, Racing & Flying, Role Playing, Shooter, Sports & Recreation, Strategy & Simulation
Action & Adventure again encompasses over 40% of the available games.
Classics includes original Xbox games and older games not originally released on Xbox systems, such as Dig Dug and Banjo Kazooie. Such a gulf of time separates these two that I don’t think this should be called “Classics”, or there should be at least 2 genres for older games.
Other mostly consists of Xbox UI themes but also has a few games, like Life is Strange Episode 1 and Bomberman LIVE.
Some odd combinations of genres here, are Puzzle and Trivia games or Strategy and Simulation games really similar enough to lump together? “Sports & Recreation” is a phrase, but not really used to describe video games. There’s a couple fitness games, like The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout that may be what the Recreation part is referring to.
Apple’s App Store hosts about 300,000 games for iOS devices. Games are a “genre” on the App Store and within it are 18 subgenres:
Action, Adventure, Board, Card, Casino, Casual, Dice, Educational, Family, Music, Puzzle, Racing, Role Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Word
The Word genre doesn’t come up often, but a good fit for mobile games. Board, Card, Casino, and Dice seem a bit redundant, though games that feature cards other than a standard playing deck, like Slay the Spire, use it here. Dice is the strangest one here, I’m sure there’s a few games about rolling dice (maybe not enough to warrant a genre), but the App Store’s web page displays no Dice games. This third party page documenting all the genres in the App Store also lists an Arcade genre in place of Casual.
Other than not having any objectionable content, I can not really tell what a Family game is. There are some classic board and card games that would fit in other genres, and a general smattering of everything else.
Google’s Play Store has over 478,000 games for Android devices. It uses the following 17 genres:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Board, Card, Casino, Casual, Educational, Music, Puzzle, Racing, Role Playing, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Trivia, Word
Extremely similar to the App Store. Compared to the App Store, The Play Store has Arcade, and does not have Dice or Family. I couldn’t find anything about the history of game genres on the two big app stores, but it clearly is not just a coincidence. Even the wording is the same. It’s also very interesting that Dice, the seemingly empty genre from the App Store, is missing here, while the one additional genre the Play Store has is Arcade, one that seems to technically exist in the App Store but is not used.
While Games on the Play Store only allow one genre they can also have many tags, some of which are essentially genres.
Steam sells PC games as well as providing news, forums, mods, and more for its games. It currently has over 50,000 games in its store. If you mouseover “Categories” on the top bar there is a display of 6 top level genres (though there are 7 or 8 genres buried in the search feature), each with 7 subgenres:
- Arcade & Rhythm
- Fighting & Martial Arts
- First-Person Shooter
- Hack & Slash
- Platformer & Runner
- Third-Person Shooter
- Adventure RPG
- Hidden Object
- Visual Novel
- Action RPG
- Adventure RPG
- Strategy RPG
- Building & Automation
- Farming & Crafting
- Hobby & Job
- Life & Immersive
- Sandbox & Physics
- Space & Flight
- Card & Board
- City & Settlement
- Grand & 4X
- Real-Time Strategy
- Tower Defense
- Turn-Based Strategy
- Sports & Racing
- All Sports
- Fishing & Hunting
- Individual Sports
- Racing Sim
- Sports Sim
- Team Sports
Trying to fit everything on Steam into a nice even 16 rows and 3 columns of genres leads to some odd choices. There are both Sports & Racing as well as All Sports pages which display a very similar selection of games. Several subgenres here don’t exist as tags (more on tags below), like Team Sports, or are combinations of things that have their own individual tags (Hobby & Job, Grand & 4X) and so these “fake” subgenres aren’t searchable. The only way to reach these listings seems to be clicking on them from the Categories menu.
There is also a robust tagging system where users can apply tags to games, and other users can essentially vote on if they are appropriate. There are over 400 of these, so I won’t list them all, but a full list of tags can be seen here. Many of these tags are the same as the above genres and lead to the same pages. There is a great deal of granularity, Rogue-like, Rogue-lite, Action Roguelike, Roguelike Deckbuilder, Traditional Roguelike, and Roguevania, are all tags. Every sport you can think of, settings, themes, perspectives, compatibility, content, vehicles, difficulty, pretty much every aspect of a game can be represented with a tag.
The Categories menu also has a “themes” section. Many of these have the same names as a tag, but the URLs have the same format that genre pages do. They display different games than the tag page does, so these are essentially more “fake genre” pages.
On actual game pages the list of tags is visible right away, while the genre field is a few pages below. The genre field can have any combination of the 6 top level genres, but can also contain some other miscellaneous information such as Massively Multiplayer, Indie, Early Access, or Free to Play. The 42 subgenres in the Categories menu don’t seem to ever actually be listed under the genre field, and there is not always a tag with the same name.
The general search page allows you to search by tag, but not by genre. On genre or tag pages if you scroll down far enough there is a “NARROW BY” option which has a TOP-LEVEL GENRES option which shows the 6 we have talked about as well as Software (not relevant to us), Casual, sometimes Sports, and sometimes both Sports and Racing. Casual can appear in a game’s genre field, and while it is also a tag, the URL for the Casual page suggests it is a genre and not a tag. There are also GENRES and SUB-GENRES that you can narrow search results by, both of which display various tags. It is not clear which user-created tags are considered genres and which are considered subgenres here.
Spore has Action, Adventure, Casual, RPG, Simulation, and Strategy as genres, a new record for number of genres. It has 20 tags, including God Game, Open World, and Colony Sim.
GOG.com, formerly Good Old Games, sells games without any form of DRM. There are more than 7,000 games available for PCs. GOG’s search has 8 genre checkboxes:
Action, Adventure, Racing, Role-Playing, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy
Confusingly, if you mouse over the word STORE, which is displayed on the top left of every page, the following 8 are displayed:
Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG, Shooters, Simulation, Sports & Racing, Strategy
Role-Playing and RPG thankfully lead to the same search. Shooter and Shooters lead to different URLs but display the same games. Otherwise, between these two lists one has Indie and combines Sports & Racing, and the other has Racing as its own genre. The Sports & Racing genre is essentially a search page for both Racing and Sports genres. There are essentially 9 genres here, tied with Microsoft Store for the least. The common Educational and Puzzle genres are notable absences.
Game pages are a bit more complicated. Every game page has 2 or 3 things listed in its genre field, the first of which is one of those 8 genres in the first list. The other one or two can also be among those, but there are more genres, and some seem more like themes or playstyles. You can click any of these to search for other games with these genres. There doesn’t seem to be a list of these anywhere, so after looking at many game pages these are the 24 additional ones I found:
Arcade, Building, Combat, Exploration, FPP, Fantasy, Fighting, Historical, Horror, JRPG, Managerial, Mystery, Narrative, Off-Road, Platformer, Point-and-Click, Puzzle, Real-Time, Sci-Fi, Stealth, Survival, TPP, Tactical, Turn-Based
FPP and TPP stand for First Person and Third Person Perspective, abbreviations I have not seen anywhere else, and not really genres. We see some of the more common expanded genres here, but also some odd ones like Combat, Exploration, and Off-Road.
Real-Time and Turn-Based feel a bit odd when not connected to Strategy or RPG. Every game is one or both, after all.
Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, and Sci-Fi are more themes than genres, but this certainly isn’t the only time we’ve seen them listed as such.
Point-and-Click is not on many lists of genres of this size, but GOG has many older computer games, when such games were very popular.
There is also a tags field on game pages. There are a whole lot of these and while there is overlap with genre they are considered separate: a search for the Fantasy genre, and a search for the Fantasy tag returns different games.
Spore is sold on GOG, in a bundle. It has Strategy, Real-Time, and Fantasy as genres here. Simulation, Managerial, and maybe Survival would have been good choices too.
Itch.io is the largest game store, with over 600,000 indie games for computers and mobile devices. All of which fits into these 18 genres, which are a kind of “tag”:
Action, Adventure, Card Game, Educational, Fighting, Interactive Fiction, Other, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Rhythm, Role Playing, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Survival, Visual Novel
A list of this size covers the absolute essentials, but also splits a few into their own genres. You could squeeze Card Game, Fighting, Interactive Fiction, Platformer, Shooter, Survival, and Visual Novel into other genres if you chose to, but these were considered important and distinct enough. Itch.io is the only game store that is dedicated to indies and I think it is reasonable to say that at least Card Game, Interactive Fiction, Platformer, Survival, and Visual Novel games are indeed more common genres for indie games than AAA games.
Itch.io also has hundreds of non-genre tags, some of which are considered genres elsewhere. Horror, Arcade, Roguelike, Music, Shoot ‘Em Up. These somewhat serve as subgenres to games.
On individual game pages you have to click “More information” to see the genre and tag fields.
Epic Games Store
The Epic Games Store is run by Epic Games and sells over 1,700 games. There are 34 genres excluding THQ Publisher Sale:
Action, Action-Adventure, Adventure, Application, Card Game, Casual, City Builder, Comedy, Dungeon Crawler, Exploration, Fighting, First Person, Horror, Indie, Music, Narration, Open World, Party, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Retro, Rogue-Lite, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Space, Sports, Stealth, Strategy, Survival, Tower Defense, Trivia, Turn-Based
There are several things here that are more like themes (Retro, Space, and Horror), which we have seen with some other lists. Exploration is an activity some games focus on and is one of Bartle’s player types, but it’s unusual to have as a genre. Indie, Casual, and First Person could be applied to games of any genre.
Comedy is a rare one, but the likes of Untitled Goose Game, Goat Simulator, and the South Park games make sense for it. Narration essentially seems to be Visual Novels, and has a lot of crossover with Adventure.
It’s surprising to see Rogue-Lite. It refers to a kind of Rogue-Like game with permanent progression systems. Rogue-Like is more general and could cover both.
This time we have a Turn-Based genre but no Real-Time one.
Application has a wallpaper program, a digital art program, and a map and mod editor for Unreal Tournament.
Browser Game Sites
Facebook hosts a large number of games playable on mobile or in a browser. The games are sorted by 21 genres, called “categories”:
Action, Adventure, Arcade, Battle, Board, Builder, Card, Casino, Design, Match, Merge, Puzzle, Quick Play, Quiz and Trivia, Racing, Role-Playing, Runner, Simulation, Solitaire, Sports, Word
These genres definitely sound like they are describing mobile games. Match, Merge, Runner, and Solitaire games aren’t exclusive to mobile, but they are strongly associated with it. Yet the two major mobile app stores don’t use them as genres.
Design seems to be a “Creative” genre with drawing, house designing, and dress up games.
Battle seems to be more PvP focused here. There are a lot of .io games in it.
Newgrounds hosts user created movies, songs, animations, and games. Founded in 1995, there are, or were, over 80,000 games on Newgrounds. The discontinuation of Flash has necessitated the use of emulators to keep many games playable. There are 13 major genres, or 52 total including subgenres:
Action – Fighting – Brawler
Action – Fighting – VS
Action – Platformer – Hop and Bop
Action – Platformer – Puzzle
Action – Platformer – Other
Action – Shooter – First Person
Action – Shooter – Fixed
Action – Shooter – Horizontal Flight
Action – Shooter – Multidirectional
Action – Shooter – Run ‘n Gun
Action – Shooter – Tube / Rail
Action – Shooter – Vertical Flight
Action – Other
Adventure – Point ‘n Click
Adventure – RPG
Adventure – Other
Gadgets – Construction Set
Gadgets – Dress Up
Gadgets – Musical
Gadgets – Soundboards
Gadgets – Webcam
Gadgets – Other
Idle / Incremental
Puzzles – Difference
Puzzles – Falling
Puzzles – Quiz
Puzzles – Sliding
Puzzles – Other
Simulation – Dating
Simulation – Job
Simulation – Pet / Buddy
Simulation – Other
Skill – Avoid
Skill – Collect
Skill – Toss
Skill – Typing
Skill – Other
Sports – Basketball
Sports – Boxing
Sports – Casino & Gambling
Sports – Golf
Sports – Racing
Sports – Soccer
Sports – Other
Strategy – Artillery
Strategy – Real-time (RTS)
Strategy – Tower Defense
Strategy – Other
This is like GameFAQ’s multi-tier approach, but several top level genres do not have any subgenres.
Only Action gets three tiers. Fighting, Platformer and Shooter could have easily just been top level genres instead of within Action. All of the Skill genres seem like they could fit under Action, too.
Very strange to relegate RPG to a subgenre of Adventure, and there are no Action RPGs.
The Gadgets genre is more interactive software than games.
Puzzles – Difference doesn’t have a lot of entries, but is indeed “spot the difference” puzzles, something unique to Newground’s genre list.
Spam seems to be low effort games. I’m not sure if game makers decide their game is Spam, but some of these are over a decade old, so they aren’t on the chopping block or anything.
PriceCharting started in 2007 and primarily tracks physical video game prices based on eBay sales. It also allows users to keep track of their collections and how much they are worth. The administrator(s) handle most of the game data, but users can edit it too. The about page says they track over 45,000 games. There are 35 genres used after excluding some of the other things the site tracks:
Action & Adventure, Arcade, Baseball, Beat ’em Up, Basketball, Board & Card, Casino, Compilation, Dance, Extreme Sports, Educational, Fighting, Football, FPS, Golf, Horror, Light Gun, Minigames, Music, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, RPG, Simulation, Shoot’em Up, Soccer, Sports, Strategy, Third Person Shooter, Trivia, Visual Novel, Wrestling
Items on PriceCharting can only use one genre, but helping people discover games by genre isn’t really the site’s focus.
Action & Adventure covers a lot of ground and seems to cover about a third of modern games.
Three kinds of shooters seems a bit much for a list of this size. There are several separate sports genres that cover the bigger ones, and a general Sports genre. Dance and Extreme Sports are rare genres. A bit of an odd mix of specificity and generalness.
Simulation is how Spore is categorized.
VGCollect was started in 2011, and I can’t find how many games they have catalogued. Users can edit game data and add new games. Games can only have one of the following 30 genres:
Action, Action-Adventure, Action-RPG, Adventure, Arcade, Beat ’em Up, Casino, Classic, Edutainment, Exercise, Fighting, First-Person Shooter, Flight Simulator, Light Gun Shooter, MMORPG, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, Rhythm, RPG, Shoot ’em Up, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Survival Horror, Third-Person Shooter, Visual Novel
A generally reasonable list with a few odd choices. Action-RPG is a popular kind of game, but rarely makes genre lists, being covered by Action, RPG or both. Quite a few of these are types of Action games, yet other genres, like Sports, are not so divided up.
The musical games I checked are filed under Rhythm. The only Classic games I could find were Nintendo Mini Classics dedicated handhelds. Though not every Horror game is a Survival Horror game, that is the genre they are all put under.
Spore is considered a Simulation. It would like be that or Strategy when you can only choose one.
LaunchBox Games Database
Launchbox serves as a launching hub for digital games, seemingly with a focus on emulation. Basic information for each game, including genre, is “crowdsourced”. Launchbox started out using TheGamesDB as its game database but stopped several years ago. A lot of older data is still the same. As such its 26 genres are pretty similar to TheGamesDB:
Action, Adventure, Beat ’em Up, Board Game, Casino, Construction and Management Simulation, Education, Fighting, Flight Simulator, Horror, Life Simulation, MMO, Music, Party, Platform, Puzzle, Quiz, Racing, Role-Playing, Sandbox, Shooter, Sports, Stealth, Strategy, Vehicle Simulation, Visual Novel
The following were changed from TheGamesDB:
Beat ’em Up, Casino, and Visual Novel were added.
Family, Productivity, Unofficial, Utility, and Virtual Console were removed
I’d say the changes were a nice improvement, the removed genres were barely used on TheGamesDB and somewhat vague, and the added ones are nice distinctions from other genres. Not many places use Casino, but there’s always been a fair number of these types of games.
There are pages for their definitions of each genre, but unfortunately they are blank.
Spore uses the same genres as TheGamesDB, Adventure and Life Simulation.
Collectorz keeps track of movie, book, music, comic, and game collections. No master list of genres exists, and there are no pages listing all games of a genre. I contacted support and asked if they could tell me what their genres were, but I was told that they did not have such a list ready to send to me. So I manually looked up a whole lot of games and recorded all the genres I saw. This list may not be quite complete, but it should be pretty close. Here are the 40 genres I managed to find:
Action, Action/Adventure, Adventure, Arcade, Battle, Beat ’em Up, Board, Card, Compilation, Driving, Educational, Entertainment, Fighting, Fitness, Flight Simulation, FPS, Hack & Slash, Health & Fitness, MMORPG, Music, Other, Party, Pinball, Platformer, Productivity, Puzzle, Racing, Real Time Strategy, Retro, RPG, Sandbox, Shooter, Simulation, Simulator, Sports, Strategy, Survival Horror, Trivia, Virtual Pet, Visual Novel
Pretty comprehensive overall, but the absence of a Rhythm genre leaves such games in Music, and many don’t really belong there. Not for the first time we have Real Time Strategy, but no Turn Based Strategy.
Several genres I could only find a one or a few instances of, even when looking at other games in the series. For example, Viva Pinata and Super Mario Maker were Entertainment games, Cave Story and ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! were Arcade. It is difficult to tell what exactly these genre labels mean.
In fact, many series had drastically changing genres, suggesting different people entered them without much communication about how genres should be applied. Some The Legend of Zelda games have RPG, some don’t. Minecraft’s various ports had different combinations of Adventure, Action, Simulation, Puzzle, Action/Adventure, Other, and Sandbox.
SEGA Bass Fishing has Adventure, Simulation, and Simulator as genres. I sure did not expect to see Simulation sitting beside Simulator again. I still don’t understand the difference.
Battle returns and I still can’t get a grip on what it is supposed to mean.
Spore (you will need an account to see this page) is listed as Simulation and Strategy.
Completionator was launched in 2014 and has almost 56,000 games in its database. Its focus is keeping track of the games its users have completed, including how long it took, but there are many other social features. It looks like the people who run the site handle all of the game data. It uses 117 genres:
4X Strategy, Action, Action RPG, Action Strategy, Action-Adventure, Adventure, Amateur Flight Simulation, Artillery, Battle Royale, Beat ’em Up, Biological Simulation, Board Game, Breakout, Business Simulation, Card Game, Cinematic-Platform, City-Builder, Combat Flight Simulation, Compilation, Dating Simulation, Dungeon Crawler, Educational, Exercise / Fitness, Exploration, Fighting, First-Person Shooter, Fitness, Fixed Shooter, Flight Sim, Gambling, Game Show, God Game, Graphic Adventure, Hack and Slash (Action), Hack and Slash (RPG), Hidden Object, Incremental Game, Interactive Movie, JRPG, Light Gun Shooter, Management, Maze, Minigame Collection, Miscellaneous (General), MMO, MOBA, Monster Tamer RPG, Multidirectional Shooter, Party, Pet-raising Simulation, Pinball, Platform-Adventure, Platformer, Puzzle, Puzzle-Platform, Racing, Rail Shooter, Real-time Strategy, Real-Time Tactics, Rhythm, RPG, Run and Gun, Scrolling Shooter, Shoot ’em Up, Shooter, Shooting Gallery, Simulation, Social Simulation, Space Combat Simulation, Space Trading and Combat Simulation, Sports (Baseball), Sports (Basketball), Sports (Biking), Sports (Billiards), Sports (Bowling), Sports (Boxing / Martial Arts), Sports (Dodgeball), Sports (Fishing), Sports (Football), Sports (Futuristic), Sports (General), Sports (Golf), Sports (Hockey), Sports (Horse Racing), Sports (Hunting), Sports (Rugby), Sports (Skateboarding), Sports (Skiing / Snowboarding), Sports (Soccer), Sports (Surfing), Sports (Tennis), Sports (Track and Field), Sports (Volleyball), Sports (Wrestling), Stealth, Strategy, Survival, Survival Horror, Tactical RPG, Tactical Shooter, Tank Simulation, Text Adventure, Third-Person Shooter, Time Management, Top-Down Shooter, Tower Defense, Train Simulation, Tube Shooter, Turn-Based Strategy, Turn-Based Tactics, Utility, Vehicle Simulation (General), Vehicle-Based Shooter, Vehicular Combat, Visual Novel, Wargame, Word Game
Despite having one of the smaller game totals Completionator has one of the largest amount of genres. This is a pretty exhaustive list with over 20 Sports, even including Dodgeball. I was quite surprised to see Amateur Flight Simulation appear on another list.
Games can only have one genre on Completionator. This hides how redundant some of them are, but makes more sense for such a large list, as long as a game can be fit into a single pigeonhole. Games with varied playmodes have to go with whatever is considered the most dominant one. Spore for instance is listed as Biological Simulation, ignoring its Strategy and other Simulation aspects.
An issue that comes up with some of these large lists is lumping together what I would call top level genres in with pretty much all of the subgenres you could come up with. Do you need RPG if you also have every flavor of RPG subgenres to choose from?
RF Generation is a collection site with over 140,000 games in its database. It was launched in 2004 and all data is edited by its users. Discounting Accessory, Cables, Controller, Memory/Backup, Non-Game and System it uses 19 genres:
Action, Action/Adventure, Adventure, Classic Shooter, Compilation, Education, Fighting, Fitness, Game Creator, Game Simulator, Music/Rhythm, Platformer, Puzzle, Racing, RPG, Shooter, Simulator, Sports, Strategy
Games can only have one genre. There is also a subgenre field but it is a text field, so editors can write whatever they want. There is no standardization as to what a subgenre is, some examples are Game Show, Board Game / Mystery, Board, Pinball, Party, Various, and Fighting / 3D Beat ‘Em Up.
Classic Shooter refers to what is more often called “Shoot ’em Up”.
Game Creator has level editors, pinball table makers, Dreams, the RPG Makers, Super Mario Maker and the like. This is a coherent idea for a genre that we don’t see often.
Game Simulator refers to games simulating non-video games, like solitaire or Family Feud. Other places might divide these into genres like Quiz or Board Game.
Visual Novels have to choose between between Action/Adventure, Adventure, and Puzzle, and it does not stay consistent within a series.
There are a number of video game awards that honor the best games of the year. Some of these award shows include genre-specific awards. None of these organizations set out to give an award for every genre, so rather than an exhaustive list these are the genres considered most important and recognizable and which have enough eligible games to be considered competitive.
This should hopefully give us a good idea of when various genres come into and out of prominence and how our perceptions of the boundaries of a genre change over time. I have organized these lists by genre rather than year to help show this more clearly. Although a small number of game awards include Multiplayer, VR, and certain other terms that don’t really describe a genre even though they have appeared on a genre list, I have not included them when they are used.
Golden Joystick Awards
The longest-running video game award ceremony, the Golden Joystick Awards, started in 1983. Anyone can currently vote for the nominees online, although it used to only be open to the British public. Some time in the late 80s eligible games were expanded from just computers to include console games. There was no 1993 or 1995 ceremony, the 1997 ceremony covered games from the previous 2 years, and there was no ceremony from 1998 to 2001.
- Action/Adventure: 2010-2012
- Adventure: 1984-1988
- Arcade: 1983-1987
- Fighting: 2010-2012
- Indie: 2013-2021
- MMO: 2011-2012
- Music: 2010-2011
- Puzzle: 2010
- Racing: 2010-2012
- RPG: 2010-2012
- Shooter: 2010-2012
- Simulation: 1988-1994
- Sports: 2002, 2010-2012
- Strategy: 1983-1987, 2010-2012
Game Critics Awards
The Game Critics Awards occur after E3 and only games that made an appearance at E3 are eligible. The judges are a select group of media outlets. There were 65 judges in 2019, which was the last time the awards were held.
- Action: 1998-2019
- Action/Adventure: 1998-2019
- Fighting: 1998-2018
- Independent: 2014-2019
- Platformer: 1999
- Racing: 1998-2019
- Real-Time Strategy: 1998
- Role-Playing: 1998-2019
- Simulation: 2000-2006, 2008
- Simulation (Combat): 1998-1999
- Simulation (Non-Combat): 1998-1999
- Simulation (Flight): 1999
- Social/Casual/Puzzle/Family: 1998-2019
- Sports: 1998-2019
- Strategy: 1999-2019
- Turn-Based Strategy: 1998
The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences is a video game industry non-profit organization that holds the D.I.C.E. awards every year since 1998. The AIAS selects over 100 professionals in the video game industry to choose the nominees, which are then voted on by AIAS members.
- Action: 2005-2021
- Action (Console): 1997-2004
- Action (Computer): 1997-2004
- Action Sports (Console): 2003-2004
- Adventure: 2005-2021
- Adventure (Console): 1997-1999, 2001-2004
- Adventure (Computer): 1997-1999, 2001-2004
- Adventure/Role-Playing (Console): 2000
- Adventure/Role-Playing (Computer): 2000
- Casual: 2008-2013
- Educational/Skills (Computer): 1997-2002
- Family: 1997-1998, 2004-2021
- Family (Console): 1999-2001, 2003
- Family (Computer): 1999-2001, 2003
- Family/Children’s (Computer): 1998-2002, 2004
- Fighting: 1997-2021
- First Person Action (Console): 2002-2006
- First Person Action (Computer): 2002-2006
- Massively Multiplayer/Persistent World/Online/Online Role-Playing: 1997-2008
- Racing: 1997-2021
- Role-Playing: 2005-2008, 2017-2021
- Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year: 2009-2016
- Role-Playing (Console): 1997, 2002-2004
- Role-Playing (Computer): 1997-1998, 2002-2004
- Simulation: 2004-2006
- Simulation (Computer): 1997-2003
- Sports: 2004-2021
- Sports (Console): 1997-2002
- Sports (Computer): 1997-2003
- Sports Simulation: 2004
- Sports Simulation (Console): 2003
- Strategy: 2004-2006
- Strategy (Computer): 1997-2003
- Strategy/Simulation: 2007-2021
British Academy Games Awards
The BAFTA Games Awards are run by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, a trade organization in the United Kingdom. Presumably because two consecutive ceremonies went from March of 2005 (games of 2004) to October of 2006 (games of the last 18 or so months), there was no “2005” ceremony.
- Action: 2003-2004, 2009-2012
- Action and Adventure: 2006-2008
- Adventure: 2003
- Casual: 2007-2008
- Casual & Social: 2006
- Children’s: 2003-2006
- Family: 2010-2021
- Family & Social: 2009
- Puzzle: 2010
- Racing: 2003-2004
- Simulation: 2006
- Sports: 2003-2010, 2013-2015
- Sports/Fitness: 2011-2012
- Strategy: 2003, 2006-2012
- Strategy & Simulation: 2007
Spike Video Game Awards
The Spike Video Game Awards aired on Spike TV from to 2003 to 2013. A small group of a few dozen publications formed an advisory council to decide the nominees and vote on them. It was produced by Geoff Keighley during its run.
- Action: 2003-2007
- Action Adventure: 2008-2012
- Comedy: 2009
- Driving: 2003-2013
- Fantasy: 2003
- Fighting: 2003-2006, 2008-2009, 2011-2013
- First Person Action: 2003-2005
- Independent: 2008-2013
- Individual Sports: 2005-2012
- Massively Multiplayer: 2004
- Military: 2004-2007
- Motion: 2011
- Music: 2008-2010
- Rhythm: 2007
- RPG: 2004-2013
- Social: 2012
- Shooter: 2006-2013
- Sports: 2003-2004, 2013
- Team Sports: 2005-2012
The Game Awards
After moving on from the Spike Video Game Awards Geoff Keighley started the The Game Awards. A committee is put together of major publishers and hardware makers which selects around 30 game industry news organizations to come up with nominees and then vote on the winners. These organizations get a 90% share of the votes, with 10% going to the public. I am omitting Indie Debut (later known as Indie), which is the best first game by an independent studio because it’s pretty redundant with Independent.
- Action: 2016-2022
- Action/Adventure: 2014-2022
- Family: 2014-2022
- Fighting: 2014-2022
- Independent: 2014-2022
- Role Playing: 2014-2022
- Shooter: 2014-2015
- Sim/Strategy: 2020-2022
- Sports/Racing: 2014-2022
- Strategy: 2016-2019
Electronic Gaming Monthly
Electronic Gaming Monthly was a multi-format gaming magazine that covered console but not PC (for most of its run) games. Once a year writers and readers of the magazine voted in separate polls for various categories. The Gamer’s Choice Awards continued after 2003, but without categories for genres. I could not find the award categories for 1993 or 1995, but they probably included Action, Fighting, RPG, and Sports.
- Action: 1994, 1996-2003
- Action RPG: 1998-1999
- Action/Adventure: 1992
- Adventure: 1996-2003
- Arcade: 1996
- Compilation: 1997
- Driving: 1994, 2002
- Fighting: 1994, 1996-2003
- First-Person Shooter: 1997, 2002
- Flying: 1996
- Light Gun: 1997
- Puzzle: 1996-2001
- Racing: 1997-2001, 2003
- Role-Playing: 1989-1992, 1994, 1996-2003
- Shooter: 1994, 1996-1999, 2003
- Side-Scrolling: 1996-1997
- Sports: 1989-1992, 1994, 1996-2000, 2003
- Sports (Action): 2001
- Sports (Simulation): 2001
- Strategy: 1996-2001, 2003
Early and Miscellaneous Genre Systems
Nintendo’s Black Box series refers to the first 30 games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. One feature of these boxes was a graphic showing the genre of the game in the corner. The genres that appeared were:
Action Series, Adventure Series, Arcade Series, Education Series, Light Gun Series, Programmable Series, Robot Series, Sports Series
Light Gun and Robot were to show off special accessories of the NES and are specific to it. The idea of Programmable games has faded over time, and it was only a minor feature in the games that were labeled with it. You can make your own track (but not save it) in Excitebike, for instance.
The Adventure Series graphic shows a child swinging on a rope over water, implying the games feature daring adventures, quite different from the “story heavy and slower paced” meaning that we generally use for it now.
Sega games released in Japan had a genre identifier on their box, using 10 genres:
Sega Retro says that Master System (third generation) games used this system, but I couldn’t find any boxes from this era with them. Early Genesis/Mega Drive (fourth generation) games did, though. The logo for Adventure games tells a different story than Nintendo’s, with a Sherlock Holmes-like detective making a question mark with pipe smoke.
Shoot-’em-Up includes Shooters of all kinds. The icon for Table says “HOME” and has a die suggesting it is for Card and Board games, but it also seems to be a miscellaneous genre, including Educational and Compilation games.
Softalk was a magazine dedicated to the Apple II that ran from 1980 to 1984. It broke games into Adventure, Arcade, Fantasy, and Strategy genres. Fantasy’s description of “in which you create one or more characters with whom you identify as the game progresses” is essentially an RPG.
Computer Gaming World was another computer game magazine and in 1982 polled readers as to whether they preferred Adventure, Arcade or Wargame games. In 1989 this would be amended to Action/Arcade, Adventure, Role-Playing Adventure, Simulation, Strategy, and Wargames.
The Entertainment Software Association is the U.S. trade association of video games and lobbies the government, fights against copyright infringement, runs E3, and releases statistics about the industry. In these reports they break games into Action, Adventure, Fighting, Racing, Role-Playing, Shooter, Sports, Strategy, and Miscellaneous genres.
Academic Approaches to Genre
Eric Solomon, in his Games Programming book from 1984, splits games into three genres: Simulations, Abstract, and Sports. By today’s standards there seems to be little distinction between the realism of games from that era, none of them come close to really accurately simulating anything. It also seems like the great majority of what would be simulated would be sports, so why separate Sports of all things?
John C Wright et all in their paper (which I am unable to read, I am only going off what Wikipedia has to say) American children’s use of electronic media in 1997: A national survey divide video games into Educational or Informative, Sports, Sensorimotor, Other Vehicular Simulations, Strategy, and Other. Sensorimotor covers Action, Fighting, Driving, and more, while Strategy covers RPG, Puzzle, and Tactics games. This paper seems to be focused on how electronic games, not just video games, effect children, and this is reflected in the broad genre choices centered on psychological effects.
Jeanne B Funk and Debra B Buchman in Video Game Controversies (again, I am not able to read this article from a science journal) use 6 genres: General Entertainment, Educational, Fantasy Violence, Human Violence, Sports Violence. General Entertainment in this case refers to games with no fighting or destruction. From what I can gather this paper is about how video game violence affects children.
In Game Type and Game Genre Lindsay Grace draws a distinction between type and genre. According to him, game types describe game play, with following being a “brief list”: Action, Adventure, Puzzle, Role Playing, Simulation, and Strategy. Game genre on the other hand, describes the story. The list given is Crime, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Western/Eastern/Frontier.
The most substantive academic work about video game genres I was able to find was Mark Wolf’s 2000 paper Genre and the Video Game. It uses the following 40 genres:
Abstract, Adaptation, Adventure, Artificial Life, Board Games, Capturing, Card Games, Catching, Chase, Collecting, Combat, Demo, Diagnostic, Dodging, Driving, Educational, Escape, Fighting, Flying, Gambling, Interactive Movie, Management Simulation, Maze, Obstacle Course, Pencil-and-Paper Games, Pinball, Platform, Programming Games, Puzzle, Quiz, Racing, Role-Playing, Rhythm and Dance, Shoot ’Em Up, Simulation, Sports, Strategy, Table-Top Games, Target, Text Adventure, Training Simulation, Utility
Many of these have not been seen elsewhere, but thankfully definitions are provided.
Abstract involves “nonrepresentational graphics” and is not focused on a narrative. The examples include Tetris, Pipe Dream, Pac-Man and Q*Bert, mostly Puzzle games.
Adaptation refers to games trying to mimic real life activities, such as poker, sports, or the narrative of a book. Many of the examples are licensed games, such as The Simpsons and Wheel of Fortune.
His definition of Adventure refers to going places on multiple screens or many rooms, finding keys, and a particular setting. There is no mention of being story focused and the examples include Myst, the Tomb Raider series, and the Ultima series.
Capturing is a very specific one where players capture something that is evading them. All of the examples are from before 1990.
Catching on the other hand is like Capturing, but the object being pursued does not evade.
Combat games feature 1 on 1 battles involving projectiles where the player tries to shoot their opponent before they get shot. Examples include Battletech, Battlezone, and Combat.
The Fighting description specifically says “without the use of firearms or projectiles”, but one of the examples is the Mortal Kombat series, which does feature some fireballs and other projectiles.
Platform games are said to be strictly from a side view, not a top-down one.
Target games involve shooting at non-moving targets and not being shot at.
Utility games have a function or purpose beyond entertainment. Some of the examples include programming guides, learning to type games, and household finance software. There is a lot of overlap with Educational games, Mario Teaches Typing is an example for both.
In the introduction Demo, Diagnostic, Educational, Puzzle, Simulation, and Utility are lumped together as “arguably not games” and included only because they are sold in the same format as games, and sometimes collected as such. While some argue that Visual Novels or Walking Simulators should not be considered “real games” I have not seen the idea that Educational, Puzzle or Simulation games are not.
Overall, almost all of the examples are 2nd and 3rd generation games. Even in 2000 when this was published many of these genres were just common gameplay elements that existed in many games and would not be considered genres of their own. Many of the distinctions between genres like Capturing, Chase, and Catching feel uncessary. Very few of the genre definitions seem to consider 3D games at all, though a few are cited as examples, such as Myst, Samba de Amigo and Diablo. Overall, the paper seems a decade out of date.
Conclusions and Building a Better Genre System
Nine genres stick out as the bedrock, seen almost everywhere almost since the beginning of splitting games into genres, even if sometimes combined with each other or divided into smaller ones. I feel these 9 stand out as being the most common and recognizable, even if various subgenres like First-Person Shooters may be talked about more often. These are very close to the genres MobyGames uses, too.
Action: A very broad genre for fast-paced games relying on quick reactions and precise button inputs. Although many of the other foundational genres share these traits, they seem to take precedence. Pretty much every Sports or Racing game fits the Action criteria, but would be called Sports or Racing games first and foremost. In many ways Action is the most recognizable of the genres, it is emblematic of video games. If you are using a list of genres larger than the smallest possible a large portion of them will be split off from Action, like Music, Rhythm, Platformer, First-Person Shooter, Shoot-’em-Up, and Fighting.
Adventure: This genre has seen the most varied definitions, despite being the only one given a definitive start point: 1980’s Adventure-though MobyGames does list Wander as preceding it. Some aspects attributed to this genre are a narrative focus, not depending on precise player inputs to succeed, traveling to a variety of places, being mental in nature rather than physical, investigation, interacting with your surroundings, and a focus on decision making and puzzle solving. Adventure (the game) generally fulfills these, except there are enemies to avoid so there is definitely an element of precise control needed. Adventure games have taken several forms over the years, from Point-and-Clicks and Text Adventures, to Visual Novels, and FMV games.
Despite being defined almost as the opposite of Action, Action Adventure is sometimes considered a distinct genre of its own. Sometimes neither Action nor Adventure will be used, leaving Action Adventure to take on a huge number of games. When allowed to exist alongside Action and Adventure, Action Adventure is sort of a modern generic gamey game, where there is a fair amount of story, you travel around killing enemies, you explore, solve some puzzles along the way, manage your items, maybe choose some upgrades and talk to some NPCs. The Last of Us, the Uncharted series, the Tomb raider series, all sort of cinematic experiences with broad appeal.
Educational: It may be the smallest of the nine, but Educational has appeared on most genre lists, and has been recognized as a genre for a very long time. There are overall a small number of directly educational games, almost always made for children and relating to reading, math, and typing. The computer and video game industry saw a big edutainment boom in the 80s and 90s.
Although often segregated as something only children would play, and often only begrudgingly, there are some games appealing to adults which can be educational as well. Art Academy and Mario Paint are often classified as Educational and people of all ages enjoy making art. There are games that can teach you something about history (Civilization), urban planning (Sim City), or computer programming (Zachtronics’ games), yet these games are almost never considered Educational.
Puzzle: Featuring color matching, falling blocks, pattern and spatial recognition, moving objects around a grid, word games, logic problems, physics problems, and more, Puzzle games come in a variety of real-time and turn-based forms. Although many games incorporate puzzles in some way, few games today outside of indie and mobile releases are outright Puzzle games.
Tetris has cast a long shadow, being a breakout hit and the longest running Puzzle series. Falling Block games are likely among the first type of Puzzle game one thinks of. Matching Tile games are very popular on mobile devices.
Racing: Racing games have maintained a strong presence throughout gaming history. Broadly divided into Simulation and Arcade, Racing games can feature a wide variety of vehicles or means of locomotion, but cars are most common. Usually there is a track and a number of competitors that you are trying to beat to a finish line. Some games like Crazy Taxi are considered Racing games because they focus on getting from one place to another quickly, even though you are not racing against anyone, just a timer. This seems to only apply to games where you control a vehicle, as other speed focused games like Neon White are not considered Racing.
This genre is occasionally combined with Sports. Both are competitive and athletic, pitting racers or athletes against each other, and racing is usually considered a sport. Yet most lists of genres include Racing but not other individual sports as genres.
Racing is also often combined with Driving games. The Driving genre involves driving a vehicle, but not racing it, such as Euro Truck Simulator. Most Driving games are also Simulation games.
Role-Playing: Like Adventure games, Role-Playing games tend to have a lot of narrative and involve going to many places and solving some puzzles. But Role-Playing games also focus on character progression with some mixture of levels, stats, new skills to learn, passive abilities, equipment, and other party members with their own traits. While many non-RPG games have incorporated these elements over time, RPGs have kept their identity and thrived more than Puzzle games have.
There are a couple major divides within the RPG genre. There are Computer/Western/Classic RPGs, which used to be mainly released on computers, follow Dungeons & Dragons tropes, give the player choice in the story and when to do things, and are not developed in Japan. On the other hand Japanese RPGs, are developed in Japan (although it depends on who you ask if this is a hard requirement), usually have a party of characters with a set backstory, influenced by Dragon Quest, and usually have linear storylines.
There are also Turn-Based RPGs (which includes most Strategy RPGs) and Action RPGs. The line between RPGs with action combat and Action games with RPG elements can get quite blurry.
Simulation: In Simulation games the player controls some kind of simulation. Simulations can range from as realistic as possible to completely ridiculous for humor. The thing being simulated can vary wildly, there are games about running some kind of business (theme parks, zoos hospitals), living a character’s life, operating a vehicle (cars, planes, submarines), a specific job (chef, photographer), playing or managing a sports team (especially football), and more.
There aren’t a lot of Simulation games made, but they have been a steady force in gaming. Maxis and their Sim games were synonymous with the genre for many years. Animal Crossing and The Sims continue to be big sellers and have little competition in their niches.
Sports: Sports are a natural fit for games, there are clearly defined rules, there’s inherent competition, and they appeal to fans of the real life sport. Virtually every sport has had a Sports game dedicated to it, even back in the 8-bit era when games could barely represent what they were meant to portray. Sports games are generally split between Simulation and Arcade. The Simulation side, concerned with realism and often with an official league license tend to release annually. The Arcade side focuses on fast-paced action and doesn’t necessarily follow all the rules of the sport. There are even fictional sport games.
Sports Manager, or GM games, are also often classified as Sports games, though they can be Simulations too. These games don’t involve playing the sport yourself, but managing a team through menu-based choices.
Strategy: Styled as another “thinking over action” genre, Strategy games often depict battles and war, two or more sides making careful moves, managing resources, scouting the enemy, planning upgrades, and picking the right time to strike. Some Strategy games feature RPG elements where units level up or have equipment.
The major split in Strategy games is Real-Time versus Turn-Based. More intertwined is the distinction between Strategy and Tactics. Strategy generally refers to big picture plans, things that happen outside of combat missions, while Tactics refers to the small scale plans of what each unit should be doing at any time. Though there are a number of games with “Tactics” in their title and few with “Strategy”, pretty much any Strategy game has both, and almost any game calling itself a Tactics game is also a Strategy game.
An Idealized System
If I was going to build some kind of video game database there would be several fields dividing genres and genre-adjacent concepts.
First, every game would have one or more of the nine above genres as its “Top Level Genre”. I believe you can reasonably fit everything within at least one of these nine, but perhaps an Other would be necessary occasionally. It’s not an issue that Action is so big if there’s plenty more subgenres and other ways to refine a search.
A “Contains Elements” field could be filled in with one the big 9 genres. This would be useful to describe games that just have some of an element, but it’s not the main focus and it doesn’t quite deserve to be listed as one of the Top Level Genre.
Next, there would be a “Subgenre” field. Subgenre refers to any specific genre that is not one of the nine, like Card Game, Hockey, Rhythm, or Platformer. There are potentially hundreds of these, and there’s no reason to hold back.
Themes and settings appeared in a lot of genre lists, but I think they should be their own field. Horror, science fiction, western, space, historical, and fantasy can be applied to a game of any genre. Survival Horror is a distinct subgenre and can still have horror as a theme.
A few other things like VR, 3D, compilation or multiplayer crept into a lot of genre lists as well, and should have their own appropriate fields concerning the number of players, visual formats, camera perspectives, etc. It’s hard to go wrong with more fields, as long as you have a robust search function to utilize it.
A lot of what I’ve said here may sound like minor quibbles, but as I went through all of these lists of genres a lot of the time genre seemed like an afterthought. Like the makers of these giant game databases just put down what came to mind first. I think this does a disservice to the greater video game playing community. To able to find games you may be interested in, or to research some aspect of video game history, it’s important that games are properly categorized. Well thought out genre systematization makes these resources more useful.
Sources and Further Reading
A topic I have long been interested in is how it is decided which platforms a game is released on. It costs time and money to port a game, or to develop for multiple platforms at once, and this must be balanced against expected sales. How well a game “fits” a system, how active a playerbase for a system is, how technically difficult it may be to port a game, the money to be earned from exclusivity deals, and more must go in to these calculations.
I have gathered data on what systems every game for 6th generation consoles (Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Xbox) was released on. This does not take region into account, a game could have released in a single country. This data, the naming conventions of systems, and the decisions of what counts as a distinct game come from MobyGames, with some exceptions. For example, MobyGames considers Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube to be exclusive and different than the Resident Evil 4 released on 9 other platforms. I have combined game entries in a few cases where it made sense to me, including counting a game if it is included in a compilation. MobyGames also seems to consider ports to handhelds to be the same game, even if there are fairly significant changes, such as Guilty Gear X for the Game Boy Advance. I have kept these as they are.
The list of games were all released on at least one of the 6th generation home consoles, a total of 4,073 games, and 32 systems are included in the study. There were a couple more systems that these games appeared on which I decided not to keep track of. These platforms either only had a handful of games, or the lines between them and another system were too blurred. The exclusion list includes Super Nintendo, WonderSwan Color, PalmOS, tvOS, FireOS, BREW, J2ME, DoJa, Windows Phone, Gloud, PlayStation Now, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Blacknut, and dedicated plug and play consoles.
Windows, Macintosh, and Linux were combined into a “Personal Computer” system, as well as iPhone and iPad into “iOS”.
All 6th Generation Console Games
Systems are listed chronologically by earliest release date. After PlayStation 5 are some miscellaneous systems, then games only released on the four systems this study is about, and lastly games only released on a single platform. I don’t believe there were any cases where a game released on one of the 4 and also other systems not included in the study.
Of the 4,073 games included in this study, most released on what was by far the biggest seller, the PlayStation 2, while the short lived Dreamcast got much less support. The Xbox’s somewhat PC-like nature surely helped give it a solid lead over the Gamecube in number of titles despite their close overall sales numbers. The Gamecube has even been overtaken by PCs in the years since, as games have trickled in for many years.
What surprised me the most was just how many games have remained stranded among these four consoles. It’s also amazing that 42% of these games were made for one system and have remained that way for the 15-20ish years since. System exclusivity went down dramatically after the 6th generation.
This venn diagram shows how many games each system and every combination of systems had.
Those four games that were released on each of the four systems were Puyo Puyo Fever, NBA 2K2, Castle Shikigami 2, and Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium.
Ports of Each System
As the first of the 6th generation systems it’s not too surprising the Dreamcast has a comparably larger number of games from the 5th. It also has the largest overlap with arcade games, as Sega still had a very active arcade presence at the time and those games came to the Dreamcast in droves.
I can’t tell you why, but the Dreamcast also has the largest percent of its games also release on the handheld systems, minus the DS and 3DS.
The PlayStation 2’s huge library had the largest percent of games never ported to another system and the smallest percent of games that made their way to the PC.
The Gamecube’s distinction is having the largest percent of its games also release on its three competitor’s systems. It also has the smallest percent of its games come out for mobile devices in the future.
The Xbox has the fewest true exclusives among this group and the most PC ports. It also received ports of games from previous generations the least.
Among the systems included in this study Metal Slug 3 appeared on the most, at 14. There was also Garou: Mark of the Wolves (13), The King of Fighters 2002: Challenge to Ultimate Battle (12), Rayman 2: The Great Escape (11), and Metal Slug 5 (11). Mostly SNK arcade games.
The average number of systems a game appeared on was 2.18, while the most common number of systems was 1.
MobyGames for game data.
Venny for the venn diagram template
Video game magazines used to be the hub of video game discourse, with the latest news, editorials on the state of the industry, and reviews. While the internet eventually led to the demise of most of these magazines I still find it fascinating to look through them to see what was and wasn’t a big deal at the time.
I made this archive to make these magazines more accessible and to help fans of my favorite genre. I have collected as many JRPG reviews from magazines as I could find and presented them here. If you’re here you’d probably also be interested in my JRPG project, where I use a mountain of data to attempt to find the best systems for JRPGs based on review scores, price, exclusivity, and more.
These scans mostly come from RetroMags, Out of Print Archive, the Internet Archive (including many uploaded by Foxhack, and from this archive). I update this archive periodically, see the section below. As for the games, I am using JRPG Chronicle’s JRPG Index, which is maintained by Lucca. It’s a great website and discord channel for JRPG lovers, check it out if you’re into JRPGs.
This project includes video game magazines from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Every English language gaming magazine I could find, except for Game Informer and GameFan, which do not want scans of their magazines online. A total of 122 magazines are included:
Computer & Video Games
Computer Game Review and 16-bit Entertainment
Electronic Game Player
Electronic Gaming Monthly
Game Boy Official
Games Domain Offline
Mean Machines PlayStation
Mean Machines Sega
Mega Drive Advanced Gaming
Nintendo Game Zone
Nintendo Official Magazine
Nintendo Power Flash
Official Dreamcast Magazine
Official Nintendo Magazine UK
Official PlayStation 2 Magazine UK
Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine
Official Sega Magazine UK
Official Sega Saturn
Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine
Official UK PlayStation Magazine
Official UK Xbox Magazine
Official Xbox Magazine
Planet Game Boy
S the Sega Magazine
Sega Master Force
Team Sega Newsletter
The Games Machine
Total Game Boy
Ultimate Future Games
Ultra Game Players
Video Games Underground
VideoGames & Computer Entertainment/Video Games – the Ultimate Gaming Magazine
Xbox Live Gamer
Games are listed by their official title in North America at the time and in mostly alphabetical order without leading articles. Series with roman numerals or other inconsistencies have been put in an order that hopefully makes more sense. The order can look weird since titles can vary in length as well as where the spaces, numbers, and colons go. Games with the same name that play significantly differently on different systems are separated.
The earliest game included is 1988’s Phantasy Star, the third JRPG to reach North America or Europe, while the latest is 2022’s Soul Hackers 2. There are few reviews from after 2010, as there were few magazines left, and even fewer scans available of them. The 1992-2005 era probably has the most coverage.
There are a few anomalies worth noting. Magazines occasionally reviewed games that never came to their region, or never left Japan at all. There are a few retrospective reviews, written years after a game came out. Nintendo Power’s early days threw out review scores inconsistently, sometimes giving scores to games without a written review, or giving scores in a walkthrough. They even reviewed Brandish twice.
You can click on the images to expand them to full size. Pressing the right arrow key or clicking on the right half of the image will go to the next image, while the left arrow key and left half of the image will go to the previous. Pressing escape will close the image lightbox. You may want to open some very large images in a new tab. Filenames start with the the name of the magazine if you ever want to check.
Update Log and Totals
October 9th, 2023 Update
I expected updates to get smaller and smaller over time, yet this is the largest I have made. 1,151 new page scans have been added. This is mostly due to really going through Out of Print Archive and discovering a mysterious archive. I have also split a few more letter pages and redistributed a few split letters to be more even.
A total of 53 (or so, it became very difficult to keep track of) new magazines now have scans. One of these is WalMart GameCenter, which I wasn’t sure I should include. It is something given away for free by WalMart to entice people to buy games, but it does have the typical sections of a video game magazine, with a smaller page count. There’s typicaly a single game review per issue and they seem pretty fair and in line with other reviews so I decided to include them. This is the newest magazine included in the archive, making Soul Hackers 2 the newest game to have a review.
Fifty-nine new games have reviews:
Azure Dreams (GBC), Bleach: The 3rd Phantom, Bomberman Tournament, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, Chrono Trigger (iOS), Crimson Shroud, Crystal Defenders, Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (Wii), Dragon Force II: Kamisarishi Daichi ni, Dragon Quest 25 Shunen Kinen: Famicom & Super Famicom Dragon Quest I·II·III, Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, Elden Ring, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Wii), Final Fantasy VII Remake, Final Fantasy VIII (PC), Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Fossil League: Dino Tournament Championship, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Genji: Dawn of the Samurai, Genji: Days of the Blade, Graffiti Kingdom, Grandia Digital Museum, Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax, Harvest Moon DS, Inazuma Eleven, Inazuma Eleven 3: Lightning Bolt/Bomb Blast, Knights in the Nightmare (PSP), Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, The Last Remnant, The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean, MagnaCarta 2, Monster Hunter Tri G, Monster Hunter: World, Monster Racers, Monster Rancher DS, Mother 3, Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn, Ninety-Nine Nights II, Octopath Traveler, Phantasy Star II (iOS), Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness, Remindelight, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (DS), Seiken Densetsu 3, Shining Force (iOS), Soma Bringer, Sorcerian: Shichisei Mahou no Shito, Soul Hackers 2, Spectral Force: Genesis, Valkyria Chronicles II, The World Ends With You: Solo Remix, Yakuza: Dead Souls, Ys Strategy, Zoids Assault
November 28th, 2022 Update
I didn’t expect to ever have more magazines to add, but 6 more are now included. A total of 596 new images have been added and 78 new games. A new letter has also been added: #.
New games: 3D Dot Game Heroes, The 3rd Birthday, Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, Brave Story, Crimson Sea, Crimson Sea 2, Custom Robo (N64), Digimon World: Data Squad, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, Dragon’s Crown, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, Dragoneer’s Aria, Drone Tactics, Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, Fate/Extra, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, Final Fantasy VI Advance, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2, Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel, Gods Eater Burst, .Hack//G.U. Vol. 3//Redemption, Hyperdimension Neptunia, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, Inuyasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel, Inuyasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, Mana Khemia: Student Alliance, Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker X Ninja/Zerker X Saurian, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Muramasa Rebirth, Mother 1 + 2, Metal Dungeon, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, Pandora’s Tower, Persona 4 Golden, Phantasy Star Portable, Pokémon Black Version /White Version, Project X Zone, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, Radiant Historia, Record of Agarest War, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (PS3), Shaman King: Power of Spirit, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Soul Sacrifice, Summon Night: Swordcraft Story, Summon Night: Twin Age, Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity, Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, Tales of Xillia, Tales of Innocence, Tales of Destiny: Director’s Cut, Tales of Graces f, Traysia, Unchained Blades, White Knight Chronicles II, Way of the Samurai 4, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord!?, Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum, Yakuza 4, Ys I & II Chronicles
May 6th, 2022 Update
Instead of just using the biggest magazines I have added every English language magazine I can, a total of 46 additional magazines with at least one scan have been added. A total of 824 new images including 132 new games have been added.
New games: Arc Rise Fantasia, Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, Astonishia Story, Blaze and Blade: Eternal Quest, Baroque, Battle Hunter, Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow, The Bouncer, Castlevania: Double Pack, Chaos Wars, Class of Heroes, Code of Princess, Crimson Gem Saga, Cross Edge, Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Digimon World 2, Digimon World 4, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Day, Disgaea DS, Dissidia Final Fantasy, Dokapon Kingdom, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, Dragon Warrior, Dragon’s Dogma, Drakengard 2, Drakkhen, Dual Hearts, Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Art, Dungeon Maker 2: The Hidden War, Dynasty Tactics, Dynasty Tactics 2, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2, Eternal Poison, Eternal Sonata (PS3), Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan (PS2), Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage, Fossil Fighters: Champions, Front Mission (DS), Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir, Generation of Chaos, Glory of Heracles, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, Guardian Heroes (Xbox 360), Half-Minute Hero, Harvest Moon DS Cute, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, Harvest Moon: More Friends From Mineral Town, Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns DS, Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns 3D, Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility, Hexys Force, Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth Remix, Infinite Space, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Langrisser III, The Last Story, Legaia 2: Duel Saga, Lost in Blue: Shipwrecked, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis, Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy, Mario Tennis: Power Tour, Master of the Monster Lair, Medabots: Infinity, Mega Man Battle Network 5: Double Team DS, Mega Man Battle Network 5: Team Colonel/Team Protoman, Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Falzar/Cybeast Gregar, Mega Man Star Force: Dragon/Leo/Pegasus, Metal Saga, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Monster Hunter Tri, Monster Rancher Evo, Naruto: Path of the Ninja, Nier, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure, Operation Darkness, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2, Phantasy Star Online: Episode I & II Plus, Pokémon Black Version 2/White Version 2, Pokémon Conquest, Pokémon HeartGold Version/SoulSilver Version, Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs, Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, Ragnarok DS, Record of Agarest War, Resonance of Fate (PS3), River King: Mystic Valley, Riviera: The Promised Land, Rondo of Swords, Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (Wii), Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, Sands of Destruction, Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits, Soaring Hawk/Sprinting Wolf, Shaman King: Master of Spirits, Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Shiren the Wanderer, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Spectral Force 3, Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires, Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals, Star Ocean: Second Evolution, Star Ocean: The Last Hope International, Steambot Chronicles, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Tales of the Abyss (3DS), Trinity: Souls of Zill Ơll, Uncharted Waters (SNES), Valhalla Knights 2, Way of the Samurai 3, White Knight Chronicles, Xenoblade Chronicles, Yakuza 2, Ys Seven, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Yu-Gi-Oh! Reshef of Destruction, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Falsebound Kingdom, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Sacred Cards, Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman, Zoids: Legacy
November 22nd, 2021 Update
26 games have had new reviews added, and 12 new games have been added: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Car Battler Joe, Dragon Ball Z: Legendary Super Warrior, Dragon Warrior III, Exile, Faxanadu, Lufia: The Legend Returns, Metal Gear Ac!d, Mystic Heroes, Pokémon Crystal Version, Ring of Red, Star Ocean: First Departure
Total Magazines: 122
Total Images: 3,859
Total Games: 769
Total Games with a Colon in the Title: 318
- Advance Guardian Heroes
- Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
- Advance Wars: Dual Strike
- Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos
- Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean
- Alundra 2
- Arc Rise Fantasia
- Arc the Lad
- Arc the Lad Collection
- Arc the Lad: End of Darkness
- Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits
- Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia
- Ar Tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica
- Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel
- Astonishia Story
- Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island
- Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana
- Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny
- Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm
- Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland
- Avalon Code
- Away: Shuffle Dungeon
- Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe
- Azure Dreams (PS1)
- Azure Dreams (GBC)
- Baten Kaitos
- Baten Kaitos Origins
- Battle Hunter
- Beyond Oasis
- Beyond the Beyond
- Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light
- Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War
- Blaze and Blade: Eternal Quest
- Bleach: The 3rd Phantom
- Blue Dragon
- Blue Dragon Plus
- Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadow
- Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
- Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django
- Bomberman Tournament
- The Bouncer
- Brain Lord
- Brave Fencer Musashi
- Brave Story
- Bravely Default
- Breath of Fire (SNES)
- Breath of Fire (GBA)
- Breath of Fire II (SNES)
- Breath of Fire II (GBA)
- Breath of Fire III (PS1)
- Breath of Fire IV (PS1/PC)
- Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
- Cadash (TurboGrafx/Genesis)
- Car Battler Joe
- Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
- Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
- Castlevania: Double Pack
- Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
- Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
- Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
- Chaos Wars
- Children of Mana
- Chocobo’s Dungeon 2
- Chrono Cross
- Chrono Trigger (SNES)
- Chrono Trigger (DS)
- Chrono Trigger (iOS)
- CIMA: The Enemy
- Class of Heroes
- Code of Princess
- Cosmic Fantasy 2
- Crimson Gem Saga
- Crimson Sea
- Crimson Sea 2
- Crimson Shroud
- Crimson Tears
- Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
- Cross Edge
- Crystal Defenders (Xbox 360)
- Crystal Warriors
- Crystalis (NES)
- Crystalis (GBC)
- Custom Robo (N64)
- Custom Robo Arena
- Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999
- Dark Cloud
- Dark Cloud 2
- Dark Savior
- Dark Souls (PS3/Xbox 360)
- Dark Souls II (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
- The Dark Spire
- Dark Wizard
- Dawn of Mana
- Deception III: Dark Delusion
- Deep Labyrinth
- Defenders of Oasis
- DemiKids Light Version/DemiKids Dark Version
- Demon’s Souls (PS3)
- Destiny of an Emperor
- Digimon World
- Digimon World 2
- Digimon World 3
- Digimon World 4
- Digimon World: Data Squad
- Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII
- Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2)
- Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PS2)
- Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Day
- Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice (PS3/PSVita)
- Disgaea DS
- Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
- Dissidia Final Fantasy
- Dokapon: Monster Hunter
- Dokapon Journey
- Dokapon Kingdom
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 (PS2)
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 (Wii)
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (PS2)
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (Wii)
- Dragon Ball Z: Legendary Super Warrior
- Dragon Crystal
- Dragon Force
- Dragon Force II: Kamisarishi Daichi ni
- Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
- Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
- Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
- Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)
- Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
- Dragon Quest 25 Shunen Kinen: Famicom & Super Famicom Dragon Quest I·II·III
- Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
- Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
- Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2
- Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors
- Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes
- Dragon Valor
- Dragon View
- Dragon Warrior
- Dragon Warrior I & II
- Dragon Warrior II
- Dragon Warrior III (NES)
- Dragon Warrior III (GBC)
- Dragon Warrior IV
- Dragon Warrior VII
- Dragon Warrior Monsters
- Dragon Warrior Monsters 2
- Dragon’s Crown
- Dragon’s Dogma (PS3/Xbox 360)
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3/Xbox 360)
- Dragoneer’s Aria
- Drakengard 2
- Drone Tactics
- Dual Hearts
- Dungeon Explorer
- Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Arts (DS)
- Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Arts (PSP)
- Dungeon Explorer II
- Dungeon Magic
- Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground
- Dungeon Maker 2: The Hidden War
- Dynasty Tactics
- Dynasty Tactics 2
- Dynasty Warriors: Gundam
- Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2
- Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3
- Elden Ring
- Elemental Gearbolt
- Elemental Gimmick Gear
- Enchanted Arms (PS3/Xbox 360)
- Ephemeral Fantasia
- Eternal Eyes
- Eternal Poison
- Eternal Ring
- Eternal Sonata (Xbox 360)
- Eternal Sonata (PS3)
- Etrian Odyssey
- Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
- Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City
- Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
- E.V.O.: Search for Eden
- Evolution Worlds
- Evolution: The World of Sacred Device
- Evolution 2: Far Off Promise (DC)
- Exile (Genesis)
- Exile (TurboGrafx)
- Exile: Wicked Phenomenon
- Faria: A World of Mystery and Danger!
- Fatal Labyrinth
- Final Fantasy (NES)
- Final Fantasy (PSP)
- Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls
- Final Fantasy II (SNES)
- Final Fantasy II (PSP)
- Final Fantasy III (SNES)
- Final Fantasy III (DS)
- Final Fantasy IV (DS)
- Final Fantasy IV Advance
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- Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection
- Final Fantasy V Advance
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- Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
- Final Fantasy VII Remake
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- Final Fantasy VIII (PC)
- Final Fantasy IX (PS1)
- Final Fantasy X (PS2)
- Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2)
- Final Fantasy XI Online (PS2/PC)
- Final Fantasy XI Online (Xbox 360)
- Final Fantasy XI: Chains of Promathia (PS2/PC)
- Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan (PS2)
- Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess (PS2, Xbox 360, PC)
- Final Fantasy XII
- Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
- Final Fantasy XIII
- Final Fantasy XIII-2
- Final Fantasy Adventure
- Final Fantasy Anthology
- Final Fantasy Chronicles
- Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales
- Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon
- Final Fantasy Legend II
- Final Fantasy Legend III
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
- Final Fantasy Origins
- Final Fantasy Tactics
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
- Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
- Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
- Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
- Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GC)
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (DS/Wii)
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
- Fire Emblem
- Fire Emblem: Awakening
- Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses
- Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage
- Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2
- Forever Kingdom
- Fossil Fighters
- Fossil Fighters: Champions
- Fossil League: Dino Tournament Championship
- Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
- Front Mission (SNES)
- Front Mission (DS)
- Front Mission 3
- Front Mission 4
- Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel
- Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir
- Generation of Chaos
- Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
- Genji: Days of the Blade
- Glory of Heracles
- Gods Eater Burst
- Golden Sun
- Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
- Golden Sun: The Lost Age
- Graffiti Kingdom
- Grandia (Saturn)
- Grandia (PS1)
- Grandia II (DC)
- Grandia II (PS2)
- Grandia III
- Grandia Digital Museum
- Grandia Xtreme
- The Granstream Saga
- Great Greed
- GrimGrimoire (PS2)
- Growlanser: Generations
- Guardian Heroes (Saturn)
- Guardian Heroes (Xbox 360)
- Guardian War
- Guardian’s Crusade
- .Hack Part 1: Infection
- .Hack Part 2: Mutation
- .Hack Part 3: Outbreak
- .Hack Part 4: Quarantine
- .Hack//G.U. Vol. 1//Rebirth
- .Hack//G.U. Vol. 2//Reminiscence
- .Hack//G.U. Vol. 3//Redemption
- Half-Minute Hero
- Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax
- Harvest Moon DS
- Harvest Moon DS Cute
- Harvest Moon DS: Grand Bazaar
- Harvest Moon: Animal Parade
- Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
- Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
- Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness
- Harvest Moon: More Friends From Mineral Town
- Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands
- Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns DS
- Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns 3D
- Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility
- Heroes of Mana
- Hero’s Saga
- Hexys Force
- Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth
- Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth Remix
- Hybrid Heaven
- Hyperdimension Neptunia
- Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2
- Illusion of Gaia
- Inazuma Eleven
- Inazuma Eleven 3: Lightning Bolt/Bomb Blast
- Infinite Space
- Infinite Undiscovery
- Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon
- Inuyasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel
- Inuyasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask
- Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
- Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns
- Kagero: Deception II
- Kartia: The Word of Fate
- Kingdom Hearts
- Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
- Kingdom Hearts II
- Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
- Kingdom of Paradise
- Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom
- King’s Field (Japan)
- King’s Field (North America)
- King’s Field II
- King’s Field: The Ancient City
- Knight Quest
- Knights in the Nightmare (DS)
- Knights in the Nightmare (PSP)
- La Pucelle: Tactics
- Langrisser III
- The Last Remnant
- The Last Story
- Legacy of Ys: Books I & II
- Legaia 2: Duel Saga
- The Legend of Dragoon
- Legend of Legaia
- The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion
- The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch
- The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
- Legend of Mana (PS1)
- Legend of Oasis
- The Legend of the Ghost Lion
- Legend of the River King
- Legend of the River King 2
- Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/Xbox 360)
- Little King’s Story (Wii)
- Little Ninja Brothers
- Lord of Arcana
- Lost Kingdoms
- Lost Kingdoms II
- Lost in Blue
- Lost in Blue 2
- Lost in Blue 3
- Lost in Blue: Shipwrecked
- Lost Odyssey
- Lucienne’s Quest
- Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
- Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
- Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals
- Lufia: The Legend Returns
- Lufia: The Ruins of Lore
- Luminous Arc
- Luminous Arc 2
- Lunar Knights
- Lunar Legend
- Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete
- Lunar: Dragon Song
- Lunar: Eternal Blue
- Lunar: Silver Star Harmony
- Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (PS1)
- Lunar: The Silver Star
- Magical Starsign
- Magician’s Quest: Mysterious Times
- Magic Knight Rayearth
- The Magic of Scheherazade
- Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color
- Magna Carta: Tears of Blood
- MagnaCarta 2
- Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome
- Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
- Mana Khemia: Student Alliance
- Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy
- Mario Golf (GBC)
- Mario Golf: Advance Tour
- Mario Tennis (GBC)
- Mario Tennis: Power Tour
- Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
- Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
- Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
- Master of Monsters: Disciples of Gaia
- Master of the Monster Lair
- Medabots: Infinity
- Medabots: Metabee Version/Rokusho Version
- Mega Man Battle Network
- Mega Man Battle Network 2
- Mega Man Battle Network 3: Blue Version/White Version
- Mega Man Battle Network 4: Red Sun/Blue Moon
- Mega Man Battle Network 5: Double Team DS
- Mega Man Battle Network 5: Team Colonel/Team Protoman
- Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Falzar/Cybeast Gregar
- Mega Man Star Force: Dragon/Leo/Pegasus
- Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker X Ninja/Zerker X Saurian
- Mega Man Star Force 3: Red Joker/Black Ace
- Mega Man X: Command Mission (PS2/GC)
- Metal Dungeon
- Metal Gear Ac!d
- Metal Gear Ac!d 2
- Metal Saga
- Metal Walker
- Monster Hunter
- Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
- Monster Hunter Freedom
- Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
- Monster Hunter Freedom 2
- Monster Hunter Tri
- Monster Hunter Tri G
- Monster Hunter: World
- Monster Kingdom Jewel Summoner
- Monster Racers
- Monster Rancher
- Monster Rancher 2
- Monster Rancher 3
- Monster Rancher 4
- Monster Rancher Advance
- Monster Rancher Advance 2
- Monster Rancher Battle Card
- Monster Rancher Battle Card: Episode II
- Monster Rancher DS
- Monster Rancher Evo
- Monster Seed
- Mother 1 + 2
- Mother 3
- MS Saga: A New Dawn
- Muramasa Rebirth
- Muramasa: The Demon Blade
- Musashi: Samurai Legend
- Mystaria: The Realms of Lore
- Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
- Mystic Heroes
- My World, My Way
- Naruto: Path of the Ninja
- Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2
- Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn
- Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
- Nightmare of Druaga
- Ninety-Nine Nights
- Ninety-Nine Nights II
- Ninja Boy 2
- Ninja Taro
- Octopath Traveler
- Odin Sphere
- Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
- Ogre Battle: Limited Edition
- Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen (SNES)
- Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen (Saturn)
- Okage: Shadow King
- One Piece: Unlimited Adventure
- Onimusha Tactics
- Operation Darkness
- Orphen: Scion of Sorcery
- Paladin’s Quest
- Pandora’s Tower
- Panzer Dragoon Saga
- Paper Mario
- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
- Paper Mario: Sticker Star
- Parasite Eve
- Parasite Eve II
- Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (PS1)
- Persona 4 Golden
- Phantasy Star
- Phantasy Star II (Genesis)
- Phantasy Star II (iOS)
- Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
- Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
- Phantasy Star Collection
- Phantasy Star Online (DC/PS2/Xbox)
- Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2
- Phantasy Star Online: Episode I & II (Xbox/GC)
- Phantasy Star Online: Episode I & II Plus
- Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution
- Phantasy Star Portable
- Phantasy Star Universe (Xbox 360/PS2)
- Phantasy Star Universe: Ambition of the Illuminus
- Phantasy Star Ø
- Phantom Brave
- Phantom Brave: We Meet Again
- Pocket Kingdom: Own the World
- Pokémon Black Version/White Version
- Pokémon Black Version 2/White Version 2
- Pokémon Colosseum
- Pokémon Conquest
- Pokémon Crystal Version
- Pokémon Diamond Version/Pearl Version
- Pokémon Emerald Version
- Pokémon Gold Version/Silver Version
- Pokémon HeartGold Version/SoulSilver Version
- Pokémon FireRed Version/LeafGreen Version
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team
- Pokémon Platinum Version
- Pokémon Ranger
- Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs
- Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia
- Pokémon Red Version/Blue Version
- Pokémon Ruby Version/Sapphire Version
- Pokémon Stadium
- Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition
- Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness
- Project X Zone
- Radiant Historia
- Radiata Stories
- Ragnarok DS
- Record of Agarest War
- Record of Agarest War Zero
- Record of Lodoss War
- Rengoku: The Tower of Purgatory
- Rengoku II: The Stairway to H.E.A.V.E.N.
- Resonance of Fate (PS3/Xbox 360)
- Revelations: Persona
- Revelations: The Demon Slayer
- Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (PS1)
- Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (DS)
- Ring of Red
- River King: Mystic Valley
- Riviera: The Promised Land
- Robopon Sun Version/Star Version/Moon Version
- Robopon 2: Cross Version/Ring Version
- Rogue Galaxy
- Romancing Saga
- Rondo of Swords
- Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
- Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
- Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
- Rune Factory Frontier
- Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (PS3)
- Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (Wii)
- Saga Frontier (PS1)
- Saga Frontier 2 (PS1)
- Saiyuki: Journey West
- Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
- Sands of Destruction
- Secret of Evermore
- Secret of Mana
- Secret of the Stars
- Seiken Densetsu 3
- Seventh Cross Evolution
- The 7th Saga
- Shadow Hearts
- Shadow Hearts: Covenant
- Shadow Hearts: From the New World
- Shadow Tower
- Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits, Soaring Hawk/Sprinting Wolf
- Shaman King: Master of Spirits
- Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2
- Shaman King: Power of Spirit
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
- Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
- Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2
- Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
- Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
- Shining Force (Genesis)
- Shining Force (iOS)
- Shining Force CD
- Shining Force Exa
- Shining Force Neo
- Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon
- Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya
- Shining Force II
- Shining Force III
- Shining in the Darkness
- Shining Soul
- Shining Soul II
- Shining Tears
- Shining the Holy Ark
- Shining Wisdom
- Shiren the Wanderer
- Skies of Arcadia
- Skies of Arcadia Legends
- Solatorobo: Red the Hunter
- Soma Bringer
- Sorcerer’s Kingdom
- Sorcerian: Shichisei Mahou no Shito
- Soul Blazer
- Soul Hackers 2
- Soul Nomad & the World Eaters
- Soul Sacrifice
- Spectral Force: Genesis
- Spectral Souls
- Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires
- Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals
- Spectrobes: Origins
- Star Ocean: First Departure
- Star Ocean: Second Evolution
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope International
- Star Ocean: The Second Story
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
- Steambot Chronicles
- Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity
- Suikoden II
- Suikoden III
- Suikoden IV
- Suikoden V
- Suikoden Tactics
- Suikoden: Tierkreis
- Summon Night: Swordcraft Story
- Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2
- Summon Night: Twin Age
- Super Hydlide
- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
- Super Ninja Boy
- Super Paper Mario
- Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier
- Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation
- Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2
- The Sword of Hope
- The Sword of Hope II
- Sword of Mana
- Sword of Vermilion
- Tactics Ogre (PS1)
- Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
- Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
- Tail of the Sun
- Tales of Destiny
- Tales of Destiny: Director’s Cut
- Tales of Destiny 2
- Tales of Graces f
- Tales of Innocence
- Tales of Legendia
- Tales of Phantasia (SNES)
- Tales of Phantasia (GBA)
- Tales of Symphonia (GC)
- Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World
- Tales of the Abyss (PS2)
- Tales of the Abyss (3DS)
- Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology
- Tales of Vesperia (Xbox 360)
- Tales of Xillia
- Tao’s Adventure: Curse of the Demon Seal
- Tecmo’s Deception: Invitation to Darkness
- Thousand Arms
- Threads of Fate
- Time Stalkers
- Tobal No. 1
- Torneko: The Last Hope
- Trinity: Souls of Zill Ơll
- Tsugunai: Atonement
- The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang
- Unchained Blades
- Uncharted Waters (NES)
- Uncharted Waters (SNES)
- Uncharted Waters: New Horizons (SNES/Genesis)
- Unlimited Saga
- Vagrant Story
- Valhalla Knights
- Valhalla Knights 2
- Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga
- Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
- Valkyria Chronicles II
- Valkyrie Profile
- Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
- Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
- Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
- Vandal Hearts
- Vandal Hearts II
- Vanguard Bandits
- Virtual Hylide
- Virtua Quest
- Wanderers From Ys (SNES/Genesis/TurboGrafx)
- Way of the Samurai 3
- Way of the Samurai 4
- What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord!?
- White Knight Chronicles
- White Knight Chronicles II
- Wild Arms
- Wild Arms 2
- Wild Arms 3
- Wild Arms 4
- Wild Arms 5
- Wild Arms Alter Code: F
- Wild Arms XF
- A Witch’s Tale
- Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls
- Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land
- The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
- The World Ends with You
- The World Ends With You: Solo Remix
- Xenoblade Chronicles
- Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht
- Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits Von Gut Und Bose
- Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra
- Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone
- Yakuza 2
- Yakuza 4
- Yakuza: Dead Souls
- Ys Book I & II
- Ys I & II Chronicles
- Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (TurboGrafx/Genesis)
- Ys: The Ark of Napishtim
- Ys: The Oath in Felghana
- Ys Seven
- Ys Strategy
- Ys: The Vanished Omens
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Reshef of Destruction
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Falsebound Kingdom
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Sacred Cards
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
/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.
Most games that sell at least a million copies make some sort of an announcement to celebrate. This helps the game sell more copies as it makes more people see it as a worthwhile game. It’s a significant psychological milestone. Some big franchises can depend on always selling many millions, but for an indie studio it could be a huge success. But what sets these best sellers apart from other games?
For this study I tracked down every game I could that had claimed to sell at least a million copies among all platforms it released on, and how many. I added the data from my 25 Years of Games project, namely the (first) release date, the metascore (when available), the genres, the main story and completionist time, the ESRB rating, and any ESRB content descriptors.
I found games to include by grabbing everything from wikipedia lists like List of best-selling PlayStation 4 video games, and doing general google searches for best selling lists of other systems that don’t have such lists (as long as there were good sources), then I searched the Games subreddit for “million” for more recent multiplatform games, and finally I looked through lists of games for any titles that I thought could possibly have a big enough following to sell a million copies and looked through their wiki pages for sales numbers. I also looked through many pages at the Video Game Sales Wiki, being careful to check sources.
This ended up being 1,306 games starting from all the way back in 1979. There are many more million-sellers out there, but sometimes numbers are not announced even when a game has clearly sold more than 1 million copies. There is a recent trend of huge franchises not announcing sales numbers, such as Call of Duty and Madden NFL. I didn’t want to use estimates so I could not include them. There are also likely many games released on 3 or more platforms that sold just over one million total but were never reported as such.
Another issue is that the numbers released have become less detailed over time. Some earlier games reported numbers down to the thousands place, while now it is more common to only see the hundred-thousands place, or just “one million”.
Arcade games, one-game systems, and mobile games were not included.
Games released for multiple systems (52% of the total) were combined into one entry. Sometimes this led to “are these different versions distinct enough to be separate entries?” issues that I just had to do my best with. I used data for the first release of a game, even if its remake many years later sold more copies.
Million-Sellers by Year
So what was the first game that was released on interchangeable media to sell a million copies? It appears to be Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack on the Intellivsion, released in 1979 with about 1,939,000 copies sold. However, according to the Wikipedia page for Space Invaders there is a book by Brett Weiss that claims Space Invaders was the first. Space Invaders wasn’t released until 1980 on the Atari 2600, though. It is possible that Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack took longer to sell one million copies even though it released first, but we will likely never know, and for the purposes of this study I am only considering the release date, even if it took many years for a game to cross the million-seller threshold.
There’s a big climb in the late 90s as video games become more and more mainstream, but starting from 2013 the number declines. This is partly due to publishers releasing fewer sales numbers, and partly because newer games have had less time to rack up sales. But even with those factors, it still seems like too much of a drop to me and I don’t know how the reason why there aren’t more million-sellers in the last few years.
This is the average number of copies sold among million-sellers, please note that many of these games took several years to sell as many copies as they have and that this is only by initial release rate. Can you guess what game that has sold over 200 million copies is responsible for the spike in 2009?
The 2013 dip isn’t noticeable here. Likely caused by fewer games selling more copies.
Million-Sellers and Metascores
Metascores, obtained from a mixture of Gamerankings and Metacritic, are sparse before the year 2000, so their average will be less accurate. If you really want all of the details check out my metascore project.
We generally assume that games that sell well are of high quality and enjoyed by the people that play them, and this seems to pan out in the numbers. Million-sellers have consistently outscored the overall average, though the margin has shrunk over time.
Million-Sellers and Genre
Million-Sellers are more likely to be Action, Racing/Driving, or Role-Playing games, but the differences are never very large. For more on why just these genres are being recorded and for more details, check out the genres portion of the 25 years of games project.
The next genre charts will have different Y-axis scales, so please keep them in mind. I also have data going farther back for the genre of million-sellers, which was used for the overall graph above, but I have started the line graphs at where my “all games” data starts.
While million-sellers are more likely to have Action as a genre, there have been years where it was less relatively successful.
While Adventure games have seen a renaissance in the ’10s, ever fewer sell a million copies. For some Adventure games it was unclear what combination of individual chapters and whole-series packs make up reported sales numbers, so I could not include them.
Very few Compilations reach the million-seller mark, with many years having none at all.
There have never been many Educational games, but it has seen a few million-sellers. The first to do so was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Also in this genre are Art Academy, Mario Paint, Wii Fit, and Ring Fit Adventure. Carmen is the only one not exclusive to a Nintendo system.
Fewer and fewer puzzle games burn up the charts as time goes by, but Clubhouse Games managed to in 2020.
Racing/Driving games have become less common in general over time, both among million-sellers and in general.
A way to add depth to a game is to add some Role-Playing mechanics, and publishers have been keen to do so as so many sell above average.
The most eclectic genre doesn’t seem to have much impact on sales.
Many Sports games don’t get their sales numbers released anymore, otherwise I would expect it to be more prominent among million-sellers, even as fewer Sports games are made.
For the last few generations Strategy / Tactics games have had a smaller proportion of million-sellers.
Million-Sellers and Game Lengths
More information about what these times mean and how the data was acquired is available in the game lengths page of my 25 years of games project.
While games have become longer over time, million-sellers have always been longer than most other games. This has been especially true for completion times in the last decade. The most successful games tend to have bigger budgets and can include more content, but people may also be biased towards longer games, looking to get as much time out of their dollar as possible.
Million-Sellers and ESRB Ratings
Not all million-sellers have ESRB ratings because many were from before the ESRB existed, or computer games that never got one, but it was a requirement to be included in my 25 years of games project. For a more direct comparison the stacked bar chart only includes million-sellers with ESRB ratings, while the line chart includes those without one. There are a few million-sellers with the Everyone 10+ rating before it existed because of games getting later releases after it had been introduced, and I recorded games by the first release date. More on ESRB ratings here.
No million-seller has had an Early Childhood or Adults Only rating, so they are not included.
Million-sellers are just a bit less likely to be rated Everyone, Everyone 10+, or Teen, but more likely to be rated Mature.
Million-Sellers and ESRB Ratings Descriptors
I’ll be breaking the descriptors down by category, and please be aware that the Y-axis will be vary significantly. An exhaustive survey of every ESRB descriptor can be found here.
An odd mixed bag with substances. Tobacco is less common in million-sellers, while drugs are more common, and alcohol portrayal depends on if it’s a reference or someone is seen drinking it.
Different types of violence are overall pretty similar, with a few exceptions. Fantasy Violence is much more common in million-sellers, while Intense Violence is rarer.
A bit more Comic Mischief in the most popular games, but not much more.
A few rare and short lived descriptors have never been seen on a million-selling game.
I would have expected all of these to be significantly more common in million-sellers, since licensing music and hiring voice actors costs money, and overall not many games have either. The best sellers sure like using the worst of the swear words, though.
Interesting that Nudity has such a disparity compared to Partial Nudity. Only a few descriptors here have a significant difference.
About 39 of the million-sellers were exclusive to Japan (I didn’t exhaustively check regions), all the way up to a couple 3DS games. I believe the only European exclusive was Dancing Stage Party Edition.
One 3DO game may have sold a million copies even before it became a pack-in: Gex, although this number is somewhat disputed. I could also only find evidence of a single Sega Saturn game selling a million copies: Virtua Fighter.
The million-sellers with the lowest metascores are Game Party and Game Party 2 for the Wii, with a 22.6 and 31.9 respectively.
To receive a Metacritic metascore a game has to have at least 4 reviews. Occasionally even million-sellers don’t reach this threshold. These are mostly exclusively for PC: Satisfactory, Stickfight: The Game, Just Survive, The Legend of Sword and Fairy 5, and Garry’s Mod are some examples. But only a few non-PC games from after 2000 have managed it: Zumba Fitness for the Wii, English Training for the DS (Japan and Europe only), and Dancing Stage Party Edition (Europe only).
HowLongToBeat.com for game lengths
ESRB.org for ESRB ratings and rating descriptions
MobyGames.com for genres and some miscellaneous information
Xbox Addict for some information about regionality
I found a bunch of interesting and goofy stuff in all of those NES manuals I looked at, so I wanted to make a separate post about them.
Not only did Nintendo Seals of Quality have an oval and circle variant, but their colors varied quite a bit. While most used the same bronze-ish gold color no matter what colors the rest of the manual had, there were exceptions.
While some controller diagrams looked like the real thing, others looked quite amateur and had odd details added. Also watch for the many names of the D-Pad.
This last one is for Donkey Kong 3. Many early Nintendo games used this “he [verbs]” wording in their manuals.
Notices and Advisories
Game Pak Precautions
I wonder why this wasn’t the same notice in every manual, there was clearly some points that Nintendo wanted to stress, but with everyone writing their own version some are poorly worded or miss some details.
It’s quite a shock to see Game Paks referred to as “cassettes”, and the NES as a “computer” in some of these, Nintendo couldn’t have been happy about that.
It bothers me more than it should how often there are multiple warnings per number/bullet point.
Rear Projection TV Warnings
It’s interesting how often this is phrased as “Nintendo recommends…”
Enemies and Items
I found some interesting and amusing descriptions and drawings of in-game things. A heart that doesn’t look like a heart, a lamp character, some bizarre descriptions of Muppet characters, and some awful puns.
Some of these have interesting takes on game difficulty, quite different from today. Others have some poorly drawn game screens, slang guides, or careful descriptions of what pausing is. Ads for candy, movies, even a chess magazine. There’s even the only “righteous babe” and ESRB rating you’ll see in an NES manual.
Wikipedia’s List of Nintendo Entertainment System games.
FLickr user bucky for some higher quality scans, including a color version of Faxanadu.
The NES era was still a wild, experimental time for video games with very little standardization. The medium was still new and there were no internet forums and few magazines so developers often just kind of did whatever came to mind.
Manuals were no exception, with widely varying sizes, formats, and contents. I wanted to examine these early game manuals not just to learn more about the games of the time, but to see how different companies approached how to teach players about their games, what kind of wording they used.
This study includes the manuals of 675 Nintendo Entertainment System games released in North America, just shy of the 677 officially licensed there. Going in to this project I assumed the preservation of these manuals, belonging to one of the most influential and nostalgia-ridden video game systems of all time, would be set at a high standard. Instead, many of the scanned manuals were in poor shape, scanned at low, nearly unreadable resolutions, have missing pages, or were scanned in black and white despite the manual being in color. There are several websites hosting the same set of manuals, and although I did my best to find alternate, superior scans, I found myself having to just put up with a fair amount of incomplete data. Some games had multiple versions of their manuals, I used the last one in this case.
I’m going to be breaking down several metrics by year, so it’s important to know how many games were released each year. Keep in mind that 1985, 1986, and 1994 all had few releases, so averages are less reliable. All games from 1985 and about half of 1986’s were published by Nintendo.
To start off, how long were NES manuals? I included the front and back cover as separate pages. Manuals get longer over time, perhaps as games became more complex, but perhaps more importance was also put into making a good manual over time. Virtually all sequels had longer manuals than their predecessors, especially evident in RPG manuals which often had detailed walkthroughs in them.
The Miracle Piano Teaching System manual, meanwhile, is bound with those metal rings that I can’t find the name of and clocks in at 198 pages. You may notice in that link that it only shows 197 pages; since an odd number of pages is impossible if we are counting both sides of every page I assumed a page had been omitted.
The next three games in manual length are tied at 84 pages and are all RPGs: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Warrior III.
Overall, the average was 23.84 pages per manual.
Almost all manuals had full color on the front/back and then a colored Nintendo Seal of Quality on the page opposite the front, but I’m not counting that as color. I’m sure black and white manuals were cheaper to print than full color, but I was surprised at the number of single color manuals. I suppose the cost is somewhere in between, but were some single colors cheaper than others?
There no full color manuals for the first two years of the NES’s life, yet almost all were by the end. I wonder if there was some kind of suggestion/mandate from Nintendo, if color printing became much cheaper in 10 years, or if companies just thought it was more and more worth it to make their manuals look nice.
Nintendo Seal of Quality
The Nintendo Seal of Quality was a way to assure consumers that they were buying a high quality product that wouldn’t damage their console.
I assume Nintendo provided the image to be used in manuals, and at some point it changed from a circle to an oval. This probably happened in 1988, which makes the ovals from before that point likely to be reprints, although I’m surprised so many companies seemingly went to the trouble, and that there were enough in circulation for scanners to happen upon them.
Something that I noticed when going through these manuals was how common yet varied controller diagrams were. In more modern game manuals it’s clear that a diagram has been provided, and possibly required, by the hardware manufacturer, but in these days it was seemingly up to each publisher. I’ll be sharing some of the oddest looking ones in my next post.
The main difference I noticed was most diagrams had a controller with either 3 rectangles or 5 rectangles in the middle of the controller and pretty much never 4. There is still a lot of variation within the 3 and 5 rectangle labels I created, though publishers tended to stick to one diagram. The 3 rectangle style may have been to make the diagram less busy looking. Nintendo mostly used 3 rectangles with a few later exceptions.
Jumping and Attacking
Something that can immediately make a game feel bad is if the jump button is “wrong”. People strongly prefer jumping to be mapped to the A button, but perhaps this was less obvious to developers of the time.
Thankfully, A to jump makes up the majority of games and generally gained ground over time. Not all games have a jump or an attack, but attack has a smaller majority as the B button. The despicable Up to jump was recorded for 12 games.
I was surprised that I only recorded 11 games as having a run button set to A (1 game) or B (10 games). It’s something I associate strongly with platformers, but that may be the Mario influence.
Start and Select
It seems so universal that Start should pause and that Select should select something, yet this was not unanimous. Several games had A+B to pause, which I didn’t record, or referred to opening menus with the Start button, which I didn’t count as pausing.
Select is used less overall, which makes sense as it’s the least convenient button to reach.. Many manuals describe using the Select button to move a cursor on the title screen to the mode that the player wants to play. This seems like an overly cumbersome method when the control pad is available and allows for moving a cursor in two directions.
Notices and Advisories
As I was looking through these manuals I noticed a lot of boilerplate warnings or notices and wanted to document them. Some were a lot more common than others, some were pretty much always exactly the same, and some seemed to be written differently almost every time.
The FCC compliance notices were almost always in the back, but before the warranty information. Some boring legal boilerplate that you see on lots of electronics manuals. For some reason though they seemed to stop doing these late in the NES’s life. Looking at Super Mario World’s (A SNES game) manual now, and there’s no FCC notice and I can’t find any evidence that there was a separate sheet included with this information.
The 90 day warranty notice was the last thing in many manuals, though it was right the front of many Konami manuals. Its rate of inclusion stayed steady throughout the NES’s life, and may have just been omitted by some scanners. I wasn’t able to scrounge up any information about this being a requirement for an officially licensed NES game, but I assume it is.
Game Pak Precautions
Game Pak (as Nintendo insisted on calling their cartridges) precautions were almost always found near the beginning of manuals. This does not include separate warnings/instructions about inserting and removing game paks, although that is often included.
The wording and exact things being cautioned about varied considerably, more than any of the other notices I recorded. Nintendo must have given some guidelines, but let publishers do their own thing with these. The most common warnings were against opening the game pak, subjecting it to extreme heat or cold, touching the pins, cleaning it with thinners, solvents, benzene, or alcohol, playing for too long, sitting too close to the TV, and inserting or removing the game pak when the NES is on.
For whatever reason these warnings became much less common after 1992.
Epileptic Seizure Advisories
I didn’t realize when recording my data just how specific to a time period these warnings were. The pre-1990 warnings were probably later print runs of the manuals. If it was so important to warn about the risk of epileptic seizures, why did they become so rare later on? Were these perhaps moved to a separate slip of paper in the box? These warnings have been included with video game manuals for decades so it seems strange that they disappeared for a time.
Rear Projection TV Warning
Screen burn in was something I heard about a lot as a kid in the 90s, both with TVs and computers. I was constantly worried about it even though none of the TVs I used were projection based.
This is another odd case of a warning peaking in 1992 and then suddenly becoming less included, and in fact not a single 1994 manual has such a warning.
Memo pages used to be fairly common in manuals. Used for recording passwords, high scores, or just notes to yourself.
I did not count blank pages, but any sort of invitation to write something down, even if it wasn’t a full page, counted.
The most memo pages was 9, in Metal Mech: Man & Machine. Over 28% of the manual was memo. The overall average was 0.51 memo pages per manual.
Sometimes publishers advertised their other games in a manual. This does not count non-game ads. It does count ads for games on other systems, which in this case only meant Game Boy and Super Nintendo.
The manuals with the most ads are Rampart and Shatterhand with 16. Both Jaleco games, which did a lot of this cross promotion with essentially a list of games on the back of the manual.
The overall average was 0.78 ads per manual.
Next up is a less statistical look at NES manuals.
Wikipedia’s List of Nintendo Entertainment System games.
FLickr user bucky for some higher quality scans, including a color version of Faxanadu.
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.
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.
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.
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.