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  • Excerpt: Goals & Genres: What Are The Possibilities?

    [09.29.11]
    - Jeannie Novak
  •  [In this extract from Game Development Essentials: Third Edition, author Jeannie Novak offers a breakdown of game genres and goals, giving aspiring developers a better taste of how games fit into a number of established archetypes.]

    Key Chapter Questions

    - What are some non-entertainment goals associated with game development?

    - What are the characteristics associated with popular game genres?

    - Which goals and genres work particularly well together?

    - Which particular game content is traditionally associated with certain genres?

    - How are genre hybrids and new types of genres changing the way games are categorized?

    This chapter continues the discussion of game elements-focusing on goals and genres that are often part of the first step in the creative development of a game. You might be surprised at the wide variety of goals and genres that are in use today. As you read through this chapter, consider the types of games that you enjoy playing. Do most of them fit into a particular genre? There also might be a few genres described in this chapter that you never knew existed.

    Goals

    Why do you want to create a game? Do you want to entertain, educate, support, market, build a social community-or get players to work up a sweat? Games are developed for a variety of purposes-and pure entertainment is just one of them!

    Entertainment

     

     

    Most games, such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, are created for entertainment purposes.

    It is a common assumption that games should be developed purely to entertain the players. You will learn in Chapter 4 that many people play to escape from the stresses of daily life-or to relieve boredom. There are also those who play for the same reason they might watch a movie or read a book. It's a diversion that immerses them in an alternate world and engages them emotionally. Some games specifically allow players to become someone new-to role-play as characters, some of their own creation. Others keep them occupied by having to react quickly to physical reflex and mental problem-solving challenges. Notice that players are not just passively sitting and letting the entertainment unfold in front of them. Instead, they are involved in actions such as role play, physical movement, and problem-solving. This medium is uniquely interactive-allowing players to manipulate, modify, and sometimes even take part in creating the entertainment experience.

    Social

     

     

    Social games such as My Empire require players to interact with Facebook friends in order to build resources necessary to progress in the game.

    Of course, one of the motivating factors for playing games is social interaction. Some multiplayer online games, discussed later in this chapter, are developed for this purpose. In these cases, entertainment in the traditional sense takes a backseat to community building.

    A non-game example of community-building include social networking sites and tools such as Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter-or even a dating site such as Match.com, where people spend a lot of time browsing each other's profiles and communicating through secure email, IM, and chat. There are other types of multiplayer games (such as LAN-based and local) that also result in a great deal of social interaction.

    Social interaction as a focus can happen by accident. The original purpose of The Sims Online was to entertain players through scenarios that involved role-play and character maintenance. The ability to communicate through the game attracted players who preferred discussing non-game topics rather than playing the game. (Player communities within and outside of online games are so significant that an entire section of Chapter 12 focuses on this phenomenon.) Games developed for the specific purpose of creating communities need not be limited to online games with a large customer base. These games would be appropriate for support groups, membership associations, religious organizations-or even "family and friends" networks.

    It has been argued by some that games focusing on social interaction (i.e., social games) could be more than just applications-but actual game genres (discussed later in this chapter). Social games have become incredibly popular due in no small part to the rise of Facebook. The immense popularity of games created for the social network helped kick off a resurgence in the casual player market. Social games have also redefined the notion of "casual" as distinct from frequency of play; it's more about how the games are designed and played-rather than how often. Casual games played on Facebook might be in small spurts, and the difficulty level associated with many of them might be lower-but players tend to play them quite frequently. At an International Game Developers Association - Los Angeles (IGDA-LA) event in 2010 focusing on the casual game "renaissance," Cynthia Woll of Cul de Sac Studios referred to FarmVille as a "stealth MMO"; this is not far from the truth! (MMOs will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter.)

    Educational

     

     

    Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day challenges players in a wide variety of ways, including playing a piece on the piano.

    Educational games are those created to teach while they entertain. In Chapter 1, you learned about the edutainment era in CD-ROM game development. These games were specifically developed for educational purposes, and they were all aimed at children. Examples include Oregon Trail, Reader Rabbit, and Math Blaster (from Sierra On-Line, The Learning Company, and Davidson & Associates, respectively). These games feature in-game knowledge acquisition-where knowledge of certain topics (such as geography, math, and reading) is taught or accessed within the game itself. In most edutainment games, the topics are taught overtly. All types of simulation games discussed later in this chapter allow players to acquire in-game knowledge about real-world objects (such as the controls in the cockpit of a jet) and to apply knowledge they have learned outside the game (such as how an economic system works).

    Why were edutainment games designed mainly for children? There is a large market of adults in colleges, universities, research institutions, vocational schools-even in corporations-who would benefit from games that serve an educational purpose. As you will learn in Chapter 4, players are not just kids! An interesting educational application might be online distance learning. Most online classrooms consist of discussion threads-which enhances social interaction (as it does in online multiplayer games). Instead of posting only discussion threads-which greatly enhances lateral learning but does not involve constructivism (learning by doing)-students could be playing online multiplayer games that incorporate real-world simulations, such as economics, archaeology, auto mechanics, music, marketing...even surgery!

    Even though education can be a specific goal when designing a game, it could be argued that all games are educational "by accident." Several motivating factors discussed in Chapter 4 have a lot to do with learning. In addition to gaining and applying knowledge about real-world events (the traditional definition of an educational game), there are other forms of learning that occur in most (if not all) games.

    Recent "puzzle games" have started to deviate from the genre and, to the surprise of many, these games might be inconspicuously realizing the promise of edutainment. Puzzle games can be thought of as workouts for the brain. Nintendo's Brain Age and Big Brain Academy take this concept to the next level. Each of these games is loaded with math, logic, and visual exercises that score players based on their brain age and brain weight, respectively, making it clear whether the player's brain skills are up to par. (If not, some "brain-training" sessions can correct this!) While each title focuses on different sets of skills, both are based on research conducted by Professor Ryuta Kawashima and have been a huge success for the Nintendo DS.

    For example, mastering the game is tied into a learning process. Players are not usually satisfied with investing time into playing a game, only to lose. Most people play to win. The game accommodates this by allowing the player to save the game at different intervals (discussed in more detail in Chapter 8), so that players can go back to a point in the game before they made decisions that might have resulted in losing the game. Winning is also accommodated by providing the player with feedback-which sometimes appears in the form of a score or even a letter grade! For example, Nintendo's Advance Wars involves a series of missions that a player must complete to eventually finish the game. At the end of each mission, the player receives a numerical score and letter grade ("S" for "Superior," followed by A, B, C, etc.). If the player made a few mistakes while playing the mission and wants to start over, the player can exit out of the mission and start again at any time before completing it. The letter grades assigned to the missions provide a form of assessment for the player, who now has an idea of how well he or she is playing. It's like getting feedback from an instructor every time a student finishes a homework assignment! Advance Wars also offers a field training section-a tutorial that helps teach new players how to play the game, which can be a more entertaining alternative to reading the instruction manual for some players.

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