I like Gamasutra. They’re always coming up with something interesting. Today, they have an article on “Genre life cycle” by Daniel Cook, which looks at how genres rise and decline over time.

Unfortunately, he starts off with a major blooper, when he writes, “Titles such as Zork are early examples of the core graphics adventure mechanics.”. Ouch. We all know that Zork was a text adventure. Ah, for shame, Daniel!

But that’s trivial, and he makes up for it with the rest of the piece. His central thesis is “game mechanics as the primary source of value for the player”, and charts any genre’s cycle as: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline, and Niche.

What caught my eye on the first page was his comment: “Many customers are trained to think about satisfying their needs in terms of product categories.” Or genres.

That leads us to my remarks in The Maze Of Terminology, where we noted how the categories are changing and blending together.

Cook doesn’t mention that in his article. Yet I think that’s an important point. If gamers are looking for particular mechanics (styles of play), and they choose games because the genre indicates the type of mechanics, then the game “category” or “genre” is important.

Of course, there is also “brand”, for established titles. You know pretty much what to expect if you pick up a Civilization or Neverwinter Nights. It’s more difficult with a new title, coming into the market for the first time.

Beyond that, Cook looks at why good games can fail: they come into the life cycle too late. Because they take so long to make, a product started when the cycle is in “maturity” may be released when the cycle is now in decline.

The article is really worth reading; it explains much of the current state of games today.

The Circle of Life on Gamasutra