My Name is Daniel and I am a Genre Addict
The game industry is maturing and some worry that it is stagnating. Every hit game is a sequel and new concepts and titles seem few and far between. What causes this pattern? Is it a good thing or is it a fatal flaw in the structure of the game industry?
It is easy to look at other media and though there are many of the same business trends of consolidation and mass culture product, games stand alone in their blatant recycling of old concepts. Not even the Clear Channel world of Britney Spears relies so heavily on remakes and remixes.
Unlike movies or books, games are unique in that you can make quite a bit of money by simply repackaging an old successful game with better graphics, slightly tweaked levels and an additional power up. The majority of money in the game industry is made from either direct sequels to successful games or games that are minor improvements on existing game designs.
This is not an accident of history. Exactly why this happens is due to the fundamentally addictive nature of games.
The Basics: Games as Psychological Drugs
What is a game?
A game is a pre-packaged set of stimuli and directed player responses that piggy back on existing human risk / reward systems and create a measurable psychological addiction.
"A set of stimuli and directed player responses"
"Piggy back on existing human risk / reward systems"
There also exist psychological triggers. Through risk/reward schedules, you can cause a person to do a variety of mundane activities that only have meaning within the context of the overall system. Gambling, Super Mario, Solitaire, and B.F. Skinner's experiments on dogs are all examples. It is these pre-existing systems of psychological triggers that all games use to generate 'fun', the pleasant buzz that encourages us to keep playing.
"Measurable psychological addiction"
The portion of addiction most pertinent to games is the 'uncontrollable compulsion to repeat a behavior.' Games strongly encourage players to repeat specific behaviors over and over again. Most games structure themselves around a core game mechanic, a simple repetitive activity.
Admittedly, games exist in a gray area when it comes to 'negative consequences'. A player's addiction can be mild, (the need to play 'one more turn') or serious (the gamer who died from playing for 32 hours straight). What is important is that a game gives players a rush that they desire to repeat.
What is a game genre?
Genre speaks heavily to the addictive systems behind a game and less to setting, plot, or other typical categories. Warcraft and Starcraft have very different plots and settings, but they still belong to the same genre of RTS.
This is admittedly a horrible overloading of the term 'genre'. I pity those schooled in movie history trying to wade through this essay. However, historical usage in the game industry leaves us little other choice.