The Importance of Genre

Over GDC, I talked to a lot of people about genre, being generic, and how important that actually is.

Being a part of a genre (and being generic) is sometimes looked at as a bad thing, especially in many indie developer circles. But, understanding genre, and what genre you'll fit into is extremely important.

Genre is one of the major ways people connect to something new. By comparing their experience to things they've seen in the past, audiences can quickly form a basis for any deviations from generic form. If you present something entirely new, or something that deviates so far from genre that it gives no tangible attachment points, anyone can get easily confused and frustrated. This is consistent in all mediums, including writing, music, movies, and games. Whenever you hear about a work or medium that is "ahead of its time" this is usually because it gave audiences nothing to latch onto from a generic perspective. It takes time for people to be eased into new conventions. Genre is one of the major things that helps them do that.

I came to this realization during GDC, and it explained one of the reasons why I felt Fire Hose's first game, Slam Bolt Scrappers, did not do well. Among other problems, it didn't give players any generic hooks. And in places where a generic hook might have been made ("Ah this is like tetris!") it turned too far away from the convention ("but you make squares, not lines, and of matching colors."). In its attempt to mash up two genres, it missed the boat on creating the generic hooks for either one. When you approach SBS, it's confusing, not necessarily because the game itself is confusing (though it is), but because it doesn't offer a single place were a player can say "AH! This is like Game X." This is something that's worn as a point of pride by many indies, but really shouldn't be.

This is not to say games need to be completely generic, in fact just the opposite. AAA has found itself relying too much on generic convention to hold the weight of gameplay, and it is starting to backfire, if only slightly. When you rely too much on genre, the medium starts to stagnate. People know they've seen it all before, and feel no need to engage with new products. It's only when creators twist generic conventions in interesting ways that the medium can evolve, and even create new genres.

More recently, I've been thinking about the future of the living room, and how the various media companies are vying for dominance. I think that the future of media in general is going to rely on a company taking advantage of their individual genres of consumer fulfillment, and expanding to service new needs and new opportunities. The company that does that well can "win the living room," but all three top contenders are still far from giving us the "genre" that we can attach to, and a few have even taken a step backwards in the process. But, I think I'll leave that to another post.

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One Response to The Importance of Genre

  1. Scott Ganz says:

    Jeff,

    I am looking to hire someone with gaming experience to help lead the build of a continuous integration system for DARPA. You obviously would be perfect for the job. Of course I dont know your interest, assuming you are not interested I was wondering if you knew someone you could recommend. I could pay competitively and this is a really cool project which has been highlighted in Wired Magazine. At a minimum I would love your thoughts. my Cell is 703-801-1927. Thanks,
    Scott