Trying to decide what video games to buy and play can be tricky; game classification is one way to better aid consumers in making those choices. Most stores classify games by the console on which you can play. It’s more common online to see games classified by the content of the game, rather than the media it can be played on, but the content some games can be hard to classify based on the content.
Game classification is important for another reason: the cost of videogames is relatively high compared to other forms of entertainment, at least up front. Any gamer will tell you that, for their favorite games, the $60-70 spent was a great investment. However, if you spend that money on a game you end up not liking and you go to return that game, you’ll find that you only get back a fraction of that price. This makes initial impressions very important for consumers, and classification is just one of those impressions.
Let’s look at a popular game this year, Rocket League, for an example.
Rocket League is a game that resembles soccer, but the players are in rocket-powered cars. There is a ball and two goal areas, and teams can range from four to just one person. This game would be classified by some as a sports game, due to the objectives. However, because the players ride around in vehicles and have many customizing options for those vehicles, some would classify the game as a racing-type game. Which of these is correct? Both is clearly the answer, but it can lead to some confusion when choosing how to present the game’s content to a potential customer.
If you decided to classify this game as a sports game, you might scare away consumers who never purchase or play sports games. The same could be said if you’d classified this as a racing game. General classifications, such as “action games” could be used here, but the less specific you get, the less interesting the game may sound. The game is sometimes referred to as a Demolition Derby type of game, but that is the opposite end of the spectrum: far too specific to cater to many types of players.
Another recent blockbuster game, Destiny, tends to defy classification because it combines two very popular types of game: First-person shooters (FPSs) and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). It is a game based in space and the objectives basically involve shooting aliens. However, this game also includes many features known as staples in MMORPGs such as character customization, shared-world experiences with many other players, and “loot drops” (in-game currency and equipment) for completing tasks.
This game in particular is divided by players who come from MMORPGs and players who come from FPS games. The MMO players often enjoy the customization and raid activities, while the FPS players stay for the smooth shooting mechanics and a large variety of cool weapons to choose from. Because of this, Destiny developers have tried not to define the game as a shooter or a role-playing game, but rather a “shared-world shooter”. This classification helps to bring in players from many different backgrounds, rather than exclude an entire subset of people who enjoy a certain type of videogame.
Videogames are often also classified by the intensity of the content, or by ratings. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is responsible for rating all games in North America and placing restrictions on games with higher ratings.
Ratings for younger audiences allows parents of gamers to choose what content they want to expose to their children. These games are fun for children and often include educational benefits, as well. Games with ratings of M (Mature 17+) are restricted to young adults and cannot be purchased by children without their parents present. These games usually include violence, strong language, or sexual content. Classifying games in this manner provides customers with feedback on the content of the games and serve to limit exposure to certain age groups.
Trying to classify videogames can be very difficult for retailers, game developers, and publishers but is necessary in order to properly sell games to customers. There are many games out there that appeal to a very wide audience, and many more that appeal to a small subset of gamers. Games, like all entertainment media, must present an initial impression that grabs a customer and compels them to buy and classification is one aspect of that impression.
Samantha Lewis, Taxonomist