Genres are important. They offer us a way to communicate and understand games, both within the walls of development studios and to our vast audiences.
To some they are regarded as merely a way for marketers to frame and define games, and even a tool to restrict creativity. Yet, love them or loathe them, they are here to stay and they have become an important part of the grammar of game design. As a result, their study is of great value; and not just to game archivists or retailers looking for a logical way to present their stock.
TIGA has invested a substantial effort into studying how genres reflect the challenges and opportunities that face UK games makers today. Having researched 200 UK-made games released throughout 2016, we have been able to offer a detailed snapshot of the genres that are our country's strengths - and those that offer opportunity to be better served.
Our key finding from the research, which we have published as our special report 'A Zest for Adventure', is that UK developers particularly excel at creating action/adventure games, with virtually a quarter of the games examined falling under that genre.
The popularity of action/adventure games partly reflects a nation of developers serving market demand and thriving where commercially successful games are concerned. Equally, the results spotlight an industry well experienced in both tackling ambitious, large scale projects and telling good stories.
"The popularity of action/adventure games partly reflects a nation of developers serving market demand and thriving where commercially successful games are concerned"
The next most popular genre with UK developers is made up of arcade-style releases for contemporary platforms, accounting for 15 per cent of output last year. The UK is a world-leader in mobile, where many simpler, purer and immediate forms of gaming prosper. At the same time, our flourishing indie scene is producing numerous titles that fall into the arcade bracket, whether revisiting classic forms, or debuting new mechanics that lead players to the roots of interactive entertainment.
The third most common genre of games produced by UK developers in 2016 was strategy games. Indeed, figures suggest a slight move in focus from creating puzzle titles in previous years to working on strategy games through 2016. The UK has some great developers of strategy games, including, the superb Space Ape Games. Strategy games account for 12.5 per cent of the titles made by the 147 studios that contributed to our study.
At the other end of the scale, horror releases made up just 1 per cent of output over the same period, with music titles just ahead, enjoying a 2.5 per cent share. While such genres hold the attention of only a few developers, such as the superlative Supermassive Games, their modest presence could suggest an untapped opportunity.
Overall, UK developers are creating games in at least a dozen genres. This a testament to the industry's creativity, originality and access to a substantial talent pool and a wide range of service companies that support the creation of a large field of genres
In reaching out to so many developers, our study of genre in the UK brought in parallel data that is equally interesting. Of particular note are the figures on the platforms that are most popular with UK game developers. iOS has a definite lead here, followed up by Windows and Android. Evidently, UK developers know how to serve the platforms with the biggest audiences. Perhaps surprisingly, the next most popular platform is Mac, which holds a good position ahead of both the next best-served hardware, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That quirk is likely thanks to increasingly multiplatform game engines and middleware, where exporting a PC build to Mac presents less of a challenge than reworking a game for a platform with entirely different controls and interfaces.
"To survive, subsist and succeed in games development typically means focusing on a niche"
To survive, subsist and succeed in games development typically means focusing on a niche. Concentrating on a niche enables the studio to build experience and establish a reputation for a particular genre of games. Games developers interviewed by TIGA repeatedly emphasised the advantage of establishing an expertise within a specific genre. This approach is adopted by a range of UK games development studios. For example, Codemasters and Playground Games focus on racing games, Futurlab and Naked Penguin Boy on arcade games, Lockwood Publishing on 3d virtual world social networking, Distinctive Developments, First Touch Games and Stick Sports on sports games and Terra Tek Studios on action/adventure.
Some studios can successfully develop games across a variety of genres. For example, in 2015 Rebellion released Evil Genius Online (strategy), Raceline CC (racing) and Nazi Zombie Army Trilogy (action). However, this is perhaps one of a few exceptions to the rule as Rebellion is one of the biggest independent UK studios and adopts a portfolio approach to genres and platforms.
Looking ahead, with many headsets launching or finding market traction in 2016, there may well be an increased spike in virtual reality's presence in the UK developer community a year from now. VR is also a medium that is already bringing about new genres, while muddying the boundaries that divide games from other digital media and experiences.
The future for UK developers looks exciting. Many of our studios have an expertise in a range of niches. Many of our studios have opportunities to exploit under-developed genres. Many of our studios are quick to adapt to new platforms. Above all, we have a zest for adventure.