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Only 17% of E3 games are non-violent

GamesIndustry.biz study found major publishers are behind less than half of all combat-free titles in Los Angeles

A new GamesIndustry.biz study shows that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most prominent event in the gaming calendar is dominated by violence.

Of the 239 games we have counted as being featured at E3, only 41 can be considered non-violent -- 17% of all titles on show this week.

Of the 41, only 17 (7% of the 239 total, 41% of all non-violent games) are from major publishers or platform holders. This includes eight ID@Xbox titles and one Square Enix Collective title -- games developed by indies but published by larger companies.

"Much of the industry's output relies on selling the same fundamental mechanic: the ability to fight and kill"

But what counts as violent? For the purposes of this study, we're focusing on violence as an action by and around the player. This means our requirements for a non-violent game are:

  • No title where you are required or encouraged to harm or kill another living entity.
  • No title with graphic or realistic depictions of violence.
  • We have also counted cartoon violence, e.g. Luigi slamming ghosts into walls also discounted or disassembling enemies Lego Star Wars, among the violent games. The purpose is to identify titles where the central mechanic is not death.
  • Reference to unseen violent acts, e.g. a game where you are solving a previous murder, does not count as violent.
  • Minimalist depictions or representations of conflict, e.g. a Hearthstone-style card game, do not count as violent.
  • Sports games with tackles do not count as violent, as this is not intrinsic to the game or required to win. However, sports that centre around a combative act, e.g. boxing or wrestling, are considered violent.
  • Games in which you give direct orders that lead to violence, e.g. strategy titles or turn-based RPGs, are considered violent.

In terms of the games we are considering, we have focused on all the major press conferences -- EA Play, Microsoft, Bethesda, Square Enix, Ubisoft and Nintendo -- as well as some of the small events, including Devolver Digital, the PC Gaming Show and UploadVR's first ever E3 VR showcase.

Finally, we've been trawling through our inboxes and the E3 section of Games Press for any press releases and game information announced during the week.

Before we dive into the results, a little on why we are doing this.

Animal Crossing was Nintendo's only first-party non-violent title at E3 2019 this year, and one of seven management and life sim games at the show

Animal Crossing was Nintendo's only first-party non-violent title at E3 2019 this year, and one of seven management and life sim games at the show

Those who follow me on Twitter may know I run a little side project called Non-Violent Game of the Day. It's a (nearly) daily recommendation of a title devoid of combat and violence, designed to demonstrate the full breath of video games.

I started it in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, which inevitably raised the violent game debate after the shooter was found to have enjoyed first-person shooters and other violent titles. My hope was to demonstrate that there was more to video games than making things die.

"It's important to stress here that this study is not intended to decry violence"

It's important to stress here that the project, and indeed this study, is not intended to decry violence. It is merely to offer a look at just how much of the industry's output relies on selling the same fundamental mechanic: the ability to fight and kill.

It's a fascinating trend when you consider the first major commercial video game, Pong, involved no violence or combat in any form -- just deflecting a ball in a primitive version of tennis. Yet as soon as the likes of Space Invaders and Asteroids showed the popularity of firing one set of pixels at another set of pixels to make the latter disappear, this is the interaction developers have focused on the most.

Certainly, that's the dominant theme at E3's major press conferences, where Electronic Arts actually had the best balance of violent to non-violent games. Of the nine games announced or discussed in and around the event, three titles -- FIFA 20, Madden NFL 20 and The Sims 4 expansion Island Living -- were non-violent (33% of the publisher's line-up).

The rest were updates on shooters Battlefield and Apex Legends, online RPG Anthem, and upcoming Star Wars adventure Jedi Fallen Order. The publisher also announced indie-developed EA Originals in Lost In Random and Rustheart, both of which have combat mechanics.

Ubisoft also fared well, with 31% of its announcements and updates centred around non-violent games. The publisher has an annual non-violent presence in Just Dance, but also had a non-violent new IP in Roller Champions. Meanwhile, in the pre-show stream, Ubisoft detailed updates for Steep and a standalone version of Assassin's Creed Odyssey: Discovery Tour, the educational spin-off that allows players to explore a combat-free version of Ancient Greece.

Two thirds of all non-violent games at E3 2019 are new IP, including Ubisoft's sports title Roller Champions

Two thirds of all non-violent games at E3 2019 are new IP, including Ubisoft's sports title Roller Champions

Devolver scored 28%, thanks to two of its seven titles detailed this week -- comical non-combative battle royale game Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and physics-based platformer Heave Ho.

"Of the 41 non-violent games, only 17 are from major publishers or platform holders"

Microsoft featured ten non-violent games on stage, 24% of the 51 titles we counted, although the majority of these (as previously mentioned) were ID@Xbox titles. Non-violent first party efforts included the return of Flight Simulator and the Lego Speed Champions expansion for Forza Horizon 4.

It would be easy to assume that Bethesda's line-up would be 100% driven by combat and violence, but the inclusion of The Elder Scrolls Legends gives it some respite. Since the publisher only showed 12 games, the digital card game accounts for 8% of its E3 portfolio.

Only 7% of Nintendo's E3 Direct titles were non-violent, and only one of those was first-party: Animal Crossing New Horizons. The rest were third-party titles heading to Switch, including the aforementioned Just Dance and board game adaptation Catan.

That leaves Square Enix as the publisher with the fewest non-violent games at E3. The publisher's saving grace was indie-developed racer Circuit Superstars, accounting for just 5% of the games shown at its conference. The rest were primarily role-playing games where players will spend hours in combat, as well as shooters like Dying Light 2 and Outriders, plus the upcoming action-packed Avengers game.

Due to the relatively low number of non-violent games from major publishers and platform holders, two thirds of all the games we found are new IP, rather than relying on an established brand.

So what are the alternatives to violence?

Of the 41 non-violent games we found over the whole show, most (nine) can be classed as adventure games, such as point-and-click adventures.

Sports and racing was the second largest category with eight titles, followed by seven management and life sim games. Our exploration, board & card game, and platformer categories each had three titles, while puzzle only had two and simulation one.

We hope to return to and improve upon this analysis at E3 2020 and see whether things have changed.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, we erroneously classed Frogware's The Sinking City as non-violent. This has been amended and the figures updated.

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Latest comments (6)

Ian Griffiths Product Owner, Hutch3 months ago
A new GamesIndustry.biz study shows that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most prominent event in the gaming calendar is dominated by violence.
It's not violence, it's depictions of violence and that distinction is important.

It's important to stress here that this study is not intended to decry violence
I think that the language used in the article suggests that this simply isn't true. The title uses the word 'only''. If you want to make this point then language is important and the word 'only' should be omitted from the titled. Also, this study gives publishers 'scores', and goes on to say that they did 'well'. In one sentence there's a suggestion that Bethesda had a 'respite', again pointing to a dislike of depictions of violence. One would surely also want to move away from such language to less emotive, more descriptive terminology to avoid claims of decrying depictions of violence, and also to be considered a 'study', as this piece refers to itself.

I started it in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, which inevitably raised the violent game debate after the shooter was found to have enjoyed first-person shooters and other violent titles.
There is no causal or explanatory link between these events and depictions of violence in games. Moreover, there is no clear correlative link between the popularity of violent games and the frequency of either mass shootings or violent acts. If anything the prevalence of games coincides with a fall in violent acts in society, though again, no clear causal link that way around either. That this made you think of depictions of violence of media is fine but I think it needs to be made clear that there is no evidence tying depictions of violence to real world violence, particularly in a given example.

Pong, involved no violence or combat in any form
Pong had some of the common emotions we see in violent actions; competition and status., so it's not free of the charge entirely. Violence would be difficult to display with the technology at the time, however it didn't take long for games to move towards it. Nor is combat a new thing in games, it's not like the pieces in the 1,500 year old game, chess don't represent combat or violence.

We hope to return to and improve upon this analysis
I think this comes off as a 'thinkpiece' rather than an analysis. It says things to the effect of 'we're not against depictions of violence' and yet it's full of language that implies the opposite. I would also be mindful to point out that depictions of violence are different from actual violence. Where they may be used to cause harm such as being displayed to an audience they're not suited for, that is a different matter.
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Jordan Lund Columnist 3 months ago
Saying "Only 21% of E3 games are non-violent" is 100% meaningless.

How does it compare to the industry as a whole? Is it lower or higher? No idea, because a quantitative analysis of game history wasn't done. Can you really say "Only" if it's a much higher number than E3s in the past? Can you say it if it's a higher number than total number of games published to date?

We don't know the answers to those questions because the leg work was not done.
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 3 months ago
I like to blow aliens' heads off as much as the next guy. But there's already a tonne of games doing that. So I chose to play those games, but with my own gamedev, make something different.

But why don't more developers come to the same conclusion? Is it a lack of creativity? The risk of making something outside of the known formulae? Are all the non-violent devs on mobile, leaving PC/Console less rich and varied?
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Show all comments (6)
Michael Ball3 months ago
Reminder that weapons and combat in a video game are loose abstractions, and cannot endow the skill, experience, and technique required to operate their real-life counterparts.
Additional reminder that the desire to harm (as does satisfaction derived from harming) fictional representations of living beings does not extend those inclinations to real flesh-and-blood beings, unless the player is already predisposed to such deviant behavior; even then, committing fictional violence is incapable of conveying the sheer emotional gravity of committing those same actions in real life (analogous to the well-documented cases of severe PTSD in operators of remote combat drones).
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development3 months ago
Reminder that weapons and combat in a video game are loose abstractions, and cannot endow the skill, experience, and technique required to operate their real-life counterparts.
I'm guessing you've never heard of Michael Carneal. Bearing in mind he had no prior experience in firing a gun, here are some quotes from Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman
“FBI data shows that trained law enforcement officers average around 20% hits in real world situations at an average distance of 21 feet. In the 1998 Amadu Dialo shooting, four NYPD officers fired 41 shots at an unarmed African immigrant, at point blank range and hit him 19 times. This is about the level of accuracy you will find from trained marksmen in real world situations.”

“Michael Carneal fired eight shots, in a large foyer, at a high school prayer group as it was breaking up. Firing at a milling, screaming, running group, he hit eight different kids with eight shots, five of them head shots and the other three upper torso. I trained the Texas Rangers, the California Highway Patrol, and a battalion of U.S. Army Green Berets. When I told them of Carneal’s accuracy, they were stunned. Nowhere in the annals of military or law enforcement history can I find an equivalent ‘achievement.’”

“ He came from a well-to-do family, and had all the access to arcade quality, point-and-shoot video games that any kid could possibly want. A hundred things can persuade someone to WANT to take a gun and go kill, but only one thing makes him ABLE to kill: practice, practice, practice. Not practice shooting bullseyes or deer, but practice shooting people.”
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd2 months ago
What a pointless exercise.
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