Why Following Genre Conventions Matters in Video Games

The Acagamic Tip Tuesday #05

Be aware of the baby duck syndrome when designing your game Be aware of the baby duck syndrome when designing your game

Each Tuesday, I will send you a tip from the world of UX Research & Design for games. At my website The Acagamic, I focus on training people to become better researchers and designers for games and beyond.

Each tip will only take a few minutes to read.

Players hate change. Be aware of the baby duck syndrome when designing your game. Follow genre conventions.

Genres help players anticipate the general mechanics, themes, and gameplay elements of a given game. Just as newly hatched geese imprint on the first creature they encounter, players often develop a strong attachment to the first game of a specific genre they play. This connection, similar to the imprinting theory proposed by Konrad Lorenz, influences their expectations and preferences for future activities. As a result, game designers who wish to provide players with a pleasurable and familiar experience must adhere to genre conventions. In this issue of the newsletter, we will discuss the significance of genre conventions in arcade-style video games.

Arcade-Style Imprinting: Nostalgia and Expectations

Arcade-style games, characterized by their fast-paced, action-packed gameplay and relatively simple mechanics, have been a popular genre since the early days of gaming. Many players who experienced classic arcade titles such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, or Galaga, have imprinted on these games, leading to specific expectations when encountering new arcade-style releases. Players expect:

  • Instant action: Arcade games are known for throwing players into the action right from the start, with little time spent on tutorials or lengthy narratives.
  • Simple controls: Players often appreciate the simplicity of arcade-style games, with limited buttons or inputs required to execute in-game actions.
  • High-score chasing: One of the core features of arcade-style games is the pursuit of high scores, providing players with a clear goal and encouraging replayability.

The Power of Familiarity: Navigating Genre Conventions

When developing an arcade-style game, it is essential to consider these player expectations and follow genre conventions to create a familiar and enjoyable experience. By incorporating well-known mechanics and themes, developers can tap into the nostalgia and comfort that players associate with the genre. This familiarity can prove advantageous for several reasons:

  • Reduced learning curve: Players who are familiar with a genre’s conventions can quickly adapt to the gameplay, reducing the time and effort required to become proficient.
  • Increased enjoyment: Meeting player expectations can lead to a more satisfying experience, as the game aligns with their preconceived notions of what an arcade-style game should entail.
  • Enhanced replayability: By incorporating elements such as high-score chasing, developers can encourage players to invest more time in their game, improving its longevity and replay value.

Balance and Innovation: Evolving Within Genre Constraints

It is essential that developers adhere to genre conventions, but they must also establish a balance between familiarity and innovation. Incorporating new concepts and mechanics can help distinguish a game from others in its genre, while still adhering to the genre’s core conventions. This equilibrium can be attained by:

  • Creative twists: Developers can introduce fresh gameplay mechanics or unique visual styles that set their game apart from other arcade-style titles, without abandoning the genre’s core features.
  • Updated technology: Leveraging modern technology to enhance graphics, audio, or gameplay can provide players with a fresh yet familiar experience, bridging the gap between classic arcade games and contemporary releases.
  • Expanding upon the classics: Developers can build upon the foundations laid by iconic arcade titles, using them as inspiration while adding their own unique touches to create a new yet familiar experience.

Video game makers need to stick to genre conventions if they want to give players a familiar and fun experience. Producers can make games that connect with their target audience if they know what players expect from a certain genre after their first experience with it. In arcade-style games, this means having fast action, easy controls, and a goal of getting a high score, while also adding new ideas and new technology. Finding the right mix between sticking to genre norms and adding new ideas can lead to a game that not only meets player expectations but also stands out from other games in the same genre.

Lennart Nacke, PhD
Lennart Nacke, PhD

Hey there, I am a Professor and the Research Director of the HCI Games Group at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I am a world-leading expert on what makes games engaging and how we can use them to improve products, systems, and services. My research is widely discussed and recognized by the New Yorker, Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CTV News, New Scientist, The Daily Mail, PC Gamer Magazine, and elsewhere. I have edited a textbook on Games User Research and authored hundreds of academic articles in gamification, user experience research, human-computer interaction, and game design.