Video Games: A Family Tree

Video Games: A Family Tree

What, by definition, is a “video game?” Earth’s greatest scholars agree that it has something to do with sitting in front of the television and rescuing princesses, usually by way of manipulating a controller that is attached to a game box, which, in turn, is attached to a television.

While that description of a video game isn’t necessarily incorrect, it’s about ten years out of date. Console and PC gaming is still very relevant, but now it’s supplemented by alternative methods of gaming–many of which are free, or at least very easy on the wallet.

When you think of video games, make sure you leave some brain space for its offshoots, including:

Portable Games — It was Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi who realized, as far back as 1980, that commuters might appreciate being able to play electronic games on the go. The Game & Watch series of games was subsequently born, each with its own self-contained game (often an adaptation of an arcade hit) and a built-in liquid crystal display.

In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, a handheld gaming system that could switch out game cartridges. The handheld gaming market exploded from thereon, with Nintendo generally holding the biggest pieces of the pie thanks to hit portable systems like the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS.

Whereas portable games were once simplified versions of console games, or else designed in a way that kept them from using too many resources, modern handheld systems like the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita are capable of displaying graphics on par with a console. Portable games can be purchased at retail, or downloaded via a system’s specific online store. Portable games are also currently facing a lot of competition from:

iOS/Smartphone Games — The term “iOS game” refers to any game that’s running off Apple’s mobile operating system. iOS games can include titles for the iPad and iPod Touch line of tablets/music players, but it’s most commonly used to identify a game that’s running on the iPhone.

iOS games are typically simpler than console or handheld games; you’ll find a lot of quick distractions and compelling puzzle games. However, the market is quickly becoming more complex, and the general low price of iOS games (which are bought and downloaded via Apple’s App Store–unlike handheld gaming systems, there is no physical media involved) make them good impulse buys.

Smartphones that run on Google’s Android operating system are also a popular choice for on-the-go gaming.

Downloadable Games — Pertains to games that are downloaded from an online store, as opposed to games that are published on a physical medium, like a disc or a game card. Downloadable games can be just as complex as console games that are bought at retail (in fact, PC gamers favour downloading big releases on Steam, a PC-based online distribution platform), though smaller, casual games are very popular, too. Downloadable games are usually cheaper than titles bought at retail. Popular distribution platforms include Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, the Wii Shop Channel, the Nintendo DSi Store, the Nintendo 3DS eShop, PlayStation Network, and the App Store.

Free-to-Play Games — Free-to-play games are, as the name suggests, free to play. Typically, these games run on web browsers, or on iOS platforms. They’re free to download and you can usually play them for as long as you want–though most of these games lock up a certain portion of their content until you pay for said content through an electronic transaction (usually via a credit card). These “microtransactions” are typically a few dollars, though most free-to-play games do offer you the chance to purchase super-cool items for much larger sums of money.

Social/Facebook Games — Social games have made a recent splash in the gaming landscape. Social games encourage sharing between players, and run off social networks as a result, with Facebook being the most popular. Usually, players are tasked with building towards or maintaining a goal, and are rewarded for interacting with each other, and for getting friends to play along, too. Most social games fall under the free-to-play category as well.

Zynga is currently by far the biggest developer and distributor of social games. Some of Zynga’s most popular works include FarmVille, CityVille, and Mafia Wars.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) — MMOGs usually offer a big world for the player to explore. In this world, players can communicate with each other, unite to complete goals, or even compete. MMOGs tend to be deep and complex, with one of the most famous examples of the genre being Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

Many MMOGs can be played on an Internet browser and cover a multitude of genres. It’s an especially popular market for kids thanks to games like Free Realms (Fantasy), Moshi Monsters (Fantasy/Educational) and NeoPets (Virtual Pets).

Depending on the game, MMOGs can follow the free-to-play formula, or require a monthly subscription from the player. Oftentimes, the game can be played for free until a certain level is reached, and then a subscription is required.

Triple A/”Blockbuster” Games — There’s still a place in the market for big-budget games that spend two years or better in development. These are the high-profile, widely-advertised games that are sometimes referred to as “Blockbuster” games. On a Nintendo console, it might be a new Legend of Zelda game; on the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, and/or the PC, it might be a new Call of Duty or Halo title. Blockbuster games tend to be developed with the core gamer in mind, though everyone is invited to enjoy them.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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