The same process has happened a LOT over the last decade: a game gets big, and other games start to take systems, stories, and aesthetics from it, incorporating them into their own games. But there doesn't seem to be any system to how we label them. Sometimes they're treated as clones, which carries the implication of unoriginality. Sometimes we don't really acknowledge that they've copied anything, and still treat them as a separate entity. And sometimes we start treating them as their own genre.
- 'The Ubisoft Model'
Open world, climb towers to unlock the map, find collectibles. You know the type. Hundreds of games have adopted this style. And despite this becoming one of the most ubiquitous kinds of games on the market, we don't really have any kind of sub-genre for them. They're based on the original Assassin's Creed, but we tend to attribute it to Ubisoft rather than that game. Their comparison to the Ubisoft Model is generally used as an insult, despite its clear popularity. Many players feel like it's so common that it is ruining the industry. Shouldn't this count as a subgenre?
- Witcher 3
As soon as the Witcher 3 came out, we started seeing game heavily based on it. Assassin's Creed is one of these. Another is Final Fantasy XV (whose developer explicitly made the studio play TW3 in preparation for creating the game). But there is no 'Witcher-like genre'. In fact, people tend not to focus much on the similarities to the Witcher at all. Arguably the Witcher Model is kind of a modernisation of the Ubisoft Model.
- Breath of the Wild
A soft colour palette with a focus on natural beauty, puzzles scattered across the map, gliding, unusually distinctive regions, climbing stamina, taming horses, a focus on exploration. While BotW undoubtedly takes inspiration from other open world games, it is pretty unique. And after its success, we started seeing games with a suspicious number of similarities, namely Genshin Impact and Fenyx Rising. Some people have dubbed these 'BotW clones', but generally only in a negative way.
Journey ushered in a slew of artsy indie orchestral games. They're always distinctive from Journey, but undoubtedly descended from it. Examples include Abzu, Gris, and the Pathless. And yet we have no name to categorise games which focus primarily on being an artistic experience.
- Dark Souls
Probably the most famous from the last decade. For a period, we used the term 'Dark Souls Clone'. But the change to 'Souls-like' seems to have followed on from the increasing quality of the games based on it. It seems wrong to look at a game like Nioh, which is excellent, and call it a clone of something else. That term carries a lot of negativity. At the same time, the release of Bloodborne seems to have contributed to the creation of the Souls-like genre, despite it being by the same developer. Even now, bad Dark Souls ripoffs are 'clones'. Only the good ones seem to earn the title of 'souls-like'.
The interesting thing about this genre is that it isn't entirely based on one game. Sure, it started with The Walking Dead. But TWD gave us Life is Strange. Life is Strange gave us Tell Me Why and arguably some parts of Firewatch. There's clearly a genre here – one distinct from the standard 'Point and Click' genre. But as yet, we haven't named it.
- 'Modern Military Shooters'
This was a term coined by Zero Punctuation, and has been widely adopted. Though it is generally also used in a negative light.
Out of all these examples, none are consistent with one another.
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