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Surviving the Survival Genre. Has the Bubble Burst?


Back during the days of Steam Greenlight, a well-meaning idea that ultimately turned into a garbage bin of low-quality content, there were a number of game genres and tags that were considered cursed on the platform, not so much because they were bad but because they’d been done so many times before. These tags included “crafting”, “open world”, “indie”, and “survival”.

Found together on the same package, these descriptors proved to be a bit of a turn-off after several years of ranking highly in gamers’ collective opinions. This era, around the mid-2010s, brought us titles such as ARK: Survival Evolved, Minecraft, Subnautica, The Long Dark, The Forest, and plenty of similar games that never quite made it into the mainstream consciousness.


Many of the top survival experiences a decade later are those same few titles. Granted, we’ve had some new entries in the genre, such as Valheim, but we’ve been playing our ancient survival favorites for longer than Tom Hanks was on that island in Castaway. No Man’s Sky, Don’t Starve, DayZ – the list goes on and on. Why are players and developers so transfixed with this type of game?

Part of the answer is that the combined themes of survival, post-apocalyptic, and self-reliance never go out of fashion. In fact, thanks to TV shows like Doomsday Preppers, reality has started to imitate art. The concept of a survival kit to help in extreme scenarios is something that several major bodies, like the Red Cross and the US government, recommend that everybody keeps available.

You might already be familiar with survival kits that go in the trunk of your car but even kits for tech maintenance are growing in popularity. Software company ExpressVPN describes a tech survival kit as something that contains chargers and power banks, tools, data storage devices, and phones for emergencies. The idea is that these kits are stored alongside standard bug-out kits where they can be retrieved quickly.


Mercifully, for many of us, survival isn’t something that we have to worry about, so a fictionalized version serves as a bit of escapism. For game developers, survival games are much easier for small teams to make than titles in many other genres, as the focus of the gameplay is on a small handful of elements. The world itself can be procedurally generated. That still leaves the question of why we’re still playing the same games, though – and why “pure” survival games seem to have dropped off the radar.

As mentioned, it’s all been done before, so modern titles tend to dip into other genres to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market. For instance, the upcoming game Nightingale takes its cues from RPGs and deck-building games while the much gentler experience Retreat to Enen leans on its meditative aspects. Galvanic Games’ Wizard with a Gun has taken a cartoony approach to the survival genre.

There’s no denying that the golden age for the survival genre is over but it’s survived by some of the finest experiences ever made – and that’s why we’re still playing them all these years later.


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