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An Open-source Mobile Gaming Taxonomy

Every mobile gaming company has their own system for categorizing different types of mobile games (an industry taxonomy). No industry standard exists. I propose an "open source" system which I hope others will use and help improve upon.

Joseph Kim

January 30, 2017

3 Min Read

I initially published this post in my personal blog GameMakers.com. Check it out to learn more mobile gaming design techniques, analysis, and industry opinions.


Every mobile gaming company has their own system for describing different types of mobile games. In other words, a mobile gaming taxonomy or classification system. Unfortunately, no industry standard exists. Further, I've been very unhappy with the current taxonomies developed by the various research firms out there.

As a good friend of mine stated recently to me:

When you have Clash of Clans and Game of War in the same classification category, something is definitely wrong.

To help promote a shared understanding within our industry I'm proposing an "open-source taxonomy" based upon my own understanding of the market. I'd be happy for other companies or research firms to adopt this standard if possible. Further, I'd love to hear feedback and debate how to improve upon the proposed mobile gaming taxonomy below.

Classification Approach:

To build the taxonomy, I relied on 3 primary principles:

  1. Gameplay Focus: Focus differentiation of categories based on gameplay instead of systems or other metrics

  2. Top-Down High-Level Categories: Build high-level categories top-down using an easy to understand classification approach

  3. Bottom-Up Sub-Categories: Build sub-categories/genres using a bottom-up approach based on the actual types of games we find in the marketplace

Gameplay Focus:

At a high-level, I wanted to distinguish categories based on an overriding characteristic. The two characteristics that seemed to make the most sense were either: 1. Gameplay or 2. Systems. I chose to focus on gameplay because we often see similar systems (e.g., Gacha, guild, etc.) mixed in very different kinds of games. However, to the player, I believe they would consider games more different based on the core gameplay itself rather than based on the, for example, monetization system used.

Taking a more specific example: Summoner's War and Puzzle and Dragon both use Gacha Fusion system design mechanics for character progression but the better classification against those two games would be the core gameplay (Turn based battle vs. Match-3).

Top-Down High-Level:

I picked high-level categories that seemed to make the most logical sense and those I thought easy to understand. I also eliminated some categories I didn't feel appropriate for mobile or felt dated (e.g., Arcade category vs. Action). Finally, I also picked categories which I believe will be up and coming such as the Party category and Racing.

Bottom-Up Sub-Categories:

In my view, the sub-categories need to be rooted in what actually exists in the market. The audience has already decided what types of games they like with the money they spent. Hence, we develop a sub-categorization focused on making sense of what kinds of products were actually generating revenue.

Further, from a developer perspective, studios will find higher granularity of sub-categories more insightful and actionable. As a specific example, for Shooting and RPG categories you'll see a much higher level of granularity than from typical research firms out there. I believe developers want to know, for example, the relative success if building a Shooting type game between FPS, TPS, and cover-based shooter games. As another example, we know Match based games are a huge category, but it's more useful to distinguish between the various types of Match such as match-3, match blast, line matching, or otherwise.

Proposed Mobile Gaming Taxonomy:

So here below is the proposed mobile gaming taxonomy:

You can scroll the spreadsheet above horizontally.

Let me know what you think!

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