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Voluntary categorisation by commercial vs artistic

A topic by Fenreliania created Dec 01, 2018 Views: 401 Replies: 26
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I love itch and have enjoyed a lot of games I've bought on here. I've found some interesting gems both on the side of artistic trashgames, and of commercial fun machines. However, I've frequently found these two particular aspirations clashing with each other in search results, making it much harder to find specifically the type of game I'm looking for. This has by far been the biggest thing preventing me from exploring itch more, and the reason most of my discoveries have been through twitter and mastodon, because these two goals are almost exclusively in opposition to each other, at least at this time.

I have two ideas that I believe would help untangle this and give both aspirations room to breathe.

One option is more heavy-handed but as a result, probably much more effective: Straight-up introduce "Commercial" and "Artistic" categories, and allow games to place themselves in whichever one they are aiming for. These wouldn't be mandatory or mutually exclusive, there can still be a general "browse" page for all games, and search can still search both categories, but there would be prominently displayed and easily accessible ways to limit browsing and searching to that particular category, in a way that stands out from tags and genres. The primary issue I can see arising is that this is fairly limiting, and in future, these categories may want to be split into more, or there may be more added, or perhaps they'll be torn down altogether, but I think at least right now, it would make the experience of finding games much more reasonable.

Another option is a much softer version of this: Official, canonical tags endorsed by itch, and presented prominently when making a game's page. The effect would be similar, but less heavy-handed. There wouldn't have to be a discovery process and a lot of networking to figure out what lingo people are using for their tags to delineate what type of game it is, just easily visible tags that can be displayed in the store to customers and creators alike. This has the advantages that it uses an existing system, and can easily be expanded to include other things in the future.

Thoughts on this? I feel pretty confident in the need for some kind of solution, and I don't believe curation nor black box algorithms are good ones.


agreed!!! this would be very good


Because a game can't possibly be both commercial and artistic at the same time? Where do you even draw the line? Besides, if the system works on an opt-in basis (as it should), how do you know any games will be classified according to your idea of what's commercial and what's artistic?

Also, some tags already have an official status and are treated specially. Mostly those denoting genres. But genre is a lot easier to determine.

A game can be both, that's why there's no exclusivity for putting the game in those categories. In any case, it doesn't matter what I think an artistic or commercial game is, what matters is what the creator is aiming for. The context it's intended for. As Cheeseness said, "artistic" may not be the right wording, but I'm talking about the kinds of games that are not trying to be commercially viable, the kinds of games that are trying to be experimental and create a specific experience. Trashgames, altgames, artgames, whatever you want to call them. The kinds of games I usually make, the kinds of games I know a lot of people love itch for supporting and giving a space to. The kinds of games that, if you're looking for an FPS or a Visual Novel, you're not interested in. Games that often don't *really* fit into a genre.

Moderator (1 edit)

So if you're looking for mainstream games, search by suitable criteria. Why would I want to pigeonhole myself. We have tags. With descriptions. Including an artgame tag. If that's not enough, we have profiles where we can say what kind of games we make. We have collections. I just don't get what a whole new classification system is supposed to achieve except emphasize an artificial separation.

How would someone who is only used to Steam know what "suitable criteria" is? How am I meant to know what "artgame" technically means? How would the average consumer know to search for it? I feel like I already laid out the reasons I think this is necessary in the post.

Moderator (1 edit)

If the "average consumer" "who is only used to Steam" doesn't know what they're looking for and how to look for it, how am I as a creator supposed to classify my games for them? Never mind that such a description reads dismissive and condescending. Again, if you feel the need to make it clear that a game is intended as art, there's always the artgame tag. And maybe you could make a case for making it more prominent somehow, like it happened with the genre tags. But to divide all games in two large aisles with a row of bins between them... that just doesn't sound like Itch to me, either as a player or creator.

I mean that's the problem right now, no? I don't know how to tag my game with the tags that someone who's been convinced to give itch a go will search for, and they don't know what tags are being used to classify games other than the genres. So they click on a genre tag if they can find it, and get a jumble of games that are trying to be Video Games, half-made experiments, punk deconstructions of what a game is, and new developers' first projects, while missing any experimental things that don't really fit into the genre tags or maybe fit more into others but provide the experience they're looking for.

And again, I'm not saying there would necessarily be a big divide between These Games and Those Games, but there would be a way to signify what the game is trying to do. It would be voluntary, there's no reason a game couldn't fall under both or neither, and there's no reason the entire site would be divided into A and B. It would just be a section, or a prominently displayed tag, that neither consumers nor developers need to guess at and negotiate with each other.

Here's an example: What if I use the tag trashgame instead of artgame? What if I'm *not* making an art game, and I want to tag it as commercial? Where can I find an explanation of what artgame means if I'm new to this? Yes, it is possible for someone to come to itch for the first time and figure all of this out. It's also far easier for them to look at the front page, turn around, and buy something on sale from their steam wishlist, and that's exactly what a lot of people do.


If you need an explanation of what art game means, then how are you going to decide if the tag applies to your games or not? For what it's worth, each tag on Itch has a description (and if it doesn't, you can suggest one). And pray tell, how does game discovery work on Steam? Because from what I heard, you can find games there that don't even work. Like, at all. I'll take an artsy-fartsy game that actually runs any time.

Even in the search results, games on have taglines and genres. I can hover the mouse over it to see screenshots. If a game sounds interesting but I'm not sure about it, I can easily click through and read more details. Including a complete list of the tags the creator thinks apply. If I'm still not sure, there's always the option to try out a demo. Often even the full game. What more can I possibly want?!

Please, PLEASE stop assuming. Stop pigeonholing people and ascribing imaginary behaviors to them. They're smarter than you give them credit for. They can search for both "art game" and "trash game" just fine. And yes, they can use both Steam and without confusion.

1) Steam simply doesn't have the same breadth and depth of artistic - sorry, everyone seems to get stuck on that word so let's go with "noncommercial" - games as itch does. Everything on there is just to be sold. There's very little on there made to experiment with the genre or made just for its own sake. And what's this about games "actually working" here on itch more than Steam? There are games here that are hardly even built, and that's part of why the platform is great for creators. That's not a relevant point, and it's wrong.

2) Descriptions and screenshots help me decide what a game is. They don't help me wade through the hundreds of results and figure out from a glance whether something is made to be a fun few-hour adventure, or some experiment with tech or game design, some punk trashgame that's just meant to make a specific few people feel something. Most people do not spend a minute looking at each game, they scan.

3) I am not assuming, I am speaking from experience, from the experiences other people have conveyed to me, and from the fact that if I ever manage to convince someone to look at itch instead of Steam, they go back immediately. You are a moderator. Your personal experience of how you use the search and browse simply does not line up with newcomers. I've been using itch for a while and even my experience doesn't seem to line up with yours - I cannot easily find the games I want because of exactly the problem this whole thread is about. I'm not assuming, I'm not lying, I am telling you exactly what I have experienced.

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I'm not certain that "artistic" is the right wording for an alternative to indicating a  work that users are expected to appreciate as professional/commercialised works, but I dig the idea in principle!

Yeah it would be nice to have a better word but there's not a whole lot of unification on what that should be. Artistic feels like it's the word I *want* to refer to this type of game, because it's kind of what the dynamic is everywhere else - something done for artistic purposes vs commercial purposes.

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For better or worse, I feel like most creators (especially in games, where the medium never really had a significant period of existence before it became hyper commercialised) are likely to object to the notion of those being mutually exclusive. That's mostly because there's a sense that you can't do the former and be sustainable without embracing the latter.

In my mind, that further highlights why there's value in some kind of distinction that helps normalise/signal making stuff without the intent to squeeze every sale possible out of it, but my perspectives rarely align with everybody else's (as we can see from other replies, many people are fixating on the word "artistic" rather than the concept itself).


The issue isn't people being defensive Because Games, it's that there is a massive gulf between games that can be classified as purely commercial and games that can be classified as purely artistic. Just because you can point to games like Call of Duty or Gone Home that fit very neatly into one category, that doesn't change the fact that many games, maybe even most games, especially on, are an awkward fit for either.

Where would you class Hyper Light Drifter? Or Pillars of Eternity? Or Dark Souls? Or Monument Valley? Where would you class something like a basic flash game, where there's no serious artistic intent, but no possibility of making money? Is there anything coherent in calling Mystery of Time and Space a commercial game? 

I get that sometimes you're really just looking for games with serious artistic intent, or games that are mindless time-wasters, but what you're proposing is that somehow all games be categorized into a binary classification that immediately forecloses on any room for nuance.

Hyper Light Drifter, Pillars of Eternity, and Dark Souls are all commercial, what? They're made to be enjoyable, playable games that give you a certain number of hours of entertainment that you want to pay money for. Monument Valley is still more towards commercial than artistic, but it could go in both because as I've said a dozen times in this thread, it's not mutually exclusive. Flash games? Well if they're not trying to be commercial games, if they're not intending to get your attention and get you to play them for the fun of it and entertain you, then they're artistic. It's not about whether something has "artistic merit" or whatever BS arbitrary measurement someone wants to try and put on it, when it comes down to it, it's about whether a game is trying to be commercially viable or not. But I thought that would be a more confusing way to phrase things because I figured people would get less hung up on commercial vs artistic than commercial vs non-commercial.

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Your initial post did not say that you can have both, and your opening paragraph explicitly states that you think these two are in direct conflict. When I made this post I did not see your post where you elucidated that in your proposal they would not be mutually exclusive.

If the system works in this way, then I've got no strong philosophical objection to it. My only suggestion would be to have "neither" as an option in addition to "both", since I think trashgames would pretty comfortably fit in that category.

At this point my real critique would be that I don't know how effective it would be at addressing the problem you're trying to address. The artgames tag already exists, so if the problem is that you're having a hard time finding art games, then how would adding a different way to tag your game as an artgame fix the problem that people aren't tagging their artgames as artgames?

And what about the backlog? The majority of content on any free-to-upload platform is going to be hit-and-run uploads, stuff that the original creators are no longer maintaining, so probably the vast majority of games released before the new feature is introduced will never be updated to use it.

I'm having a hard time understanding what the problem even is that you're trying to address.

My bad, I've edited the post to better reflect that point.

As for the problem I'm trying to address and how this would help, as I and others have said in here, trying to find games that are trying to be commercially viable and entertaining vs games that are explicitly non-commercial and experimental is difficult. Yes I could use the artgames tag but 1) it's a vague enough term that many games that are non-commercial don't fit into it, or are on the blurry edges, and 2) it's not prominently displayed anywhere - you'd effectively need to know about it to use it, and 3) You can't negate tags in the itch search, so you can't filter out the games that do know about the tag and have decided they fit in that category if you're looking for commercial games.

By making the tags prominent and official, it makes it significantly easier for a newcomer to find a jumping off point and funnel down to the games they actually want, instead of meeting resistance when they just want a fun FPS and have to wade through a ton of 7DFPS jam games, and vice versa.

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I have no idea what "The issue isn't people being defensive Because Games" means, but I'm not so sure that you're grocking the angle that I am coming from (and what I interpret as the concept that Fenreliania is putting forward). As a creator, I have interests in being better able to signal which of my projects I've developed/released with the intention of them being "commercially viable", and which I'm just open to letting people pay me for. As a player, I'm interested in that too, though I'm more interested in individual developers' views of their own works than I am in any rules or systems.

Asking where lines should be drawn, and as I said, whether something objectively has artistic merit or intent isn't relevant - my hope was to highlight that we're not talking about a sliding scale from "commercialised" to "artistic" here...


It's hard to distinguish betwen artistic and commercial. And most of the time is very subjective.

Maybe it could be Projects / Commercial?

But I like the softer change that you propose, there has gonna be wider solution for creator to display their game.

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I passionately hate this idea and would never, ever use it, for all of the objections raised above. I am never not being "artistic" when I'm making my games, but I'm also rarely not considering the commercial feasibility of the project.

I absolutely understand where you're coming from as a consumer, I get the spirit of what you're asking and I don't think it's stupid, it's just that as a creator I would firmly object to having to classify my projects one way or the other.


It's genre fiction versus literary fiction all over again, except in reverse. And it makes just as little sense in gaming.

Again, there is no "choosing". You can choose both if you really think they apply. And again, maybe "artistic" isn't the right word for how it's used right now, but if you're making a game that you want to be commercially viable you probably aren't making Mu Cartographer or Strawberry Cubes or Slap Game. It's not "Oh all these commercial games are so soulless and unartistic" but the goal of making a commercial game is in line with the status quo of how people expect to be entertained and get enjoyment, while the games that, by more traditional definitions, are being made "for the art of it" are generally so far removed from that goal, and these two things are absolutely choking each other out.

What would be the alternative? Just make a "commercial games" category and everything else is just everything else? What word would you use to describe "games that are trying to experiment with the medium, not entertain you"?

If you can choose both, and assuming these aren't tags but a separate system, then that kind of incentivizes everybody to choose both to increase the number of search results their game turns up in, but itch's culture isn't quite that mercenary, so let's just set that aside.

Choosing both definitely makes it less objectionable, but it also seems like it would make it less useful. I just don't foresee a system like that pruning too many results unless you search for games that exclusively use one tag.

I don't imagine that tagging with both would help? Like by that standard you might as well tag your game with every genre too, or at least the popular ones. The thing is if you put yourself in the "artistic" side of things, people expect something from it, and you're theoretically "competing" with everyone else in that tag. Less of a concern for most artistic games than for commercial games. Meanwhile, good luck getting anything from tagging your artistic game as commercial. People will judge it on criteria it isn't aiming for, and at best you'll get a couple of purchases maybe? And then maybe refunds?

There are games that do both, and some successfully so. But they know what they are, they know what they're trying to do. They're not Slap Game trying to sell itself.

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I'm frustrated by some of the cadence in this thread, namely the knee-jerk reaction of needing to defend commercial games as art. I don't feel the OP is at all suggesting these aren't artistic, or somehow lesser, only that there are some fundamental differences to the goals of a non-commercial game and a commercial one. Specifically in how certain genre conventions and accepted norms are more easily deviated from in an "artistic" game that does not have to concern itself with how much appeal it will have to a potential buyer. These are the sorts of games I primarily visit Itch for but they're not often easily found or brought to the surface in the current search systems.  

I would personally appreciate having a more clear divide in the intent/context of a game's creation, as a way of more simply finding a specific type of game. I like the tag system for what it is and I've been able to find some of what I'm looking for through the artgame & experimental tags but having something as the OP describes, even if it's not necessarily an "artistic" vs "commercial" divide would enable more game creators to specify their aspirations for the art they produce. If nothing else, I think it's an idea worth considering as Itch grows and gains the attention of more developers seeking storefronts as avenues for commercial success/sustainability. 


Thank you, that's a more eloquent and clear description of what I was trying to say.

I like the idea in concept, but I do think it's very difficult to implement in a way that benefits both developers and consumers.

As others have said, artistic is definitely the wrong word, but that doesn't hurt the overall idea at all. I think it's just a difficult problem.

Might be something that's best solved by having an external blog/network/aggregator that promotes 'artistic' games specifically?