From Grand Theft Auto V to Fortnite, computer games continue on an upward trajectory, especially in the past few decades. However, despite this growth, there are gaming genres that arguably remain within the shadows with potential that is yet to be fully unlocked, namely 4X games. In 2021, it was reported that 4X games increased in popularity by a little over 11% in the US market. However, although this genre of gaming is expanding, it is clear that its complex mechanisms are yet to be fully understood and embraced by the majority of gamers.
What are 4X games?
Picture this: It’s 1993, videogames are trending, as an avid game enthusiast yourself you’ve just received your monthly copy of Computer Gaming World magazine, excited to get the latest details on the latest 4X game Master of Orion. Whilst reading through it, you stumble on an article preview by game writer and designer, Alan Emrich. The rating he gave the game . . . ‘XXXX’.
Still have absolutely no idea what 4X games are? No problem! They are simply a subgenre of strategy-based games which heavily rely on tactical gameplay. Generally speaking, the main goal of playing a 4X game is to build a nation where the player is tasked with making decisions that are not only meaningful to the game but can also bring technological and economic developments to their empire. Essentially, this is a deep-focus game that requires substantial amounts of planning and tactful thinking.
When Emrich coined the term 4X he used it as a play on words to describe the flow of strategic games such as ‘Master of Orion’ and ‘Civilization’. He described these games as having four key elements which involved players applying their imagination by eXploring maps, eXploiting resources, eXpanding their empire, and ultimately eXterminating their enemies.
What makes the mechanisms behind 4X games so complex?
Although 4X games are generally complex in nature, they invoke the true meaning of an immersive gaming experience. The game’s mechanisms are dictated by its game designers who orchestrate a series of events that empower the player on a macro level. Interestingly, this relationship between game designer and player is what Emrich proposes as the fifth ‘X’, eXperience. In short, this player-driven narrative is core to the 4X game experience, and its complexity and unpredictability contribute to making the game so engaging to players.
Players are given extensive control over economy and trade, militarily might, scientific and technological research, and governmental policy that aid in empire development. The tactical intricacy of these strategy-based games is interwoven with the personal decision-making of players as they work to govern and build a functioning human society, with each choice made yielding cultural-political consequences.
Why 4X games continue to experience growth
Though the 4X gaming market is very niche it still operates like many other gaming sectors which is essentially a recipe for growth. For example, casino sites provide specific themes that cater to the interests of gamers who like to play bingo slots online. Sites like this offer a variety of colorful games such as ‘Cleocatra’ and ‘Flip Royale’. These games cater to their audience’s needs as they are fast-paced and creative, keeping the players engaged and willing to interact with them.
In a very similar way, 4X games offer niche audiences strategy games that are based on immersive plotlines. For instance, one of the most established and popular franchises is Civilization, which has sold well over 33 million copies of its game. ‘Civilization’ included pollution and global warming mechanics as a way to allow its players to understand the consequences of war and mass production.
Ultimately, as players continue to discover, explore, and expand, they are encouraged to write their own stories. 4X games continue to thrive as its complex nature is an intrinsic part of its appeal to players. Moreover, because the mechanisms of a 4X game are adaptable it means that only a fraction of its potential is being utilized, hence it’s intriguing just how far a 4X game can go in the future.