Survival game

Last updated
A small shelter (left) constructed by the player in the survival game Minetest 2012-10-20-152616 800x597 scrot.png
A small shelter (left) constructed by the player in the survival game Minetest

Survival games are a sub-genre of action video games, usually set in hostile, intense, open-world environments. Players generally begin with minimal equipment and are required to survive as long as possible by crafting tools, weapons, shelters, and collecting resources. Many survival games are based on randomly or procedurally generated persistent environments; more recently, survival games are often playable online, allowing players to interact in a single world. Survival games are generally open-ended with no set goals and often closely related to the survival horror genre, where the player must survive within a supernatural setting, such as a zombie apocalypse.



Survival games are considered an extension of a common video game theme where the player character is stranded or separated from others and must work alone to survive and complete a goal. Survival games focus on the survival parts of these games, while encouraging exploration of an open world. [1] They are primarily action games, though some gameplay elements present in the action-adventure genre—such as resource management and item crafting—are commonly found in survival games, and are central elements in titles like Survival Kids . At the start of a typical survival game, the player is placed alone in the game's world with few resources. It is not uncommon for players to spend the majority or entirety of the game without encountering a friendly non-player character; since NPCs are typically hostile to the player, the emphasis is placed on avoidance, rather than confrontation. In some games, however, combat is unavoidable and provides the player with valuable resources (e.g., food, weapons, and armor).

In some titles, the world is generated randomly so that players must actively search for food and weapons, often provided with visual and auditory cues of the types of resources that may be found nearby. [2] The player character typically has a health bar and will take damage from falling, starving, drowning, contact with fire or harmful substances, and attacks by monsters that inhabit the world. Other metrics related to the player-character's vulnerability to the game world may also come into play. [3] For example, the survival title Don't Starve , for example, features a separate hunger gauge and a sanity meter, which will cause the death of the character if allowed to deplete. Character death may not be the end of the game, however – the player may be able to respawn and return to the game location at which their character died in order to retrieve lost equipment. Other survival games use permadeath: the character has one life, and dying requires that the game be restarted. [2] While many survival games are aimed at constantly putting the player at risk from hostile creatures or the environment, others may downplay the amount of danger the player faces and instead encourage more open-world gameplay, where player character death can still occur if the player is not careful or properly equipped. [4]

Player experience

Survival games are almost always playable as a single-player game, but many are designed to be played in multiplayer, with game servers hosting the persistent world that players can connect to. The open-ended nature of these games encourages players to work together to survive against the elements and other threats that the game may pose. When there are no opposing players within the same world, this dynamic is often referred to as player versus environment or PvE, whereas when opposing players are present within the same world, it is known as player versus player or PvP. This generally leads to players forming alliances, constructing fortified structures and working together to protect themselves from both the dangers presented by the game's world and the other players' characters. [5]


Making a pickaxe through the crafting interface in Minetest Minetest crafting menu with stone pickaxe.png
Making a pickaxe through the crafting interface in Minetest

Many survival games feature crafting; by combining two or more resources, the player can create a new object, which can be used for further crafting. [2] Other games can use just one resource to create another, like Subnautica . This enables gameplay where the player collects resources to craft new tools, which in turn allow them to obtain better resources, which can then, again, be used to obtain better tools and weapons.

A common example is the creation of pick-axes of various levels of hardness: wooden pick-axes may allow stone to be mined but not metallic ores; however, a pick-axe made from collected stone can be used to mine these metallic ores. The same concept applies to weapons and armor, with better offensive and defense bonuses provided by items made from materials which are more difficult to acquire. The crafting system often includes durability factors for tools and weapons, causing the tool to break after a certain amount of usage. Crafting systems may not give the player the necessary recipes for crafting, requiring for them to be learned through experimentation or from game guides.


There is rarely a winning condition for survival games: the challenge is to last as long as possible, though some games set a goal for survival time. As such, there is rarely any significant story in these games beyond establishing the reason why the player character has found themselves in the survival situation. Some survival games provide quests, which help the player learn the game's mechanics and lead them to more dangerous areas, where better resources can be found. Because of the open-world nature and crafting systems, some games allow for user-made structures to be built. Minecraft , for example, allows players to place blocks to construct crude shelters for protection, but as they gather more resources and readily survive, players can create massive structures from the game's building blocks, often modeling real-world and fictional buildings. Survival games typically feature non-replenishing resources, though the player can take steps to allow new resources to generate. For example, in Terraria , chopping down a tree will eliminate that tree, but the player can replant seeds, allowing new trees to grow. [6]

Presentation and mechanics

The top-down grid view of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead CDDA recharger.png
The top-down grid view of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead

Many survival games are presented in the first-person perspective to help immerse the player in the game. Other titles use other methods of presentation: games like Terraria and Starbound are presented in two-dimensional side views, while Don't Starve uses sprites rendered in a three-dimensional isometric projection. Furthermore, while survival games are considered action games, there are other genres that feature the survival theme, such as the turn-based role-playing games Dead State and NEO Scavenger , and the story-driven first-person shooter series S.T.A.L.K.E.R. . [7] Survival mechanics, particularly resource gathering, hunting, and crafting, have also been incorporated into games in other genres, such as 2013's Tomb Raider and the Far Cry series. [1]


In a general sense, survival elements have been around since the beginning of the video game industry. The basic concept of survival can be found in sports video games (as early as Pong in 1972), fighting games and adventure games, [8] while survival scenarios can be found in classic arcade action games (such as Space Invaders in 1978 and Pac-Man in 1980) and survival horror games (such as Resident Evil in 1996). [9] A more specific modern survival game genre began to emerge in the 1990s, but was not clearly defined until the early 21st century.

An early example of the survival game genre is UnReal World , which was created by Sami Maaranen in 1992 and is still in active development. The rogue-like game used ASCII graphics and placed the player in the harsh conditions of Finland during the Iron Age. Unlike traditional Roguelike games, where there was a goal to reach, UnReal World's only goal was to survive as long as possible against wild creatures and the dangers that the snowy weather created. [10] Another early example of the survival game genre is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System game SOS , released by Human Entertainment in 1993. [11]

Wurm Online contains elements that have ultimately influenced a number of survival games.[ citation needed ] Being a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), the game sets players as characters in a medieval setting, allows them to terraform the land, create buildings, and effectively develop their own kingdoms. Rolf Jansson and Markus Persson began the initial development of the game in 2003, and although Persson left around 2007,[ ambiguous ] the game is still in active development. [10] Persson became instrumental in developing Minecraft , which many[ who? ] consider to have popularised the survival game genre. [10] From its initial public release in 2009, Minecraft focuses on resource-gathering and crafting in a procedurally-generated world, and requires the player to defend themselves during night cycles while gathering resources at other times. [10]

Another key title in the survival genre was DayZ . It was originally released as a mod for ARMA 2 in 2012, but was later released as a standalone game, making over $5 million in one day once it became available. [12] The game sets the players in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, where they must avoid hordes of zombies while scavenging through the remains of human civilization for resources. [10] As a result of the financial success of Minecraft and DayZ, numerous titles of the survival genre were released from 2012 onward. Some[ who? ] believe that the market has become saturated with titles based on the same post-apocalyptic setting, clones of more popular titles, and titles released as a quick attempt to make money using early access models. [13] [14] The research firm SuperData estimated that survival games brought in over $400 million in revenue over the first six months of 2017, making the genre one of the largest markets in the video game industry. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Survival horror Subgenre of action-adventure video games

Survival horror is a subgenre of action-adventure and horror video games that focuses on survival of the character as the game tries to frighten players with either horror graphics or scary ambience. Although combat can be part of the gameplay, the player is made to feel less in control than in typical action games through limited ammunition or weapons, health, speed and vision, or through various obstructions of the player's interaction with the game mechanics. The player is also challenged to find items that unlock the path to new areas and solve puzzles to proceed in the game. Games make use of strong horror themes, like dark mazelike environments and unexpected attacks from enemies.

Action game Action video game genre

An action game is a video game genre that emphasizes physical challenges, including hand–eye coordination and reaction-time. The genre includes a large variety of sub-genres, such as fighting games, beat 'em ups, shooter games and platform games. Multiplayer online battle arena and some real-time strategy games are also considered action games.

Action-adventure game Action-adventure video game genre

Action-adventure is a video game genre that combines core elements from both the action game and adventure game genres.

A programming game is a video game that incorporates elements of computer programming, enabling the player to direct otherwise autonomous units within the game to follow commands in a domain-specific programming language, often represented as a visual language to simplify the programming metaphor. Programming games broadly fall into two areas: single-player games where the programming elements either make up part of or the whole of a puzzle game, and multiplayer games where the player's automated program is pitted against other players' programs.

Procedural generation Method in which data is created algorithmically as opposed to manually

In computing, procedural generation is a method of creating data algorithmically as opposed to manually, typically through a combination of human-generated assets and algorithms coupled with computer-generated randomness and processing power. In computer graphics, it is commonly used to create textures and 3D models. In video games, it is used to automatically create large amounts of content in a game. Depending on the implementation, advantages of procedural generation can include smaller file sizes, larger amounts of content, and randomness for less predictable gameplay. Procedural generation is a branch of media synthesis.

<i>Sweet Home</i> (video game) 1989 survival horror role-playing video game

Sweet Home is a survival horror role-playing video game developed and published by Capcom for the Family Computer in 1989. It is based on the Japanese horror film of the same name and tells the story of a team of five filmmakers exploring an old mansion in search of precious frescos hidden there. As they explore the mysterious mansion, they encounter hostile ghosts and other supernatural enemies. The player must navigate the intricately laid out mansion, battling with the enemies, and also a permadeath system to keep the player characters alive with the limited weapons and health restorative items available.

Construction and management simulation (CMS), sometimes also called management sim or building sim, is a subgenre of simulation game in which players build, expand or manage fictional communities or projects with limited resources. Strategy video games sometimes incorporate CMS aspects into their game economy, as players must manage resources while expanding their project. Pure CMS games differ from strategy games, however, in that "the player's goal is not to defeat an enemy, but to build something within the context of an ongoing process." Games in this category are sometimes also called "management games".

A sandbox game is a video game with a gameplay element that gives the player a great degree of creativity to complete tasks towards a goal within the game, if such a goal exists. Some games exist as pure sandbox games with no objectives. These are also known as non-games or software toys. More often, sandbox games result from these creative elements being incorporated into other genres and allowing for emergent gameplay. Sandbox games are often associated with an open world concept which gives the player freedom of movement and progression in the game's world. The "sandbox" term derives from the nature of a sandbox that lets children create nearly anything they want within it.

<i>Dead Space</i> (franchise) Science fiction/horror video game series and multimedia franchise

Dead Space is a science fiction/horror media franchise created by Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, developed by Visceral Games, and published and owned by Electronic Arts. The franchise's chronology is not presented in a linear format; each installment in the Dead Space franchise is a continuation or addition to a continuing storyline, with sections of the storyline presented in prequels or sequels, sometimes presented in other media from the originating video game series, which includes two films and several comic books and novels.

<i>Minecraft</i> 2011 video game

Minecraft is a sandbox video game developed by the Swedish video game developer Mojang Studios. The game was created by Markus "Notch" Persson in the Java programming language. Following several early private testing versions, it was first made public in May 2009 before fully releasing in November 2011, with Jens Bergensten then taking over development. Minecraft has since been ported to several other platforms and is the best-selling video game of all time, with over 200 million copies sold and over 140 million monthly active users as of 2021.

<i>FortressCraft</i> 2011 video game

FortressCraft is a video game by British indie developer Projector Games, released on Xbox Live Indie Games on April 8, 2011. FortressCraft cites Minecraft, Infiniminer and Dwarf Fortress as direct inspirations for the design aspect of the game. The game utilizes textured voxels to simulate landscapes, traditionally reminiscent of other titles in the genre.

Terraria is an action-adventure sandbox game developed by Re-Logic. The game was first released for Microsoft Windows on May 16, 2011, and has since been ported to several other platforms. The game features exploration, crafting, building, painting, and combat with a variety of creatures in a procedurally generated 2D world. Terraria received generally positive reviews, with praise given to its sandbox elements. The game had sold over 35 million copies by the end of 2020.

<i>Fortnite: Save the World</i> Co-op sandbox survival game developed by Epic Games

Fortnite: Save the World is a cooperative hybrid-third-person shooter tower defense survival video game developed and published by Epic Games. The game was released as a paid-for early access title for Microsoft Windows, macOS, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on July 25, 2017, with plans for a full free-to-play release announced in late 2018. Epic eventually opted to move the game to pay-to-play in June 2020. The retail versions of the game were published by Gearbox Software, while online distribution of the PC versions is handled by Epic's launcher.

<i>7 Days to Die</i> 2013 video game

7 Days to Die is an early access survival horror video game set in an open world developed by The Fun Pimps. It was released through Early Access on Steam for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X on December 13, 2013, and for Linux on November 22, 2014. Versions for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were released in 2016 through Telltale Publishing, but are no longer being developed.

<i>The Forest</i> (video game) 2018 first-person survival horror video game

The Forest is a survival horror video game developed and published by Endnight Games. The game takes place on a remote, heavily forested peninsula where the player character Eric Leblanc and his son Timmy are survivors of a plane crash. The game features nonlinear gameplay in an open world environment played from a first-person perspective, with no set missions or quests, empowering the player to make their own decisions for survival. Following a four-year long early access beta phase, the game was released for Microsoft Windows in April 2018, and for the PlayStation 4 in November 2018. The game was a commercial success, selling over five million copies by the end of 2018. A sequel game, Sons of the Forest, is under development.

A Minecraft mod is an independent, user-made modification to the Mojang video game Minecraft. Tens of thousands of these mods exist, and users can download them from the internet for free. Utilizing additional software, several mods are typically able to be used at the same time in order to enhance gameplay. The Minecraft modding community is one of the most active modding communities. Its mods are one of the main reasons behind Minecraft's overall success.

Survival Concept; act of surviving

Survival, or the act of surviving, is the propensity of something to continue existing, particularly when this is done despite conditions that might kill or destroy it. The concept can be applied to humans and other living things, to physical object, and to abstract things such as beliefs or ideas. Living things generally have a self-preservation instinct to survive, while objects intended for use in harsh conditions are designed for survivability. Survival tools can be anything from water filter bottles to tactical self-defence pens and even a smartphone can act as a survival tool.

<i>Survivalcraft</i> Sandbox video game

Survivalcraft is a 2011 open sandbox video game developed by Marcin Igor Kalicinski under the brand Candy Rufus Games. Following early test versions, it was released on 16 November 2011 for the Windows Phone, and is also available for Android, iOS, and Microsoft Windows. The game is set on a deserted island in an open world, where the player collects resources and items that can be made into survival tools. The game has four different game modes: Challenging, Cruel, Harmless, and Creative, of which the first three involve the player gathering necessary resources to stay alive. The Creative mode gives the player unlimited items and health.

A horror game is a video game genre centered on horror fiction and typically designed to scare the player. Unlike most other video game genres, which are classified by their gameplay, horror games are nearly always based on narrative or visual presentation, and use a variety of gameplay types.


  1. 1 2 Macdonald, Keza (January 1, 2014). "6 OF THE BEST SURVIVAL GAMES". IGN . Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 Lane, Rick (July 5, 2013). "VIRTUAL SELECTION: THE RISE OF THE SURVIVAL GAME". IGN . Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  3. Stuart, Keith (October 11, 2021). "Dungeon crawler or looter shooter? Nine video game genres explained". The Guardian . Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  4. Roberts, Samual (September 9, 2015). "No Man's Sky: how to play a game with 18 quintillion worlds". PC Gamer . Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  5. Ross, Andrew (May 8, 2014). "Rust, H1Z1, and the emerging 'survival MMO' genre". Engadget . Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  6. Hillier, Brenna (23 February 2015). "Dying Light and the survival renaissance". VG247.
  7. Burford, GB (February 4, 2015). "Most Survival Games Have Problems That S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Solved Long Ago". Kotaku AU. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  8. Arai, Kohei; Kapoor, Supriya (23 April 2019). Advances in Computer Vision: Proceedings of the 2019 Computer Vision Conference (CVC), Volume 2. Springer Science+Business Media. p. 374. ISBN   978-3-030-17798-0.
  9. Hand, Richard J. (2004). "Proliferating Horrors: Survival Horror and the Resident Evil Franchise". Horror Film. University Press of Mississippi. p. 121. ISBN   978-1-61703-411-4.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Smith, Graham (October 20, 2014). "Survival Games Are Important". Rock Paper Shotgun . Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  11. Kurt Kalata, SOS / Septentrion (プテントリオン) - Super NES (1993), Hardcore Gaming 101
  12. "DayZ's standalone release made more than $5 million in one day". VentureBeat. 2013-12-18. Retrieved 2021-01-22.
  13. "Has the open world survival genre run its course?". PC Gamer . March 27, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  14. Orr, Lucy (February 4, 2014). "The revival of survival – the gaming genre that refuses to die". The Register . Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  15. Wilson, Jason (August 17, 2017). "PC Gaming Weekly: the magic of the $398 million survival game market". Venture Beat . Retrieved August 18, 2017.