When taking a look at any artistic medium, be it visual, audial or in my case interactive, their comes up the issue of what would be considered “good”. The entire video game review market, from websites to magazines, is based around this concept of good games and bad games. Recently, Mario Galaxy has been released for the Nintendo Wii console and has been getting very positive reviews from most game review outlets. But this brings up the question….What makes a “good” game?
The issue, for me, is that it depends on who is answering the question. Are you asking a player, a content artist, a business person or a game designer?
For the player, replay ability seems to be the number one factor when determining a good game. Of course, game play and graphics are also placed into consideration, but money invested into the game needs to be rewarded with replay value. This is why online, multiplayer functionality is one of the top features gamers look for in games. Halo 3, for example, has a small, single player campaign. The $59.99 is viable for gamers, though, because of online capabilities. The console market has taken this to heart, with most games now featuring at least some aspect of online capability, be it purchasing extra content or featuring extra content. Of course, the PC market has taken advantage of this feature for many years, which is why you can see people still playing more computer games than console games for multiple years. Since online content changes the game (just look at any ESRB rating on an online game) and provides interaction with other players, the replay factor of the game increases.
The multimedia aspect of the game is probably the largest consideration for a good game from a content artists perspective. Content artist, such as modelers and animators, check out how the game “looks and feels” from a visual and audial aspect. This does affect some of the player’s judging of a good game. You can hear people talking about the “killer graphics” in games like Crysis, when they have not even played the game yet. The multimedia aspect will wear thin over time, as it becomes part of the game. One such game I’ve been playing recently which is very appealing to the content artist side of me is Team Fortress 2. The game’s ability to create a cartoonish reality, reminiscent of Pixar’s animation style, makes the characters in the game more lifelike and personable.
Profit. End of story. Good games are games which allow investors to make back the money they have invested into the game. This is not a bad thing, by any means. Without money, games of the caliber we have seen in the past decade could not be made. Of course, Greg Costikyan’s Death to the Game Industry (Part I and II) does have valid points to be made about the current business model of the industry. But, the good game for a business person is the one that will make a profit. Profit allows the company to continue and make more games, which can never be seen as a bad thing. I do, however, want to point out that horrible games can be “good” from this perspective. I’ve been looking around for the sales figures on “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing” to prove my point
Finally, the lowly designer. The person not interested in how a game looks, but the experience that you walk away from the game with. For the designer, good games are ones that bring innovation to the market. If you look at the key figures in the industry (Miyamoto, Wright, Meiers, Molyneux, etc), they are key because they brought innovative design to the industry. They also think and design in innovative ways. None of these designers have ever released something that wasn’t accepted as great by the industry, and the reason for this is their innovation. When I pick up a game for the first time, I always wonder what’s going to be different about this game than the others in the genre. That’s what designers do. They create new experiences to differentiate themselves from the rest of the plethora of games out there.
Like any other medium, the definition of good varies from person to person and year to year. Other mediums have developed a way for us to judge their work through a common vocabulary to be able to accurately discuss this with others. (Brenda has posted a topic about this on her blog). Any medium has the ability to place a price tag based off of whether a the art is good or not (A Picasso vs a Paint by Numbers). Because of the interactive nature of our medium, we are forced to compete on many levels, so it really does depend on who you ask.