What makes a game good?

The recent discussion about scores on the forum made me remember this blog post that I meant to share:

What Makes Games Good?

It’s an excellent article, just for the way Tom Francis describes the various criteria that he sets for himself when thinking about a game (Challenge, Feel, Freedom, Place, Promise, and Fantasy), and the effort to think critically about games (rather than label them good or bad, and any analysis beyond that is just “unquantifiable pixie dust”).

But I also appreciated the implication that this is his list of criteria he uses when thinking about games. It might not be yours. For example, sense of place is something that I value highly in games as well, but I’d go further and say that sense of Discovery is big for me, and I think that is related, but distinct, from just the sense of place.

What are your criteria?

Being able to crush your enemies, see them driven before you … and hear the lamentations of their women.

I see someone else had the same reflex in the comments.

The article is OK - kind of navelgazey. I don’t feel that he has addressed anything particularly unique; bit more like an off-the-cuff top five list unifying some erratic thoughts he’s had on various areas of the industry.

The article forgot to comment the idea of “redeeming features”.

Like… Saint Rows 2 in some sense is a bad GTA, because the shooting is lame, and the driving is atrocious. But as a sandbox is amazing, you can park your car anywhere in the city, and the weird stuff that happens will entertain you, like if where a edited youtube video of “fun home videos”. On top of that, you can go anywhere and do anything… in a big city. From the start all the missions are unlocked, so you are presented a gigantic menu of fun stuff to do.

Without considering redeeming features, a game like SR2 is much worse than GTA IV, but considering redeeming features, GTA IV is a much worse game than SR2.

The problem of this is that sends the message that making videogames with bugs is Ok. Not true, bugs are not Ok, most bugs ruin games. But It happens that sometimes a game is in some weird magic land, where even the bugs are epic.

Well, it is his blog after all ;).

What makes a game good?

One that tickles my grundel.


It depends on the genre and type of game for me - also depends on what my expectations are. Obviously if I’ve played several games in a series that I love and the next one changes an element which was for ME a key element then I could have a lower opinion of that game than someone who holds a different element of the game in high regard.

I’m not a fan of FPS games so one could be called the greatest game ever made and still have no appeal for me.

I know it’s oversimplification if I say, “it just has to be good” but that’s what it comes down to for me. I’m a huge fan of story in games but that doesn’t mean that a game with a poor or lackluster story but a nicely done gameplay element won’t appeal to me. Many D & D games come to mind, especially TOEE.

I love high production values and cutting edge visuals but that doesn’t mean it’s a criteria especially when I’m still playing games like Wizardry 8 and Might of Magic IV and SNES era RPGs.

Good characters in a game can really do a lot for me but at the same time I’m a huge fan of Japanese RPGs which can often have poorly written/defined characters. And back to what I said about expectations, I can pick a game off the bargain rack that sold poorly and got mediocre reviews and because I paid $10 for it and didn’t expect much it could turn out to surprise me. It’s happened many times.

I guess Jorune said it better than I did… though I’m not exactly sure what a “grundel” is.

All I ask of a game is that it has interactivity. If it succeeds at that basic task, every other aesthetic quality the game offers is open to subjective judgement.

For me a good game is easy to learn, hard to master, and every play makes me feel like I’ve improved in some way.

A game is good if I like it.

Next question.

I don’t understand this statement. Are you saying that if it weren’t for it’s good qualities, SR2 would be a bad game? I think the shooting in SR2 is better than GTA IV. The driving isn’t better, but almost everything else about the game (except for the story and acting) is superior to GTAIV. SR2 is what GTAIV should have been.

What makes a game good for me is some mysterious synergy between the gameplay, the graphics and art design, the fx, the lore, the audio, the music, and even the UI, that makes me feel deeply immersed and enter into a trance state so that I forget my miserable, pathetic real life existence, if only for a few moments.

A game has to be fun to play. Anything that detracts from that, whether it be gameplay, graphics, storyline, etc. reduces that fun but may not completely eliminate it.

A good game should be unique in some way, not one of a kind unique but have something that sets it apart.

A good game should have some replay value.

A good game should be like a good book and draw you in and make you think about it and make you look forward to your next opportunity to play.

Imagine a game that would leave Molyneux speechless.

UI needs to be good enough to get stuff done. And to let me know what things need to be done, or why the thing I want done can’t be done.

Game needs to be complicated. Complicated is not the same thing as moving around a bunch of units every turn.

Game needs to have multiple ways to approach any problem. If I’ve only got one solution to a given in game problem, then I’ve got a problem that shouldn’t be in the game because it’s not stimulating thinking, it’s wasting my time as I implement my only option.

If a game allows you to automate a feature that it wants you to do manually, there’s a good chance that feature shouldn’t have been included in the game in the first place. Automation is a band aid for a crappy feature, not a smart solution to something. See EU3 merchants.

Cutscenes. I don’t care. Shut up. Shut Up. SHUT UP. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SHUT UP WHY CAN’T I SKIP YOU. Alternatively, why can’t I pause you? Also, cutscenes that play again after a load should die.


Rule of thumb for game devs: If a player can think up a reasonably simple macro that always performs the right action in a given situation, you’ve failed in some way. They’re not bad for writing a macro. You’re bad for creating a game a macro can play. People are not macros, do not ask them to do macro tasks.

Exactly the opposite: one that so engages my interest that I sit in my chair playing it until my entire undercarriage is numb.

Seriously, though: a good game is one in which an interesting game play mechanic is presented, and then repeated over and over to my amusement. A great game is one in which once I’ve mastered mechanic 1, mechanic 2 is presented, with an attendant new challenge (I can now jump higher) or a new entertainment value (I can now set people on fire). And then mechanic 3, etc. I’m talking about mechanics in the abstract - they can be new levels, skills, weapons, characters, etc. In a great game, a great soundtrack and great visuals present all of this in an evocative manner.

I would present Super Metroid or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as exemplars. More recently, Borderlands, Crackdown, and Fallout 3 have satisfied my criteria.

Any game where I can make bad guys get pissed off at other bad guys is a game I like. The Bioshocks are one of the best recent examples. Watching your foes wail on each other just never gets old.

In action games, I crave being able to manipulate the environment. Batman: Arkham Asylum is winning big points right now for giving me lots of hidey holes and crafty misdirection tools to screw with baddies’ heads. It doesn’t hurt that the fighting system is tuned to a miraculous pitch.

In fact, one might as well list one’s favorite recent games, and why:

  • Portal 2: unbelievably good writing, absolutely ingenious spatial/puzzle mechanics, relentless attention to design so the challenge/reward curve was arced perfectly.

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum: rich environment, many tools to manipulate enemy behavior, awesome fighting system, great integration of gameplay with character.

  • Supreme Commander 2: large scale, well-designed interface allowing much automation, incredible on-screen carnage during peak battles.

Hm, looks like there are a whole bunch of things that contribute to Teh Funz0rz. But I agree that possibly one of the most fundamental meta-characteristics might be called progressive enrichment. The game gives you some simple problems and some simple tools; once you’ve become adept at those, the game adds harder problems and gives you harder tools, and so on, increasing the complexity and depth of your involvement with the game world.

Really all this comes down to the game’s success at inducing a flow state. Various games have various means for achieving this (twin-stick shooters do it by steadily ramping up the number / diversity of enemies; RPGs do it by progressively building your character and giving you larger fights; strategy games do it by expanding your available roster and ramping the scale of your opposition; etc.).

But it boils down to preserving a steadily escalating equation between the challenges the game presents, and your skill at meeting those challenges. That’s what produces the Qt3 Effect, also known as “gamelock”, that is the most essential defining characteristic of a great game.