[Game of the year list-making: it's not just for game journalists anymore. In a new monthly column, Gamasutra editor-in-chief Kris Graft explains how the exercise can be fun and useful for game developers.
Recently, the Gamasutra editorial team entered a very serious
debate: deciding what games would make our prestigious Gamasutra Editors' Choice Top 10 Games of 2011 list.
I'm not going to hint at what games did or did not make the list (it's not even finalized yet, so you'll have to wait till just before Christmas), but as usual with Gamasutra's annual Top Games rankings, there will probably be some surprising inclusions, as well as notable exclusions.
While it's a common, annual practice for video game publications, listing the best games of the past 12 months is an exercise that large or small game development groups should consider doing every year. You can even do it over a couple drinks after work, at a watering hole where it's safe to say things like, "The lack of mecha anime-based role-playing games was highly disappointing this year."
Ranking video games on a list amongst a group exposes how widely tastes may vary. Every year when Gamasutra editors get together to compile this list, it always surprises me just how much our gaming interests had diverged throughout the course of the year.
One editor might have closely followed Xbox Live Indie Games the entire year, while another ate up the big-budget first-person shooters. Another might feel that this was a standout year for handheld games, as another highlights some well-designed gems that came out of Japan.
And some people in your group might like really good games, while others apparently like games that are shitty. (But that's all a matter of opinion now, isn't it?)
You'll be able to share the kind of insight that might not typically come up on a daily basis during your work routine. Compiling a list opens up dialogue and debate among your friends and coworkers in which everyone can discuss the specific merits of the year's offerings. And in doing so, it helps reveal what elements your cohorts believe carry the most value in video games. A team leader could take note of these values and apply them to game creation.
The apparent gaming values that our staff held varied substantially. One of our staff argued during our list debate, "Flaws make [games] interesting. [The developer] tried doing new things while other people just made sequels that were the same game as what they made last year, only nicer." For that editor, originality holds perhaps even more value than execution.
Meanwhile, one editor wanted to include a game on our list "mainly for the tech." Another argued that a particular game was "good because it does all kinds of things to address everybody's concerns with the genre, quietly and rather efficiently and effectively."
There were specific takeaways from Gamasutra's list-making meeting. The most notable is that the quality bar these days is rather disgustingly high. I don't need to tell you (but I'll reiterate) that standing out in today's video game industry is harder than it's ever been, and players -- game website editors included -- are, to an extent, desensitized to games that are "merely" well-executed.
Looking at the great games that we threw out of the top ten just drove home the fact that nice visuals, satisfying gameplay and coherent stories are becoming increasingly commonplace. There are plenty of games that didn't make the cut that are wonderful examples of interactive entertainment, and possess all things that are associated with "quality." But even though big unit sales and a high Metacritic score are excellent things to achieve, to truly stand out and leave a lasting mark on players who've seen everything, a game also needs personality and heart.
So, game of the year list-making is a revealing exercise that forces one to go to bat for a game by essentially explaining what makes it "good." It's likely that there will be instances where someone will convince you that a certain title has a lot more merit than you originally thought.
[If you actually find time to make a 2011 Game of the Year list, whether you're part of a one-man studio or a larger team, send it on over to kgraft at gamasutra dot com for a possible posting.