Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Good Game-

What is it that makes a game good?  I just finished reading a blog post on that issue by Tobold that talks about his views on the subject which essentially boil down to whether or not a game is entertaining.  He goes on to talk about how if a game is entertaining it is going to have big sales numbers so from his perspective it is reasonable to say a game is good if people buy it a lot.  Of course sometimes numbers get really messed up by marketing or other misconceptions so raw purchases are often going to be entirely misleading, but he does rely on subscription numbers to be useful.  I figure that if you want to measure the popularity of a game you will get a fine metric by looking at how many people are willing to pay for it month after month.

Tobold, being a reasonable sort of person, suggests that his definition is by no means universal and that other people might use other definitions.  This sort of behaviour is very much uncharacteristic of people making posts on the internet which is why I like his writing a lot.  He has opinions but tries to couch things in terms of points of view instead of Good Vs. Evil, which means he ends up being right a lot but not nearly as compelling as some of the more strident agitators out there.  I don't agree with his definition exactly because I put a lot of stock in analysis and replayability that is not necessarily well reflected in subscription numbers.  If a game has a ton of people paying to play but isn't very interesting to think about I don't give it a lot of credit.  It might be a bit of a stretch but slot machines have a ton of people who consistently go back to them to pull the handle and see what lights up but they are a good example of a wretched game.  No decision making, no skill, virtually no interaction, but yet the shiny lights and lure of the big payout are enough to keep the customers coming back year after year.  A little more on topic there are lots of war games out there that continue to sell copies and make money, particularly the miniature oriented ones, and yet usually it is completely obvious what the best units and strategies are and no real analysis needs to be done.

I feel like there is some kind of compromise necessary.  There are games out there where the skill required is high, the depth of strategy and thought possible is tremendous and yet nobody actually wants to play them.  Le Havre is a great example of this in the board game field; it is a great game and I could spend months trying to figure out the best possible choice in a given situation and mathing out the optimal route to play and yet the game takes 3-5 hours to complete so it is very difficult to actually get people to sit down and play.  Titan is very similar in that it has incredible depth and requires a large chunk of a day to complete so only the most hardcore players actually get to see any of it.  Heck, even Diplomacy fits in that category; so many gamers love the idea of it and never actually play it.

Of course by this compromise definition incorporating both depth of play and popularity the games I play are tops.  Warcraft, Starcraft and CiV are all huge moneymakers, all are massively popular, and all have extreme depth in both strategy and in game decision making.  I suspect that if you look for the game that is the pinnacle of monetary success in its field you will usually find one that has all of those things working for it; it is hard to be top dog without appealing to both casual and hardcore gamers.


  1. Are they all huge moneymakers in the overall sense? Compare Starcraft to games of the Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty games. Compare it to Pokemon and Nintendogs.

    SC2 is expected to bring in $350M this year, apparently. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 brought in $310M in the first day and is now well over $1B.

    Madden NFL apparently has over $3B in sales, but I suspect that's based on the yearly releases for close to 20 years.

    I can't find figures on Civ V yet, but I did find a site ranking recent weekly sales. In North America: Halo Reach, Civ V, FFXIV, Heavy Rain, SC2.

    In the UK: Civ V, Formula 1 2010, Formula 1 2010, Halo Reach, Formula 1 2010. (PS3, XBox, PC versions of the racing game...)

    In Japan: Pokemon Black, Pokemon White, Wii Party, Kurohyou, Halo Reach.

    I wish it were different. I wish the games I liked were also the games everyone else liked too, but they're not. More than twice as many people have bought Nintendogs than World of Warcraft. Something like 7 times as many people have bought a Pokemon game than WoW.

    The games we play simply aren't massively popular. WoW is certainly a huge moneymaker but your other examples aren't. (At least not relative to the competition.) And while we're particularly drawn to the types of strategy used in RPGs and RTSs it doesn't mean that shooters and sports games don't have a lot of strategy or decisions to make. They also tend to require a higher degree of physical skill.

    Nintendogs may not hit all of your criteria but I'd say games like Halo, Call of Duty, Madden, Grand Theft Auto, and even Pokemon are all higher by your compromise definition than Starcraft and Civ for sure.

  2. Ziggyny,

    Just to let you know you have a few numbers wrong there. The SC2 stats are for net profit not sales. But yes CD:MW2 did sell way more units but it is also a multi-platform game available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 which compared to SC2 for only PC is quite a bigger market grab.

    You're unfairly comparing games that have a larger potential customer base. So for any comparison to work you'll have to compare games that share the same market base. PS3 game vs PS3 game or CPU vs CPU.

    Although I do agree sport games have a large amount of complexity and skill. Unfortunately the payoff or satisfaction acquired from succeeding in those games just aren't what WoW/SC2/Civ5 players are looking for.

    FPS and Sports Games can also give you the quick fix. 15 min games as opposed to long hours grinding or playing (WoW etc.). Again attracts a different market and gives a different reason for it to be a good game. Honestly I think the best way to judge a good game is see how many of your friends own a copy and go from there :)


  3. My SC2 stats were for revenue, not profit, and projections for the whole year. To date they've 'only' sold 2.2M units. There's no way they possibly made $350M profit on 2.2M units.

    I don't think it's an unfair comparison at all. Sky isn't looking for a way to quantify the best PC game but the best game period. Popularity is one of his criteria.

  4. Yes, but it isn't entirely reasonable to compare the most popular game by comparing sales on all platforms against sales on one platform. If game A is available on all platforms and game B is only available on PC, the sensible way to compare them is to compare their sales records for PCs only. Otherwise you would end up concluding that a game that sold 2 million PC copies is worse than a game that sold 1 million PC copies and 1.1 million console copies and I think the reverse is almost certainly true. Obviously if games are released on different platforms comparisons become very difficult, just as comparing the quality of a particular movie vs. Starcraft would be questionable.

  5. There are numerous problems with that though. Most of these games aren't even available on PC and those that are on both PC and console are exceedingly unlikely to be bought on PC. If I have an xBox 360 and a PC and I want to get CD:MW2 it's not even a question in my mind... I'm getting it on the xBox.

    Also if a game is good enough then people will go out and buy the system to run it on.

    I can't find stats on it, but I'd actually bet there are more PCs capable of running SC2 than there are PS3s anyway, so the comparison is unfair the other way. For SC2 in particular I think including Korean sales in their numbers, which I have, is unfair against the other games. I doubt there are many people in Korea jumping on the Madden bandwagon, for example.

    A movie against Starcraft would be silly. They're obviously different forms of entertainment. Starcraft against Xenocide would be silly. Starcraft against Le Havre would be fairly silly. Starcraft against Halo is not silly. They're both video games. A gamer with some money to spend has to invest about the same amount to play either one assuming they're not poor. (This assume a PC that may need some upgrades like a video card or some RAM or the console itself but that they own a tv, etc...)

    Sure, some people already have the PC so they have to pay $50 for SC2 or $260 for Halo. Some already have an xBox so they have to spend $60 for Halo or $250 for SC2. But anyone who really wants to play one or the other will get it done.

  6. They haven't made $350 million on the current sales but projected for 7 million units. As you said "projected to bring in $350 million this year". Which is $50 profit on a $60 game. Which in terms of production costs sounds about right of course they aren't factoring development time into that equation. But for arguments sake you can say 7 million units works to $420 million for 6 months compared to $1 billion in 3 months that CD:MW2 did.

    Regardless the whole argument is moot you can't compare apples and oranges. Multi-platform vs 1 platform is extremely biased stats. If I'm selling pizzas 1 with cheese and 1 sans cheese to 10 friends including Sky and the Teacher. The sales market for the cheese pizza is %80 where as the sans cheese is 100%. Odds of selling more sans cheese are automatically higher but is it a better pizza? The only reliable comparison is comparing sales in matching markets ie. the 8 that will/can buy both.

  7. Now you're comparing preferential gaming platforms and not the game itself.

  8. I am telling you the number I saw was refering explicitly to revenue and not profit. The idea that when you go into EB and pay them $60 for a game that $50 of it goes straight into the developer's profit boggles my mind. I could believe Activision actually sees $50 and EB sees $10 of it (likely why the numbers I saw used $350M for 7M sales) but there's no way they make 100% profit. You have to include development costs when you're talking the difference between revenue and profit.

    Yes, preferential gaming platform will have some impact here because there are people who can only afford to have one or the other and not both. (But I can't imagine many people who have a PS3 don't also have a PC that could run SC2 on minimum settings.) I don't think that impact is nearly as large as you seem to. Truly popular games move systems. If you're going to claim that a game is absolutely the top in terms of popularity than you have to believe that lack of a system is not a significant barrier to entry.

    You may not be able to make a perfect comparison but just throwing your arms in the air and saying it's impossible to do and therefore SC2 is the top is silly. Sky's contention was that the games he plays are the top in terms of popularity and depth of play. If, as you say, we can't make any comparison at all between SC2 and Halo then how can you justify that SC2 is tops in terms of popularity?

  9. Also, the idea that SC2 sells for $60 per unit is pretty unbelievable. They sell it in many countries, and they are going to price it in each country according to the market there, not according to the US market and the current currencies market.

    But arguments about specific revenues aside, there is only one way to compare the popularity of SC2 and Halo, and that is to find that Halo is much more popular. You can argue that they are apples and oranges and that comparing their popularity doesn't make sense, but if you want to make a comparison at all there is really only one conclusion you can come to. Halo Reach sold 3 million units in the first 24 hours. That is a really staggering figure.

    But I think that popularity is just a really bad way of measuring what is a good game. It just plain doesn't work. As many of the arguments people have made here suggest, popularity is a function of so much more than the game itself. The only way to justify popularity as a metric for being a good game is to make the argument from the perspective of the total amount of entertainment it has brought to humanity, summed up. In one sense, a game that has brought countless hours of entertainment to humanity, such as tic-tac-toe might be argued to be a great game. But tic-tac-toe for most of us I think tic-tac-toe is the definition of a crappy game.

    Arguing about which games have had the greatest positive impact on humanity could be an interesting topic, but I don't think that is what we are talking about when we talk about good games. Any serious movie, music, or art critic would likely argue that some of the best movies, music or works of art are rarely appreciated and little known, and would never consider popularity. I don't see why it should be different for games.