What makes a game “good”?

It’s a question that’s been on my mind lately. And of course it’s something I’ve always spent time thinking about. There are lots of different answers and I want to just talk about some of them a little bit. This is the rare post of mine that I don’t have basically written out in my head, so bare with me if it’s scattered or wanders around a bit πŸ™‚

So obviously the only thing that makes a game good is fun/entertainment. The trick of course is that everyone has different ideas of what makes a game fun, and different elements can be more or less fun depending on how they’re used. Let’s look at a few elements and see how they contribute to a game’s entertainment value.

Strategic Options i.e. choices that matter
Good examples: Chess, Poker, Bridge

For me this is first and foremost on the list of things that matter in a game, although certainly not everyone agrees. Making choices and seeing how they affect the game and the outcome is one of the things I like most about games, and all of my favorites such as pool, backgammon, pinochle involve constantly making choices about how to play. And each of those choices can potentially win or lose a game. I really like games that are “tight” in that manner: even one small mistake can lead to a loss, so you have to watch every little thing and try to play as perfectly as you can.

Good examples: Bingo, Roulette, Slot Machines, War

While luck is a factor in virtually every game ever made (even Chess has the factor of who gets White and therefore goes first, which is a big advantage at high-level play) some games feature it much more prominently. Personally I’m not very big on pure luck-based games, but they can be fun to play once in a while with a group. I had fun playing slots in Vegas with the guys, and I could imagine getting dragged to a Bingo parlor one night and having (some) fun. But it’s easy to see why some people enjoy luck-based games: they’re easy to play and get into, you don’t have to learn a bunch of complicated rules (you could have a complicated luck-based game but most aren’t), and anybody can win. And luck does keep things interesting: if there wasn’t any it would make a lot of games pretty boring. Which leads to my next factor:

Twists and Turns
Good examples: Hold ’em Poker, Backgammon

By twists and turns I mean those moments when the game can turn around unexpectedly or throw a big curve at you. If, in a particular situation, a certain card falls in Hold ’em or you roll the right number in Backgammon the entire complexion of the game can change. This might seem like just another type of luck, and I suppose it is, but the difference between this and playing Bingo is that you can do something to prepare for it. Take Backgammon for example: yes you can get some miracle rolls at the right time, but they won’t do you any good if you’re not in a position to take advantage of them. Another way of expressing this concept goes back to one of my first posts: if people complain about how “lucky” you are you’re probably just putting yourself in a good position to win.

The Addiction Thing aka “Just 5 more minutes/1 more level”
Good examples: Magic the Gathering, Tetris, Bejeweled, Diablo, Dominion, WoW

Of course this is going to vary a lot: some people get hooked on all kinds of different games. But certain games tend to draw people in and not let go, especially when they first play them. I’ve witnessed tons of people getting totally hooked on Magic when they start playing it, and Dominion has a very similar effect, which is not surprising since they have a lot in common. Diablo took the PC world by storm when it came out, and I admit I tend to get pretty addicted to dungeon crawlers i.e. “Diablo clones”. Then there’s World of Warcraft, which is in a league of its own. The thing these games seem to have in common is that they’re unique (or they were when they came out and hadn’t been copied a billion times yet), except for maybe WoW, but I’ve never played it so I can’t really speak to that. They offer new gameplay styles and are totally different than anything else that came before them, so people get really enthused about playing them. But in order to really have staying power they have to have some depth, different twists on the gameplay, or lots of expansions. Otherwise people will get bored and move on. Except for Bejeweled…people (women) never seem to get sick of that game. Hi Mom!

Physical Skill
Good examples: Any sport, pool, darts, lots of video games

This can be anything from the fast reflexes needed to play a video game to the pure athleticism needed for lots of sports, to the muscle memory and practice needed to play something like pool. This is something that makes a game fun for lots of reasons; the pure adrenalin rush is one, but I think a couple of others are also important. First off is the ability to practice these things by yourself and get better at them. I mean, you can do that with just about any game, but things like shooting hoops, playing pool by yourself, or throwing darts are going to be much better at improving your game than sitting around playing Cribbage or Magic by yourself. And closely related to that is that you can get basically instant feedback as you improve. If you keep practicing or playing pool you’ll be able to see right away when/if you’re getting better. But you can play Hold ’em for a long time and not get any better and you might not even realize it.

Well this is getting a little longer than I expected (that seems to happen a lot!) so I think I’ll wrap it up in a later post. Thanks for reading this far!





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4 responses to “What makes a game “good”?

  1. I love this post! Great topics, and look at you all bolding and italicizing. πŸ™‚

    (Special note: I’m eating some really awesome enchiladas right now!)

    …I could imagine getting dragged to a Bingo parlor one night and having (some) fun.


    You know I’m not big on games based primarily or totally on luck, but I have to admit they become way funner in groups. I played Bingo on a cruise once and it was very fun.

    • dantherpgman

      Thanks! Where are my enchiladas? 😦

      Yeah having a big group can make a lot of ho-hum activities way more fun πŸ™‚

  2. They’re in the freezer! I will FedEx them with dry ice.

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