Every game is different, but they all share similar critical qualities. Understanding what those qualities are and ensuring that your game has them is essential for making a title that is fun to play, engaging and will maintain popularity over time.
From Pac-Man to Final Fantasy VII, every game has a plot. The plot’s level of complexity is up to you, but what makes a game good is when the plot flows well with the gameplay. A puzzle game with an overly complex plot may not work very well unless it’s called Professor Layton, but an RPG has to have an over-the-top plot to draw the player in. A well-developed plot that aligns with the intended engagement of the game mechanics will help make a title stand out in a good way and increase the overall success of the game.
The user interface is an often-overlooked aspect of the player experience. Some games simply throw a lot of information at the player, but in reality the interface needs to align with the realism a game portrays. Games like DayZ have a minimal interface to enhance realism and make players feel as if they are in the character’s shoes. Meanwhile, a typical JRPG needs an extensive interface that also embellishes graphics and gameplay, rather than detracts from them.
In the push to be the biggest and the brightest, many studios forget that sometimes players like games that don’t look realistic. Photorealism is becoming popular in the industry, but there is a time and place for it. Some games benefit more from a cartoonish or colorfully-animated graphics style, while others work better with unique solutions like the cel-shading in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
As the industry becomes more proliferated with titles, innovation becomes a greater factor in what makes a game stand apart. Unique uses of hardware or unusual solutions for player engagement are critical components of making a good game better. By surprising the player with an innovative new way to interact, control or play with a game, a studio will guarantee that it will stick in the player’s memory.
Throughout the history of video games, there have been sounds associated with action. From the wakka-wakka noise of Pac-Man to the ambient sounds players hear in a text-adventure, audio is a critical component of storytelling in general, and a game needs to utilize its soundtrack and audio in the right way. The wrong music cues or a lack of responsive sound can ruin an important experience in a title, while the right music or perfectly timed noise can set the tone.
Games are about a story, and all stories feature the character interacting with another character, object or scenario. Ensuring smooth and responsive AI and a properly coded world environment will add significantly to the immersion factor of a game and keep a player engaged for far longer than if NPCs forgot what the player did 5 minutes ago.
No game should be too easy, and providing ramping difficulty levels is key to not only keeping a player engaged, but keeping him or her coming back for more. More importantly, a game should scale as the player progresses through it. Slowly presenting greater challenges to overcome within a title is key to making a good game, and doing it right will make the rewards of beating a challenge that much sweeter.
The presence of choice allows gamers to take unique paths, and also enhances the replayability of a title, as players can come back and see what would have happens if they go with alternatives. Most importantly, presenting a choice allows the player to feel like he or she has more control over what happens within the game.
Ultimately, a game must be rewarding. Not necessarily in the sense of offering achievements or trophies to increase the player’s gamerscore, but in the sense of accomplishment and success. For example, if Mario never eventually rescued the princess, would anyone care about his adventure? But the reward also has to scale with the difficulty. A difficult chapter with a basic reward will frustrate the player rather than allow him or her to relish in the fruits of his or her labor.