Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My narrow definition of "good game"

Nils and I have agreed that our lengthy exchanges on opinions are better handled blog-post to blog-post instead of totally overwhelming the comment section, and this already lead to a marked increase in the number of commenters here. Our current discussion is on the subject of what a good game is, sparked by a comment from Ben who said "Britney Spears isn't the greatest artist of all time, it's really not that hard to understand the discrepancy b/w sales and quality."

Now it is easy to get 100 people to agree to the statement that Britney Spears isn't the greatest artist of all time. I'd sign that too. The problem is that if you ask those 100 people who they think *is* the greatest artist of all time, you will get 100 different answers. And the people making statements like the one above are usually those who think that their own subjective answer of what is good is more valid than the subjective answers of the other 99 people. They also usually think that Britney Spears is a *bad* artist, or that the Harry Potter books are bad books, *just because* they are popular. I don't agree with that.

Any book, film, song, or game can be measured on two very different scales: The scale that measures their entertainment value, and the scale that measures their artistic value. Where Ben is totally right in saying is that the two are not correlated. But they aren't inversely correlated either. Something which has a high entertainment value will be very popular, but that doesn't tell you anything about the artistic value, neither that it is artistically good nor that it is artistically bad.

I am a scientist. I do not like judgement on artistic value, because that is so highly subjective. I'd claim that for the example the Harry Potter books have an artistic value, because of the way the language of the books matures with the age of the hero, which is both very subtly done and used to great effect. But that is my subjective opinion of the art of writing, and I'm sure many people would disagree.

Furthermore I would say that games, especially massively multiplayer games are not like books, films, or songs, in that games very rarely qualify as art at all. Yes, there are a few borderline cases like Myst or Ico, but the kind of game I'm discussing on this blog is not art in my opinion. MMORPGs are huge projects created by hundreds of people, and even an "art director" or anyone else on the team can hardly claim the whole game as a work of *his* art, not like the author of a book can, or the director of a movie (and lots of movies aren't art either for pretty much the same reason). Games are most of the time not created with any artistic aspiration in mind, but *only* for entertainment value.

Therefore if you hear me speaking about a game as being "good" or "bad", please keep in mind my narrow definition of what a "good game" is: As I assume that the fundamental purpose of a game is to entertain, I judge a game on it's ability to do exactly that. A good game for me is one that is entertaining to its players. If you personally think that to qualify for "good game" a game has to fulfil other criteria, be that some artistic value or something else, we simply risk to miscommunicate, because we are using so very different definitions.

I'm not saying that my definition of "good" is the only one possible, or the best, or anything. But I'm saying that this is the definition I use, and have always used on this blog. And as my definition of "good" only judges a game by its entertainment value, and entertainment value is highly correlated with popularity and ultimately sales, I do like to use subscriber numbers. Although I of course agree with Craig Morrison that "1 million registered users" and "1 million subscribers" are not the same thing, and you need to look at all numbers closely to avoid being misled by some marketing trickery. MMORPGs with monthly subscriptions are relatively easy to compare, because the pricing tends to be similar. And unlike listening to a song, which is most often free, or reading a book, which usually just requires a single payment which you might end up regretting, a game with a monthly subscription requires a continued statement from its players, who are effectively saying: "Yes, this game still entertains me enough for me to be willing to pay $15 for another month". That constitutes a valid measure of the entertainment value of a game, and that is what I like about these numbers. But remember, that is *my* definition of what a "good game" is, to which not necessarily everybody agrees. (/wave Wyrm, Ben, Nils, etc.)

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