Whether you’re a passionate gamer or even a developer, you’ve probably wondered what exactly makes your favorite video games so good. While there are plenty of indefinable aspects that make individual games masterpieces, there are a few common qualities that every successful game has going for it. Let’s take a close look.
1) A Solid Story
The best video games make you feel like you’re part of the universe. They make you experience genuine emotions, like what’s happening to the characters is happening to you. This doesn’t mean the story needs to be complex or even particularly well written. But it absolutely must be solid enough to give gamers a purpose for playing. It’s often great to have a deep and intricate plot, but a simple goal to save the princess is good enough if it gets gamers going.
2) Attractive Visuals
There are plenty of games that are fantastic in spite of graphical shortcomings (I’m looking at you, Undertale). We’re talking about the “show me, don’t tell me” concept of storytelling. From retro 8-bit displays to the latest cutting-edge renderings, successful games use their graphics in ways that create captivating and memorable experiences.
3) Intuitive Controls
The most successful games just feel good to play. When done right, controls make a game easy to learn but difficult to master. You should be able to make natural, split-second decisions without thinking about it. The point where games most often fail here is with camera controls. You should be able to orient your view just right to get your character to do what you want them to do.
4) Worthwhile Long-Term Goals
Successful video games make you feel like you must keep playing … or else. While plenty of gamers love open-world games where you can spend days talking to villagers or farming the land, it’s important that these short-term goals build up to bigger ones. Otherwise, you’re going to lose interest fast. A player should feel like they accomplish something with every victory. The best video games strike that fine balance between allowing you to progress at your own pace and keeping your focus on bigger challenges on the horizon.
5) A Killer Soundtrack
Do you think the Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy franchises would be so revered without their iconic music? Of course not. The music in a game — as well as its sound effects — play a major role in setting a mood and making you feel emotions that coincide with what’s happening in the game. The most successful games are highly immersive, and a game’s audio is arguably just important as its visual elements. The best video game soundtracks can be enjoyed any time — even when you don’t have a controller in hand.
Successful games should be able to be replayed over and over for years to come. Look at fan dedication to the Mass Effect series — you can play it twice and be rewarded with completely unique experiences and plotlines (right until the very end). Another old-school example is Chrono Trigger, with certain actions causing different outcomes and endings. The best video games keep you coming back for more, and they don’t leave you disappointed or bored the second or third time around.
It’s also crucial that games have enticing rewards systems that make your hard work worth it. You should be able to unlock new levels, characters, weapons, secrets, and achievements. Whether you’re playing a game for the first time or the hundredth, a good game gives you a reason to keep playing.
7) Balancing Originality and Consistency
Every new game should be a new experience, even if it’s a sequel. That said, the most successful games are able to find a balance between originality without straying too far from the formula people like about its genre and prequels. For example, Super Mario games have certainly evolved over the years, but you always feel like you’re playing a Super Mario game, whether it’s on the SNES or Switch. Successful games reinvent themselves to bring something new to the table without losing their sense of identity.
8) Interesting and Relatable Characters
It’s crucial that you feel some sort of connection with the characters in a game. As with the requirement for a solid story, simple can be just fine. Of course, in an RPG or adventure game, you want to run into a vast range of fascinating folks. Successful games have a way of getting you to feel for your character, even if you never hear them speak.
Gaming Is a Personal Experience
Trying to put your finger on the exact factors that make a great game so awesome is going to depend on who you ask. All gamers are unique, and one’s trash is often another’s treasure. Approach each gaming experience with an open mind, try to see what other people appreciate about it, and you may be surprised when you fall in love with a game outside of your typical interest zone.