With 2016 fast approaching (already!?) we’re starting to see various publications from around the web wheeling out their annual crop of awards, with our own awards in the not-too-distant future. Usually, we’re treated to an entire bevy of categories although, quite naturally, all eyes fall on one in particular: Game of the Year.
However, taking a step back from the long list of candidates, we often find ourselves asking what actually makes a GOTY. In recent years, that four letter acronym has seemingly lost a degree of renown having been mangled by publishers and their marketing teams. When not plastered all over trailers and billboards, it’s a term that’s used to sell copies of a game long after its original release with a few DLC scraps in tow.
Still, for us, Game of the Year is a title that means something. Putting a finger on what though is harder than you might think. Put simply, there is no universal answer. Just because a game looks flawlessly beautiful or has amazing gameplay doesn’t necessarily make it one of the year’s best. Similarly, when a title shoots from obscurity to critical acclaim, it may not find itself placed on a pedestal when the votes are cast. Even those games which are hotly anticipated and supported long after release can find themselves usurped, but how?
Several of our writers tried to hammer out a clear answer – here is what they said:
A game that is deserving of GOTY not only has to have the quality we come to expect from a great game and have lasting appeal, it also has to have that “spark”; that undeniable inkling that what you are playing is worthy of the praise. Some years it is more difficult than others, but when you get that rare moment where there couldn’t be any other game that even competes for the top spot, that’s when you know for certain.
Defining a Game of the Year is really tricky. Is it the game you had the most fun with? The game you’ve played the most? The game that stuck with you after you’d played it, or managed to change your way of thinking about something? Perhaps it’s simply the most technically impressive game, the one with the biggest “wow” factor.
Overall, I find it’s the games that really stuck with me that make their way towards the top of my list. Games like Kingdom or Prison Architect may not have the shine of a AAA title, but there’s something about them that keeps me coming back and forces me to consider topics in a new light. Prison Architect actually got me to think about the death penalty and challenged my own perspective on it, which is an achievement for any piece of media.
On the other hand, I spent a lot of time lurking through Gotham’s streets in Arkham Knight, and while it might not be quite as good as earlier titles in the series, there’s no denying that playing as Batman fills the fun metre to overflowing.
Realistically what makes one game a Game of the Year is so incredibly varied that it’ll change from person to person and game to game. For me it’s often games that feel new and fresh, for others it might simply be games that they played the most. At the end of the day there’s no criteria beyond our own, and that’s likely to be an ever shifting landscape.
A GOTY is generally something that draws you in, captures your attention and doesn’t let go. Whether that’s amazing gameplay, an involving plot, incredible graphics, or a combination of all three. Even then, it could be simply something completely innovative that refuses categorisation, but I think the response from the player is the key ingredient.
I think the biggest thing that makes a Game of the Year is consistency, more than anything else. The best game of the year isn’t necessarily a revolutionary leap over what came before, it doesn’t even need to be a vast and sprawling open world with 80 hours of content, but can instead simply aim at doing one thing and doing it as well as it possibly can.
Take Journey, for example, which captured a number of GOTY awards back in 2012. It didn’t have voice acting, it barely had communication between you and any co-operative partners you happened to meet, and it certainly didn’t push the PlayStation 3’s hardware to the limits. Yet there was a simple joy and sense of wonder throughout, and when you did find a partner, there was that intrinsic bond between you as you both forged ahead.
What makes a GOTY? Lots of games claim to be “game of the year” each year, so that the phrase has lost a lot of meaning. When publishers use GOTY they usually mean a re-release of a game with all content included. For me a GOTY is a game that manages to entertain me above all others. I couldn’t really care if a game is a constant 60fps 1080p experience if the content isn’t engaging. Any game that manages to hold my attention and remain fun, regardless of technical stuff, is a contender. Out of that list I rate what has entertained me the most, from the story to how it makes me feel. This will be different for everyone, and no answer is wrong because it is about personal experience.
So there we have it, five ways of drilling home a very similar point. Although it’s easy to look at some of this year’s hot contenders – to marvel at their achievements – sometimes all it takes is one moment of sheer delight to catapult that one game above the rest. Do you agree, or are there more rigid parameters that define a true Game Of The Year winner?