Open Forum: What Makes A GOTY?

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:

Dave: 

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.

Kris: 

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.

Dom: 

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.

Teflon: 

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.

Aran: 

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?

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12 Comments

  1. Gameplay & story makes GOTY. But I think GOTY is a personal matter just like a review not everyone is going to agree with it. For example I think the witcher 3 has some of the worst controls in modern gaming & just cause of that it does not deserve the title GOTY. Fallout 4 amazing but feels like a polished fallout 3. Now for me Bloodborne is by far the better game to come out this year along with MGS: PP.

  2. GotY is basically a game that made tons of DLC
    Simples
    it should be an amazing groundbreaking game with huge reviews and no.1 chart for certain weeks.
    I agree with Dom and Aran.

  3. Humph didnt use my comment :P

    • Did it involve a lot of naughty pictures attached to the email and the comment just a picture of you taking a dump on a PS4 in Game?

  4. A game that incorporates different elements of gaming. The quality, fun factor and longevity. Then you add in the wildcard which is innovation or if a game has broke new ground.

    Rocket League for me is my game of the year. It broke new ground, the physics and overall engine is fantastic. No game plays the same way. Its incredibly fun solo or even better with mates.

    But the likes of MGS Phantom Pain and also Witcher 3 include these too. With bigger budgets to boot.

    2015 has been a great year for games. Here is to 2016.

  5. What makes a Game of the Year? That is an interesting question. Many people will have different definitions of GOTY and some publishers will treat it as a buzzword even if they just got one GOTY award from an obscure site.

    I feel that a Game of the Year is down to enjoyment and the quality. It is the game that you sink more hours then it is healthy to do so and lives up to the hype. For example, My GOTY would have been MGS V had it lived up to the hype. It did not and i view it as an incomplete game with a crap ending and kinda lacks varied missions.

    For some people, it is the latest COD or EA first person shooter that is competing against COD. For others, it’s that one game everyone disliked. It does not mean that the games must be triple AAA or based on popularity else we would have the same old crap winning every year. Spike Awards showed us why public backed voting is not the way to do awards. Along with the other BS that they threw in.

    For me, a Game of the Year has to have enjoyable gameplay, a plot that keeps me engaged, a lot of content, an excellent sound track and something i can truely lose myself in. So far, The Witcher 3 would be my GOTY Judging by the reviews and opinions. However, i would have to use games i played and came out this year thus my GOTY probably doesn’t exist this year. But does a GOTY need to have been released? I feel differently. To me, a Game of the Year is THE game of the year that you’ve brought. It could be any game. It could be an NES game, it could be a Tiger Wristwatch game(which would result in you needing to be committed). But in award terms, it would mean nothing. 2015 has a small amount of contenders but that is just from someone who rarely pays attention to new releases due to being in the last gen. Maybe, 2016, i’ll have to be told to shut up after going on and on and on about the games.

    2015? No GOTY.

  6. I don’t see the point of a GOTY release anymore. A few years ago a nice new disc with an expansion pack and patches applied, a new cover with some review tag lines and a few film style extra features was a nice thing, I always got the impression that it was catering for the completist or collector. Nowadays the term pushes my cynicism buttons and in my opinion the games often aren’t special enough to enough of us to carry the GOTY title. I’d rather see the game re-released with patches and a complete DLC selection on disc, with an emphasis on value and completeness and not marketing a product that is too recent and has just naturally slipped out of the spotlight.

    • I agree. A Gold edition. Like we used to get about a decade ago with Heroes of Might and Magic, Age of Empires and such. I suppose it was more of a PC thing, but they always had all of the content.

  7. For me it’s about drawing me into the world, being engaging and rewarding. It’s about how well each element comes together to form a cohesive whole. And importantly, it’s about how it makes me feel.

    I also believe a GOTY doesn’t have to be groundbreaking and cutting-edge, but it needs to feel new and exciting for me on a personal level.

  8. GOTY is a personal thing anyway, but it’s whatever game you felt was the best you played in a given year.

    For me that’s Life is Strange by a mile, it reduced me to an emotional husk but I enjoyed every minute of it.

  9. For me, my Game of the Year is one that involves hindsight. It’s so easy to claim “oh, this is definitely GOTY material right here” as the year rolls on but it’s not until you’ve finished the games you’ve enjoyed over the past twelve months can you truly get that feeling of “oh, wait… that…THAT was great” when thinking about a particular title. Why? Usually it’s something refreshingly different than the usual fare I enjoy. However, I always leave room to be won over in such fashion and sometimes simply plump for the one that did it better than everything else even though much of it has a certain familiarity to it.

    This year, so far, it would be hard for me not to choose Ark: Survival Evolved but there’s still room to be won over in the final furlong.

    • Certainly, although there’s a lot of recency bias.

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