This is perhaps the most obvious key to success for any game. A game can be absolutely stunning with a host of colorful characters and a soundtrack so moving that it would easily bring the average consumer to tears. All that means nothing, however, if playing the game is boring or so monotonous that playing for more than 15 minutes feels like a chore. The interactive element of video games is exactly what sets them apart from other forms of entertainment media. Without being able to make decisions, control outcomes and attempt to overcome challenges, a video game would be little more than an animated movie. For that very reason, it’s important that those elements are not only present in the game but they are treated with a particular level of care and attention to detail.
Sure, you may hear people gripe about how many times they’ve died playing Bloodborne and asked yourself why they keep subjecting themselves to such stress. You might even be wondering why the Destiny community has remained so loyally devoted to the game even after accusations that Bungie made selfish cash grabs through its DLCs. The answer is simple. At the end of the day, both of these games boast incredibly engaging gameplay that make it hard to put the controller down.
Solid Story with Dynamic Characters
If you’re going to spend up to $60 on something and then devote hours of your day to it, you want to feel like there is a grand purpose behind it all. That’s where the power of a solid story and dynamic characters come into play. A great story is the key to having players feel like they simply can’t walk away from a game just yet. The undying curiosity to learn more about the origins of a new world and the people that inhabit it is a powerful force that carries many games into the arms of success.
It’s also what makes a game so wildly successful and popular that it becomes more than just one best selling title—it becomes a franchise with a loyal, devoted community. The importance of a great story complete with characters players truly care about and relate to has been proven time and time again. It’s why gamers have been torturing themselves by still begging for Half-Life 3. It’s why fans of the Uncharted series are hoping the game will somehow return with a fifth title despite A Thief’s End marking the end of its era. It’s why Kingdom Hearts 3 is guaranteed to fly off the shelves even if, for some reason, Square Enix did absolutely no marketing and promotion for it outside of announcing a release date. These stories have already left fans completely captivated and curious about what comes next.
Some individuals feel a strange sense of shallowness when a subconscious part of their brain starts to scream about how important graphics are. If it’s a great game, who cares right? If the gameplay is challenging yet entertaining and a solid story is unfolding, are the visuals really that important? Frankly, yes. In order to play the game, you have to look at it… for a long time… over and over again. The game needs to look good. NieR: Automata puts players in the middle of a beautifully decrepit world that is filled with so many stunning visual moments that the game becomes mesmerizing.
Visuals also help games find their sense of identity both within the game itself and throughout the community. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows Link to travel a map far more massive and exploration worthy than any map the franchise has seen before. It could have easily looked like a Horizon: Zero Dawn-esque game that happened to just feature Link as the protagonist. Instead, Breath of the Wild strays from realism and crafts an entire universe in a unique art style that allows it to stand out in the current crowd of open world games. Technical talks about resolution can take a back seat to gameplay and storylines but most successful games will have every screenshot you take looking like a digitally rendered masterpiece.
Having effective community management is vital for any game’s success and yet countless developers overlook this key area. If a game’s community becomes toxic, word will spread and reputations will falter. If a game is plagued with issues and complaints are falling on seemingly deaf ears, gamers will simply turn their backs on developers. You know what can’t be drowned out by pretty graphics, dynamic gameplay or even a great story? The outrage of thousands of players who feel like their money hasn’t been well spent.
For Honor is a game that is technically impressive and even presents something rather unique to the current gaming landscape. Those who have never played the game probably have no idea that the game actually has an impressive combat system that blends the best of a hack and slasher with fighting game mechanics all while drizzling delicious RPG elements on top. Yum. But there has hardly been any time to praise these elements of the game because Ubisoft has been struggling so much with its community management that players even organized a boycott against the game. While Ubisoft has recently responded to players’ complaints of connectivity issues, poor matchmaking, problems with in-game currency and incredibly long loading screens, it took quite a bit of outrage to get an official response from their team. By then, For Honor’s reviews on Steam had already tipped to being mostly negative and the community’s cries of being ignored had already discouraged those who were once curious about the game from actually dipping their toe in the water.
It’s all in stark contrast to the likes of Blizzard’s community management with Overwatch. Overwatch developers are actively engaging with their player base to make tweaks and receive feedback on the experience the game is providing. Blizzard was even so concerned about keeping a positive community within the game that they banned PC gamers from using the phrase “gg ez” and automatically replaced the term with more positive remarks in the game chat. So while Ubisoft needed threats of a boycott to become serious about engaging the For Honor community, Blizzard has been eagerly engaging with their players every time so much as a single pixel seems out of place.
Creating a great game will only do so much good without sufficient marketing to back it up. As much as some gamers may hate to admit it, how a game is positioned and sold by a group of fancy executives can easily determine purchasing decisions and set a game up for a grand success or an embarrassing flop. Consider the failures of two games that were perhaps the most innovative titles of 2016—No Man’s Sky and Pokemon GO. If you read that with wide eyes, a dropped jaw and a tilted neck, you are evidence of the power of marketing. Technically speaking both No Man’s Sky and Pokemon GO were innovative games in the fact that they utilized current technology in a new way to create a unique gaming experience. Pokemon GO will probably always live as the poster child for the potential of using augmented reality in gaming. No Man’s Sky’s universe generating algorithm is exactly what helped Hello Games nab the innovation award at GDC. Despite all this innovation, however, both games are now fighting uphill battles with the weight of a bad reputation perched on their shoulders.
Hello Games and Niantic both stumbled when it came to marketing their games. Neither No Man’s Sky nor Pokemon GO set proper expectations for what the games were intended to deliver. Instead of making it clear that No Man’s Sky was a vast space exploration game where players will travel an expansive universe and attempt to uncover the secrets of the extraterrestrials they meet, No Man’s Sky was an ambiguous promise of space dog fights, unique wildlife and countless varying universes. Pokemon GO, on the other hand, simply over promised and under delivered. Niantic seemed far more focused on promoting their vision for the game than they did positioning the actual product they had in their hands. Perhaps if both games were positioned properly and honest expectations were set prior to the games launching, both titles would still be soaking up the glory instead of trying to get back into players’ good graces.
An Immersive World
It’s one thing for a world to be beautiful. It’s an entirely different challenge for it to be immersive. Some games present a massive open world for you to explore or create a lovely canvas to play host to your gaming experience without ever making an effort to truly suck you into this new creation. What good is a new world if you lack any sense of real purpose there and the world lacks any real sense of life? This is where a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn makes it greatest success.
The world is visually stunning, of course. More importantly, however, the world truly feels alive. This is not a world that begins and ends with your journey. Instead, Guerrilla Games excels at making Alloy feel like a strong protagonist who is navigating through a world that existed long before you popped in their game. From the varying types of ecosystems presented in different regions to the ambiance that is created through the games art direction, Horizon will pull you so deep into its world that you may find yourself needing to come up for air.
Dare to be Different
Game franchises like Metal Gear Solid, Legend of Zelda, Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto set the precedent for their respective genres and will forever go down in gaming history because of it. Why? They dared to do things differently. Whether it was a new approach to gaming mechanics or popularizing a game genre in a way that nobody had ever seen before, games that step outside the box of what’s already being done have substantially higher chances of achieving success. And they often do. So much so that these games aren’t just considered successful, they are considered iconic. Gamers are often intrigued by something that feels new and fresh and that alone can convert curious bystanders into happy consumers.
Of course, doing something that feels different can often present a serious challenge in modern gaming. So much has already been done and in so many ways. Some games, however, still manage to stand out as particularly fresh takes on old themes. The video game world is littered with post-apocalyptic worlds but the one explored in Horizon: Zero Dawn feels particularly unique. Even a game like Gravity Rush finds a fresh angle by utilizing gravity as an actual combat mechanic. Neither of these games necessarily set new precedents for their genres but they still present an experience unlike any other being offered from their counterparts.
Strong Sense of Identity
A successful game will always excel at knowing what it is and who it’s for. More importantly, it will always unapologetically stick to its roots in a way that will feel familiar to hardcore fans of the series. The fighting game environment boasts so many iconic titles simply because so many fighting games have a strong sense of identity that never fades or falters. The Street Fighter series has laid the foundation for modern fighting game mechanics and it rarely strays away from the roots it planted so long ago. When it comes to a classic fighter that’s easy to get into but harder to master, Street Fighter reigns supreme.
For Mortal Kombat, however, the identity has been carved out of gore and absurd levels of violence. An MK game without bone-crushing, gut-snatching, limb-decapitating fatalities just wouldn’t really be an MK game at all. Even fighting game franchises that seem to be long forgotten, like the Soulcalibur series, still maintain a strong sense of identity that has stood the test of time. It is perhaps the most iconic fighting game to feature a weapon-based combat system without actually sacrificing on traditional mechanics of the fighting game genre. By simply having a strong understanding of itself, all of these fighting games have found historic success and an undying player base.
Longevity and Replay Value
The game that keeps on giving is always a game that will succeed in the eyes of gamers. Whether its through the use of new DLCs, packing a game with a ton of content that allows gameplay to stretch on for hours or creating a game that presents different experiences every time you play it, today’s games have to be able to stand the test of time. Modern gaming has bid farewell to the idea of truly “finishing” a game. Completing a main storyline or checking off your initial group of achievements is one thing but the most successful games will always pull you right back in with the tantalizing promise of things yet seen, content yet unlocked, regions yet to be explored and challenges yet to be overcome.
There is perhaps no better example of this than the Grand Theft Auto series. The latest game in the series, Grand Theft Auto: V, hit shelves back in 2013 and yet it’s still being live streamed on Twitch, selling like hotcakes and maintains a solid player base in the year 2017. No matter how many times you pick up your controller and dive into the car-crashing, bank-robbing, gun-touting shenanigans of Los Santos, the game just never gets old. Rockstar understands that an open world is only as good as the limited possibilities of what you can do within it and Grand Theft Auto is a game that is genuinely packed with limitless possibilities and countless reasons to just keep coming back for more.