Tobold's Blog
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.)
I think you can classify what is "good" about a game. The following would be mine:

1. Entertaining Gameplay
2. Captivating/Enthralling Story
3. Unique anything
4. Mix of the above.

I'm sure everyone else can come up with their own categories of what can be good in a game, but those are the 3 (+1) I can think of.

1. Entertaining gameplay is usually a requirement. If it isn't fun to play, you'd probably quit playing it.

2. A good storyline can be important, depending on the genre. In a FPS, it doesn't really matter. In an MMO, RPG, etc, its kind of important.

3. Unique anything, whether its doing something brilliant for the first time, or doing it in a way as to make all prior attempts seem crude, can turn a game from mediocre to a best-seller.

4. A mix of 1-3 usually gets positive reviews, and lots of games sold.

And of course if you have all 4, you get games that become classics that can inspire franchises and game communities (HL2 or Portal being somewhat recent examples, WoW and CS being an older example, etc).

Good is always a subjective term. The more you qualify the term, the clearer your definition becomes.
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Let me re-phrase that. I'm not convinced an MMO blog is the most appropriate forum for a discussion of this complexity.

On the positive side, it's always good to define terms.
"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."

But what if you enjoy 2 games with major differences in subscription numbers? Would you say one is not as good because it has less subs? Even if they are equally entertaining? I would hope not.

I don't see this as a complex issue. Most people will have a variety of reasons for enjoying what they enjoy. If they enjoy it, then they will label it "good". Nobody says " I love this song/game/book because it's so horrible and painful to sit through."
I think the relation between you and Nils has taken a good direction. Yes, we've noticed!

And I'm glad to see that Nils isn't just interacting with you, but with other blogs - commenting, linking, discussing etc. It makes everything more enjoyable for everyone and we're not just spectators looking at Tobold and Nils having a dance - we can dance too. If we want to. In this case I'm afraid I don't have much to contribute with. Most of my game exprience is from WoW, which makes it hard to make a fair judgement.

TL;DR at the bottom.

The issue I have with this definition of "good game" is that there are a lot of other factors that can influence the absolute volume of sales other than quality.

To illustrate this point I will compare WoW and Eve online. To be clear, I think both are good games and have played both for lengthy periods.

First, some numbers. WoW has around 12 million subscribers, and Eve around 350k subscribers.

Blizzard is a massive game studio that has released several good games in the past, and has built up a reputation over more than a decade.

CCP (the makers of Eve) were a startup specifically to make eve, and it's currently their only product.

Now, to the part about good game = sales. I don't think they correlate so strongly, as there are so many other factors that can influence it such as past success, financial backing, target demographics, etc.

Target demographics especially I believe are relevant to this discussion. I fully acknowledge Eve is not for everyone, and appeals to a much narrower demographic of people than WoW does. However, for this demographic, I believe it's as good or better than WoW is for the Eve's demographic, and possibly even better than WoW is for WoW's demographic (i.e. Eve is better for Eve's demographic than Wow is for Wow's demographic). Eve is a niche game, but for that niche it's a very 'good game'. WoW is not a niche game at all, it attempts to appeal to as many people as possible, and succeeds. Wow is fun for a lot of people, Eve is fun for a few people, but what fun it is.

If the premise of good game = sales holds true, it should be possible to come up with a formula, would it not? f(s)? Think about all the other variables that would need to be included in such an equation, such as marketing, timing, difference from competitors, unique features, story IP, etc.

Ultimately, I think defining 'good' in terms of subscribers is a fundamentally flawed measure. I propose another metric - annual percentage subscriber growth.

Both WoW and Eve have had steady subscriber growth for their entire lifetime, a privilege VERY few other MMOs share. Look at any 'bad' MMO, they will have a mass of subscribers initially, which by your metric means it's good, and then a massive drop. It suddenly became bad?

Therefore I think an absolute measure of subscribers is not good metric, but percentage annual growth is a pretty good indicator that the game is 'good' for somebody.

I think this also raises the question of broad appeal vs niche appeal, and the perspective of 'good'. If your perspective is from a gamer, you want a game to be made just for your demographic, as it will probably be good (for you). If you're a CEO of a game company, you probably want as broad a demographic as possible, so you get more money. These are competing goals, gamer vs CEO. Think The Sims vs Eve. One is a gigantically broad demographic, the other a narrow niche. Is the Sims 'better'? From a CEO perspective it is, but from my (the gamer) perspective, it isn't.

Therefore in addition to the above percentage growth metric, I propose a multiplier in the form of the inverse of number of subscribers. i.e. For WoW players, in general, it's pretty fun. For Eve players, it's very fun. This ultimately leads to small games being "love it or hate it" and big games being "it's pretty good". This is of course a simplification, but on average I think it holds true.

TL;DR - Absolute subscriber numbers is a bad indicator, annual percentage growth is a better one, also niche games are better for that niche and terrible for everyone else, and broad demographic games are pretty good for that demographic, so it depends on your perspective when you ask the question "is this game good?".
I'm with you Tobold. I personally consider a game (or book, or movie) good if I've been entertained.

Now. There are degrees of good. for example I think Harry Potter is incredibly overhyped. Its entertaining but I've read better (I personally think that Diane Duane's Young wizards books are much better when it comes to coming of ages stories with magical background)

But something being better then something else, doesn't make that something else bad either. Its just not AS good.
Agree with Larisa about Nils. And agree with the post-post idea.

I also like defining terms, but sometimes discussions can remain more lively if they don't devolve into defining terms in more and more detail.

I think your writing is excellent, and part of the art (speaking of art) of good writing is in allowing your readers to find their own definitions (and themselves) among your words.

Although I'm sure that is easier said than done when people can directly comment asking for clarification or disagreeing with you.

I also think that quality is one that I would add to a "good" MMO. Enough complexity and ambiguity along with the traditional video-game balance and repetition to allow you to find yourself in it.
Entertainment value is just as subjective as artistic value IMO.

For example; it is my opinion that television programming like Britain's Got Talent or The X Factor are neither entertaining or artistic, but there is no denying that they are incredibly popular and commercially successful.

Commercial success and popularity are measurable quantities and can be objectively determined. Entertainment value and artistic value are totally subjective and can never be determined or described objectively.

To describe a game as being 'good' objectively, any entertainment or artistic value would have to be completely disregarded and reference made to the raw numbers (which would have to be strictly defined, registered users vs subscribers for example)
apologies, I hit the wrong button and published the comment before I meant to

An objectively 'good' game would necessarily have higher sales/subscribers/players than an objectively 'bad' one.

Any reference to entertainment, artistry, or fun is unnecessary to an objective review, because these are subjective terms that cannot be measured or defined objectively.

I don't find WoW entertaining, I will admit to it having some artistry and can understand why people find it fun, but I still prefer EVE. Objectively speaking WoW is by far the better game; it makes more money and has more users. But in terms of the medium we're discussing it makes absolutely no sense to even try and review a game objectively.

Games are art, games are fun, and games are entertaining. We will not always agree on whether a game is 'good' or not, it would be incredibly boring if we did and the games market and industry would be a barren and stagnant place.
I also think that in 50 years, the successors to MMOs - which take "hundreds." of people to produce - may be regarded in the same way as films, which are also a collaborative effort of "hundreds" which most now consider art. One of the Kubrick quotes around the release of AI was that in the future film directors may not need human actors.

A math nit: I would argue that artistic value and popularity are not uncorrelated rather very weakly correlated: bad art tends to be less popular than good art. It's just at the extreme's ( Proust and Britney ) that it breaks down or is even negatively correlated ( extremely popular art is unlikely to be critically acclaimed and vice versa.)

In one sense, "good" just means it pleased me. Otherwise, profitable, popular, and critically acclaimed are three other very different concepts that people lump under the term good. Two games with the same subscriber base can have very different profitability. One could take far more computer or human resources to run. One could get far more money per subscriber ( Sparkly pony, $20+ for realm/race/name change. ) Look at the Pepsi in-game pet; WoW is far more able than competitors to generate revenue from tie-ins. Besides, these are subscription businesses; like a magazine, you give me a $100 million dollar ad and promotion budget, I could double the EVE subscriber base. And if EVE stopped all advertising and the subscribers went down 1%, it would probably be financially better off. Just like movies and TV shows and a couple of books, things like product placements and tie-ins are going to be a larger part of the profitability mix than just $15/month.

Putting on my business hat, there is something more to it than just size as a surrogate for quality (or the inverse people who don't like a band after it becomes popular): network effect, profitability / sustainability:

network effect - economic term that means a social networking or MMO is more valuable the larger it is. The market will tend to condense into one (perhaps to be replaced) internet or email or fax or HD/bluray or facebook or twitter - rather than many smaller versions. A game with dozens of fan sites and hundreds of bloggers is a richer experience than one with none.

I do not know whether a SWTOR or Eve with 12million subscribers would be more profitable than WoW. But I do know that WoW is much, much more profitable with 12 million subscribers than 6. And more profitable companies may survive downturns and invest in the franchise more than less profitable companies. E.g., what could some Activision money do to the the EVE UI? If you regard an MMO as a transient purchase like a movie ticket, this doesn't matter. But when I look at a software purchase, the number of users matter to me. Even if you in no way believe that more popular means more likely to please you, you could still see benefits to saying that more users of a software program is a good thing. It is not the only criteria, but it is a factor.
I am constantly impressed by the seriousness of the discussions on this blog, most of them being highly captivating and yet for all this display of cultivated opinions, I can't help but to think of it all as a useless production. Nobody takes games so seriously as to break down the definition of a 'good game'. This feels like an obscure film theory discussion on 'Splice', a very intelligent debate on an otherwise campy flick.

I don't mean to troll here, but really, have games become such a serious affair that semiotics are now a necessary part of the MMO discussion?
Well, there the discussion moves from what is a "good game" to what is a "good blog". :)

Do MMORPGs merit serious discussion on a blog? I would say that blogs by their very nature have a self-selecting audience: Only people who already are passionate about MMORPGs and take them seriously will spend their time reading blogs about them.

If you count the number of hours spent on MMORPGs, and the amount of money gained and lost with them, I would even say that there is some objective measure which suggest that MMORPGs are serious business.

And while semiotics may appear to be a dry way to discuss games, I think the approach was rather successful, given the high quality of the response comments. We successfully moved from simplistic good/bad and populist Britney Spears/McDonalds comparisons to a better and more detailed criticism of what is good or bad about some games.
Thanks for the post, although deep down I now suspect aliens abducted Tobold and replaced him with Roger Ebert. ;)

Three comments.

1. I love talking about art. It engages me almost as much as the art itself! And to me, art is useless if it's not entertaining. It matters little to me if the art/entertainment I consume hangs on walls, is printed on paper, comes out of speakers or is enjoyed through a computer screen. And yes, my legs to shake a bit when I hear "Bad Romance". And... I am ashamed to admit it Barrista, but I have a couple of tunes in my collection that I enjoy exactly because they are horrible and painful to sit through!

2. Still, yes, I agree games are a bit different. The medium is yet in its infancy and the technical progress is so fast that we can't realistically go back to the "classics" in the hope of enjoying them. Also, the supply is still relatively slim. And, crucially, the gaming audience (these are the ones usually referred to as the "hard core" I believe, and I think many of the readers of this blog belong in that category since many, many years) is actually quite well versed in their medium: gamers care enough to ensure they buy good stuff. Several of these things may change in the future, but for the time being I definitely agree that the strong sellers are almost all good games.

3. In this context, it's almost impossible for me not to see the irony in calling WoW "not a good game. I'm willing to bet that 90% of your readers (including Nils :)) have invested more than 1,000 hours playing this game and the majority topping 5,000 hours. It's one thing to enjoy a painfully harsh tune for three minutes now and then, but if anyone sat through all that time without thinking it was a good experience, then... wow! :)
This will become a lengthy comment as the damn socials do not seem to approve two or three short ones *grin*.

So, first thanks for linking my blog. You and Larísa linking my blog so shortly in a row make visitor numbers explode ... and then implode again. I wish I could write better English and explain what I have to say in a more entertaining way. (Pun intended).

On topic:

You link my blog post, but you do not actually reply to it. I never talked about art/entertainment there. I argued with the help of subjective quality, which is equal to the player benefit when he plays a game. When he plays a game he loves, his benefit is high – otherwise it is low.

As this subjective player benefit exists for art and for entertainment as well, I do not see where this distinction helps your definition of a “good game”. I think it is redundant: A game that is of high quality for a player also entertains him well. Thus, his subjective, individual benefit is high.

To drive the discussion a bit forward: Imho we should ask ourselves what the ‘good game’ definition is useful for. And the since the answer to that question is “Allowing players to select a game to play”, the ultimate use of the objective measurement is subjective.

Since its ultimate use is subjective I consider an objective definition useless. I’d rather suggest ways to find out whether a game is good for you. And that is exactly what I have done in my blog post.

I also explained why the absence of a better objective measurement does not make any measurement a good one.

@ Larísa: Yes, I bet other bloggers love to receive some of my plentiful comments. Careful, or you might not be able to get the genie back into the bottle ;).

@Vindi: Thanks for suggesting another way to measure quality of a game. I think it is better for some reasons than its primitive, but not perfect. Also thanks for adding yet another good reason to assume that total subscribers is not a good way to measure quality. There is no space inside a single comment so say more.

@ Oscar: Please read my blog before assuming that I wrote that WoW were a bad game. I never wrote that.

Concluding thought: Do not mistake measurability with objectivity.

PS: If you want to comment on my comment please be aware that I will not comment on your commenting comment. Tobold wants you to argue with me on my blog; and I can’t say I disapprove. ;)
I agree with your statement that a game is good as long as it's entertaining.

I think you are not really any closer to a real answer then though, because everyone has other opinions on what exactly is entertaining.

And in my humble opinion that has got nothing to do with popularity. Popularity is just a factor for the economic potential of a game.

Some people like being hit, some just to win, some to be taken on a journey, some to able to do what they want...

If a game caters for a minority, that does not mean it is a bad game
'I am a scientist. I do not like judgement on artistic value, because that is so highly subjective.'

It strikes me that that is your problem.

Someone could, in theory, organise a research team to conduct a comparative MMO review. Take two statistically matched groups of players, have them play a game for several months without knowing what game they are playing.

If someone did that, they could start to make some objective statement about which MMO was better, more fun, or whatever other qualities the research program was designed to capture.

Point is, anyone who doesn't do that is either speaking subjectively about game quality, or speaking about something else than game quality.

And it is always wrong to claim objectivity for a subjective statement.
Someone could, in theory, organise a research team to conduct a comparative MMO review. Take two statistically matched groups of players, have them play a game for several months without knowing what game they are playing. If someone did that, they could start to make some objective statement about which MMO was better, more fun, or whatever other qualities the research program was designed to capture.

I would claim that is EXACTLY what happened. A statistically relevant group consisting of ALL of us was given not two but dozens of different MMORPGs to choose from, with the name giving little or no indication about what the games were about. Not only did they have free choice, but also they were asked to put their money and their time into the one game they liked the best. And the outcome is the known ranking of subscriber numbers for MMORPGs with a monthly fee.

That also fulfills the requirement that the definition of "good game" should allow players to select a game to play. If statistically among X million MMORPG players a certain percentage, lets say 80% choose one game, then for any new player the chance that this is the right game for him is 80%, unless we have specific information about that one new player which tells us that he'd prefer a more niche game.
It is true that if you ask those 100 people who is the best artist you'd get 100 different answers. There's no surprise but let's be honest and ask every single person of the 100 about the choice these 100 people made, is the chosen artist by person X is STILL better than Britney Spear? I would assume all 100 people will say YES, X's choice is definitely better than Britney Spears. Does that make sense? Just because they have different opinion doesn't make THEIR opinion false.

I think only teenage girls would dislike something only because it's popular. Maybe it's the hormons of a teenager that triggers such a mentality and I am not bashing teenagers or girls. I'm just trying to express my disagreement with your comment stating that only because Britney is popular that's why we think she's a bad artist. Which is not true at all. She is not "bad" per se, she's just NOT the best. Period. And not because she's popular, no it's simply that she's not the best.

Popular or not popular doesn't affect my perception. But I'm old-er and I KNOW some people dis something just because it's popular but trying to say that EVERYONE is affected by such mentality is not fair.

I did read your post, and I never did claim that you think that WoW was a bad game. I apologise if that was the impression I gave.
Tobold, you also assume that people who buy games are de facto entertained by them. People do blindly buy games at times. They also play games because of addiction and compulsion (farmville, for instance) that aren't particularly entertaining on a moment-to-moment basis. Just because a game is something-to-do doesn't mean it is entertaining.

Also, most people are not particularly qualified to make a quality judgment on a game, from both an artistic perspective (if that matters at all) as well as a game design perspective. So trying to pull out quality from a mob of advertisement-swayed unqualified non-critics is about as likely to land a hit as just picking at random weighted by total dollars spent on ad purchases. Because of the ultimate subjectivity of fun, we can't go around telling people in any serious objective sense what games--a medium predicated on fun--are good and bad.

An "objective" definition of "good game" is meaningless anyway, because that won't change the fact that some people who enjoy playing games won't enjoy playing your objectively good game no matter what you say.

Any form of art is worthy of serous discussion of this sort as it is a reflection of our culture, our society, our collective psychology and ultimately the creator's abilities and expression.

Games, all games - not just MMO's, have become just as much part of our mainstream everyday lives as music, theater, film and literature. The work of Will Wright is just as relevant to our understanding of our culture and human nature as Proust, Brecht, Herzog, Lynch, Beethoven, Bach, Kubrik, Scott, Dickens, Shakespeare, Britney, et al.

Art and how we react to it something that defines us as thinking, creative and social beings. Analysis of the forms it takes and the techniques it uses, as well as what it actually says to us is important. As through such analysis we can come to a greater understanding of who we are.
"I would claim that is EXACTLY what happened."

And I'd claim this is exactly the opposite of what happened.

X million people don't play WoW because they tried a dozen MMOs and ultimately found it to be the best one. Rather, X million people heard from 300k that WoW was initially fun, and then Mr. T gave them a mohawk, and so they signed up to become a solo-hero drone. There is a reason so many WoW players don't know what the MMO genre is. Even some WoW bloggers are limited to just that one game.

If anything, you could use that data to come to the conclusion that WoW is very un-MMO like, and that's why it appeals to 'the others'. If we were to judge MMO games amongst themselves (rather than in the context of 'which GAME is best'), WoW would rank rather poorly among those who have actually played (not trialed) various MMO games.

I'd also place a premium on retention vs total subs, as an MMO player I'm far more interested in finding a game that will hold the attention of my clan for a long time vs which game has the longest server list, especially when subscription numbers don't seem to be related to the rate content gets produced (which is insane if you think about it).
'I would claim that is EXACTLY what happened. '

By that standard homeopathy is the best form of medicine, the Chinese government is the best form of rule, and so on.

If you want to objectively measure game quality, you really need to set up an experiment where distribution, advertisement (including word of mouth), cost, past quality, etc. are eliminated or controlled for.

If you haven't done that, then your opinion is a statement of your preference ('the best game for me is a popular game like WoW'), not a natural law.
"I would claim that is EXACTLY what happened. A statistically relevant group consisting of ALL of us was given not two but dozens of different MMORPGs to choose from, with the name giving little or no indication about what the games were about. Not only did they have free choice, but also they were asked to put their money and their time into the one game they liked the best. And the outcome is the known ranking of subscriber numbers for MMORPGs with a monthly fee.

I don't believe 'the market' qualifies as a research tool. There are so many inefficiencies, influences and barriers to informed consumer choice that make it an impossibly confounded study.

It's also a very boring measure and would in fact make any interesting debate on our part redundant if it were the ultimate determinant of 'goodness'.

I think a major sticking point we're having is that we're trying to imagine the joe 6 pack of gamers, the exact average gamer that will perform a weighted random selection of a game based on their relative goodness. This person obviously does not exist, therefore I think the most important factor when trying to discuss 'goodness' is to first describe your perspective, as I and others have proposed previously.

As an extreme example, we have Wurm online. It has something in the vicinity of 300 subscribers or something (three hundred, not 300k). The maximum amount of players I saw on the (one) server was 60 players. It's been operating for several years, and was released just before WoW. Now, I'm not trying to say this game is good, because it isn't. It's TERRIBLE, in fact. However, I played it for about 2 weeks because I was so captivated and curious from an intellectual perspective about the crafting system, which I found VERY compelling, and imagined all sorts of games that would be incredibly 'good' if they had some elements of Wurm without the terribad bids.

To vindicate the emphasis I mentally placed on Wurm's crafting system, Minecraft came along. Minecraft basically took all the good bits from Wurm and made them a LOT better, didn't bother putting the bad bits in, and Minecraft is enjoying explosive popularity... For a certain demographic.

I think the Wurm and Minecraft demographics would overlap quite a lot and be of similar size, it's just that Wurm is a terrible, terrible game. Once Minecraft took some of the ideas and distilled them into a pure form, it reached a high amount of appeal to its demographic (Minecraft's creator used to work on Wurm too).

Yet, to obtain a measure of 'good' on a scale of 1 to 10, you have to to an n-way comparison of every MMO to every other MMO, and I believe it's basically apples and oranges when the demographics are different. Just like comparing The Sims to Eve Online is an absurd comparison, comparing WoW and Eve is pretty silly, but comparing Wurm to Minecraft is not nearly as silly, because their demographics would overlap.

Which brings me back to my central point, for any valid comparison of quality or goodness to be made, I think one must first explicitly define the demographic, and not in terms of Joe 6 pack.

Some people feel entertained while sitting through a painful experience, so 'entertainment' in it's global meaning is still a subjective measure. I would even consider 'good' and 'entertaining' synonyms in this context in the sense that none of the terms answers any questions.

The interesting story, mechanics that involve a lot of thinking OR allow mindless clicking and easy wins, low price, high audiovisual quality, linearity OR multiple choices, possibility of casual play ad-hoc or challenging character creation that requires planning in perspective and highest efficiencies - all fo that and many others are the source of entertainment for players.

A game with large sales is not necessarily the most entertaining. It will probably have a medium entertainment value for most of the players joining it, but it will appeal to the largest pool of players, because the company did a research on the things player play for and selected those, that appeal to the largest group.
@Mandrill, see that's my point though, I agree with Toblod that video games are entertainment, not art. I meant no disrespect to the blog as a whole, I think it's a wealth of knowledge and great debates, but we're talking about entertainment, so I don't see the point in defining terms around it.

Say we were talking about abstract painting, then indeed defining hat a good piece is would be essential to having any discussion, but do we need to define what a good 'reality show' is to talk about reality shows? I think not. I think it's interesting to have serious discussion on say the social impact of 'reality shows' but to consider it as art and talk of it as such is pointless to me.
For whatever it is worth, there are people (who are not stupid or easily brushed aside) who do not think that artistic value is purely subjective, or even subjective at all. This is, I know, a side point to you main issue.
You lost me at Harry Potter.
Study or not, if I enjoy a game that the study group does not, then the game is still enjoyable to me. As such, I would say it was a good game.

Games, just like food, stimulate one of our 5 senses. How satisfactorily they satisfy them is our decision.

@Oscar: That's called "masochism". I have those songs too, but I don't generally listen to them alone. I typically listen to them with a friend and a beer!

Yeah, I'm weird that way ;)
Anything thats been marketed/distributed to death will have a lot of customers, no matter how crappy the product is.

So for me, subscriber numbers don't mean very much.

Some of my favorite computer games are ones that have gotten lots of bad reviews and have not been widely marketed and distributed.

I can agree to disagree with you on that point. The Whole "Are games art?" debate is one that's going to run and run.

Personally I consider reality shows to be neither art or entertainment. The first such shows could possibly have been considered to be both, due to their experimental nature and the viewer not really knowing what to expect (the element of the new and/or surprising). Now that the same tired concept has been flogged to death and regurgitated countless times, the only way they could be considered to be either art or entertainment is in a completely ironic way.
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hello, I am late to the party, but being name-dropped in the post must compel me to contribute too!

first, wow this is my 2nd time referenced by Tobold in a blog post. Praise from Caesar.

anyway, the broader point I'm trying to make is this. "Sales" is not a demonstration of what makes a game "good," because any number of factors could be making it sell well. I'll use comics as an example, someone who collects Uncanny X-Men every month will buy it regardless if it's a great writer/artist/story or a terrible one, just because he collects it.

Taking this one step further, "entertainment" also doesn't really mean anything. What makes Darkfall entertaining to one person makes it terrible to Tobold, or vice versa. And entertaining != sales either, the most "entertaining" game isn't necessarily the one that sells the best.

What is needed is to settle upon what _about_ a game makes it entertaining besides the enjoyment itself. Clearly it's not ganking PVP. But whatever it is, *that's* your argument for what makes WoW a good game, and by extension, what makes it entertaining and successful for so many other people.
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