Here's how it works: each editorial staff member picks his or her top five games of the year, with no stipulation other than: the games listed must be 2012 releases in North America and not include any re-releases or upgraded versions of previously released software (sorry, Persona 4 Golden!).
But the staff doesn't only select five favorites; they can list as many games as they want for the awards, with the caveat that anything listed after number five is considered their "Best of the Rest" selection.
Each of the top five votes carries a weight. Number 1 is worth five points, number 5 is worth one – this is the game's base score. Listing a game as a "Best of the Rest" also carries some weight: .5 points toward the final tally per appearance on the "BotR" list. Ties are broken by the number of times a game appears on the base list – represented here as "Top Five Voted" – and, if further tie-breaking is required, by how many times it appears on the "BotR" list.
Super Hexagon is a good example of how this system works as intended. The game made multiple appearances within the staff's top five lists, and appeared on the "BotR" list many times. Eventually, the game's score carried it into the fifth spot. Surprising, yes, but we collectively loved it enough to put it there.
In the case of something like FTL: Faster Than Light and Borderlands 2, those games most frequently appeared in "Best of the Rest" sections of staff lists. Despite only cracking the top five of a few lists, both games were just shy of enough points to make the list due to these numerous Best of the Rests; if it was the top twelve of 2012, FTL and Borderlands 2 would be in there. It was that close.
For the top spot, Journey edged out XCOM: Enemy Unknown by a mere three points. Three!
Sometimes games appear on the list that some staffers wouldn't have selected as a top ten or "best of the rest"; however, the process is such that we give our large editorial team the same voice to help drive our selections. You may question a choice or two, but we all like our list.
It's a long process that we feel best determines the site's overall impression of a game. It also means that multiple people need to "get on board" with a game before it shows up on the overall top ten. This process is driven by our editors' opinions, not by a game's popularity, its review score on our site or others, and the company behind it. We don't care if one game is bigger than the next. It's based on what we liked most throughout the year.
The important element for our "Best of 2012" awards is that we give the Joystiq staff time to play as many games as they can; this is why our awards hit in the new year. Since we rarely get multiple copies of games (and we don't keep any of those games, by the way), we pass titles around the staff to ensure everyone plays the biggest contenders of the year: a list we actually create to make sure people know what is worth playing. In 2012 the list of potential "Game of the Year" winners was 72 games long, featuring titles from all platforms.
We like good games. We make a list about the ten games we, collectively, liked the most. And then we tell you about our other favorites in each editor's "Best of the Rest" write-up. In the end, the Joystiq staff named over 40 games on their personal lists – which, in turn, made up the final top ten of the site.
Original games featured heavily on all three sections of voting: overall site winners, each team member's top five list (the Top 5 Voted category), and the Best of the Rest selections. There were so many high quality downloadable titles in 2012 that the Best of the Rest category saw 26 games featured in it, versus only 16 games specific to retail.
Only nine downloadable games were featured in the editorial team's collective Top 5, but five carried enough weight to be named winners: Journey (1), The Walking Dead (3), Fez (4), Super Hexagon (5), and Mark of the Ninja (8).
Note: Titles were only counted once, not once per category.
The separation between an established independent studio and "indie" could be cause for argument of distinction, but the way we broke it down here is based on the developer's history and not funding. Fez (4), for example, is listed as an indie studio even though the team at Polytron was backed by Microsoft at some point during development.
Established Independent games include Journey from thatgamecompany (1), The Walking Dead from Telltale (3), and Mark of the Ninja from Klei (8). With eight games under its belt, we're comfortable adding Klei Entertainment in this category.
Of the complete list of Top 5 games voted upon by staff, major studios were behind the majority of games selected. Indie developers made up for 42% of the games named in the staff's 'Best of the Rest' selections.
Last year was a great one for interactive entertainment, with variety throughout genres and new ideas coming from all types of game companies. Many games were tied for eleventh spot on the overall top ten, including Far Cry 3, Borderlands 2, FTL, and Kid Icarus: Uprising.
Your own lists may be completely different from ours, and that's fantastic. If everyone could agree on the ten best anything all year then we'd be living in a world free of diversity. We prefer to be surprised.