Putting together a list of the top 10 games of the year is inherently a futile task.
Not only is it a concrete, objective way of quantifying something that's inherently subjective, but games today are so disparate that you can end up weighing the relative merits of a sprawling sci-fi first-person space opera versus a two-hour wander around a mansion in Oregon. It's nonsensical.
So why do it? Well, as silly as they are, we still like putting these sorts of lists together and you enjoy reading them and frankly, that's enough for us. But also, Game of the Year lists provide a helpful way of surveying the year, honoring those games everybody loved and highlighting those that some people may have missed.
But how to make that list? Well, for the reasons I've already outlined, there's no "right" way to make something as abstract as a GOTY list. Every site has their own method. Giant Bomb, for example, locks their whole staff in a room and doesn't leave until they've created a top 10 list or a minimum of two staffers have been killed.
Team Polygon is spread out across the country, though, and if you've ever Skyped with more than two people simultaneously, you'd know that down that road lies madness. So we go with something a bit more clinical here. We vote.
THE NOMINEES ARE ...
The first step is creating a list of nominees that Polygon staff can vote for. Any games that scored an 8 or more are automatically on, save for ports of older games. Then staff members suggest other titles that they think deserve consideration. We're in no way picky about this list; anything that anyone has a strong feeling about can be added. But a list like this helps us to get a sense of the landscape and keeps staffers from throwing away votes on games nobody else has played.
Once the list is semi-finalized (it seems to always be in flux), Polygon staffers start the Herculean and completely impossible task of becoming as well-versed with the contenders as they possibly can. Another huge problem with GOTY lists (and this is one that is more problematic for games than easier-to-ingest media like music and movies) is that it's impossible for everyone to play everything. You can't even get close. For every P.T. that you can experience in a couple of hours, there's a hojillion-hour behemoth like Persona Q standing in your path to total, comprehensive fluency.
So we do the best we can. We play as much as we can through the year and then, once we have a list of nominees, we try to play the games we think might appeal to us. I, for example, don't care how excellent this year's model of FIFA might be; it's just not going to make my personal list. So I skip it. Is that fair? Of course not! But, again, futile task.
THE VOTES ARE IN
Once we've given everyone as much time as humanly possible to play all the games they can, we ask each member of staff to give us their own personal top 10. (It doesn't have to be 10; this year, for example, a few of our staff members only felt strongly enough about six or seven games to rank them.)
We then assign a weighted numerical value to each vote based on where the staffer ranked it. A #1 vote is good for 10 points, a #2 is worth 9 and so on, all the way down to 1 point for a #10 ranking.
This weighted voting, while, again, pretty clinical, does a good job of representing both games that a few people absolutely adored and games that everybody liked a lot. For example, Dark Souls 2 was only ranked by six staffers, but they ranked it so highly it was able to nab our #3 site-wide slot.
FINALIZING THE LIST
Once the votes are tallied, the top 10 are our games of the year, but it's not usually that simple. We actually had a three-way tie for our #10 game, so we had to have the entire staff vote in a runoff poll to see what game would actually take the position. (Apologies to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. You were so close!)
We then assign a writer who feels passionately about each of our games to write about why that game made their list. Ideally it's someone who didn't review the game, only because we assumed they're a little talked out on the subject.
Is it a perfect process? Nope. Is there a better one? We haven't found one that's better for us, but it's a process we're constantly re-evaluating in hopes of making this inherently futile task just a little bit less so.