By definition an electronic game is an interactive software where:
- Your decisions change the inner state of the software in a meaningful, preferably irrevocable way. Think something along the lines of moving a piece in a chessboard: you just can’t go back to the initial setting because your opponent won’t let you.
You can lose. Every game has an end. You can win big, win small, win different, but there must always be the possibility to lose. This is part of the thrill of playing, be it against a human opponent, an AI opponent or simple immovable obstacles.
Graphical interfaces, storytelling, score keeping, character building, lore and music are all beautiful additions but they don’t make your digital interactive media a game. Ergo, not everything that’s sold as a game is actually a game (e.g.: interactive novels). Some features can actually render a game into a non-game, such as the ability to save/load at any point, which makes the player’s decision irrelevant to the game state because he or she can try endlessly until reaching the “optimal decision”. But it’s up to the player to do that or not. If you could avoid having a predefined optimal route and go with a couple of different end scenarios, all the better.
So, as you can see, the term “game” is used very loosely nowadays, which is wrong because it paints an inaccurate picture of the whole industry of digital interactive media out there. There is nothing wrong with developing an interactive novel, a simulator, a pixel art map editor, etc.