It's obvious. You can see it, you can hear it, sometimes you can just feel it. Maybe it's in a secret level, a hidden message, a trick or homage to an older game. Maybe it's the dialogue, the characters, that one cutscene that cracks you up each time. Maybe it's a skillful breaking of the fourth wall, or maybe it's just how it plays. Whatever it is, it tells you, it gives you that hunch, that the people who made the game you're playing genuinely had fun making it.
The game is better for it. You are better for it.
Games simply feel better when it becomes obvious the team enjoyed working on it. I don't mean the satisfaction of telling a compelling tale or producing a finished product that sells well, that's a separate kind of enjoyment all together. I'm talking about the kind of enjoyment where a dev team throws in all kinds of weird stuff just for fun. I'm talking John Romero's head on a stick in Doom 2. I'm talking Warcraft II cutscene re-enactments in the Warcraft III credits. That's the love I'm talking about, where you just know the team was going "Hey, let's do this! Ooh, put this in there! Oh, we gotta try this. Hey, see if we can spell out 'Dopefish Lives' with the map maker!" And so on.
It's the kind of love you can feel in a well-crafted script that isn't afraid to digress, be it non-sequitors (Anachronox), cheesy movies (Secret of Evermore) or pop culture references (pretty much anything ever made by Working Designs). It's in the work put into any old iD shooter, with that hidden Wolfenstein 3D level or the game-within-a-game that gets a certain Space Marine docked a couple weeks' pay. It's in the names that keep coming back in Troika games - Gilbert Bates, a ship called the Elizabeth Dane, etc. It's in games old and new, it's in RPGs and shooters and strategy games; it's in corny live-action cutscenes and hidden missions where you fight giant ants.
It's not that prevalent out there, but it hasn't gone away. Some companies showed their love with everything they did, and some still do. Some have gone by the wayside (Troika, Ion Storm) and others keep plugging away (Blizzard, Bungie). Some died young, some live forever. What's the point? They *enjoyed* making the game, and it shows when they did. It comes from different times, in different forms, from different teams, but you know when it's there, and you miss it when it's not. It's obvious - painfully obvious - when it lacks that heart, that soul; that quality easily felt, but difficult to describe.
We needed those games. We need them still, because sometimes they're the games that remind us why we play games.