My backlog is too big. So I decided to stop giving a damn.
Our backlogs are getting bigger, but we’re not getting any more time.
How many games have you bought in the last 12 months? Seriously, how many? If you don’t know the number, go and find out. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Good. Now of all those games, how many have you played to completion? Unless you play on one platform, only like one or two specific genres, have amazing control over your consumerism, or a combination of these, we probably share the same affliction.
Hate to break it to you, but you’re a game hoarder.
This year I decided I was going to try to cut down on my backlog instead of buying more games. During the last Steam sale I bought twenty-one games, from AAA blockbusters like Watch Dogs 2 to small indie games like Stardew Valley. Usually I try to tackle games less well received by media/gamers, secretly hoping I’ll agree with the consensus and move on to the next one. Occasionally I’d surprise myself and actually enjoy a “bad” game, but that’s a rarity.
First up was Duke Nukem Forever: bland and boring. It was cheap, so I dropped it after an hour. Next was Homefront: The Revolution. Boring open-world, riddled with bugs. But cheap, so deleted after an hour. But the next game was the one that REALLY made me feel bad: Dishonored 2.
Don’t get me wrong: Dishonored 2 is a solid game with amazing world building and atmosphere. But I was getting frustrated playing on hard, and after four hours the game was starting to feel unfair. Enemies see you in a mere second, getting out of tough spots is damn near impossible, and the game was starting to require the kind of patience I wasn’t willing to dedicate.
Then I looked at my game list and realized I still had over 30 games installed, some of which I still hadn’t played. I felt anxious, because after four hours and no way to change the difficulty, the only choice I had to make the experience a little more forgiving was to start all over again on either normal or easy difficulty. But then I thought about the backlog. Reloading my save every 5 seconds was getting me nowhere. This was time I could be spending on another game.
So I deleted Dishonored 2, even though I knew I’d have a much better time if I just started over on a lower difficulty. But my backlog was beckoning me, whispering in my ear that it’s too big and needed to be shortened, no matter what.
This isn’t what gaming is about. It’s about having a good time, and by focusing on cutting down my backlog I’m turning gaming into a chore, not a hobby. And I get anxious because of that.
The root of the issue
I decided to research how many games I’d bought in 2016 across PC, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, 3DS and Xbox One to determine how many of those games I actually played and finished. The results are, unsurprisingly, disappointing.
PC: 61 purchases, from individual games to bundles, across Steam and Origin, so I guess I can say I bought a total about 80 games. Of those, I only finished 16.
PS4: 19 games, 4 finished
PS Vita: 7 games, 3 finished
3DS: 3 games, 1 finished
Wii U: 3 games, none finished
Xbox One: 5 games, all finished
That means I finished approximately 25% of all games I bought in 2016. That’s 29 out of almost 120 games. So why? Why do I buy so many games if I’m not even get through half of them? The answer is pretty simple: Digital distribution and sales.
Before the rise of digital distribution, the gaming market was a little different: all games were physical, consistently full price (and when it came to cartridge games, REALLY expensive) and marketing consisted primarily of printed media, television ads and word of mouth. But thanks to the internet, not only has the way we buy games changed, but also how we make our purchasing decisions.
Social media and streaming services give us everything we need to know about a game: how it plays, what’s the story, flashy trailers every other day. Publishers beg you to preorder their games, with the promise of bonuses like a badass skin for your weapons or exclusive levels, maps and even difficulty settings (ugh).
We also live in a culture where we are taught the more you consume, the better and happier you’ll be. From smartphones to TVs and cars, companies are basically begging you to buy, buy, buy, regardless whether you actually need it or not. Got that kickass new iPhone today? Well, in less than a year there’s a new one coming, and you need it. And even if inadvertently, this seeps into our gaming decisions as well. We buy games just so we can get them day one, preordering to our hearts content without even knowing if we will get enough time to go through all of them.
Must… resist… the urge…
And then there’s the matter of sales. Sales are the main culprit, the biggest reason our backlogs are getting bigger and bigger.
Thanks to the advancement of digital distribution methods and the rise of independent development, not only is there a wide array of games being released every week, but prices are also much more flexible, with titles ranging from $10 to $60 or more. Moreover, more games are being released than ever before, so developers have to fight harder for our time and money.
Game sales are now a common sight among console manufacturers and PC digital storefronts. Steam alone had four major sale periods in 2016: The Summer Sale, Halloween Sale, Autumn Sale and Winter Sale. Except for Halloween, during which mostly horror games were discounted, Steam had discounts for almost every game in its store, ranging from 10% all the way up to 90%. Origin, UPlay, PSN and Xbox Live all had similar sales throughout the year.
I don’t know about you, but buying cheap games feel satisfying. I mean, if it’s dirt cheap, why not buy it and play whenever you get the chance? It’s not like I’m gonna get any poorer because of $5 I spent on a game. But then you see more games… they’re cheap, so you buy more of them, and then you play a couple for a while until the next big thing comes out and you drop them. But when you least expect it, there’s another sale on the horizon and the cycle begins anew.
It’s a vicious cycle I and many others have been stuck in. Our thirst for having new games just because we can is compelling us to hoard an increasing amount, with the irony being: most of them won’t even get touched. What’s the point of having a library a thousand games deep? Just to have it in your games list for display? We need to change our way of looking our backlog and how we purchase games.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Gaming
If you read up until this point and you identified yourself as having the same problem as I do, I propose we make a pledge right here, right now. From now on, we will stop looking at our backlog as a list of “chores” you have to go through out of sheer obligation. As I saw it described in a forum this week while researching, let’s start looking at our backlog as a bookshelf. You can take a book from it at any time, read it at your own leisure, and if you like it you keep reading. If you don’t, you just put it back in the shelf and pick up another.
If you start playing a game and you enjoy it, keep going. If at any point you feel bored or constantly frustrated, just stop. Don’t force yourself into playing a game just cause you feel you have to. You play games for fun, so if a game stops being fun then there really isn’t a point to keep playing it, is there?
“But what about the money I spent?”
Well, if it’s a physical copy then sell it or trade it in. If it’s digital? Well, that’s money you won’t ever get back. But so is the time you spent playing a game you’re not enjoying. So between crying over money I’m never getting back and wasting hours on a joyless experience, I’ll take neither. Thankfully, Steam allows refunds for games played for less than two hours up to two weeks after purchase and it’s a system I hope gets implemented on console stores as well, because it allows you to get your money back if you feel a game is not for your tastes right after you buy it.
Also, let’s research games before we buy. Watch gameplay videos, read media impressions and reviews, and social media. Ask your friends. Hell, ask us. The more we know about a game beforehand, the more we’ll know if said game is for us or not.
And most importantly: STOP. BUYING. GAMES. ON. SALE. Unless it’s a game you REALLY want, then there’s no reason to hoard just for the sake of hoarding. Buy only what you know you’ll play.
I decided to uninstall all of my Steam games. From now on, the only game installed will be the one I’m currently playing. Only when I’m done or when I decide it’s not a game for me will I install another. I’m tired. Tired of forcing myself to go through games like check boxes to be ticked. Tired of making my favorite hobby become a source of stress and anxiety. The days of worrying about what I did or didn’t play are over.
Starting now, I’m having fun, first and foremost.