The Monday ‘Joe: Backlogs

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

We all have backlogs, and some are bigger than others. For instance, mine is enormous with over 500 games incomplete, and that’s not a comprehensive list of my entire collection. Whether through a lack of time and resources, the OCD-like addiction to getting games as they come out, or a combination of both, our libraries tend to grow larger as our time to complete them shrinks. Some of us could never buy another video game ever again, and yet we could still play what we own for the rest of our lives and have games leftover anyway.

This week’s question, courtesy of Crystal:

What percentage of games do you finish? What factors affect whether you finish those games?

Crystal Steltenpohl: My backlog is considerably smaller, especially since I’m not as seasoned as Chris is and partially because I’m paying my way though school, so there goes any money I’d spend on games. Despite that, I have quite the backlog. It says that 57% of my games are unfinished, and a good chunk of them are unplayed. While I haven’t done a thorough update in quite some time—they’ve mostly been small updates to my Now Playing list—I’d say that’s probably pretty accurate. I’ve beaten or cleared the remaining 43%.

Honestly, my biggest factor is, and has almost always been, time. Time is what prevents me from playing and beating a lot of the games I own. For the past four years, I was a double major taking max course load with an internship most semesters who was also involved in numerous organizations and social groups. This past year, I’ve been a graduate student taking max course load and an assistantship. Even with being involved in only one organization, I might be busier now than I was as an undergrad, which is very difficult for me to fathom. Long story short, having absolutely no time to breathe is what keeps me from playing all of my games.

So what makes me play the games that I do play? Generally, it’s challenge, storyline, and/or community. A game needs to have at least one of those three things to get me to play it enough to finish it. It needs to give me things to think about, like the Portal series does; and a community I can connect to, like Pokemon does. And some games, like Tales of Vesperia, have great storylines that intrigue me and make me want to play the game more. Of course, we should also consider that some games, like Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft, you don’t actually finish. I still play TF2 when I can because I belong to a great community, and if I still had a subscription I’d play WoW because I liked the challenge of earning the achievements. Either way, if a game has any of those three things, I’m more likely to play it to completion.

Nathan Wood: I’m probably one of the only serious gamers who, for the most part, has never even had a backlog. Yeah, I know, right? I can hear all my gamer cred rushing right out the window. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t play many games or that there aren’t many that pique my interest. It’s more so that I’m not the biggest spender on my video game hobby; I just don’t purchase a title until I’m completely finished with what I’m currently playing. There’s still a significant bunch of titles even from last year I need to purchase and complete, so I’m not exactly getting off scott-free. That said, I think the largest traditional backlog I’ve ever had was maybe three to four games at the end of last year.

However, not all is wrong in my world. Because of this habit I’ve created for myself, I finish 100% of the games I own. I’m very much a person who tries to get the most out of his purchase, and I’ve pushed myself through games I haven’t necessarily enjoyed so I still feel I got the most out of my money. I’m looking at you, Crysis 2.

The biggest thing holding me back from creating a backlog of bursting quantity is in the small fact I’ve avoided Steam for the most part. This certainly isn’t by choice: I own a Mac, which isn’t exactly known for having a good range of gaming titles or offers. But don’t worry. I’m fairly certain that as I grow older, my habits will be completely undone and I’ll join the thousands of gamers with gigantic backlogs.

Joshua Moore: My backlog is considerably larger than Crystal’s, but then again, so is the library of games I own. I notice a trend in my backlog: as I got older and gained more income, I purchased more games but finished far fewer. The generations when I finished most, if not all, of the games I owned were the ones where I was a kid and had a lot of time but didn’t get games very often. It’s worth noting, however, that if I find a game to be absolute shit, I won’t finish it. Unfortunately, I also have a policy of never selling or trading games or systems I own. I’m a massive game hoarder, and that makes my backlog of games I actually want to finish or start look much larger than it is. But on the whole, I don’t think my 37.2% finishing rate is too bad, considering how little free time I’ve had in the past five years and especially these last three. College really sucks your free time away.

I’m planning to implement a rotation of new game/old game playing. That way, I’ll go through my backlog slowly but still be able to play new games. It’s going to take me a long time to get through the games I’ve set aside, and there are some I’ll probably never finish because I have no interest in them at all. The backlog is the bane of nearly every gamer, and it only gets worse when you’re not buying games on a budget.

Mohamed Al Saadoon: I’ve been lucky that my backlog-to-completed game ratio is still below 50% (i.e. I complete more than half my games), but there does seem to be a formula at play here: your backlog’s size is directly proportional to both your age and disposable income.

As a kid, I was able to purchase about one game a month, and only by pooling my allowance with my siblings so it had to be a unanimous decision. We really needed to want that game because if one of us pulled out, there would be no new game for that month. This ensured we played the shit out of whatever game we did buy.

Now I’m older and have money to burn. Also, Steam happened. That evil platform and its cheap games and myriad of sales have made seasonal and relentless assaults upon my credit card. Due to my low bandwidth, I haven’t been able to actually download many of them, let alone play them.

This situation is exacerbated by games that never end, like Team Fortress 2 and World of Tanks. Between those two games, I can waste a whole day gaming and not only get nothing done in other games, but not get actual work done at all!

Which reminds me… I have work to do.

Aileen Coe: I have a pretty abysmal percentage of games finished, which I knew even before I started trying to log it all. I’m positive I’m still forgetting stuff. Given that I’ve never really had a huge budget to work with in terms of buying games, I suppose you could say it’s impressive in a way. Probably the biggest contributions to my gaming collection are some generous friends, which I’m grateful for. When I was younger, I usually just mooched off of my brother’s collection so I can’t quite count those games as mine, but I did get to play more through that than I would’ve on my own.

One reason behind it is that I have a bad habit of flitting from game to game instead of focusing on one to finish. Not because I didn’t like the game I was playing, but because there were so many games I had that I wanted to get around to playing, too. While I do like the sense of accomplishment from actually getting to the end of a game, I also find that trying to force myself to stay on one game when I feel like playing something else is counterproductive.

Another factor is something everyone has to contend with in some fashion: time. There are many games to choose from, and each takes hours to complete. There’s also always other real-life tasks and responsibilities to tend to along with just trying to have some semblance of a life outside of games in general.

I used to be more of a completionist. But with an ever growing backlog and lots of things to divide my attention, I’ve started to aim more towards reaching the end of a game first before worrying about anything else I missed later. If I like a game enough, chances are I’ll go back and play it again at some point, and there are games I would pick back up despite the fact that I’ve completed them before. That doesn’t help my backlog any, but hey, having a large backlog means I’ll never run out of things to play even if I can’t get any new games for a while.

Christopher Bowen: I’m going to expand on something Mohamed said: “Your backlog’s size is directly proportional to both your age and disposable income.”

There’s some truth to this. One of the benefits of writing a retro column like Then and Now, and playing through games via my Livestreams, is that I get to think about just how and why I used to beat so many of my games as a kid. Simply put, I beat games I would never have wanted to beat because I didn’t have a choice; it was either that or another Super Mario Bros. run. Frankly speaking, I had to beat what I had because I wasn’t getting anything else.

Nowadays, in addition to the fact that I’m older and have more money, there are other factors conspiring to make my backlog larger. One, as mentioned, Steam has not been kind to my backlog: they just mindlessly dump games on their sales and volume, and it should be noted that the Steam portion of my backlog isn’t even complete yet. That ties into how I”ve basically become half collector and half player. It’s somewhat amusing that I deride speculation in the stock market so much; and yet I speculate on the cost of used games all the time, waiting for the right moment to pick it up, sometimes not even with the intention of playing it. I picked up four dot.Hack games for a combined $40 once. I don’t even like dot.Hack, but I do know if I didn’t move right then, those prices were going to end up much higher. This is a major reason why my Steam list is so full: if I don’t buy it at sale price, it’s going up 80%.

Furthermore, all that disposable income, relatively speaking, comes from the fact that I work a lot, which of course takes away from the time I have available to actually play games. I work at least forty-five hours a week at my primary job, not counting what it takes to drive to and from, fighting traffic the whole way (my trip into work can take anywhere from thirty-five to ninety minutes depending on how temperamental I-95 is). Then there are other interests, such as my athletic career, a little bit of social time, the time it takes to run this site, et cetera. Simply put, I don’t have the time I would like to have to just sit around and play video games, and most of what I have goes to a few dedicated games. Right now, NBA 2K12 has my attention, and so does the just-beaten-and-soon-to-be-reviewed Warriors Orochi 3. Even if I really wanted to play through all the dot.Hack games, where is the time?

It’s weird, because once you look past all of the AAA money-grubbing and the disingenuous nature of the free-to-play market, our choices for games have never been greater. The indie scene is flying; AAs are starting to find their second wind on the digital market; and the sheer size of the libraries of each console of just the last couple of generations, particularly the PS2, means we’ll have games to play for decades. Of course, that choice can be paralyzing, especially when actually playing a game. Does someone stick with a difficult portion of their game, or do they move onto something else for instant gratification? As I’ve grown older and my time more precious, I find myself choosing the latter more often.

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