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Living With the Backlog

Discounts and sales mean gamers are getting more bang for their buck. How do you handle your growing collection?

We have a problem. I know I do, and many of you probably do as well. It dogs us everyday and only with constant effort and vigilance can we prevent the issue from spreading. Maybe one of your friends is particularly mired in this problem that affects all players, casual and hardcore. Maybe even one of your family members. It's an issue that's spreading to gamers across the United States.

I’m talking about our backlogs.

My backlog is a giant chain of amazing and quirky games that’s I’ve accumulated over the course of this generation. In my Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 days, I didn’t have this problem. I’d buy a game, I’d play a game, I’d finish a game. Then I’d trade it in and move on to the next game. If a title was innovative or tugged at my heartstrings in a strong manner, I’d keep it. That was how my collection grew.

This generation, something changed. Digital distribution, led by Steam on PC, has seen me to purchase far more games than I’ll ever be able to play. Frequent sales on Steam have led to frequent sales by competitors, with Gamersgate, GOG, Green Man Gaming, and Amazon all running deep-discounts on great titles recently. Pre-orders are frequently 10 to 15 percent off, and waiting a month or two can see $20 to $30 knocked off the retail price of certain games.

Even retail is getting in on the action. Head over to Cheap Ass Gamer and you can find weekly sales in brick-and-mortar shops. Discounts, buy-two-get-one-free, buy-one-get-one-half-off, and new bundles every week. I haven’t purchased a game at full retail price in the last two years, and it is awesome.

These discounts lead to you buying games that you may not want right this moment because it's so damn cheap. I picked up Castlevania: Lords of Shadow because Target had a buy-two-get-one-free sale and I didn’t have any other options for my free game. I was mildly interested, so I went with it. I just purchased Sonic All-Stars Racing: Transformed from Steam for $7.49 because the game has intrigued me for awhile and for that price, why not grab it? I hated Demon’s Souls due to my own complete lack of skills, but I purchased Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition for $10, after kicking myself for not picking it up earlier at $7.50. Because I might want to play it one day and it might not be that cheap again. Crazy, I know.

I got everything for $20! I think it'll only take a couple of months to beat them all.

And so my backlog swells. These games aren’t even counting the titles that I now play for previews and reviews here on USgamer. A quick scan of the game shelf next to my desk shows unopened copies of The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, God of War Collection, MadWorld, and Muramasa. I know for a fact that I haven’t finished Ni no Kuni, Driver: San Francisco, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, and Dishonored. And that’s before I even get to my 200 games on Steam, many of which I will never even install.

The game queue is a fluid thing. I could be in the middle of Uncharted 3, but the buzz of Bioshock Infinite means I want to play that instead. And so Uncharted 3 moves down a spot in the queue. A friend just finished Pandora's Tower and tells me it should be a high priority for me. So Uncharted 3 moves further down the list. Fast forward three months and Uncharted 3 is number ten on the list for various reasons. The backlog is a vicious beast.

There’s only so much time in the day, and some games want to take up a huge chunk of that time. I enjoy playing MMOs, but between Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, Rift, World of Warcraft, and the all-new Final Fantasy XIV, who has the time to commit? The first 10 or 12 hours of Ni no Kuni were great, but that's a long haul before I’ll see the end. Some games even waste my time, and those are the worst offenders, never to be seen again. I have little time and patience for games that can leave you back where you started after hours of playing.

That’s not to say I don’t finish games anymore. In fact, my backlog has changed the way I play my games. My current rule is that I won’t purchase a sequel until I finish the preceding title. This rule has helped me polish off all three Mass Effect games, the Dead Space series, all the Assassin’s Creed games, a number of Resident Evils, and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games. The occasional game will also sweep into my life, take 20 hours from me, and then fly away, complete. I love those titles for not trying to take all the time I can give.

That moment when you realize you'll never beat all your games.

This backlog issue has made me relish small indie experiences that can be polished off in a few hours. It’s also made me enjoy titles that I rationalize as "can’t be beat". Racing games can be completed by finishing all the races and fighting games can be completed by beating the game with all the characters, but I no longer have the inclination for either task. Though the Animal Crossing virus has skipped me, it looks like the type of game that can stretch on into forever. Games like this I just pick up and play whenever the mood strikes me.

Portable titles have also been a go-to staple for me lately. I appreciate the relatively small time commitment that my PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS ask for. I can write a bit, play a bit of a game, put the portable in standby, and go back to writing. Portable gaming has become a palate cleanser for the things that I do everyday. The standby option is so useful that I'm looking forward to it on PlayStation 4.

Clearing the backlog requires a bit of willpower and organization. There are a few options for players, like Backloggery or participating in a monthly event like Four for February. Backloggery helps you catalog your games and mark which ones are unfinished or completed. A full list of unfinished games can galvanize a player to either finish more of their collection or stop buying new games. Events like Four for February try to focus you on small set of games within a certain time period. These events tend to work well if you have friends participating with you to spur you on with a sense of competition. There's also focused sites like the Steam Completionist, that deal only with games on a particular service.

So what are the next five games on your backlog and how are you planning to handle them? Or does beating every game you own not matter to you at all?

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