Living With the Backlog

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

Article by Mike Williams, .

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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Comments 14

  • Avatar for Suzusiiro #1 Suzusiiro 4 years ago
    I'd say it's less about the rise of steam sales and other cheap game sources and more about growing up- when you're a kid you usually have little money but all the time in the world, so you can only own a few games but you play them to death. When you're an adult you usually have enough money to buy a lot of games but not enough time to play them.

    For me it's that plus the fact that I've been a regular WoW raider for years- I had a bit of a backlog building once I started working in college, but it didn't start to really pile up until I got into that game.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    My solution has been pretty simple: I've stopped buying games, unless I know I'm going to play them immediately.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #3 MHWilliams 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish And that, sir, is why you are a boss.
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  • Avatar for iGark #4 iGark 4 years ago
    I created a spreadsheet of all of my Steam games (I play exclusively PC at the moment, although I am considering a PS4 when that arrives.) I am currently working my way through Borderlands 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Psychonauts, Saints Row: The Third, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

    The two biggest blockades to sorting out my backlog for me personally are: multiplayer games (I'm stuck on TF2 and will often play that instead of Borderlands 2) and achievements (I'm an achievement hunter and perfecting Just Cause 2 calls to me.) Another minor blockade is the influx of new games; I tend to buy games in bundles and have something like 200 games when I've specifically went out and bought maybe 50.

    The spreadsheet also enabled me to keep track of games I just didn't like at all. While I normally like FPS games, I discarded BioShock a part of the way through it because that game just wasn't fun to play for me. I also managed to finally finished Amnesia (if you're scared by it, count yourself lucky. Game is tedious as heck if you're not scared).

    And of course my backlog is only ~180 games so I have it easier than the rest of you presumably. However, steam sale's coming up and there's a lot on my wishlist...
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #5 Neifirst 4 years ago
    You finished all of the Assassin's Creed games but haven't started Xenoblade Chronicles? For shame...

    I personally just avoid the whole backlog situation by ordinarily purchasing games I really want to play, even at full price, rather than multiple games on sale that I might have just a passing interest in.
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  • Avatar for BlueDiscoverer #6 BlueDiscoverer 4 years ago
    I do the same as@jeremy.parish .

    I've realized that buying a game I'm not going to play immediately usually results in me not playing the game at all. There's so many great deals out there but getting a game for 95% off and never playing it means I've wasted money and not saved it.

    So I choose to buy fewer games at full price(unless a sale hits at the perfect time) rather than a ton of games on sale.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #7 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    I'm in the same boat. I think it's a bit of compulsion, in that I pick up games I'm interested in when they go on special. Usually, they'll get played, but many end up in backlog purgatory.

    And that's just the physical collection, which goes back to my SNES days (I finished almost everything I had for NES). My Steam backlog, through various bundles (I mean, how could I pass those up, right?), has swelled immensely, to the point where I own 400+ games on there, most of which I'll not even install.

    I've gotten a lot better recently, though. I skip a lot of stuff, and wait longer for sales, and pass up on games that I'm only marginally interested in. And the bundles have become less of a draw, too, as I've become more judicious, and also as some degree of overlap is occurring now between all of them.

    I'll never finish all the games I have, though. I'll never try, either. For the rarer stuff, though, just owning it is cool, which I guess means I'm more a collector than anything. That makes it okay, right? Right?Edited July 2013 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #8 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    Ah the Backloggery is the best for this. Diving into it with a couple friends is probably the most effective way to clear out your backlog by comparing your progress to them. Plus the community is really nice. Hit me up if you have any questions; my Backloggery name is axemtitanium.
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  • Avatar for jaysonyoung #9 jaysonyoung 4 years ago
    I look at games not as quests to be completed, but as fun places to hang out. So each game is like a little mental vacation.

    When I visit a new place, I don't try to finish or complete the place, I just try to enjoy my time there, whether it's for one hour, one week, or three years. It's the same with games. If I get 10 hours of fun from Ni No Kuni, that's money/time well spent.

    And considering that games are much cheaper than traveling to new places, I'd say it all works out.
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  • Avatar for weevilo #10 weevilo 4 years ago
    Fun topic to think about and to hear how others manage. I don't mind spending $100 for 20 games bought on sale even if I only end up playing a handful of them for more than a few minutes, because I come across gems that end up offering a lot more than most $50 titles. With Frozen Synapse, FTL and Terraria - which I've spent less than $10 combined on - I've logged hundreds of hours of playtime, and found quite a few fun indies that I pop in to at random times, and the occasional masterpiece like Thomas Was Alone.

    I've even taken chances on games in discount bundles that I would never have played otherwise that turned out to be awesome, like Stacking and Costume Quest from the Double Fine Humble Bundle (already knowing Psychonauts to be one of the greatest games ever).

    Then there's the benefit of always having something new to play when a tempting AAA title comes out. You can wait six months or a year and avoid all the bullshit bugs and DLC that comes with rushed launch titles and buy the Complete or GotY edition for $10-15, and not be angry when it turns out to be a steaming pile.Edited July 2013 by weevilo
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  • Avatar for Clawglip #11 Clawglip 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I can't even begin to imagine how many times I've decided to do this and failed shortly afterwards.

    Two things: someone once put it this way: "I don't have a shame pile, I have a treasure hoard." I dig this perspective.

    Also, I've decided that I can amass a HUGE collection of unplayed JRPGs, as these are what I plan to spend my time with when I retire. No need for those derned twitch reflexes, sonny!
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  • Avatar for skybald #12 skybald 4 years ago
    Got rid of my Xbox 360 and all the games to help pay for PS4 preorder. That quelled my backlog immensely.

    The only games in my backlog now are Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and whatever other five dollar games I can find for GameCube.
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  • Avatar for TPaulBuzan #13 TPaulBuzan 4 years ago
    Being an adult certainly has it's perks, with gainful employment not being the least of them. But even though I may have the cash on hand to buy whatever game tickles my fancy I know I (most likely) won't have the time to see said game through to completion.

    Oh well. Slow and steady wins the race, I guess. No need to rush. I'll savor my backlog one awesome gaming experience at a time.
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  • Avatar for UnknownJones #14 UnknownJones 4 years ago
    Thanks for the great article, Mike. This has been a "problem" for me for a while, and I didn't know about the Backloggery as a way to catalogue it all. (I'm registered now as "UnknownJones." Multitap me, guys!)

    I justify my massive backlog (500-ish unplayed games at this point) to my girlfriend by emphasizing the collection aspects of the hobby now, and then when I have kids I'll discover games with them. Hopefully when I'm retired I'll catch up on all those JRPGs as well (although I bet the bad writing and kawaii characters will be nearly intolerable).

    Unlike Jeremy, I've regretted winnowing down my collection the few times early in my life I've done it. No more of that for me.
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