Here's One Way to Tackle the Backlog

Some of us have a bigger backlog problem than others. But how to deal with it when it's 500 games strong?

Article by Pete Davison, .

I'm one of those people who buys games that I intend to play in the future rather than right away.

In my case, it's partly a side-effect of being interested in rarer titles such as Japanese role-playing games that tend to have more limited print runs -- I want to be able to play these games at some point in the near future without having to pay considerably more than their original retail price for the privilege, and I also prefer physical copies -- but I'm certainly not immune to the lure of Steam sales and, less frequently, bundle packages.

These things, between them, are probably responsible for the vast majority of most backlogs -- assuming you're at least a part-time PC gamer.

It's easily done -- a Steam sale rolls around, you see something you've been mildly curious about appear at 75% off, so you drop a few dollars on it without a second thought. It then proceeds to sit in your library for the rest of eternity, potentially never touched. This problem only got compounded with the recent launch of Steam's trading cards program -- something which I'm still undecided in my opinion of -- as the more money you spent in the recent Summer Getaway sale, the more cards you picked up.

"A byproduct of my purchasing habits was that I stopped enjoying playing games as much as I should."

Reddit user Ruteqube
Sprawling, potentially endless games like Skyrim going for cheap in Steam sales don't help the backlog much.

Bundles make it even easier to amass a significant quantity of games you quite possibly won't play. Look at the currently running Humble Bundle, for example. It's not unreasonable to assume that a lot of people will be picking this up purely to get Saints Row The Third -- by far the most well-received, most successful title in that lineup -- for not very much money. This, however, also leaves them with copies of Saints Row 2, Risen 2, Sacred 2 and, depending on how much they paid, possibly the two Dead Island games, too.

How do you approach tackling your backlog, then, particularly if the prospect of buying a new game fills you with guilt over the hundreds of other things you haven't beaten?

Reddit user Ruteqube has a potential solution -- one that works for Steam users, anyway. In Ruteqube's case, tackling the backlog was something they felt they needed to do in order to be able to enjoy the hobby again.

"A byproduct of my purchasing habits was that I stopped enjoying playing games as much as I should," Ruteqube writes. "Whenever I was playing a game, I felt the weight of my backlog, and I would often feel guilty for playing a game I enjoyed and had played for a while when there were so many that I hadn't even touched. Even when I wasn't playing games, I felt the shadow of my backlog behind me. I looked at any free time as hours that were best utilized by sinking them into my massive library. I often sat through social situations flummoxed at how much time I was spending not putting time into my Steam library."

Ruteqube calculated that it would take three years to complete the 250 untouched games they had left in their library, assuming each game was about five hours long and if they played for about eight hours a week. They accepted, however, that the assumption most games would be five hours or less was somewhat tenuous, and thus the final figure would probably be much higher.

"Doing the actual math was humbling," writes Ruteqube, "as it put into perspective just what trap I'd fallen into. I'd been buying games under the assumption that 'some day' I'd be able to get around to them, but instead I'd dug myself a hole that actually prevented that 'some day' from ever happening. There would never be a glorious moment when I was free to play whatever my heart desired because I was always saddling my heart with more and more desires while simultaneously letting it only pursue one at a time. Slowly."

Clearly, a different approach was needed. And thus Ruteqube came up with a solid idea for clearing the backlog -- one that can work for pretty much anyone.

"Doing the actual math was humbling, as it put into perspective just what trap I'd fallen into."

Reddit user Ruteqube
How many of you own a copy of Torchlight? Uh-huh. Now how many of you have beaten it? Okay. And how many haven't actually played it at all?

The key way in which Ruteqube rethought the plan was in changing the definition of "clearing" the backlog. "Clearing" didn't have to mean "completing" the games; instead, they set themselves the goal that they would try every game in their backlog for at least an hour, and actually complete the games they tried that they ended up enjoying without guilt. Games that weren't engaging after an hour, however, would be discarded and not returned to.

"Many would probably argue that it takes far less than an hour to discern whether or not you're into a game, and, after having gone through this, I'd say that's probably accurate," says Ruteqube. "What I wanted to accomplish in setting that as a threshold was to avoid the situation where I played a game for four minutes, didn't like the tutorial or first level or whatever, and then moved on. I've found that many games take time to kind of open up and show you what they have to offer, especially when the first part of the game is them laying out their story and mechanics for you. Most games, I would argue, try really hard to make us care about them, but that takes time and isn't usually doable inside of 10 minutes."

Other participants in Ruteqube's thread then chimed in with their own approaches to this, with a common approach being to categorize games not necessarily according to genre, but into groups such as "now playing," "intend to play," "finished" and "played but don't intend to finish." It's also worth making use of Steam's ability to sort games and show only those that are installed at any one time, as this allows you to focus on just the titles that are immediately to hand.

Ultimately, though, the key thing to remember is that games are a medium of entertainment. The moment it starts feeling like "work" to slog through what should be things you want to engage with, it's time to take a step back and consider why you're doing what you're doing. While you can't get rid of stuff you've purchased on Steam you have no intention of playing, you can at least uninstall and hide them.

Similarly, if you have a significant physical "pile of shame," consider whether you really need all of them. If you have no intention of actually playing something and it's just taking up space on your shelf, do you really need to keep it? "Yes" is a valid answer -- some people just like to collect. If the answer is "no," however, consider getting rid of those games somehow. Trade them in, sell them to collectors, donate them to a charity.

Hopefully then you'll be able to game without guilt.

You can read the whole original Reddit thread here -- it's a long but interesting read.

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Comments 13

  • Avatar for Thusian #1 Thusian 4 years ago
    Its a real issue, for many. I have a personal rule that I can't buy a game if I have something else on the shelf I have not finished. Being married really helps enforce that rule BTW. Now what that does not me is that I have to beat the game currently in the queue, but it will push me to get rid of it if I am not having as much fun with it as I thought I would.

    Current example, I was slogging through Assassin's Creed 3. I think I might be half way, and the game has started to feel like a chore. Its gone, not in play will be sold traded or given away. One benefit to this and the one hour rule outlined in the article is that you get to learn a lot better what you like vs. what is hyped up or reviewed well. For all intents and purposes I should love a lot of open world games they get well reviewed, but they all end up like AC3 up there so now I will avoid them even if they review well, understanding that they're just not for me.
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  • Avatar for Maphis #2 Maphis 4 years ago
    A problem I have on top of this, is that I'd have a whole slew of games I want to play but can never actually decide between them. As a result I end up paralysed by indecision and don't play anything at all.
    To get around this I've set myself up a 'roulette' system; I list the 10 games I currently want to play the most, assign each a number, and when I actually have time to play something I'll go to and select one by random.
    Thanks to this I'm spending a lot more time playing things than I was and I'm actually getting to experience a lot more of my backlog...
    Once I'm not enjoying a game anymore or I think I've seen enough, it's off the roulette and I don't feel guilty about it.
    If there's something I -really- want to play, I'll skip the roulette system entirely and just play it.

    It's not so much work as it is self-regulation :PEdited August 2013 by Maphis
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  • Avatar for Maphis #3 Maphis 4 years ago
    Deleted August 2013 by Maphis
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #4 renatocosta90 4 years ago
    That has been a big issue for me. I went from working five minutes away from home to spending three hours on a commute this year, and working a lot more compared to before. And I have way too much backlog, usually great games, and I'm just drawing a blank as to how I could tackle it all in an orderly fashion without quitting work and binge gaming 78-hours straight.
    For now, my backlog consists of such thinks as Dark and Demons Souls, Okami HD, ICO and Shadow of the Colossus HD, Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Dead Space 2, Far Cry 3, Torchlight 2, Witcher 2, Tomb Raider and many others. What about you guys?
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #5 renatocosta90 4 years ago
    @Thusian I had the same feeling when I played earlier this year. My advice? Ignore it, for the sake of the feelings you have for the series. The last mission is totally and absolutely bu****it, the animus (desmond) story is a BIG letdown, and that was the part where I was least expecting anything.
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  • Avatar for fwest316 #6 fwest316 4 years ago
    It was really hard for me to relate to the "guilt" feeling of having a large backlog. I have a backlog of about 15 games or so and feel no guilt that some of them have been there for years and I haven't touched them. This may be because I have 3 kids under 4 and feeling guilty about games seems silly in the grand scheme of things.
    I do wish to play them at some point and when I do have a moment to play a game I play the one that pulls my interest the most at the moment. I am currently playing Torchlight 2 and I am making time to play it because it is holding my attention AND I can play it with my brother who lives in Taiwan.
    I think people who may have this guilt should really step back and focus on the fact that gaming is a hobby and is meant to be enjoyed not fretted over and stressed about like a job, raising children, marriage, etc...
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  • Avatar for skylarw #7 skylarw 4 years ago
    @Maphis I like this system! I'll have to give that a shot.
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  • Avatar for weevilo #8 weevilo 4 years ago
    @fwest316 Agreed, it's a little troubling how many people talk about feeling guilty at how many games they have. I think I would only feel that way if I were still buying brand new titles at full price while sitting on a big backlog. As it is, I feel a lot better about gaming now that I have so many cheap games to play than I did when I would finish a $50-60 game and realize I had to shell out another wad of cash to get a new quality title. I'm a little baffled as to why a PC gamer would even buy a new game when there are so many great 1-3 year old games (or older) waiting to be played for a fraction of the price, complete with all the strung out DLC and bug fixes and community content.

    It's not a big deal to pay ~$5 each for 10-15 of last years AAA titles and realize a few of them suck and not play them again, than to pay full price for a newer game like I just did for Bioshock Infinite and realize you made a mistake (there are still game breaking bugs in it keeping me from progressing, months after release, screw that noise).
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  • Avatar for weevilo #9 weevilo 4 years ago
    Also, I'm still waiting for Valve to give us more ways to categorize and manage our games in Steam. Things I want are a way to view all of my games in a flat list (since I have them all in different categories), a way to hide games from showing up at all (maybe have a property to hide a game, and a UI setting to reveal hidden games), and to allow for a game to be under more than one category. Also subcategories would be amazing.
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  • Avatar for BlueDiscoverer #10 BlueDiscoverer 4 years ago
    @Maphis I love this idea. I'll have to try it sometime. Thanks for sharing it.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #11 benjaminlu86 4 years ago

    You're welcome. It has a nice community and getting friends to compete to decrease your backlog is extremely motivating. It also has@Maphis' roulette fuctionality built in (the fortune cookie).

    Also Bob Mackey has a profile:
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  • Avatar for Maphis #12 Maphis 4 years ago
    @benjaminlu86 Backloggery is cool and all (I have a page that I haven't touched in 3 years... now you've mentioned it I've logged in and feel compelled to update it :S ), but I really think it suffers from not having a centralized game database.
    There's so much more they could do with the platform but can't as everything is free text. A mash-up of Raptr and Backloggery would be amazing...
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #13 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    @Maphis The creator has mentioned that a (good) centralized game database is in the works. There used to be one circa 2006 but they got rid of it because it was bad. See for other planned updates.
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  • Avatar for Baltimore-Jones #14 Baltimore-Jones 4 years ago
    I do have the "guilt" feeling, but the problem is I still have it even if I'm not enjoying a game. I feel I need to press on and finish. With physical copies this isn't as big a deal, as usually if I sell the game I feel liberated from it. But with Steam and GOG and Amazon digital it's different. Maybe with practice I can make the 1-hour rule work for me.

    At least I'm pretty good with not buying excess games during digital sales now. Even if there's a game I KNOW I want to play at some point and it's $1 on sale, I generally won't buy it unless I actually plan on playing it immediately. On PSN I'm more likely to buy, but only when specific games I'm looking to buy go on sale. I waited like 3 years to buy Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty (not a good game) until it finally went on sale.

    Playstation Plus is screwing me up with partial guilt though. I now semi-own a whole ton of games.
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