18 Jun Conquering the Backlog
Before we begin…. This post is all about something I tried out that worked for me. It may not work for everyone and every thing I write here is personal, anecdotal experience.
Ugh..the backlog, the bane of every gamer’s existence. Gamers love to collect games whether they be in virtual or physical form. I rarely run into a fellow videogamer without talking about a backlog of 10+ games that are just sitting on a shelf or in their Steam Library. I understand the difficulty in mitigating the backlog as so much is constantly competing for our attention. Maybe you love playing games, but the new season of Bojack Horseman just took over your life for the next week or so. As a late millennial gamer, I often find video games taking a backseat to one of my 5 jobs or social media or one of the many podcast ideas I have that never come to fruition. It doesn’t help that most of our social media feeds are riddled with new game ads, trailers, reviews, and previews. I feel like I find 10 new games PER DAY that I want to give a shot. Luckily, I’ve got a smidgen of self control and only actually try out about 1 of those games per week. I’ve also always felt that this era of gaming has shown itself to be the best in recent memory. There’s something for everyone to play; every genre, style, and game type. Retro is HUGE, modern is bigger! We can play online, offiline, local, or just watch others play on Twitch. Gaming is more than an industry these days, it’s a culture and a network. I read a great piece about Fortnite last week as suggested by my brother (he has a great, daily newsletter, contact me if you want to be on the mailing list!). This piece shows just how all-encompassing gaming has become over the past few years…as you can see I’m easily distracted and like to run along on tangents, which had greatly contributed to my extensive backlog of games. Where was I going with this? Yes. The fact that gaming has become such a giant piece of our culture has created an environment where we’re constantly surrounded by new, bright, and shiny games. We end up buying these games leaving a stack of 20 games that are all 50% completed in our wake. I had a similar situation until about a year ago when I changed how I went about gaming. It’s led to me finishing more games, making the backlog smaller, and enjoying each individual game more.
I started this style of gaming back when Super Mario Odyssey released. I found myself bouncing between Mario and Zelda, getting marginally further each time and not really accomplishing anything. I had a collection of new Switch games that were piling up and I was playing bits and pieces of all of them. After talking about it with some friends, I took some advice and started to employ this practice “Do not start a new game, until you finish the game you’re playing”. It’s not originally my idea, but I’ve lived by this method since. I put down Mario Odyssey and focused on finishing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. When that was done, I moved back to Mario Odyssey and finished that. Once Odyssey was finished I moved onto Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and so on. I was finishing games and feeling much more accomplished. This gave me a better understanding of what each game was trying to achieve and I could view them with a more critical lens. It’s hard to fully judge a game when you only play the first 20%.
The push back I normally hear is, “But doesn’t that mean you’ll add more games to your backlog as you wait to complete others?”. It could…for sure, but from my own experience I noticed myself buying fewer games and having better experiences with a smaller list. While this could potentially create a bigger backlog, I noticed that the backlog was constantly changing. It wasn’t the same 15 games, with yet a NEW game added to the list. My backlog was about 10-15 games but I was actually removing games from the list at a more regular pace. So over time, the list shrunk. It’s probably only about 5 or so games now. When I stopped caring about being earliest of adopters the stress to play EVERYTHING NEW went away and I learned to appreciate my time with games.
It has made me much more selective too. I deeply analyze and schedule what games I’ll play based on style, genre, and quality. As someone who likes a bit of everything when it comes to games, I like to mix it up. If I play Secret of Mana for the beginning of June it makes sense, to me, to play Super Mario Maker 2 when it releases on June 28, to give myself a bit of a change in genre. I treat gaming like any other form of entertainment, while I know what I like, it’s sometimes helpful to try something out of the comfort zone. I tend to play a lot of JRPGs and Platformers, but last year I needed something vastly different, so I used the internet to find a good, short, shooter to play and I came across Wolfenstein: The New Order and had a lot of fun with it. Because of that I’ve added it’s sequel to the list and Doom 2016 (which I completed earlier this year). I find that my distractions have been limited because I’ve forced myself to focus and complete what I’ve started. While this could create tunnel vision, I’ve experienced the opposite. It feels like a healthy diet of great games across different genres, not just 100 hour RPG into the next. It’s been very refreshing to finish a game like Octopath Traveler to follow it up with Spider-Man and then Mega Man 11.
Full disclosure here: I don’t have an “everyday” game. So this style may only work for gamers who want to focus on single-player offline experiences. Though you may be able to modify this behavior to fit games like Fortnite, Hearthstone, Destiny, COD, or WoW. If you’re into those types of games and have input, let me know!
Another rule I’ve tried my hardest to follow is to schedule my games out. I use websites like: howlongtobeat.com to figure out just about how long a game will take me to finish. I use that in conjunction with a release calendar to get the most out of my time. If I know that God of War will take me roughly 20 hours and about 2 weeks to complete, I can use the release calendar to figure out when the next release will take over, and throw in something small in between. To continue with the God of War example, I started that on April 20, 2019 (release day) and finished it in mid May, leaving about 2 months before Octopath Traveler released in July. In that time period I played a few smaller games that I had been waiting to play for years and some new stuff like Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.
I understand that being super regimented isn’t always fun either. Sometimes its fun to be spontaneous and throw away an afternoon playing Street Fighter Alpha 2 on Sega Saturn. Yep, I’ve totally been there and that’s FINE. Gaming is supposed to be fun and scheduling can make it feel a little like a chore. I personally haven’t had too many issues with scheduling to a degree. Am I 100% tied to the calendar? No. I just use it as a guideline and make changes to fit my desires. I may want to put an extra week into Red Dead Redemption 2 so I can do everything, that’s cool, I just push another game back or take a game off the list.
Since our time is valuable, my next self-imposed rule is to play no games that I don’t enjoy. It’s always fair to give any source of entertainment some time before casting it aside, but if a game (or movie, tv show, book, comic) doesn’t grab you within a reasonable amount of time, stop playing it and move on. There’s no crime in not enjoying something, even if everyone else seems to like it. I don’t like Rogue-likes if I may try one and I’m not enjoying it after a few hours it goes away and never enters the backlog. We’re somewhat at a disadvantage nowadays since demos are so few and far between, but I will always suggest watching some “let’s play” videos that show off a game’s style before purchasing something. That and if there is a demo available, give it a shot. The demos for Octopath Traveler solidified my desire to play the game last year and it became one of my favorite games of 2018. We can do lot of research we can do before a game comes out to get a feel for it if we’re on the fence. I still think you should take some chances and try stuff out even if the hearsay isn’t great on a game. Sometimes someone’s 6.5 is your 8. Being a super completionist is awesome, but not for something you don’t enjoy. THROW “BAD” GAMES TO THE CURB (or sell them on ebay).
I often joke to myself about scheduling a game in like it’s a lunch meeting. When Steam has their giant sale in the Summer or for the Holidays, I always purchase a handful of games at a massively discounted price. Scheduleing has been fun, and it also allows me to get more excited for what I’m to play in the future. I’m going to get to Divinity: Original Sin at some point…I swear.
This journey has been a lot of fun so far and it has somewhat reinvigorated my passion for gaming. Seeing the endgame of what creators have built often feels like the culmination of everything a certain title stands for. Not making it to the end of a game sometimes felt like I was cheating myself. That being said, there are times when I take full on breaks from gaming, which is another tale for another day. I hope you continue to enjoy video games and try this method out, I’ve shared it with a few friends and they’ve all expressed similar results. It may not work for you, but if it does, let me know how? If it doesn’t, let me know why not.