Whenever I mention wanting to buy a new game in front of my friends, I always get the same look. It’s a look I’ve gotten very used to, and what it roughly translates to is “Do you know how many goddamn video games you already have that you haven’t played?”
For the uninitiated, this collection many gamers have of games they own, but have not played (or similarly, that readers have of books unread, or film buffs of movies unwatched) is frequently called a backlog. And mine is disgustingly large. I tried approximating how long it would take me to clear my backlog, and I got pretty sad pretty fast. To demonstrate, let me cherry-pick ten games from my backlog, and show how long completing just those ten would take.
- The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings – 33.5 hours
- The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – 96.5 hours
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 – 107 hours
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 – 85.5 hours
- Dragon Age: Origins (plus expansions) – 74.5 hours
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen – 63 hours
- Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn – 87 hours
- Divinity: Original Sin – Director’s Cut – 75 hours
- Final Fantasy VII – 57.5 hours
- Lost Odyssey – 70.5 hours
By pure coincidence, those numbers all add up to a nice, clean seven hundred and fifty hours, which is just a smidge over a month of nothing but playing games. Granted, I intentionally picked large, mostly open-world RPGs, but keep in mind I have more games in that genre in my backlog than these ten. Do you know how many games I have? Because I literally do not anymore. 600? 700? How many of these are untouched, or I played so little of so long ago that I basically would have to restart? 50%? 60%?
How did this happen? Well, the answer is multifaceted. One: I’m an idiot and make bad purchasing decisions. I’ll concede to that. Another answer is that there was a period between when I graduated high school and about the end of my freshman year of college where I had a steady, well-paying job. At the same time, my scholarship with UTD covered most of my school expenses, as well as my rent, while my meal plan covered all of my groceries. With those covered, I was free to blow every paycheck on 10 years of games I had missed out on as a kid.
Another factor is the sale-and-bundle culture which permeates video games right now. I’m sure that when I said how many games I have, a lot of people correctly thought “Oh yeah, Steam sales and Humble Bundles”. That’s definitely a factor. I’ve bought 13 Humble Bundles for $123.56, and received 100 games ($1.24 a game is a steal, by the way, especially when you account for the fact that I also got GameMaker Pro somewhere in there). My Steam Library is 223 games, and I’m sure most of that was purchased during a Summer Sale or a Winter Sale or the Lunar New Year Sale or the Yom Kippur Sale or the Pagan Solar Festival Sale.
On top of that, though, pretty much every major game retailer has tried to keep pace with Steam and Humble Bundle, and as a result there are pretty much insane deals on bulk games happening all the time. I remember one holiday season where GameStop was having a B2G1 free deal. I remember walking in, buying three games, and being pretty stoked at the deal I got.
I then went in the next day and bought nine more games. Good games, too. Bayonetta. Borderlands. Gears of War 2.
There’s a root cause here, one that I have trouble bemoaning, and that’s that it’s kind of just a really good time to play video games. Between the AAAs and the indie spaces, there are just a lot of good games coming out right now, at a pretty consistent clip. It used to be that January-August was pretty much a garbage season for games, as big publishers held their franchises until the holidays, but now big AAAs come out pretty much every month, and when they’re not, indie masterpieces are.
This is then combined with the extremely consumer-friendly way games are priced right now. Sure, big AAA games launch at sixty bucks, but prices drop fast for all but a few tentpole franchises (Pokemon, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto come to mind). Publishers are pressured to match a game’s used price at GameStop, and before long every game is subject to a massive price-gouging sale. Indie developers just want their games to be seen amongst their peers, so they’ll resort to price gouging much quicker, which is impressive given their lower base price point. Suboptimal for developers, sure, but fantastic for consumers.
Compound both of these with the way gamer culture works. When a big, cool release comes out, the internet goes abuzz with hype. People want to talk about new games, share cool stuff and screenshots from those games, dissect in great detail why that new game is either the most incredible thing ever or utter garbage. Then, those games don’t necessarily go away, but they retreat into the background as a new hot game takes the spotlight. Right now, that game in the spotlight is Stardew Valley. Before that it was SUPERHOT and Devil Daggers. In a couple of weeks, it’ll be Dark Souls III.
Conversely, playing a super cool game long after its day in the light kinda sucks by comparison. While not a game, my friend just started watching Breaking Bad a week ago. He’s almost done, and he loves it and wants to talk about it, but he’s stuck because, for the most part, everybody already said and thought everything they want to say and think about Breaking Bad years ago. Now, everyone’s talking about the new season of House of Cards, and getting hyped for the new season of Daredevil.
The point I’m getting that is that gamer culture, and pop culture in general, is no longer built to get people to slowly enjoy games at their own pace. It’s designed for people to pick up the new hotness, play it for a week, then go talk about it on social media, argue about it on Reddit, and get a word in edgewise in the global discussion of the game, before finally moving on to the next new thing. This cycle goes all year long, and while it certainly picks up in the winter, it’s always going.
Oftentimes, there are multiple games in the spotlight at the same time, so you pick up both, but only get around to one, or you pick up the other on sale a month later, remembering the hype that surrounded it. All of a sudden, you accrue this massive pile of games which you haven’t touched not because they aren’t good, because they are, but simply because keeping pace with the hobby has become a Herculean feat.
Or maybe I’m just shitty at making financial decisions.