Last week, Mike Ybarra, the Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft, tweeted, “Very few, far less than 50%, actually finish games they play. Why don’t you finish games you buy/get? (Finish = beating last boss, etc.).” It’s not a new question in the community, but it’s one I’ve been asking myself lately. I finished some games in 2017; a few full experiences like RE7 and a 100% completion of NieR: Automata, and shorter games like Night in the Woods and Doki Doki Literature Club, are just some examples. But I have a much longer list of games I sampled in the past year, and promised to come back to. Not to mention a few games that I purchased with every intention of playing but have yet to even boot up. While 2017 left the gaming community with a particularly large embarrassment of riches, the backlog phenomenon is not unique to this year.
Ybarra’s question has multiple answers. Different kinds of gamers consume games differently. Some people finish most games and most people finish some games. Those are obvious, but the question posed here isn’t about the actual data, it’s about possible reasons for the data. People might not finish a game because they don’t enjoy it, but usually the reasons are much more nuanced. Based on the responses posted on Twitter, there is a spectrum of responses with the following metric: enjoyment vs. time played vs. new options. One response, by @BabylonsLament, states “It’s a game, I play for the enjoyment; the moment a developer turns it into mind-numbingly repetitive work, it’s no longer fun.” @Timcuts says, “Usually it’s because another game comes out before I finish it and then loose interest. Or I plainly get bored and switch.” These are a little on the nose, but they are representative of both the general tone of responses in the feed and something close to my own experience. They ring true to me.
The weight one places on each element of the above metric determines how they might answer Mike Ybarra’s question. Someone who prioritizes enjoyment above all else might drop a game the moment the gameplay loop shows its first signs of diminishing returns. A game’s narrative structure and story is also tied to player enjoyment; for example, the story in The Last of Us outlasted its gameplay. Other people are easily distracted by shiny things, or they prioritize being a part of the community conversation surrounding the newest titles. The time played element has some inherent ‘value’ questions attached to it. I’m pretty lenient in my expectations, I have a $5/hour rule that I try to stick to. It’s equivalent to the price of a movie ticket, and frankly, most titles give far more than one hour of play per $5 spent. But some gamers might expect more, and they are within their rights to have that expectation. Some might play a game long after its gameplay systems have lost the ‘wow’ factor, simply to make sure they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Some love the chase for rare trophies and achievements, spending hundreds of hours with a game that only requires dozens. But I guess they’re the ones actually finishing the games.
I remember talking to a friend a few months after Skyrim’s release. He had just finished it and was amazed he had played for 40 hours. I laughed and told him I was at 80 hours and hadn’t touched the story since getting my shout powers on the top of the mountain. He was legitimately baffled. I’ll never forget what he said. “You and I play games very, very differently.” I learned that he had never grinded out a Final Fantasy game. His style was to move through the story as quickly as he could, and his enjoyment came from making the game as difficult as possible, tackling areas as soon as he thought he had the slimmest chance to succeed. That was completely foreign to me. My enjoyment from Final Fantasy, and other RPGs, always came from trying to break the game, patiently grinding until my characters were all powerful and the game presented no challenge at all. It is a testament to the medium that games have become so malleable, that the player has so much agency in the manner with which they consume the finished product. I did ultimately finish the story in Skyrim. I started over with the Special Edition, but I didn’t finish it a second time.
So as a bit of an experiment, and a bit of a New Year’s resolution, I’m going to finish more games this year. It’s easy enough to say that, but I think it’s going to mean that I have to change the way I play games. First of all, I’m going to have to combat my own completionist impulses. For me, they’re actually counter-productive. I did almost every available sidequest in The Witcher 3, but by the time I got to Skellige, I was Witchered out. I never saw the game’s final acts or the DLC. On that note, secondly, I’m going to stop starting games over. I’m going to jump back into half-finished games like The Witcher 3 and relearn how to play them from the point I left off at, rather than foolishly thinking I need to play the tutorial again. Lastly, I’m going to limit myself to one game per system at a time. Finishing more games is going to mean playing fewer games. I’m fortunate to have multiple systems, I know, but this rule will still allow me some variety in what I play, while enforcing that I focus on fewer games at once. If something shiny and new comes along, I’ll just have to use it as inspiration to finally push through and finish whatever game is currently occupying that system.
I guess we’ll see how this goes…
What kind of gamer are you? How’s your backlog? Do you have any game related New Year Resolution? Did you get to Ending E in NieR: Automata? (I really need someone to discuss that with)
As always, let me have it in the comments and share this with your friends.