Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Don't Make Me Admit Stuff

There's a community thing going on right now called "Love Your Backlog", initiated by Later Levels and picked up, so far, by Time To Loot, Nerd Girl Thoughts, Shards of Imagination, Indiecator and probably more that I've missed. I'm following with interest and not a little puzzlement. If there's one gaming trope that makes no sense to me it's The Backlog.

Backlogs of unplayed games are clearly a thing in many people's lives but not in mine. It's not so much that I don't have games I haven't finished (or started), although I don't have all that many of either. I tend not to buy or download games unless I'm planning on playing them immediately.

It's more that I don't see games that I'm not currently playing as a "backlog". It's a word that has very specific and entirely negative connotations in my vocabulary. I would never apply it to anything I anticipated getting pleasure from.

My formative encounter with the word was in my first office job, a year out of university, working as a clerk in an insurance company. On my first day I was introduced to "the backlog". It was a line of cardboard boxes filled with files, dumped haphazardly on the floor, winding all the way around the walls of a side office and snaking back down the corridor. There were more than six months of claims in there that had never even been looked at, let alone dealt with. Guess who had to start sorting them for the next person up the chain? Not me, thank god - they had to bring in another company to handle it, things had gotten so out of hand.

That's what I think of when I hear the word "backlog": a crisis threatening to turn into a calamity. I have several piles of DVDs I haven't gotten around to watching yet and I always have piles of books waiting to be read but I don't have "backlogs" of movies or tv shows or novels to "get through". I have a treasure trove of potentially wonderful, exciting, hilarious entertainment to look forward to. There ought to be a word for it but I can't think of one. I can think of two though: treasure trove.

But we were talking about games, weren't we? I'm not sure I have much to contribute there. How about I try these conversation starters and see how we get on?


A game you’re eager to play, but haven’t yet started:

We're talking something I own, right? Nope. Can't think of one. Next.

A game you’ve started several times but haven’t yet finished:

Okay, this is easier. Let's exclude all MMORPGs because as we know you can't finish any of those. I have a few candidates but they don't really fit the ethos of the question since I have no interest in finishing them. I tend to play games until I'm not amused or entertained by them any more. Then I stop. If the game isn't holding my attention that's the game's problem, not mine.

The one game I own that I have started and that has a definite ending, which I would like to get to, is Broken Sword 5. The first two Broken Sword games were what started Mrs Bhagpuss and I on gaming back in the '90s, before we moved on to Might and Magic VI, Return to Krondor and then EverQuest.

I put  Broken Sword 5 on my Amazon wishlist years ago and a non-gaming friend bought it for me. At the time I had a Windows 10 Tablet and my plan was to play it on there, with Mrs Bhagpuss, when we were on holiday. I did take it away a couple of times but when I'm on holiday the last thing i want to do is play games. Then my Windows tablet broke and I replaced it with an Android one so that was the end of that.

I've started it a couple of times on the PC but I get a little way and then I think it's a shame to be playing it on my own so I stop. Maybe one day.

The most recent addition to your library.

I can answer that one! I posted about it last week and there will be another post soon. Californium. I'm playing it, though, so how does that count as "backlog"?

The game which has spent the most time on your backlog:

I think we already established I don't have a backlog as such but I do have a candidate that I think fits. Even though I said I was excluding MMORPGs, I think I'm going to put Project: Gorgon in for this one.

I first posted about P:G waaaay back in 2013 and I've written about it many times since then. I played all the various sneak peaks and alphas and betas after that. I kickstarted it the time it actually succeeded (and the time before, when it didn't). I linked my old account to the new version when it went into Early Access on Steam...

...and the closer it comes to being finished, the less often I log in and the less often I feel like logging in and the less likely it becomes I will ever log in again, let alone play the damn game like an actual MMORPG the way The Friendly Necromancer does.

There's another post to be written here about that, bouncing off Hardcore Casual and The Ancient Gaming Noob. I might get to it at the weekend.

The person responsible for adding the most entries to your backlog:

I buy my own games, by and large, although as I mentioned above I do occasionally add one to my Amazon wish list. Not very often, though. My friend bought me BS5 and Mrs Bhagpuss bought me the Legion expansion for WoW but I think that's about it.

I also won a prize of a Steam voucher from IntPiPoMo, twice, which accounts for much of my very small Steam Library. That's what paid for Californium (thanks Chestnut!) and I still have about $10 left.

I guess the answer is me.

Well, that didn't take long, did it? What would take a lot longer and probably fit into a Venn diagram of the underlying concepts involved would be a list of the games I both own and intend to play but don't actually get around to playing, either as often as I'd like or at all.

Just looking at my desktop I can see the icons for sixty-five games. I've finished four (Doki Doki Literature Club, A Raven Monologue, The Banner Saga and Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald) although all of them could be replayed for different endings, which is something I never do. There's also the demo for Neo Cab, which I've finished. I might buy the full game one day. I'm leaving it there to remind me.

Four are free games I got with my Twitch account: Age of Wonders III, Mable and The Wood, Wonder Boy:The Dragon's Trap and Banner Saga II. The first three I guess you could call a backlog if there was ever any chance I might play them. What they really are is the backlog to my Recycle Bin. I just haven't gotten around to deleting them yet. Banner Saga II I could conceivably play one day but I didn't like the first one that much so I probably never will.

Then there are a few that lead to things that have been cancelled but that I hope might come back in some form (Fallen Earth, Dragon Nest) or that went to limited-time trials or demos that have ended (Ashes of Creation Apocalypse... oh, wait, that's still going, in a lurching, undead kind of way) or to games I started and might get back to but probably won't (Tanzia, Yonder).

I guess other people might call those last two "backlog" titles. I don't call them anything. They're just there.

The rest, pretty much, are all MMORPGS which, as was established, can't be finished and therefore cannot qualify for "backlog" status. Or if you prefer all MMORPGS are in a permanent state of perpetual backlog.


Even though I'm putting most of my rejection of the term down to a combination of definition and personal psychology, I do wonder how durable the concept of a "backlog" is. With streaming largely  having taken over from buying or even downloading music and movies and even making significant in-roads into reading and with a multiplicity of major global players queuing up to offer the same kind of streaming services for gaming, how many people are going to bother paying to own games in future?

I know most people reading this are going to put their hands up but how representative a group are we? I mean, I still buy my movies on DVD and my music on CD - even though I literally watch the things I've bought on Amazon Prime on my Kindle Fire in preference to using a DVD player and I use the CDs solely to transfer the files to my iPod Touch.

We might all use Steam now but once there's an all you can play for $9.99 a month option that's reliable and efficient how many will jump ship? And how many new players will pick ownership over instant access to a huge library for a monthly fee?

I don't think a future devoid of personal ownership is cut and dried even for movies and music. These things can and do change, often generationally and not always predictably. For the immediate future, though, I suspect backlogs may be heading towards the "funny things old people do" shows.

And I'm pretty sure those are never going away.

11 comments:

  1. I go through phases of playing a computer game and then change over and play my PS4 for a few months. While I do not really have any backlog of computer game, I do have a few for the PS4, especially this time of year. I try and grab a game or two with black Friday specials or some other holiday sale. For example, I have Uncharted 4 and Horizon Dawn sitting in the wrapper since December. I'll get around to them. At some point I'll get a little burnt out on EQ2 or whatever computer game I am playing and swap over.

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    1. I think sales might be the main reason people end up with a collection of unplayed games. It's hard to resist a bargain.

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  2. Appreciate the thoughtful comments on this topic. I, too, have a "backlog", but I track it and call it that because of Backloggery.com. Back when I would purchase more physical games, I would buy more than I could reasonably play. Game rarity was a real thing - still is, honestly, as there are still great games from yesteryear that are $100+ on eBay and haven't been re-released (e.g., Suikoden II). To save myself future money and trouble, I just started collecting.

    At some point I realized that I simply had too many games - and still do. How many games did I really need? If I stopped working today and played games full-time, I might not finish all of them for a few years. I had to adjust my purchasing or playing habits, or both. Backloggery.com helped me get a grasp on the scope and size of the situation, and help me determine where to focus next.

    I agree with you that it can have the unintended side effect of forcing people to finish games they don't enjoy just to hit some arbitrary completion rate. I've sometimes found myself sticking with a crappy game just to get the green "Complete", which ia bogus...now I just make a note that the game is crap and I won't continue.

    However: it does help propel me through some of the natural, minor lulls in otherwise excellent games (e.g., FFX) to get to the satisfactory conclusion. It has encouraged me to aim for less than 100% completion and just push through to the end of the story, which has enhanced my enjoyment - it feels good to get to the end of a game. It has helped me to see that I have some great games already and don't need to buy more unless it has solid and very positive reviews, and is on a great discount. I think the benefits of talking about the backlog outweigh the detriments, but do see where you're coming from. Thanks for posting about it.

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    1. Scarcity, real or perceived, is a real driver of purchasing. In the days when things ran out it made sense to buy them when you saw them (and when they were on sale, of course). With digital purchases nothing should ever run out although marketeers do their best to make you feel like it might. Things do end their run of avialabilty, though, so there's always that to watch out for.

      Pushing through things you're not enjoying to get to the good parts is an interesting concept. It certainly holds true for other media, especially novels, many of which famously take a long time to get going. I saw this year's best picture Oscar winner, Parasite, at the cinema last week and afterwards I said to the friend I'd gone with that if I'd waited and watched it on DVD or a streaming service I might have lost interest in the first hour and wandered off to do something else. It was only because I was in the cinema and committed to staying the full course that I got to the tipping point that made the whole experience click. Of course, people do walk out of movies but I think it's a lot easier to stop playing a game you're not enjoying than to get up in a crowded cinema and walk out. For that reason it must be a higher risk for games to try and use a slow burn. They generally need to start with a bang and if there are any lulls they'd better be short.

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    2. Also added your blog to the blog roll :)

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    3. Thank you, sir! I have not posted regularly and am still finding my blogging "voice", but I have a goal to post more this year. I recently finished Icewind Dale 2, so maybe will post about that. That was definitely a title I had to push through at points, as some of the fights were really difficult and could get frustrating.

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  3. I think for most folks the backlog they perceive is because of games purchased during a Steam or other online sale. I don't purchase as many games as I used to so this isn't as much of an issue anymore but I remember a time when I purchased 5-6 games on a Steam sale and ended up never playing a few. Basically they were cheap and I thought I might play them but later had no interest.

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    1. Yep, it seems to me from reading what people say that sales in general and steam sales in particular have a lot to do with it. I did find myself briefly slipping into that frame of mind with the Twitch monthly giveaways but pretty quickly I realised it was pointless downloading games I was never going to play. Even with the ones I do download, if I haven't played them when the next set of freebies arrive I delete them.

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  4. Same feelings on the word “backlog” as you. I can give you -two- one-word descriptors for it because I always think of my 1600+ games and counting on Steam and Epic, et. al. as such. My games -collection- and my games -library-.

    I have no impetus to complete or finish games to the extent that many online seem to have. Frankly, I don’t know how one could define anything as complete, given the number of MMOs, roguelikes, strategy games, sandboxes and always online, always updating games out there and in one’s collection. There’s always one more Civilization turn, world, match to be generated. I have played the crud out of Terraria, Don’t Starve and Skyrim years ago, and if I turn back to look at them now, an immensity of new content/mods have been added to them. What in the world do people do if they struck these games off as “finished” then? Reshuffle the list?

    Owning a games collection and having zero backlog solves the problem. In this collection, I have both completely pristine unplayed games and games that have been taste tested to varying degrees. If I’m in the mood for an old faithful favorite to get a little more progress juice on, or a desired state of emotion, I can shuffle through the tested library for what I know will give me that emotional kick. If I’m in the mood to unwrap Christmas day presents and see what jumps out, I have plenty available to hand, without having to run around attempting to shop and buying at full price at that moment. These days, people are literally giving away access to games for free on Epic or Twitch, so it’s not even like any money needs to exchange hands for building up a supply of mystery gift unboxing.

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    1. I like "Library". That has dignity! Of course, it also plays into what I was saying at the end. The whole point of libraries is that they exist for you to borrow things so you don't have to buy them for yourself. When we have subscription services that offer a range of games to match Netflix or Spotify, we won't need to build collections or libraries any more.

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    2. I beg to differ on the latter point. A subscription ends when you cease to pay the bills for it; a personal collection can still be accessed as the fee was paid up front. There are perfectly pragmatic situations where one might be able to afford a luxury expense at one time and not another, but still want to retain access to it throughout.

      I may be getting more and more oldschool, but the prevalence of cloud program subscriptions like Office 365 and Adobe get on my nerves. Give me a one-off software purchase any day.

      Then of course, there is the emotional return for some people in the ownership of a collection. My brain might be wired up more to the hoarder spectrum of things; I admit to a delightful glee in seeing a set of favorite objects on display - shelves full of miniatures, board games, books or what have you. I’ve gotten a little more selective over the years, trimming down the tangible book collection and utilizing the digital library option, but digital games are still very much an enjoyable collecting hobby for moi.

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