Persistent games vs. the backlog: an ongoing struggle

May 28, 2015


There is a constant struggle I face whenever I sit down to play a game. It gnaws at me, and sometimes even paralyzes me into a mental state in which I’m unable to play anything. I constantly fight the battle in my head: do I want to play something from my current backlog of games or spend more time in a persistent game world? The current games battling for my attention are Final Fantasy XIV and Hearthstone, but with a recent upswing in my time playing Heroes of the Storm (recently released into open beta), my problem just keeps getting worse.

I really enjoy staying on top of the current “scene.” I like to be able to play the newest releases and discuss them with others while they’re fresh. If a game has a multiplayer component, I want to experience it before the casual players have left and all that remains are the hardcore who will destroy me. Even worse, I fear that, if I don’t pick up and play a game before it’s too late, there may be no one left to play with online at all. Also: spoilers drive me insane. The emotional impact of a game is severely lessened by the fact that, despite my best efforts, I come across a major plot element before playing.


There are, of course, games that fall through the cracks. Games which, for one reason or another, I never get a chance to play. Take the Metal Gear Solid series, which I just picked up and started playing this year. With The Phantom Pain coming out later this year, I want to catch up and experience the conclusion to this story with the rest of the world, and so I’ve started playing through the first titles in the series for the very first time. (Luckily, spoilers for this series seem to make no freaking sense out of context, so I think I’m safe.) Crossing games off my backlog and trying to experience most of the major titles in gaming’s history is another big goal for me, and so having the opportunity to do this feels important.

In seemingly direct opposition to picking up a new game from the backlog is my enjoyment of persistent games. These are titles in which the game never has an “ending,” and instead invites me to continue experiencing it for long periods after it releases. MMOs are exactly this style of game of course, but so also are games with a huge competitive multiplayer scene. I stayed pretty far away from League of Legends as it rose in popularity, primarily due to a desire to not lose myself in it when I can’t “make progress” through my collection. I also quit MMOs in a panic when I see a rising collection of games I haven’t had time to play. Both of these concerns have actually kept me from things I think I would love to have lost myself in, but I just never let myself go due to my other “obligations.”

Within the last year, I’ve thrown caution to the wind. I have invested myself heavily in an MMO, Final Fantasy XIV, as well as a competitive multiplayer title, Hearthstone. Early previews of both of these games appealed to me, and I didn’t want to miss out like I felt like I had with League, Dota 2 and World of Warcraft. So I dove in, and as might be expected, found that I loved it. (Hearthstone was actually my game of the year for 2014.).But spending time in these game worlds meant missing out on other titles, and this became very apparent to me as I reflected on all the games released in the past year that I hadn’t had the chance to play.


So what to do? As time goes on, the problem worsens, due both to larger time constraints and the huge boom of quality independent releases. I acquired many more games last year than I actually beat. Obviously there are a large number of these games that I purchased through a bundled sale that I may not intend to play any time soon, but there are a fair number that I wanted to play last year and missed. I considered dropping out of the online games I was playing to focus on beating more of my collection, but I was having fun there too. Even more than that, I had made some friends in these game worlds, and I wanted to keep playing with them.

By the beginning of this year, I was near a breaking point. I completely understand that having too many games to play is the ultimate “first-world problem,” but it felt like I was losing control of a hobby that I enjoyed. I would often find myself just staring at my collection instead of actually playing. I was completely unable to make a choice about which game to play. Do I make progress, or revisit persistence?

Recovering from this problem has required me to step back and remind myself of exactly why I play games. I play games to have fun, to unwind, to relax and to escape into another world for brief periods of time. It was at this point that I realized I had been asking myself the wrong question all along. The question isn’t “what should I play now” but actually “what do I want to play now?”


Along with this change in focus, I listed all of the games that came out in 2014 that I hadn’t had a chance to play that I really wanted to check out. Next to this, I listed all of the older games that I currently owned that I felt a strong desire to play but hadn’t. Finally, I made a blank column for 2015. Whenever a new game comes out that catches my interest, I look closely and decide if it should be added to the list. Reorganizing myself this way has chopped an insurmountable backlog into a much more manageable piece. A thousand unplayed games suddenly shrunk to a few hundred. Now, when I look for a new game to play, and I’m not being called by the persistent games I’m currently playing as I consult this list. It has helped give me focus, and it has also helped silence the nagging voice in my head telling me that I’m falling behind.

I will probably never complete my backlog. As quickly as I can play games, new games are released, and with some games holding me in their grasp for continual months and possibly even years, the odds or finishing are even less. I’m no longer stressed about this, though. Instead, I’ve started to always focus on having fun, instead of being stressed that I’m not completing enough of them. Now if I could just learn to let go of a game that I’ve started but wasn’t having fun with, I might be able to really make some true progress.