Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

video game stack Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

Believe it or not, the games team here at We Got This Covered play through quite a few video games. Over the years of playing through a whole handful of titles as both a job and as a joyful hobby to pass the time, we’ve come up with a few ways to get the most out of your massive stack of games that you haven’t finished yet. You may not realize it, but by building up a backlog in the first place, you’re slowly killing your own interest in the games you love.

Never fear, gamers! There is a way to go through your games without burning out. And all it requires is some simple organization, basic knowledge of genres and a few handy tools.

First, a note. These tips are meant to prevent feeling tired from playing games, not from eliminating your backlog or making it go quicker. That requires self-control that can’t really be taught.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Begin reading on the next page…

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Write Everything Down

July backlog Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

That horrible and barely legible handwriting was my personal backlog at the beginning of July, not including games that I had reviewed here. This is representative of perhaps the single most important part of maintaining a backlog: organization.

I can’t stress enough how important something such as writing down the games you’ve yet to finish is. It cuts down on forgetting on what games you’ve got down the pipeline, not to mention prevents the inevitable confusion when you find you’ve got a game that you’ve forgotten about.

This is a true story. Several months ago, I took it upon myself to finally get around to playing the original Torchlight. I purchased the game on Xbox Live due to a sale on the game, and wrote the game down on my backlog. I finished the game, but a month later had found that I actually already owned the game on Steam. Turns out it was a part of one of the famed Humble Indie Bundles, and I had just forgotten about it because I had never written it down. Add that to the lack of any physical representation on my game shelf due to the influx of digital games this generation and it was easy to slip my mind amongst the busy release schedule.

There’s no right way to write games down, but there are more than one. The way I’ve shown you above lists games as I get them. This way I can go in a rough order from how long I’ve actually had the game, which cuts down on any one game being on the list for two long. I’ve since loosened this mentality for reasons I’ll explain later, but I still write it in a list.

I have a friend who writes each game on a post-it note and throws them out as he finishes them. This is a good way too. Do whatever you like, as long as you leave that reminder you haven’t finished the game yet.

Know Your Genres

fs overall Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

Have you ever had that feeling while playing through a game that you just wanted to…stop? No particular reason. Even if you love the game you’re playing, you’re going to get burned out eventually. As nearly every teacher tells pretty much every student in 2nd grade “sure, you love pizza, but if you kept eating nothing but pizza, you’d eventually get sick of it.” I was the kid that didn’t get sick of it, but that’s not the point.

Although I like to think that anyone with the free time to look up anything on an entertainment site would already know how to tell a genre apart by now, it’s important to gain this skill early on. Sure, there are some ringers out there, like the fact that Brutal Legend is actually a light RTS, or that Asura’s Wrath is actually almost entirely a quick-time event driven visual novel.

This is a small point, but opens up a few other important aspects.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

final fantasy xiii 2 lightning caius1 Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

I’ll let you in on a little secret when I was reviewing Final Fantasy XIII-2 earlier this January. It was my most anticipated review of the year, since Xenoblade and The Last Story hadn’t been given release dates yet at that point. I wanted to go into the review with a fresh mind. So for all of December and January I kept myself from playing any RPGs. I knew it would affect my view of the game if I had been burnt out of RPGs before I even booted up Lightning’s latest adventure.

I gained this mentality from a series of events a year prior. I had been given every Final Fantasy game I hadn’t yet played as a gift, which included roughly five games, six if you include Dirge of Cerberus. I played through III, then IV and couldn’t bear to boot up V by the time I got around to it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a horrible idea.

You see, nothing burns you out more than playing weeks upon weeks of old-school RPGs. Sure, some people can take it, and I applaud those of you with the willpower, but it’s not something that the average gamer can manage.

This is the aforementioned reason why I stopped playing games in order of which I obtained them. Mixing the genres of what you play prevents that burnt out feeling.

Structure the games that you play to be opposites of each other. Offset the feeling after playing a long-winded RPG by jumping to a fast-paced action game. Cleanse your pallet from playing a goofy open-world romp by sitting down with a relaxing puzzle game. Mixing up the games you play creates a “cheese and wine” scenario of appreciating the differences of each game more when not combined with more of the same.

Nothing says you have to wait until a game is finished to mix things up either. I’m playing through Eternal Sonata right now off my personal backlog. The game is very enjoyable, other than being a little linear and has a somewhat shallow story. However, it’s still a JRPG, which has a nasty side-effect of feeling ever so slow during the earlier hours.

Playing the game last weekend was a bit of a drag. Sitting through for a five-hour session will do that to you. This was easily remedied by popping in Mirror’s Edge, a game about first-person platforming.  The game is short, but is light on story and quick on gameplay, much the opposite of Eternal Sonata.

This makes the perfect contrast. However, it only really works if you only have one game being played that’s heavy on story. Playing two games that have a focus on narrative has potential to mix plot points and characters, and only has the possibility to tarnish your opinion on either game. Not a wise idea if you actually want to retain any memories from what you’re playing.

That’s why I stopped playing games in order from when I got them. Instead, each game is analyzed based on what I know I’ll be playing in the future for reviews, and what I’ve just finished playing. It may sound like somehow being even more nerdy than alphabetizing your game collection, and by system, but it’s a great way to get the most out of your collection. You’ll likely start hating certain games less if you play this way too.

As for determining what games to pair together, that’ll probably changed based on the person. Although, you can usually just do with making sure you never play two games from a given genre at any given time, you can go even deeper. I’ve started looking at length of games too, getting several smaller games done after playing a long one is another good example.

Keep in mind, however, there’s nothing wrong with playing some games back-to-back. Some franchises are even built this way. The God of War games play perfectly this way since they all take place immediately after each other, and all the games in the series are fairly short.

Also, it may or may not be a good idea to play an entire series back-to-back if you’ve never played them before. You’ll notice on the picture of my backlog above that I have Diablo II and III right next to each other, and actually still are as of this writing since I’ve not gotten around to them. You can bet that I won’t be playing them in that order. If you’ve played a game before, and are only playing it again as a refresher before a new game comes out, you can usually get through the game pretty quickly due to your previous playthroughs, so this is acceptable.

I play through the entire Metal Gear Solid series every time a new one comes out, but I think I’ve managed to work my time down to the point where I could make a serious speedrun attempt if I really want to. The last few times I’ve beaten the original game were all done in a single session.

Continue on the next page…

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Play To Completion

SM64 endscreen 480x360 Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

Let me tell you a story, perhaps you can relate. Many years ago I had finally found the joy of playing through Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Somewhere along the line I got distracted, and put the game down for a few days. Then a few weeks. And months. And years. After I had finally decided to sit down and finish it, I booted up my old save that was several years old at that point.

The thing about old-school games is that they didn’t always provide clear objectives. Waypoints were a scarcity, as were any sort of story recap system or even a detailed map. I struggled, looking around the entire castle trying to reach spots that looked unexplored. I had no idea where I was in the story, and couldn’t get anything to activate, so I gave in and started the game over just so I could figure out where I was. I couldn’t even look at a guide or anything because I had no idea where I actually was.

This is why I rarely play two games at once, and never more than that. Even modern games that have waypoint systems of some kind might have some kind of story that can easily be forgotten if I leave the game for too long.

It’s easy to get distracted in an era where there’s a big release nearly every week. Especially for those with diverse tastes. I have a friend who I swear has never actually finished a game since he’s always getting into new games when they come out, rather than finishing the old ones first, or even going back once a new game has been finished. This presents a slippery slope of hoards of games you’ll feel guilty about until the credits roll.

There’s a fairly loose definition of what’s considered finishing a game or not; not all games have an end. My recommendation is to play until you feel satisfied with a game. There’s no sense in forcing yourself and making your view of the game be poor.

For example, when playing Skyrim earlier this year, I spent about 70 hours total on the game, finishing the story and doing several side-quests and exploring. I planned the game in such a way so that I’d finish the main game when I knew I had my fill of the game, leaving the perfect exclamation point to the rest of the already great game. I know I didn’t finish every single quest, or that there was plenty more stuff to find, but I’m very satisfied with what I played.

Obviously this doesn’t quite apply to shorter games. Again, MMOs and sports games kinda don’t fit either. They’re more of time wasters rather than something you can theoretically play from start to finish. Just know your limits when it comes to knowing when you should stop playing.

Timing Is Everything

pacman alarm clock Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game Backlog

This is another trick I’ve learned over the course of reviewing games here, and it’s been a lifesaver so far. It doesn’t have to be just a trick for reviewers, it could also help those who want to play a game when it comes out.

When I was preparing to review Xenoblade Chronicles in April, I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any other games overlapping from my personal backlog. With two weeks to go until the game released, figuring out what to occupy my time with to time it perfectly with the release date of Xenoblade was tricky.

Let’s assume there’s a game coming out this fall you really, REALLY want to play as soon as it releases. Let’s use Assassin’s Creed III as an example, which releases on October 30, just under three weeks from today. Your backlog, which is exceedingly low, has Guild Wars 2, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Skyrim and Darksiders II on it.  Depending on how much time you have for gaming, there are some great options here. You could just jump into Guild Wars 2, a game with no theoretical end, and get things done in that for the next few weeks. MMOs are great for this, although they certainly aren’t for everyone. Sports games and games with bigger multiplayer components are also great for this reason. You don’t necessarily need to worry about timing in that case.

However, if you’re like me and you’re not a fan of MMOs, sports games or multiplayer, you’re gonna want a different option.

For this reason, it’s important to know just how long it would take for a game to be played from start to finish. I used to just Google “How long is (insert game here?)” However, I’ve recently found just how useful a site called howlongtobeat.com. The site has a massive database of games with tons of people submitting their times for how long it took them to complete the game, along with what exactly they got done, be it just story content, story with a bit of exploration, and 100 percent completion. The site averages these out, although you can look at each individual submission.

So upon further inspection, you can see that Skyrim would take an average of about 90 hours or so in order to finish the story and some sidequests. That’s probably a bit much to get around to in three week’s time, but the story only takes about 25. You also notice that Darksiders II takes roughly 20 hours and New Super Mario Bros. 2 can be finished in only five hours.

So it’s a wiser choice to dual-wield these two shorter games while you wait for Assassin’s Creed. Not only are an open-world action RPG and an old-school platformer perfect contrast to each other if you get tired of one or the other, but each game’s overall lack of an insanely deep story means you’ll be starved for a deep, semi-confusing plot and characters by the time Assassin’s Creed is out. Although I might not recommend playing Skyrim immediately after being satisfied with Assassin’s Creed. The games are too similar to each other. Break it up with a racing game or an action game. Also a good excuse to dig through the bargain bin at your retailer of choice to catch up on older treasures you may not have had time for.

We also have the unfortunate fact that there isn’t as much of a lazy release season for video games anymore. It used to be where Fall and Spring were the only busy release windows, and Winter and Summer would be perfect stretches of time in order to get games done. However, there’s usually a constant flow of big releases throughout the year now, so it’s a bit tougher. I think last year I got about nine short games done in the month of June, which was the only slow month of all last year. Pace yourselves.

Your Backlog Is Not A Chore

Owen Good 268x360 Overkill: How To Successfully Manage Your Video Game BacklogOkay, I might just have been meaning to use the legendary wheelbarrow picture of Kotaku’s Owen Good in something, but this bit is true.

Although it may seem like keeping a backlog is really just a to-do list of video games, it’s important to never see your backlog that way. A backlog, and all of the tips I’ve provided you here today, are organizational tools, meant to ease stress on what seems like a never-ending video game release schedule. As I’ve said, the only way to limit an obsessive amount of games from making your backlog in the first place is to have some self-control. The kind that makes you go an entire month without buying a game, or successfully surviving an entire Steam sale without buying anything.

Never look at your backlog as something that you “have to get through.” It’s meant to make your hobby easier. It’s meant so that you never have a game that goes unplayed, and your money wasted. It’s meant to make sure you can keep on gaming for years to come because you’ve successfully structured what you play and when you play it in such a way that you never get tired or burnt out.

When you’re playing a long game, it’s wiser for the sake of your sanity to take breaks every hour or so. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and beating a short game in a single go when you know it’s short. I wouldn’t advise making a habit of this, but some games benefit from it. Journey comes to mind.

But the bottom line is that gaming is supposed to be fun, and having a massive bunch of games nagging at you at all times waters that down a bit. Hopefully the tips I’ve outlined here will give some of you a bit of feeling back when it comes to cracking open a new game.

What about you guys? Any helpful tips and tricks I might not have picked up on? Share them in the comments below!

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  • Mark

    Good article. It’s funny, I have a list that pretty much does everything you mentioned here. I used google docs to make an alphabetical list of all my games and hi-light the ones that I’ve finished. Then I have another list of my proposed order to play the games, which tries to mix it up between genres, how long the games are, how old they are, and how excited I currently am to play them. The problem is that I can’t find the time to get through them, and with things like Playstation Plus, I keep getting more games! Oh well, it certainly isn’t a bad problem to have!

    • http://twitter.com/VikingGamesLive Mike Niemietz

      Sounds like you’ve got this down! Happy gaming, good sir!

    • Scott P

      I have these “lists” all over the place. Google Docs, on legal pads, in Moleskines or other journals. I start them, I make them all pretty. Then I never use, reference or update them. Then they get lost or altogether forgotten. I just CAN’T do it! lol.

  • n8csquared

    Playstation Plus really makes it hard to keep up. I got Infamous 2, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, not to mention the multitude of PSN games.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christian-Law/1529056454 Christian Law

    This list is magical! I’ve had so many games for a year that I’ve yet to play…but Dishonored just came out…you should have published this a few days ago for my sake! haha

  • Noé Loyola

    This comment arrives kinda late, but I would like to recommend a website: http://www.backloggery.com