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Money Rich, Time Poor: The Case of the Backlog

Posted by Darth Robbo , in Musings 28 March 2012 · 2,533 views

More and more lately, I find myself (and others around me) with little time to indulge in the things I buy for myself. Material goods, as it were. I spend hundreds of dollars a month on things like video games, hardware, books and other little things, but barely get around to using them.

Now don't take this for a whinge post. I'm not posting this to get some sort of sympathy for my first-world woes. What I am trying to bring to light is the widening gap between things we want to do vs. material possessions.

Lets first take a trip back in time to your childhood in the 80s or 90s, for most of you. If you were an avid gamer back then (a pretty good guess again, if you're reading this), then you're most likely familiar with the sense of nostalgia. The definition of nostalgia is as follows:



  • A sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
  • The evocation of these feelings or tendencies, esp. in commercialized form.

Happy, personal associations. So that game that you loved, even if it's a bit shit, is still special to you. Why? Probably because you, like so many others, had a mum and dad with a very limited budget and only had a few select cartridges or CD-ROMs to play. So we form attachments to these pieces of digital media. In turn, they shape our gaming consciousness and define our taste in games themselves.

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Even Will Smith is nostalgic for old vidya.

This whole time, as we play that same set of levels over and over, hone our racing skills until all the time trials have been perfected, and memorize those punch/kick combos... we are thinking about how fantastic it would be as a grown up to buy my own games when we want! None of this begging for pocket money or waiting on birthdays and Christmas. Just going down to the local retailer and picking up that game we've been wanting for months. However, how different our childhood perceptions would seem compared to today's world.

The App Store sells games for 99c apiece, and the market thrives on free products.

Steam constantly pushes holiday sales, where games are priced so low you know it'll be months before they are that cheap again.

Online retailers regularly have huge sales on, reducing the price of games that retailed at $99.95 only a year or two ago, down to sub $20 price points.

Region freedom has become almost a standard, as you can buy games from many regions to play on your home console, handheld or PC.

The foreign market has exploded in games trade, with UK retailers cashing in on Australian gamers sick of paying extortionate prices. This is only fueled through the ease of eBay and Paypal, where there's only a few clicks between the desire to buy and the inevitable purchase.

All the while, we take these things for granted in our day-to-day life. $20 can buy a gamer hundreds of hours of content to satisfy for days, weeks, months or years. All the while, we buy and buy and buy in the hopes that we will have some time to play our gradually expanding digital library. Now with consoles making the move to digital content, as PCs have done, one finds it even harder to hold back with purchases as games drop to insanely low prices and your recently played list pushes forgotten games further and further away from our eyes.

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What do you mean, 'play' games?

At this point, you might be asking, "Why does it matter? It's just a little bit of money each time, less than I might pay for a lunch." In the case of Steam, this is a perfectly applicable argument. After all, yesterday's blockbuster AAA title is today's $7.49 special. You buy it, it takes a sliver out of your quota for the month, and you're playing within a few hours of buying. It's cheaper than buying at a store, it doesn't even need to be delivered, and it takes all the effort of moving your index finger.

Indeed, today I had lunch at a cafe and it cost me $22. My own fault for ordering a stupidly big burger, but nonetheless, over $20 for a feed and a drink. That's reasonable, I say. If I log on to Steam when I get home and see a game I have a massive interest in for $19.95, I probably won't buy it. To my brain, that's 'expensive'. I'll wait till it's under $10 or so before I want to buy it. Is this the sign of a fickle consumer? Or am I just so entrenched in the market's preposition to sell at bargain bin prices that I can't stand to pay that amount on a digital front, even though I fork out in real life without an afterthought? If any Steam user can tell me there's been a sale where they haven't bought a single piece of software, then I salute their disposition of steel.

After all, every time a Steam sale comes along, there's so many things on sale to tempt the gamer... you can't afford to miss these deals. So we spend money... to save money. Purchase, download, install, play for ten minutes, might look at it again in a month or two. I have games I haven't touched, on Steam AND in physical form, because I bought them at a whim. Hundreds of games sit in my collection played for under 30 minutes. And an even greater amount are unfinished. Is this due to laziness? Not really. It's more to do with the fact I am a weak consumer drawn to the 'bargain purchase' and the elation of a good deal.

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What's that? Another Steam sale?

So I say it 'matters' because we are growing too accustomed to this ease of purchase. It's simply too effortless to click through and add another game to the heaping pile of shame. All these games, but what do I do on my night off? I boot up TF2 or hop on the latest fighting game, because when it comes down to it, I always gravitate to what's familiar. AAA titles are great and all, and sure, I sat down with Skyrim and powered through a good 60 hours or so, and I spent a great deal of time bashing thugs in challenge rooms after completing Arkham City. But after that all dies down, and the memories fade to the back of our mind, and all our recent purchases are pushed aside in favour of our favourite games, one has to wonder: when am I going to play all these wonderful pieces of entertainment?

I work part-time and study full-time at the moment. I also try to find time to co-ordinate time with my partner and my friends. Having said all that though, I'm barely strapped for time. Most of my free hours come on a night when I don't leave the house to see people and I've finished my study for the day. Maybe I'll sit down with a game or two. However, that's all it comes down to. Sure, I'd like to play this bundle of games tonight, but what's the point in spending my precious three hours on a bunch of games if I make hardly any process in each? It's two or three games max if I want to progress, and the next night I have free, probably the same so I don't lose my current understanding of the game and its (possible) story. So the cycle continues, week in, week out; I stick to the same few games, and don't budge because I don't get enough entertainment value, in my limited spare time, if I do.

You know, maybe this is just a big sob story. In fact, it's not even very insightful. But really, all I'm trying to point out is that it's hard to choose between dropping $4.99 on that fairly interesting game, or just leaving it and saving it for something you really want to play. In the long run, it's up to the end consumer. The next time you're tempted to drop money on a whim, just think to yourself: am I realistically going to play this? If you can answer that truthfully, then you're one step closer to becoming a more self-fulfilled gamer and finally conquering the backlog.

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Back to TF2...

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Mar 28 2012 04:12 PM
Well put.

I am on hiatus game buying this year (estore 3ds is my only exception) except for Rhythm Heaven Wii, Pokemon B&W and perhaps Animal Crossing 3ds (I doubt it will come this year).

I am giving myself an estore card every now and again because I do like to unwind on a system that's not connected to the net in the same way the phone or pad are. I did splurge on Mario Party 9, but that was as much for my p2 and my housemates kid as myself.

But yes, taking a break on games I think I will play. Still factoring in the games I will play, but have passed on Icarus for now (plus Boom Street I think it is on wii, Kirby Wii). Takes the pressure off always thinking about something I should be playing when I'm playing something else.
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I have become a little more scrupulous with my purchases lately, but if something has a unique mechanic, I nearly always can not pass it up. I'm also becoming very rebellious against most so called 'AAA" titles.

It's the wannabe game design student in me. I love uniqueness. It's why I bought this () today.

Really good read, Robbo. I think we can all empathise with you.
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Ninja Catfish
Mar 28 2012 10:38 PM
Depends on my mindset at the time. If it's above like, $30, I'll put enough thought into it to realise 'I won't play this, and I have Mass Effect 3 and MGS2/3 to finish first'.
When there's a game on sale for a crazy cheap price, that I quite possibly will play, just not soon, I might buy it.
Examples recently are the Dungeon Siege games. I won't play them soon, but the promise of co-op funs with bros means I buy them now.
I generally think 'will this game be cheaper by the time I actually get around to playing it'. If no, I buy it now, if yes, I wait until I will actually play it and then buy it.
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Mar 29 2012 09:29 AM
First and foremost, whilst I naturally understand the sentiment, if you're looking at a pile of games or whatever and feeling BAD or DAUNTED or like it's *gasp* a chore, then ur doin it rong.

I've never really suffered badly from pile of shame for a few reasons:

1) Time and/or money poor. Being generally poor OR stingy in the past, having a family now. I generally buy maybe one game a month, maybe less. The last one was Dungeons from EB games for $20, and it's poo.
2) Having a "refined" taste in games, only buying games I'm hyped for and know I'll like. You and Catfish buy a lot of AAA titles that I don't.
3) Only owning a PC, 360 and Wii. Oh and DS I guess, but again this mixes with the above point.
4) Almost only buying cheap games/waiting for them to go on Steam sale. In the meanwhile, I'll be playing (or replaying) other games to the finish. This ties into point 1.

At the moment I'm playing Anno1404, which came out when I was working at EB games back in 09! I bought the Gold edition online early last year, and have only started playing it this year, as I was getting "more" out of Anno 1701 before I moved on.

Now as a wargamer, I do indeed have a "pile of shame" of models that need assembly and painting (though a very light case of it compared to many wargamers) which takes the place of a video game pile of shame. Would I be buying and playing more vidya if I didn't wargame? WHO KNOWS!

But yeah, I have to shake my head sometimes when I see how many games you guys are buying and never playing properly! Not that it's "bad" to lose interest and stop playing a game, as long as you're not bemoaning the fact you've not finished something you've bought that's healthy to stop playing something that doesn't interest you. Maybe you should give all of your money to me (or put more into savings or something?) instead of buying your monthly games!

Uh anyway, I don't want to sound condescending or anything, but it does boggle my mind sometimes how many vidyas (and old crap, you nostalgic console fanbois you) you fellas buy and have piled up.
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I think the rise of the 'passive' competitive online features of games plays a part. I'm talking about achievements, and about the comeback(?) of leaderboards, (NB, does anyone else feel that leaderboards have made a comeback?), on platforms like XBL, PSN, Steam and Game Centre. We can now show our purchases and achievements to our friend instantaneously. I think EN referred to his Steam game collection as his "e-peen" once...

It's also funny how games aren't rare any more, because their digital! Steam won't run out of something, so I guess on one hand you can hold off on purchases, knowing they'll be on sale again eventually... Though that mentality probably drives prices lower to force impulse purchases...
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nice read. it's quite an intricate topic to approach through. You have all sorts of view points and conditions. All you can really do is generalize the situation and bring light/answers to people with backlogs. For the most part I agree with your points until it started getting into subjective territory. I'd rather explain to you in person my thoughts on this matter :/
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Apr 05 2012 09:50 PM
there's also the collecting factor that i am sure is a strong streak in a lot of us, i'm really happy with mine but i know it's nothing on some of us around here. then it's not just for the now, or the 5 years for now. i know i'll hold on to my wii and 60+ games rather than cutting and running just before the wiiu hits. otherwise in 20 years time i'l get that same d'oh feeling when i think about my commodore 64 op shop dump :/
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Great blog and interesting read there too. I don't really have much to add but there were definitely parts in the blog that spoke true to me(as I'm sure others too).

I guess now, with me not having a huge interest in gaming as I used to has probably hampered my inclination to buy more games and justifying before buying if I will play it or not , probably has a factor in it also. I guess also having a fairly big back-catalog is probably a 'reminder' to tear down the pile and to remind you why you bought it in the first place.
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My first blog read here, and a great one I could empathise with completely!

Gotta say, like indev, I'm a bit of a collector and horder in general. I can honestly say I bought a lot of crap games on a launch console, just to justify having something to do on it.

Thing is, I remember as a 5 year old trying to get the old atari to work, learning a thing or two. Then there was the precious moments where I'd find the random game hidden in a box, and get some fun.
This is what I want to pass on to my "kids", or nephews/nieces.
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Apart from what I sold recently to some guys here ( AAA Nintendo back collection of GBA games), I have kept everything I own with the view to letting my own kids play it. My oldest is now 4, but I have an Original NES still in QLD with my parents and a lot of games on it. Most of those you can now get on the Wii or 3DS for not much so in hindsight I probably should have sold them. However the NES is still worth keeping, the N64 not so much, although at least I have goldeneye and PD which obviously never arrived on the Wii store. I gave my GBA SP to my brother last year, as he only had the original GB and the first GBA. The GC I gave him some years back when I realised I could just play the GC disks on the Wii anyway. Probably will need to keep the Wii as the Wii U will no doubt not play anything older than Wii. But before the GC I realised I had bugger all time anymore, had a little more money, but onyl the portable games were getting dealt with. I now have a back catalogue of GC games that are almost finished. Same goes for the Wii. I have about 2 hrs tops a night to my own these days, and hardly watch any TV, but to get into games like Zelda and Metroid which were always favourites, I have to remember where I was, and then invest more than 2 hrs into it. DS games are still getting played more. Kid Icarus is brilliant for short time gaming, both the multiplayer and the single. Also owning a house means heaps more time is spent maintaining and fixing things and I already had two cars to look after since being married.

I obviously haven't mentioned the main time thief here which is my two daughters, once kids arrive you have no time to yourself for years, particularly during daylight. Once they are older it will be different, but unless you are my brother in law, who just plays games 24/7 ignoring his son, prepare to be stockpiling a lot of games.

What was left of those 2 hrs at night is now also taken up iPad time since getting one for work in 2010, much easier to lose a few hrs drifting across the net reading things.
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