How much do backlogs reduce sales of new games?

May 1, 2006
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#1
Not looking for a factual answer, more just saying 'something to think about'.

Someone is making, say, a new RPG. It's not just competing with, say, a good book or a DVD or whatever. It's not just competing with other new RPG's.

I could play games I own (fill in list of 50 RPG's, many of which I haven't yet played), and it's competing with them also.

It's a bit analogous to movies - movies generally are 'just as good' now as they were when 'new' - even more than games, which age more technically (compatibility, low res graphics etc.). So instead of seeing a movie that just came out, there are a thousand good movies, many you haven't yet seen, you could watch a lot more cheaply it competes with. But for whatever reason, there does seem to be an audience bias for 'new'.

It'd be one thing for 'new' games to get preference because of things like 'now, with FMV' when that was new, or 'now, with 1080p graphics' when that was new, but that's less and less the sort of improvements games have.

Is it likely for the backlogs at some point to discourage new game purchases even more? And especially, say, within a series - would people rather play Heroes of Might and Magic 8, or replay 3? Play Civ 7, or replay an earlier Civ?

I can still greatly enjoy one of the first computer games, "Rogue". It's free.

Just interesting to consider what games have to do to keep getting new buyers over an ever-increasing list of titles. Yes, the same thing applies to many things - e.g., 'fantasy books' or 'science fiction books'. Sometimes, there's a 'breakthrough' product - e.g., Game of Thrones; most are not.
 

Zenoth

Diamond Member
Jan 29, 2005
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#2
I see what you mean, but the actual real impact (business wise) is probably minor / negligible. I don't think we'd have the multi-billion gaming industry we have as it is now if accumulating non-finished games among the majority of the gamer population became a priority (to play and finish them) before and above 'moving to the next thing'. If backlogs of games was something that a lot of people would oblige themselves to finish before moving on to the 'newer' stuff (be it just a game, or a new system) then I'm not sure even the 16-Bit era would have succeeded, or maybe not the 32-Bit era instead. Now of course, I'm pushing it in this example; it's an extreme. The industry would have moved on sure, but perhaps the numbers (on sales of games and maybe systems too) would have been more humble.

But the gist is if we had to complete all the games we wanted to, or at least all the games we actually do own (say, outside of renting; at least during the time when renting was a thing) before allowing ourselves to move on to the next platform / generation (or simply, to newer games on the same platform) then not only would we as gamers have moved on at a much slower pace, but the impact on the industry would have been felt a lot more. I mean gaming companies would have definitely noticed, something like "Why is our sequel not selling?", "The 2nd game was good, why is the 3rd one not selling at all?!", well... because people are busy completing 'x' number of other games before moving to yours, sir. The result would have been companies not taking too much financial risks and producing games (and systems) at a much slower rate. It would have simply been plain and simple not financially viable enough for the industry to move to the incredible rate we've known for decades if the gamers audience wasn't ready and willing to support that rate of change and 'new' every week or month.

I mean I can still remember my younger self back during the NES and SNES years, going to my local games (and movies) store to check out what game I could rent today. The little money I had access to (thanks Mom) was precious and so was my ability to play new games. Did I play the ones (very few) that I owned? Hell yeah, I played the crap out of them. But did I want to try out new stuff? Absolutely. All the time. I would rent a game, sometimes would finish it, sometimes not (was around 50-50 I'd say), but I did not spend my time (and money) on renting the same game over and over until I finished it, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to try out a new(er) game about once or sometimes twice a week (twice a week was pretty rare though, usually just had enough pennies for one rent per week). Now of course times have changed but the principle of not somewhat 'forcing myself' completing a game if I feel like trying something new has remained intact to this day. Maybe it was forged from those early gaming years for me, that's possible. But the reality I believe is that, really, if the majority of gamers were stopping themselves from moving on because they have a backlog then we would really see the impact of that on the industry in general.

How many of us here (just here, on these forums) have maybe 50+, 100+, 200+ or 500+ games on Steam? How many of them were purchased during sales? (Doesn't have to be from sales only but this is just an example), and how many of those games are actually installed? How many of them have never even been installed yet just once? In that list, which ones are the oldest that you haven't bothered trying yet? Ok, but whatever the answers to the questions are (and then some), do you stop yourself from buying a new(er) game that picked your interest or perhaps that is now on sale and you've had your eyes on since the past months or even years? Most likely the answer to this last question is "Oh hell no!". Maybe it is, maybe you do pause and think "Huh actually yeah I'd like to buy Rage 2 but I sort of need to finish the Witcher 2 first, been trying to finish that thing since the past 50 years or so".

Another way to put it for some people (or perhaps a lot) is the way my cousin put it one day (he's not the kind of gamer to 'dwell' on games for long, he plays the ones he likes 'these times', "in the now", then gets his fill of them and moves on): "If I didn't finish it the first time I played it I'll never finish it", and the gist is he'll move on from that one game real quick to the 'next thing' (next thing could be newer or not, "next thing" could simply mean a new game to try, that 'new' game might have been released before the ones he had fun with as well, it doesn't have to be brand new from this week or this month; not necessarily a new game system or a next gen system per se, either). Now myself, I'm not quite like that; but I'm not that far from it either. A bit in the middle, in my case. I can (and sometimes do) come back to a game I have played but haven't finished in my backlog and try to "finally beat it". I have, actually, done that a number of times before. However, I do it mostly for games that I know I was at least a little interested in, in the first place. Not only that but I'm getting older and I have less patience than before, so I am more inclined in trying to finish backlog games mostly if said game can be finished in a relatively short period of time (a few days at most). If it's a really big, lengthy game (usually RPG style) with something like 60, 70 or 80 hours of content then chances are, indeed, that if I didn't get to the end originally when I first played it then I probably won't get anywhere closer to the end on my 2nd, 3rd or 4th attempt (especially considering that "originally", as I say, usually means years ago, and years ago I had more patience and energy; so back then if I didn't do it chances are I won't do it now).

The main point though, is that even if I do check out my games in my backlog (and yes as I said I do that still, to this day) it really doesn't influence my decision on whether or not I want (or "should" / "shouldn't") buy a new game that just came out even if the risk of said new game falling in the backlog list is very much real. But with this said, this is about games. If I go with movies in my case then it's different. When it comes to movies I won't just watch a sequel or a 3rd, 4th or 5th movie in a series just because it's new. If there's a backlog of movies (and usually there's very little of that, since movies are much, MUCH easier to consume than video games since they usually just last 2 hours and you're done with it) then chances are I absolutely will watch those first before watching something that happened to come out last week or last month, or heck, during the year at any point.

So yeah, to give a simpler answer directly to your title? I'd say 'Very Little', on the scale of the industry as a whole, that is. But, maybe, it does influence certain individuals' consumption of games (and the frequency of it) a lot more here and there, sure.
 
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local

Golden Member
Jun 28, 2011
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#3
^

I certainly don't consider my backlog when buying something.
 

Midwayman

Diamond Member
Jan 28, 2000
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#4
I think its less the backlog, but more the pace of games that impacts my buying decisions. Movies/music have huge backlogs too, but people crave new experiences so new material keeps being made. I think the difference is that with movies there are just a handful that make it to theaters. Music is still gated quite a bit by radio. Games OTOH have the major distribution platform open to pretty much anyone. There is such a flood of smaller indie games on there now that is is simply impossible to keep up. I don't really have to buy that $60+ AAA title on release. There is just so much new content that even if all I want to play is new content I can wait happily unless prices drop.
 

EXCellR8

Diamond Member
Sep 1, 2010
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#5
Yea if there's a new game out that people are raving about and I want it, I don't typically even consider how many other games I have yet to finish before committing.

If I did that I'd be stuck in a never-ending slog of old back-logged games since I started gaming.
 
Oct 10, 1999
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#6
Typically, I wait until new games become old and then pick them up cheap

Though I have probably bought like 100 steam greenlights or alphas from various indie developers over the years ... many of them became among my all time favorite games ...
 
Jun 17, 2005
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#7
I think that this is something that is just beginning to become a problem and will increase as time passes.

I certainly consider my backlog when looking to buy a new game. I look at a new game and ask myself 'When would I actually get around to playing it? Will it be more than 3 months? If so I should wait because in 3 months the game will probably be half the price it is now'.

Some games are much more prone to this than others. A new multiplayer game I might buy now because my friends are playing it and I'll join them, a new single player RPG I probably won't get around to this year (I'm still playing Pillars of Eternity 1 I don't need to buy 2 yet!), so wait for it to be 75% off on a Steam sale.
 
Jan 8, 2010
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#8
I didn't used to, but it certainly does now. I've commited to not getting any new games until I play some of the many that I've owned for years and never touched. It's just a waste of money otherwise, especially since, if you've owned it since it came out and not touched it for 2-3 years, it would be pretty cheap by the time you actually play it.
 

JPB

Diamond Member
Jul 4, 2005
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#9
Steam.jpg

But, I always end up buying more.
 
Nov 16, 2006
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#10
Its complicated, but I'd say yes a backlog and a constant flow of sales/cheap games keeps me away from day 1 purchases.

My backlog definitely takes the pressure out of buying a new game because I *need* entertainment, it gives me the luxury of waiting for a game on my wishlist to hit my target price before pulling the trigger because I know I won't be bored in the interim.

That being said, I have certainly purchased some games day 1 back when physical media was a thing and the EBGames/Gamestop used game cartel didn't discount nearly as deeply, as often as digital platforms do. Throw scarcity and no guarantee of finding the game you want used for cheap and I even pre-ordered a few games.
 

PrincessFrosty

Platinum Member
Feb 13, 2008
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#11
My opinion on this is it depends on what the game developers are relying on to make the game popular in the first place, because not all strategies are the same. Games that rely on solid gameplay or on grind/reward feedback loops like MMOs tend to be timeless, people were still playing WoW en masse years after it's original release despite obviously aging a lot. Games that more rely on new novel technology tend to age badly because once that tech is no longer novel they lose that edge, that's mostly applicable to graphics and leaps in fidelity but also things like 3D, VR, AR and alike.

Some games just use advertising and hype to sell, games like the CoD series reguarly launch with 100's of millions of dollars in marketing budgets, in fact often with marketing budgets that exceed the cost to develop the game itself. These games also tend to be more multiplayer focused and have very temporary life spans, once the hype is over the game is dead and that's kinda by design because they want you to buy the next in the series.

It also depends why games are in your backlog to begin with, many times people end up with backlogs because they bought games in packs like humble bundles or steam sales and some of those games they never intended to play in the first place. Or they were on deep sale and you thought maybe you'd play it but because it was so cheap it was worth the risk and either you never run it or you play it for a few minutes and decide you don't like it. My gut instinct on this (because I have no data to back it up) is that for a lot of gamers who have things like big steam libraries such as myself (720 games) have fairly big backlogs of games which we'll almost certainly never play due to these factors, and so aren't part of future game purchase decisions.

The last thing I'd add to this is also this problem of having more hours of in game time than real life time to match that, even for those who game constantly. There's just too much in the way of content that people can easily and cheaply max out their gaming pipeline. And as such ignoring some games you've already bought for whatever reason becomes a rational thing to do, despite the fact they're a sunk cost. In part this is because adults are gaming a lot these days not just kids, and so budget for games is not a barrier to entry and that games have become affordable during sales and humble bundle packages. If the barrier to entry is game cost and your finances then it makes sense to finish all your games before buying new ones. But if you're really not fussed by the money then it makes more sense to play what you think will bring you more joy. Especially for older people who have less free time than kids do, I'm not going to spend my spare time forcing myself to play older games I'm not enjoying that much, just to say I've completed them and got my moneys worth, when there's newer games I'd preferentially rather play.
 

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