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Why Don't We Finish More Games? 341

IGN has an opinion piece discussing why, as video games get shorter, we seem less likely to finish them than in the past. For example, BioWare said only 50% of Mass Effect 2 players finished the campaign. The article goes into several reasons gamers are likely to drop games without beating them, such as lowered expectations, show-stopping bugs, and the ease with which we can find another game if this one doesn't suit us. Quoting: "... now that gamers have come to expect the annualized franchise, does that limit the impetus to jump on the train knowing another one will pull up to the station soon enough? ... In the past, once you bought a game, it was pretty much yours unless you gave it to somebody else or your family held a garage sale. The systemic rise of the used games market now offers you an escape route if a game just isn't your bag. Is the middle of a game testing your patience? Then why not sell it back to your local game shop, get money back in your pocket, or trade it in for a game that's better – or at least better suited for your tastes? After all, the sooner you ditch it either at a shop or on an online auction site, the more value you stand to get in return."
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Why Don't We Finish More Games?

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  • Isn't it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 19, 2010 @06:08AM (#34279658)

    because we're not 15 years old anymore?

  • Repetition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Friday November 19, 2010 @06:23AM (#34279720) Journal

    I've been looking at my game shelves and thinking about this myself recently. Like the author(s) of TFA, I find myself completing a far lower proportion of the games I buy than I used to. Looking at the games in question, I'm starting to sense a common factor; repetition.

    I think that as I get older, find work taking up more of my life and find my genuinely free time getting more and more constrained, I don't have the tolerance for repetition that I once did. This has had a pretty large impact on how likely I am to finish various types of game.

    TFA begins by talking about Mass Effect 2, but to be honest, I had no problem playing through that to completion (and will likely do a second playthrough at some point in preparation for Mass Effect 3). Aside from the planet scanning (which you can ignore past the game's mid-way point quite safely), there's precious little repetition. Bioware did a great job of making all the side-missions feel pretty unique. Combined with a strong plot, I never came even close to giving up on Mass Effect 2 (nor on any other Bioware game I can remember).

    I find myself strugging a lot more with Japanese RPGs these days, because that genre as a whole (and there are rare, welcome exceptions) has not yet grown out of the idea that levelling up is about running in circles for a couple of hours fighting identical monsters. I have twice tried to play through Star Ocean: The Last Hope and have run out of steam both times because of the sheer quantity of the grinding needed (the game has weird difficulty spikes - the bosses are much, much harder than anything else in the game). I struggled through the grinding in the PS3 version of Eternal Sonata because I was so deeply in love with the game's concept, plot and style, but I would have enjoyed it far more without the grinding (and I did come close to dropping it several times). Even Valkyria Chronicles, which I would rate as arguably the best game of the last 5 years, frustrated me because of the need to do multiple replays of the skirmish engagements for experience points.

    I wasn't always this way. I remember playthroughs of Final Fantasy VII where I spent many hours levelling up in and around Midgar so I could beat the Midgar Zolom the first time I met him (nabbing the Beta enemy-skill far earlier in the game than you were supposed to be able to get it). But these days, the thought of doing that just makes me despair. I constantly find myself wishing that Japanese developers (and it is primarily Japanese developers at fault here) were confident enough to make a game as long as it needed to be, rather than trying to deliver the 40-60 hour playtime that they think the fanbase expects.

    It's not just RPGs where I find myself increasingly intolerant of repetition. Even in action and platforming games, I hate (really, really hate) being made to replay sections I've already completed. Action games which have no quicksave function and which think it is funny to be sparing on checkpoints are likely to get dropped (Halo: Reach came close several times and had the campaign been slightly longer it probably would have). While I generally liked Mario Galaxy 2, I hated the fact that the lives system meant I found myself repeating sections of levels that I could do with my eyes closed just to get back to the section I was stuck at.

    This isn't to say that repetition always means I will drop a game. Where there's a compelling enough reason, I can tolerate it. I've played through Persona 3, its FES "director's cut" and Persona 4 despite their grindy nature, just because the game's social mechanics are so unusual and compelling that I wanted to see them through. But I don't think that enforced repetition ever adds much to a game. Developers: please, work out how long your game needs to be to tell its story, deliver the gameplay experiences you want to get across etc. And then make it that long (or if you only had a 3 hour game left, you may need to go back to the drawing board and rethink your concept). Don't think that we're all sat ou

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @06:35AM (#34279784) Homepage

    Those extra people who game now are - axiomatically - more casual gamers than the people who always gamed.

    Casual gamers are less likely to finish games.

    Wow, people get paid to analyse this sort of non-puzzle? I'm in the wrong job.

  • by MatthiasF ( 1853064 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @06:39AM (#34279804)

    I think the combination of bad game mechanics and bugs can cause some games to just be too frustrating to play for some. But this coupled with the new trend in DLCs, I think most people probably feel the game was never really completed or they aren't getting their money's worth.

    Mass Effect 2 for instance made me incredibly frustrated by the cover system employed (that I could avoid in ME1 using crouch), constantly getting stuck on things when trying to sprint around, and then crashed on me several times. Had I not been enjoying the story so much or been so enamored by the franchise because of the first game, I probably wouldn't have finished the game. In fact, each time I buy one of the DLCs Bioware produces I find myself getting re-frustrated by the same things after months had passed and I had forgotten about them.

    Fallout 3 was also known for quite a lot of bugs, so much so that I have several friends that just stopped playing out of frustration as well. I had fond enough memories of the game that I decided to buy the DLCs and found myself getting annoyed at the same bugs and frustrating crashes all over again.

    Because of these experiences, I have absolutely no plans on buying the new Fallout:Las Vegas after videos were reported of the same bugs and crashes. And depending on how they change the game-play in Mass Effect 3, I might be skipping that one as well until the "ultimate" edition with all the DLCs are on sale for less than $10.

    I'm just not willing to buy a game for full price when I know it's going to make me just as frustrated at times than entertained. Not only because it feels like a waste of money that's really only getting myself annoyed, but also because these same companies are trying to subvert the game market with the DLCs. Most of the games packages that include the DLCs (like the "ultimate" edition I mentioned) also include DRM that won't let you sell it used. This drops the value of the game to me if I can't share it with a friend when I'm done or sell it if I hate it.

    The more they devalue their own products by making bad decisions not only inside the game but also in business practices, the less likely they'll be successful with sales since it would be more likely drive someone will avoid buying it (either to avoid the product entirely or pirate it). While I've never pirated a game, the current trend has led me to investigate video game rentals in lieu of buying using services like OnLive or Gamefly.

    Which from what I've heard, has already been eating away at game developer revenues. But as I'm trying to stress, they're doing it to themselves.

  • Re:Isn't it... (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 19, 2010 @06:52AM (#34279858)

    most game 'stories' are fillers or repetition of the same mechanic again and again.

    tie that with boring plot, unsurprising and lampshaded plot twists, cheating ai that becomes frustratingly difficult to beat as the game progress just because difficulty has to ramp up and a moron character and you'll be bored to death halfway through the campaign.

    medieval II starts cheating as hell when border empires are cornered. they never surrender, they never retreat. they get full army stack just out of tin air out of your sight. how am I supposed to be motivated to beat a game like that?

    most rpg have you the player guess what the enemy is a quarter in the story. and then the enemy which almost always is a purposed friend of your side comes at you you the character could not kill him just because it was programmed as if I the player are a moron and I am not supposed to known, at that point, who the real enemy is. how am I supposed to b motivated to move along that campaign, just to see in the end that I was right since the beginning but that stupid moron of me in the game had his hand knot by developer who tough they are the next agata christie?

  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @06:54AM (#34279864) Homepage Journal

    feeling one gets as the progress in many games. The "damn, if I haven't seen THAT ten bazillion times before. Far too many developers are blind to the repetitive nature of their games, somehow think they are unique among designers and came up with something we never saw elsewhere. Then you can also top it off with what I call dick moves. Essentially dick moves are mechanics whereby the player will do it the designers way or no way. Dick moves are things like gratuitous loss and such. Gimmick fights and over use of gimmicks also tends to dull one's willingness to follow a game to its end (I am looking at you HL2 : yeah I know you have a physics engine but damn if I am not tired of finding the one item I need to move from X to Y so I can cross a three foot chasm)

  • Must have played through HL2 about six times, got 90% of the achievements. Also played through the episodes a few times. LOVE it.

    What makes HL so much more replayable than other games? I think it comes down to: (a) story (b) environment (c) decent AI, in that order. I was bored instantly with the L4D series because it had no plot. Environment plays a big factor but missing a good story (Fallout 3 I'm looking at you) is crucial too. And even if you have both of those things and it's no fun to play the single player game because the enemies are stupid, that's a quick game killer too.

    It also probably helps that I identify with the nerdy protagonist :)

    BTW, Valve, you listening? Thanks alot for leaving me with the biggest cliffhanger ever and then not finishing it. It's like the end of Red Dwarf. Exciting at the time but turning into more and more of a letdown. I'm getting the feeling that I'll never know what happens after the forest strider buster battle. GAH =)

  • Define "finish" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @07:24AM (#34280004)

    If by finish you mean they haven't got the achievement to run round the game world 200 times looking in every crevice possible for the last magical flashing blob that must be collected then the answer is because this is the most fucking awful game mechanic that has been put in modern games since, well, forever.

    If it's that they're not finishing the main story line, then well, it's probably something else altogether, like, people simply being fickle.

    Personally though I think I finish more games now than I used to. Here's a question though, sure they have stats now like only 50% of people completing Mass Effect, but how do they know more people used to finish games when those games were nearly always offline and hence they have no way of measuring completion rates of old games? Are they sure they're not just assuming people used to finish more games?

  • by IceFreak2000 ( 564869 ) <ed@edcou[ ] ['rte' in gap]> on Friday November 19, 2010 @07:33AM (#34280048) Homepage

    I can't speak for anyone else, but the main reason why I rarely complete games these days is 'Real Life'; much as my disposable income has disappeared with the arrival of children, so has my disposable time. Years ago I could fritter away hours at a stretch playing Civilisation, but no more. It's very rare that a game comes along these days that I can muster the enthusiasm for to invest time and effort in to complete.

    The last game that I played through from beginning to end was "Enslaved: Oddesey To The West", which was an almost perfect title for me; the overall length of the game was quite short (the whole thing was completed over a couple of evenings), the learning curve for the controls was slight and it had a character-led story that I actually wanted to see through to the end. Generally though the sequence goes something like:

    • Purchase new game and play for a few evenings when time permits
    • Real Life gets in the way and game is not booted for a few weeks
    • Arcane control system needs to be relearned
    • Plot has become lost in the mists of time
    • Cannot be bothered to retrain muscle memory / relearn the plot (such that it is), so game goes back on the shelf

    GTA IV is sitting on my hard drive, barely touched - I liked what I played, but I just don't have the time to spend on it. Likewise Left 4 Dead, Mass Effect 2, Arkham Asylum and so on. It took me at least three attempts to finish Bioshock (and I'm really glad that I did), but that's one of the few exceptions. Nowadays I'm finding myself playing more and more 'casual' games (Cut The Rope, Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies mostly) rather than 'serious' titles - maybe after the kids leave home and before arthritis fuses my hands into impossible shapes I'll get time to play properly again.

  • My experience (Score:4, Insightful)

    by V50 ( 248015 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @07:56AM (#34280152) Journal

    I finish a very low percentage of the games I buy, certainly less than 50%, probably less than 25%. The biggest reason is that I now have a great deal more money than I did when I was a preteen/teenager. Back then, I'd save up money for months to buy a game, so I'd like it to last me as long as possible. Gaming was also one of my only real interests back then, so I'd go through them faster. Now, a single paycheque can net me several hundred dollars in disposable income, a fair portion of which I still blow on video games. At the same time, I have less free time, with university, work, World of Warcraft, books, and other interests I've picked up along the way.

    Not finishing a game doesn't mean I didn't enjoy my time with it, just that I went on to something different before the game ran out of gameplay. Some games I really enjoyed (like GTA4), I never ended up finishing for one reason or another. I also have a tendency to go back and finish games I started years ago, sometimes with a fresh start, other times picking up the old save file. I also prefer a variety of gaming experiences to spending a ton of time with one single game (WoW excepted, but that's more due to the social aspect of WoW.) I've never really done the whole 100% complete thing on a single player game. I suppose this makes me the ideal consumer, heh.

    I know I really ought to look for games with a 10 hour single player campaign, which I actually beat consistently, but my instincts for long games from when I was 12 kick in, and I often buy long RPGs I rarely finish, for instance, I picked up FFXIII when it came out, but I don't think I've beat the tutorial yet, despite being around 20 hours into it. :-/

  • by IceFreak2000 ( 564869 ) <ed@edcou[ ] ['rte' in gap]> on Friday November 19, 2010 @08:31AM (#34280318) Homepage

    Apologies for replying to my own post, but the more I think about it something else occurs to me:

    Back in my ZX Spectrum / BBC Micro gaming days, the availability of games was lower than it is now; I remember playing games to death simply because I'd spent the time and effort going down to my local WHSmith and forking over the £10.00 for a cassette. The other factor was the time and effort required simply to play the damn things; remember how long it took to actually load the game into your home micro from tape? Fiddling around with the head because the damn thing would fail to load after 10 minutes of waiting?

    Nowadays, gaming is so instant and available that there isn't the compulsion to stick at a single game and see it through to completion

  • Re:Isn't it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Friday November 19, 2010 @08:47AM (#34280396) Homepage Journal

    Sometimes you just come up against some blatently unfair or extremely hard section of the game and give up. GTA San Andreas was like that. It's fun as long as there is a real and genuine challenge, but once the game starts to cheat just to make it harder I find I loose interest rapidly.

  • Re:Myst Uru (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:18AM (#34281118) Journal

    Does anyone remember Myst? Great story, superb graphics (navigating through stills to provide high res scenes), and great use of Quicktime mini-windows for animation in the days before full 3D rendering. I finished that game many times.

    I remember Myst. The story was barely there, not even worth mentioning compared to LucasArts and Sierra games of the time. The graphics, were prerendered not impressive. Again the hand drawn graphics from other adventure games at the time were far prettier (e.g. King's Quest IV). I will say that the design that went into it was quite good. As for the gameplay, it's about the same as a magazine rack logic puzzle book. That's OK, I guess, but I expect more from an adventure game. By taking notes, I was able to finish Myst in one sick day home from school. Other adventure games kept me busy for days or weeks.

    Yeah, I remember Myst. It was my first experience with casual gamers shitting up a perfectly good genre. The success of Myst changed adventure games from interactive stories to puzzle books with illustrations. I think that is what really caused the crash of adventure gaming in the late 1990s.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:33AM (#34281256) Journal

    It's not that there's not enough time. Collecting shit for the sake of collecting shit is the worst thing to happen to video games ever as far as I can tell. Give me all the time in the world, and I would never collect all the bananas in Donkey Kong, never collect all the Skulltulas in Zelda, or all the hidden packages in GTA. It's just _not fun_. It's not even close to pretending to be a simulation of something that used to be fun. It's tedious, it's frustrating, it's *work*. No thank you.

  • Re:Isn't it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eraesr ( 1629799 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @10:42AM (#34281344) Homepage
    I really doubt it has a whole lot to do with the quality of the game or how annoying it is. Just remember how games 20 years ago were testing your patience by some absolutely horrid gameplay decisions, but yet we loved them to death. I'd say that on average, games are better at guiding a playing through itself than back in those days.

    I think the real issue has been clearly stated by the AC that started this thread. We're not 15 anymore. The demographic of the gameplaying masses have shifted from 10 - 15 years olds to 10 - 35 year olds (or something like that. Most game playing people these days are either tangled up in jobs, school, girlfriend/wife, children, a household to run, etc. The average gamer just doesn't have as much time to complete a game.

    Combine that with the number of triple-A titles coming out these days, each and every one of those being a distraction, trying to draw our attention away from whatever we're currently playing, and it's easy to see why many games aren't finished anymore.

    In short: the average gamer has less time but wants to play more (different) games.
  • Re:Myst Uru (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <> on Friday November 19, 2010 @11:22AM (#34281762) Homepage

    I'm glad someone else felt the way I did about Myst. It was, quite possibly, the shittiest adventure game of all time. All the puzzles were mechanical things, you had no interactions with the only other characters, the plot was, literally, 'find six things'.

    Sure, it looked nice, but that's damn easy to do with first-person still photographs.

    And, yeah, it did kill the genre, although that was more other companies fault for jumping on the 'acclaim' of Myth. 'Oh, let's make adventure games with as beautiful graphics as possible. Which means we can't have characters or an interface.'

    As opposed to the 3-D games which had just become possible, and were quite well received by actual adventure gamers. And as opposed to the FMV games, which weren't really catching on, but were also getting there, and actually had a chance to improve the adventure game genre. Okay, both those were slightly early, but Tex Murphy pulled it off, combining both those into a perfectly good adventure game.

    Sierra, of course, saw the value and went ahead with FMV, whereas Lucas decided to go with just 3-D.

    Everyone else attempted to turn adventure games into damn postcards displayed in hypercard. Myst was incredibly well selling to people who'd never bought a computer game in their life. Why, those people are the perfect customers! Let's finish developing the games we've started, and then develop a game exactly like that!

    Half those damn games came out straight to the $10 rack.

    Then there was the infamous problems at Sierra, causing it to be sold and dismantled, and the LucasArts just giving up on the genre because of the fact the market got flooded with crappy Myst clones, the bottom dropped out because no one was building 'adventure games' because that had come to mean 'wander around and poke things with a stick while reading a background novel you get two pages at a time', with no actual plot or characters or anything.

  • Re:Myst Uru (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @12:05PM (#34282226)
    Exactly. Myst was so bad it took down the whole genre.
  • Re:Isn't it... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ifiwereasculptor ( 1870574 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @12:46PM (#34282722)

    Sure, but do you remember Metroid or Kid Chameleon? They would be unbearable nowadays if it weren't for nostalgia. And we tried to finish them repeatedly in the past. We just had a lot more patience. If throwing your controller at the wall can be considered patience. Ok, let's call it perseverance.

  • Re:My experience (Score:3, Insightful)

    by microTodd ( 240390 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @12:49PM (#34282748) Homepage Journal

    Not finishing a game doesn't mean I didn't enjoy my time with it, just that I went on to something different before the game ran out of gameplay.


    I felt a lot better when I realized I'm not obligated to finish every game I buy, just as long as I enjoyed the time I had with the game. If I know I'm never going to finish it but really enjoyed the story, I'll find a wiki to learn what happened.

  • by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @02:35PM (#34283838)

    Like the last level of Psychonauts. (which never got playtested)

    Fuck the glitchy cheese graters

  • Re:Myst Uru (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wbo ( 1172247 ) on Friday November 19, 2010 @03:59PM (#34284852)

    That particular puzzle was originally created for online players working together, hence the weird 15 minute wait. That way there was enough leeway for online players to coordinate to solve the puzzle. When the plug was pulled on Uru Online, Cyan had to re-adapt the expansion for single player.

    Why they didn't rework this particular puzzle remains a mystery, but I'm sure budgeting had much to do with it.

    I suspect the reason that particular puzzle was not changed was because time travel plays a very important role in that part of the overall story.

    If you pay attention to some of the clues in the area you will notice that you are actually traveling 15 minutes backwards in time. Hence the need to wait approximately 15 minutes before you see the pellet you dropped earlier.

    This particular puzzle (and limited time travel) plays a larger part in the overall story which becomes even more clear in Myst V.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"