Game Over, But Not Completed
Over the last few years there has been increasing data that shows that only a small number of gamers are finishing the single player games that they purchase. At present the stats indicate that number to be around 10%. According to Activision production contractor Keith Fuller "What I've been told as a blanket expectation is that 90 percent of players who start your game will never see the end of it unless they watch a video on YouTube”. Furthermore, services such as Raptr, which tracks online playing sessions and achievements are producing equally dismal data. According to the company, only 10% of people who played Rockstar's blockbuster Red Dead Redemption actually finished the game. It’s data such as this that adds grist to EA proverbial mill, when they say that the single player experience is in decline and co-op gaming is the future.
There are a number of reasons why this trend is occurring, but much of the blame can probably be attributed to the rise of online multiplayer and co-operative play over recent years. Two decades ago this was an emerging trend. Today it is simply an industry standard. Gamers can now get a quick fix on terms that suits them via co-op play, instead of progressing through a lengthy linear single player experience. Plus, the average gamer is now at 37 years old. Leisure time is a finite commodity competing against jobs, families and other commitments. But regardless of the accuracy of the numbers, I don’t dispute the overall finding of these various reports, because I regularly abandon games if they do not suit my requirements. Yes, I’m guilty as charged and I suspect that many of my peers are to.
I have never considered myself a completist and don’t feel it essential to my enjoyment to achieve every accolade within a game. However, I am a child of the seventies and its prevailing cultural mindset of “soldiering on” and “finishing what you started”. The sort of nonsense that your sports teacher would spout back in your school days. Sadly, it’s an affliction that I’ve laboured under for years. In my youth, if I made a decision to read a book or view film, I stuck with it even if it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. It was a form of social conditioning and to push against it would mean that you were “lazy” or a “quitter. I don’t recollect ever walking out of the cinema if a movie was bad and until recently, can count on one hand the amount of films that I have abandoned while viewing at home.
However, I broke this habit in 1987 when I was reading Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. I simply didn’t like the direction story was taking or the way the central characters were behaving, so I put the book back on the shelf. To this day I have never completed it. And as I broke myself of this habit in the late eighties, it meant that as I got more into gaming during the following decade, I wasn’t burdened by such rigid criteria. For me gaming has always been about the overall experience and participating in a story. Although I enjoy a certain degree of challenge, it is a very relative term. If a game requires that I read copious amounts of websites and watch various You Tube videos to come to terms with its subtleties, then it is not for me. Therefore, you won’t find me tracking data on a spreadsheet just to play a game. I prefer to invest my time and energy into real work, as that yields tangible financial rewards. Games are for my amusement and not a binding contract that demands completion.
As an MMO player, games of this ilk effectively have no end, apart from the quarterly hiatus between new content. I’ve nearly reached the current level cap in LOTRO. At present progress is proving particularly gruelling. However, I can take a break from such games and return at a time of my convenience when I feel more disposed towards whatever challenge that is on offer. If there is something that I currently do not like, then a wait of a few months will always yield some alternative new content. The single player game is not so flexible in this regard. If you buy the Skyrim Special Edition, you will own all the content that was ever produced for that game. You may well play through the main story and reach a point where you are satisfied. There is still plenty more content available but if you’re done, then that’s irrelevant. It’s very much like a buffet in a restaurant. I recently bought the game of the year edition of Lords of the Fallen for the nominal fee of £3.19 in a sale. Suffice to say that despite many good points, the game just wasn’t for me, so I immediately logged out and uninstalled it.
Our gamers becoming lazier? That’s a very difficult question to answers. I would argue that as I get older I am more discerning of what projects I embark on and what I commit to. I also know what I like and am not obliged to endure what I don’t. Gamers of my generation have come to terms with the fact that they cannot do everything and will not jump feet first into a time sink, irrespective of how shiny it appears. The industry also seems to be getting wise to the concept of short and measured bursts of gaming, rather lengthy game play sessions. Also, pricing in a key factor. The sunk cost fallacy can still drive people to stick things out with a game. It does with me and those damn MMOs. And if you’ve pre-ordered a digital deluxe version of the latest triple A game, then you are not going to give up on that sucker easily. However, Lords of the Fallen cost me less that a pint of beer. That is easy to walk away from and therefore budget games are probably abandoned uncompleted more often that newer titles. There is also an abundance of choice these days.
My tastes along with my outlook have changed as I’ve got older. I guess being fifty has made me more conscious of my finite leisure time (and lifespan). So now, if a book, film or indeed a game is not working out and I’m not getting the correct fun to cost ratio from my purchase, I will vote with my feet. This subject is a very interesting one as it opens up so many other points of discussion. Why we game, what we expect from a game and how the developers struggle to satisfy all player’s needs. There’s also a class of gamer that is very judgemental regarding his fellow gamers and they often have much to say about “quitters”. However, they need to remove the beam out of your own eye, before they attempt to remove the speck out of their brother’s eye, to paraphrase the Bible. So, considering all of the factors discussed, I am not surprised that so many games are left unfinished. I’d like to know the numbers for books and movies as well. I suspect that far more leisure-based undertakings are abandoned just as much a single player games for exactly the same core reasons.