Seven Practical Tips for Clearing Out Your Backlog


Clearing out a backlog is a game of mental endurance. I started this blog because I love to write in my spare time, but also because I had already been trying for over a year to beat my old collection of games. During high school I made a habit of collecting cheap games from just about anywhere I could find them – bargain bins, yard sales, used game stores. Even a used electronics stall at Coney Island once (Conker’s Bad Fur Day for $4 – what a steal!). There was always a gem to be found somewhere.

Most of the games I bought I actually played and beat, but every so often I would get frustrated, put them down, and then never go back to them. Making this blog was my promise to go back and finish those games, come hell or high water.

Of course, in doing so I had no idea what sort of mental strain I would be putting myself through. Beating a backlog – and I mean really beating every single game on it – is damn hard work. I’m surprised by how much of a challenge it’s turned out to be, rather than the cakewalk I expected of it. It takes a lot of dedication, and the biggest obstacle is merely staying motivated to keep going.

Something I’ve learned about clearing out your backlog is that if you want to get anywhere with it, there are some rules you need to follow to make it sanely feasible. As such, I’ve compiled some tips for those looking to also finish up their old games. This advice is merely anecdotal, so your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, I’ve found that sticking to many of these principles helps keep me moving towards my goal.

1. Track your backlog

Ok, yes, this one might have been a bit obvious, but cataloging your games should really be your first step in clearing them out. There are lots of tools out there, from Backloggery (which I myself use) to How Long to Beat, which is exceptionally useful for planning out a gaming schedule. For a more detailed analysis of the various tools at your disposal, check out Six Websites to Help You Manage and Clear Your Backlog.

2. Avoid the temptation of Steam sales and Humble Bundles: 

They say the easiest way to quit smoking is to never start in the first place. Likewise, the quickest way to clear games off of your backlog is to not buy them at all. Of course, this is all easier said than done. I understand the temptation of wanting to purchase that $15 X-COM Complete Pack during the Steam holiday sale. I mean, how could you not resist owning an entire game series for one absurdly low price, in a format that will run straight out of the box on a modern PC?

Suffice to say, the psychology of video game addiction and Steam sale addiction in particular is much too detailed for this article. In fact, dozens of articles are already out there describing the multiple layers in which Steam reinforces positive feedback and encourages you to buy more games. I could probably fill a entire post with material dedicated to avoiding the temptation of Steam sales (note to self: file under “future article ideas”), so I will try to keep this section as brief as possible.

On the other hand, Humble Bundle is basically a website that gives you free games, unless you count the token $5 you typically pay for the premium content. Of all the Steams games on my backlog, a large portion of them came from Humble Bundles all purchased within the last year. Avoiding these Humble Bundles could have saved me hours of play time, and many of the games that came bundled with them I did not even want to play.

Whenever you’re tempted by a fresh Humble Bundle or unbeatable Steam sale, remind yourself: it’s not the money that’s the problem. It’s the time that’s in short supply. If you buy food simply because it’s on sale, but then never wind up eating it, was it even worth spending money on the first place? Additionally, even if you do plan to “one day get to it”, chances are another sale will come around, or another new release will catch your eye, and the game will be buried even further on your backlog.

3. Stagger retro games with new games

It can get quite stale playing the same types of games over and over again. Barring a few exceptions, I often find that retro games are more challenging and repetitive, whereas modern games tend to be easy and entertaining.

This has to do with shifting trends in game design – older games were restricted by technology and limited budgets, and so delivered value by making the games harder. Even relatively short games were difficult and had to be played repetitively in order to be finish them.

Modern games are perhaps the exact opposite – their design aim is to preserve the game’s flow and maintain the player’s immersion. Therefore, frustrating segments typically try to be minimized for a more pleasant gaming experience.

In order to keep yourself motivated, try to reward yourself by playing an easy-going modern title (an FPS or short indie game, for example) after trudging through a difficult retro title. The modern titles can typically be knocked out in a couple of hours, giving you the patience to to revisit some of your frustrating retro titles later.

4. Don’t be afraid to play on easy mode

This one makes me cringe a bit, but the reality is that you are going to get through games more quickly if you put them on an easier setting. Sadly, I’m also one of those purists that really loves a challenge, so when a game like Hitman or Far Cry asks me if I want to play on insane mode, I have a hard time resisting.

Nevertheless, efficiency is critical when clearing a backlog. If you’re unsatisfied with easy, try to pick a level that feels challenging enough to be fun, but not so hard that you’re repeating several sections multiple times. Experience levels are bound to differ, though, so go with what feels best for you.

5. Beat it, don’t complete it

This is another one that makes me cringe. Yes, I am a completionist fanatic. I achieved 100% completion on both Assassins Creed IV and Far Cry 2. Combined, I probably dumped 100 hours into both games. That five 20 hours games I could have beaten instead, or ten 10 hour games.

My point is, if you’re going for quantity over quality, there’s no reason you should be trying to get everything single possible item in a game, unless doing so is beneficial to the outcome. For example, collecting all of the the masks in Majora’s Mask makes the final boss incredibly easy and also adds a substantial amount of content to the game. I would recommend stopping to get all of them even though they aren’t necessary to beat the game.

But collection quests? Forget about it. Challenge modes? Probably not needed. Get to the end credits, and call it a day.

6. Minimize playtime on MMOs and multiplayer games

The reason I use the word minimize here is because even I take breaks from my backlog from time to time. As my room mates will tell you, I spend plenty of time on Hearthstone and Civilization V in addition to working on my backlog.  Frankly, sinking a few hours into these games is simply relaxing. It takes my mind off the stresses of work, gaming, and managing this blog.

However, the more time you sink into “objective-less” games like MMOs or online games, the less time you are going to spend actually crossing games off of your backlog. So do yourself a favor by jumping into your other games once you are done enjoying your favorite multiplayer games.

7. Plan to be working on your backlog for a year… or more:

When I began my backlog, I had about 70 games marked as unbeaten. I considered that a manageable amount. Something I could beat in perhaps a year. It’s been about eight months since I embarked on this endeavor, and am now down to around 20. Of those 50 beaten titles, I removed about 10 of them from the list for one reason or another, which brings the total down to 40. That means I finished around five games a month, which seems like a reasonable estimate given my playing habits.

Of course, most people’s backlogs could put mine to shame. 70 games? This guy beat 400 games in his backlog and it took him four and a half years. In fact, I find that the average tends to hover anywhere between 100 and 200 games, though there are certainly folks that push that number into the quadruple digits.

It’s safe to say, though, that if you’ve got close to 100 games, you can expect to spend up to a year beating those alone depending upon your play habits. Gauge your estimations on how often you currently play. That should give you a good idea how long its going to take to go through all of them. That’s also discounting the new games that come out that you may be tempted to play. Because let’s face it – if you’re going to be doing this on a multi-year basis, chances are you aren’t going to resist buying a single new game that comes out until you’re finished.

At the rate I’m going at, I sincerely hope to be down to about 20 games by the New Year. After that, I’ve considered culling some of my least favorite games from the backlog in favor of moving on to greener pastures and new projects. We’ll see how that goes though. Always remember – persistence is key!

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