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Guilty Secrets

I really wouldn’t say this piece on Destructoid about why folk don’t finish games delves particularly deeply into the matter (and nor will this one), but it did spark a few idle thoughts across the deadend pathways in my brain.

Most people don’t finish games, even games they’re dead excited about. The reasons are manifold – Valve tweaked Episode 1’s zombie/lift sequence to be easier, for instance, when their creepy online monitoring system spotted that a ton of players were struggling with it and giving up there and then. I know at least half a dozen people who didn’t make it far past That Moment in Bioshock, praising its power but in the same breath claiming boredom with the game’s admittedly repetitious structure and combat.

I’m guilty of plenty of gaming orphans myself. I’ve never quite completed a GTA game, usually because the level of driving ability required gradually becomes too harsh for me to enjoy myself. It took me 18 months of fits-and-start playing to finish Deus Ex. I made it to Chernobyl itself in STALKER, right on the cusp of answers and endgame, then found my savegame rendered useless by a patch and haven’t found the time/energy to start over. I’m still dodging KOTOR 2 spoilers, because churning through the game’s fight/collect/upgrade mechanics so soon after KOTOR 1 just felt too dreary, despite my burning need to know the plot’s secrets.

Worse, I’ve started Baldur’s Gate II around a dozen times, but always hit a point where its end still seems impossibly far away and just give up. Then there’s the half-dozen Final Fantasies (hey, two of ’em were on PC, so I can mention ’em here) I couldn’t finish because they kept interrupting me with the hideous, arrogant cutscenes that their hideous, arrogant fans believe constitute good storytelling. It’s the kind of thing I’d love to see some graphs on, and no doubt they’d show the faintly horrifying proof that the human animal behaves largely the same way even in experiences which feel so personal. On the other hand, it’d be reasurring to see that many people have given up in the places I did. At least it would mean it was the developer’s fault, and not my own.

There’s a thousand other games I’ve played for work assignments where I’ve had to fight on well past the point where my brain was begging me to stop, disgusted by the hackery and laziness of the storyline, or some ridiculously tough boss, or the agonising repetition of the shooting, or, as the Destructoid piece does mention, other games competing for my easily-distracted affections. The point of ennui is something a great many games don’t seem to be tested for, and it’s made me say some remarkably unpleasant things about their creators, who no doubt believed wholeheartedly that they’d made something fun from start to finish. Sorry, guys. You made pain, not pleasure.

Some do benefit from a thorough check for unintended misery – much has been written on both Valve and Bungie’s extensive focus group playtesting of their recent games, establishing the exact maths of what keeps people enjoying themselves, and not feeling frustrated or lost or overwhelmed. Then there’s Portal, which I’m furious has been consistently scored lower than HL2 Episode 2 and TF2 (standard criticism – “it’s short”) despite being the Orange Boxette that everyone’s now quoting from and making slightly unsettling fan art of. It’s such a complete entity in a way so few games are, with a defined start, middle and satisfying end, and its brevity completely suits it. It sets a scene, tells a story and says its goodbyes while you’re still on a high.

But both the playtesting and the episodic ultra-polish are investments few developers can afford to make. Valve’s main men were millionaires even before they started the company. Bungie could suck infinite milk from the Microsoftian teat. Almost every other developer lacks these resources, and risks a large part of their games’ audiences never seeing everything they worked so hard to create. One day though, I’m sure someone will nail the science of gaming boredom, and then we’ll have pleasures without end.

So, readers – what PC games you were enjoying have you stopped playing, and why? Let us know in comments (even you, Dave Lurk from Lurksville) and perhaps we can spot some trends.
And developers – any sense of the common causes of players giving up on your game?

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Alec Meer

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Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about videogames.

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