Why do we spend time playing games we don’t like?

We spend a lot of time playing games we don’t like. Remember The War Z, renamed to Infestation: Survivor Stories after receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews all around? On Steam, it has nearly 14,000 negative reviews which total 507,837 played hours of absolute garbage. Or what about Duke Nukem Forever, which is somehow sitting at ‘Mostly Positive’ at the moment? The 1500-odd Steam reviews that rightly acknowledge it as a flaming trash pile account for 10,013 hours those poor souls will never get back.

I’m fascinated by the lifetimes we cumulatively waste on games we end up hating, and so I decided to dig a little deeper. How long do we typically spend with a game before we decide it’s no good? Do we have to finish it, or do we make up our minds before the credits roll? Does it take us longer to nail down our feelings on a popular game versus an unpopular one? Why on earth don’t we just do something else?

To answer these questions, I took a look at the Steam reviews for a number of big games with ‘mixed’ reception – the kinds of games that defy a simple and immediate classification as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. By averaging out the hour counts of both positive and negative reviews, we can see a consistent trend between the two, with players spending on average two to three times as long with a game they enjoy than a game that leaves them disappointed. Not too surprising, but things get more interesting when we compare the average hour counts with the time it takes to beat these games, as estimated by howlongtobeat.com. Contrasting these values reveals that we often spend enough time with games we don’t recommend to see their credits roll – though whether we actually do reach the end or not is significantly harder to quantify. Judging from sampled review text, though, we push through as far as we can, even when crashes, bugs, and low framerates conspire against us.

This is not strictly scientific but it’s fascinating for a number of reasons. First of all, it potentially says something about our expectations of getting our money’s worth out of a game; even when we’re not having a great time, we keep playing in order to justify our purchase with a defensible dollars-to-hours ratio. It could be a case of the sunk-cost fallacy, with the idea of abandoning a $60 purchase after just a couple of hours tasting unpleasant in the back of your mouth. None of us want to feel like we made a bad buying decision, and hey, maybe the fun will kick in in just a couple more hours?

That naïve optimism speaks to another curious foible: the disproportionate influence of a game’s ending. Because of the way our minds work, we remember most vividly the first and last elements in a series, whether that be names in a list, episodes of a TV show, or our experiences with a game. When a game ends on a high, we tend to forgive and forget the iffy patches in the middle, but when the final boss is an overlong mess of difficulty spikes and inadequate closure, all the hours of fun leading up to it fly out the window. For me, it’s the disappointing endings of Mirror’s Edge, vanilla Fallout 3, and Borderlands that tar what are otherwise great games. Even now, years on, I can’t help but remember how much of a letdown their conclusions were. It’s not surprising, then, that we might review poorly a game that we spent a dozen or more hours with. If our parting memories are of an anticlimactic button press to decide the fate of the world, it’s hard to not feel a little jaded.

Similarly, a contentious patch in a multiplayer game can have a drastic effect on popular opinion. If a game suddenly nerfs your favourite character, all the hours you spent learning them can feel like a waste, and hitting back with a negative review seems justified. The same goes for the gradual decline of a game’s player base. If you can no longer find an online match for the game you bought, that’s going to leave a bitter taste in your mouth, and a thumbs down is often the only retribution you have available no matter how much you enjoyed the game previously.

In contrast, we tend to turn a more optimistic eye to games in Early Access. The possibility of new features and massive improvements down the line fosters optimism and encourages us to give a game the benefit of the doubt. That positivity only goes so far, though. If an Early Access game transitions to a 1.0 release without implementing all the features it originally promised, as in the case of Spacebase DF-9, opinion can turn swiftly and severely, with optimistic reviews morphing into dire warnings of false advertising.

Our expectations change from game to game, too. It’s not uncommon to see negative reviews with dozens of hours played for games like The Division or Civilization, since these games can take a while to hit their stride but potentially offer hundreds of hours of enjoyment. On average, we’ll stick with these games longer than smaller-scope titles like Ori and the Blind Forest or Thief before throwing in the towel.

By comparing the average hour counts for ‘mixed’ games to those with a greater consensus of opinion, we see another trend emerge. The more popular a game is, the longer a negative reviewer will spend with it. Conversely, if the game is widely panned, condemnation is as swift as it is harsh. The hunger for closure and the hope that the fun will kick in in the fourth, fifth, or sixth hour are no longer enough to push through to the end, with most unhappy players investing less than half the average completion time before putting down the controller. This remains true even for games that are only a couple of hours long.

These discrepancies in play-time speak to more than just the quality of a game; sampling again the text of the reviews, there is little difference between the anger and disappointment levelled at popular games versus unpopular ones. Complaints of bad writing, repetitive mission design, and unbalanced systems are common across the board, yet we suffer through them for hours longer when a game has that precious ‘Positive’ label. Why do we punish ourselves so?

In the realm of psychology, there is a phenomenon known as social proof, which essentially says that, when we’re in uncertain and ambiguous situations, we look to other people for guidance on how to behave. The prime example is a study by John Darley and Bibb Latane, where they gathered students into a room, gave them questionnaires to fill out, then left. They then began pumping smoke into the room, faking a nearby fire. When a student was by themselves, they noticed the smoke and left the room to report it within a couple of minutes. When they were in a group, however, they took much longer to respond, and when Darley and Latane populated the group with confederates who ignored the smoke completely, many students followed suit, filling out their questionnaires even as smoke teared up their eyes. Simply put, the smoke represented uncertainty, and the more people not running out of the room screaming “Fire!”, the more likely you are to do the same.

Applying this principle to our average hour counts, the trend starts to make a lot more sense. When the first hints of doubt about a game’s quality start setting in, we seek out evidence in our environment to squash our uncertainty. Often that means reading reviews. If everyone else seems to be having a blast, we’re more likely to set aside our reservations and truck on, assuming that we’re simply missing something everyone else has already seen. The less enthusiastic other people are, though, the less likely we’ll push through a game before calling it quits. Like the students in the smoke-filled room, sometimes this approach doesn’t work out so great.

Of course, regardless of what we might infer from these statistics, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing wrong with coming away disappointed with a game you poured hundreds of hours into. Sometimes it simply takes that long to fully understand why a game doesn’t click for you, especially if it’s one that, on paper, seems right up your alley. Exploring the reasons why you don’t like something can be satisfying in its own right, even if the game isn’t. Giving a negative review to a game you’ve played for ten, twenty or even hundreds of hours doesn’t make the review invalid.

Regardless, we can start to see why we sometimes spend hours playing, and investigating, before finally giving a game the big red thumbs down. Between a desire for closure, the drive to get our money’s worth, and the power of the zeitgeist, we don’t need to be having fun with a game to keep plugging away at it. There’s only one thing I still don’t understand: who leaves one game running for 392 days straight?

100 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    I very distinctly remember as a kid deciding that I don’t have to “finish” something if I think it’s hot garbage. This happened while reading a book though, so slightly different. Ever since then, I have generally quit playing games that I don’t enjoy. However, there are games where I see potential and continue playing, because I think it will eventually live up to that potential. These are the games that trick me into playing for far longer than I would have otherwise, because there is a promise of that game you really want to play just around the corner, or in that next area, or when you get that upgrade. The most recent example of a game that sucked me in for 40+ hours that I ended up wishing I hadn’t spent that much time with, was Starbound. Everything pointed towards a game that I would love, and I kept playing thinking I would find it. Eventually, after 45ish hours, I had to give up and accept that I wasn’t actually enjoying my time with the game, and whatever I thought the game might have been, wasn’t going to be found in another 30 hours with it.

    On the flip side, Mount and Blade was a game that I put about 20 hours into before it clicked and I found a game in there that I couldn’t quit playing.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      I didn’t finish a lot of games when I was a kid, but that’s because for games like The Bard’s Tale or Ultima series, you had to be seriously committed to completing them. Or at least more seriousness than 12 year old me could muster.

      It’s not that the game were bad, but rather you’d hit a roadblock or run out graph paper or whatever and move on to something else.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thulsa Hex says:

      My first realisation of this ability came when reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series ten years ago. I was half-way through book four when I had an epiphany: I don’t have to keep going. I really don’t! I promptly threw the book across my room and realised as it slid down the far wall that I was free.

      • Jeremy says:

        Even as an emotionally volatile teen I struggled with how emo Rand was characterized. Just the worst. Sanderson did a pretty good job in the last 3 books of piecing together the spaghetti of Jordan’s narrative and finishing it.

        • Someoldguy says:

          The Wheel of Time was bloated beyond belief but each book was an entertaining read so I don’t regret finishing the series. I did decide to switch to getting them from the library though, rather than forking out more cash every couple of years for a series that might never end.

      • sneetch says:

        I think I got to book six before I had the same epiphany, what a wonderful day that was!

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        I promptly threw the book across my room

        Oh my god I literally did this with Winter’s Heart (book 9). Some infuriating bullshit between Perrin and his wife in the first few chapters finally broke me. Nearly all of Jordan’s female characters were so horrible, but that was the last straw.

        And I actually bought that book in hardcover, unlike the previous ones which I’d borrowed from the library. At least my brother read it.

      • Sorbicol says:

        I had that epiphany half way through book 2. Saved hours of my life that I can tell you.

        Surely I’m not the only person who doesn’t really play games I don’t enjoy because, by and large, I don’t buy them? Sure there’s moaning and whining but if you are putting that many hours into an experience, then it’s doing something right for you (something a great many people who play Elite: Dangerous could really do with learning)

      • Ushao says:

        Around college I did the same thing with some terrible “funny” fantasy book a friend gave me. I think I made it two chapters in and thought “No, I’m not gonna suffer through the rest of this crap” and now it’s much easier to put down things I’m not enjoying.

      • BenWH says:

        Oh my god, the Wheel of Time. I persevered so hard with that book, forgiving the endless meandering ‘must visit every area of the map’, but in the end the wetness of the male characters, and pure irritation of the female characters just did for me.

        I persevered with Game of Thrones (Books) because even though those middle ones move the story about 1 inch in 400 pages, they are so well written it’s forgiveable (well at least tolerable).

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          Thulsa Hex says:

          I enjoyed GoT well enough, but put down a Feast for Crows at some point for approximately six months because I hated reading about a certain character. When I finally picked it back up I found that they get killed-off a few pages later. Had to laugh at myself for that one.

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        Thulsa Hex says:

        I didn’t expect so many folks saying “me too” but it’s made me chuckle.

    • WombatDeath says:

      Your precocious younger self achieved wisdom that only occurred to me in my late thirties. I now, finally, have a strict policy of not playing games that I’m not enjoying.

    • Konservenknilch says:

      Hah, everyone seems to go through the WoT experience at some point ;)

      My breaking point was at Path of Daggers. Read the summary of the rest on Wikipedia, decided I didn’t miss anything. And there are so many more worthwhile books out there.

    • Crocobutt says:

      Started doing that recently. Some games I drop within minutes, some hours in, hoping (just like you) for the meat of the game. Space Engineers was one that I spent 20 hours in, but it was mostly trying to make the game enjoyable in singleplayer (refunded, free weekend). Yes, Mount&Blade – can’t play that game for shit, but it’s damn fun!
      I find that cheating in games helps to see what they have to offer (multiplayer excluded, of course); my silly philosophy is that if a game is still fun with cheats, it’s designed well. NMS was a real pain to play even with cheats on (cheatengine). Instead of losing 20+ hours to realize it has nothing besides grind, it took me ~6. No, I did not buy it – try before you buy.

    • Mayobe says:

      “I very distinctly remember as a kid deciding that I don’t have to “finish” something if I think it’s hot garbage.”

      Screws up your whole gaming mojo, doesn’t it? That feeling when you pick up some popular title and it’s trash, so you drop it, but then all your peers look at you like an alien for not playing it. Over time you drift farther away from the mainstream and end up playing games that are actually good. You start to value and praise things like character depth, interesting mechanics, good gameplay innovation, games that make you think about life and the world…

      If you don’t watch out you may start to do things like reading books or using polysyllabic words. It’s a slippery slope.

  2. MooseMuffin says:

    I bought FF 13 as part of the winter Steam sale and my savegame says I’m 45 hours in. The first 30 hours of this thing were very bad. And then after that it improved a little to only being mostly bad. I should stop playing it, but I probably won’t. Its so mindless its basically a feature. Recently my wife noted that I was playing it on one monitor, while watching a basketball game on mute on the other monitor, while listening to a podcast.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      I was 18 hours in when I quit. Planned to return though or maybe rather not.

  3. Captain Yesterday says:

    I’ve experienced a related phenomena. I’ve bought games that were popularly and critically adored which I rage-quit because my mind wasn’t sufficiently blown by the game in the half hour that I played it. Most notably I bailed on the first Witcher game after about an hour and a half.

    I figure it’s just me being a contrarian asshole, refusing to go along with what other people say is cool.

    • Jeremy says:

      No, the first hour and a half of The Witcher are truly terrible minutes of gaming.

      • fuggles says:

        Very true. I remember being repeatedly spat to death by a plant you have to punch to death whilst drunk. The shire part is mercifully a tiny portion of a long and fabulous game.

      • TheSplund says:

        I gave up twice (after reinstalling once it was heavily patched) about 10-20 mins in (ie just after the first fight) soddin’ awful controls and cliche characters left me thinking that I’d got better things to do.

      • Elric666 says:

        This is true for the Witcher 1 and 3. If you make the mistake of judging the game by the first area alone, you’ll probably quit and miss two amazing games that keep getting better and better the further you progress.
        This actually happened to me. I quit playing both of these games, after the initial two or three hours severely underwhelmed me. Thankfully I gave both of them a second shot some time later. Some games really do deserve a bit of time to get to the meaty stuff.

        • Coming Second says:

          I don’t remember the opening hour or so of Witcher 3 being particularly bad. Cutscene heavy and didactic maybe, but there’s a hell of a lot for even experienced players to catch up on.

          All three games could’ve done without the “Look everyone! TITS! You better believe this is a mature game!” in the first five minutes, mind. I don’t think there’s been anything that has made me less likely to try sharing them with video game-cynical friends.

          • Elric666 says:

            Oh, I don’t mean the tutorial intro, which I think is great. I mean all the sequence in White Orchard until you can finally proceed to the main game world is rather bland.

          • Coming Second says:

            It is a bit bland, but it does serve its purposes, namely

            1) Highlighting the importance of preparation in order to defeat big monsters, particularly on harder difficulties
            2) Showing you who Nilfgaard are and what they’re like
            3) Demonstrating your quests won’t always end in a pat and happy fashion.

            There’s also the “woah” factor where it properly sinks in that WO is a small and rather feeble tutorial area in the larger world, which makes it worth it for a first playthrough at least.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I love the first section of The Witcher, it’s a great introduction to the story and the game world. The music that plays at the start in Kaer Morhen is now one of my favorite tunes, which I frequently listen to outside the game.

        I can forgive a game for much if the audio, especially the music, is well done. Voice acting, enemy grunts/shouts, other sound effects and music really make a game more enjoyable for me. The Witcher 2 had much worse and forgettable music and much worse intro.

    • soco says:

      I don’t remember where I saw it, but the only reason I got through the initial parts of the first Witcher (and afterwards enjoyed immensely) was that someone wrote: “The first hours of the game defy you to continue playing it.”

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      I played The Last Of Us far longer than I wanted to, because it was supposed to be The Greatest Game Ever. I found it to be an unpleasant, frustrating slog, but I pushed through anyway, hoping I would eventually get to the Greatest Game part (I never did).

      If I had gone into the game blind, without the hype machine echoing in my ear, my reaction probably would have been different. Either I would have quit after a couple hours with a dismissive “This is crap”, or maybe I would have been a bit less judgy because there wouldn’t have been any pre-existing expectations. Who knows?

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Gets better after reaching the city three hours in but W1 is a matter of taste. It’s very old-school, has a lot of backtracking and lack of explanation but gives you an immersive, slavic world to play in. End boss twist was cool.
      W2, W3 are much easier to connect with.

  4. Abacus says:

    In my experience, if you play a game long enough that you have experienced most of what it has to offer and you still didn’t like it, people will argue that “you must have liked it if you played it that long”.

    Then if you play a game and decide within the first hour or so that it’s bad people will argue that “you didn’t give it a chance”.

    I don’t think hours played has anything to do with enjoyment.

    • Shushununu says:

      It’s a conundrum to be sure. For example, I hate Distant Worlds (waits for gasps from whomever is reading this). Okay, maybe hate is too strong of a word, but I solely purchased it and its three expansions (at the time, I think there’s a fourth one now) based on word-of-internet-mouth. “It’s amazing! It’s the bees knees! You can play however you want, automate what you don’t like!”

      Apparently I don’t like playing the game, because I end up automating quite a lot, and parts I don’t, such as building up an economy, scouting, setting patrol paths, making a civilization are just plain boring. I don’t derive a lot of self enjoyment from composing my own narratives about what’s happening, so that part doesn’t do it for me either.

      I still come back to it now and then because I feel like I MUST be missing something, but I’m pretty sure I’m wasting my time.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      people will argue that “you must have liked it if you played it that long”.

      I hate this so much, it’s so common. “Buhhh, you played it for 100 hours, of course you’re bored with it now.”

      Or maybe you played it for 100 hours mildly enjoying it but hoping to discover something more, and eventually realized it wasn’t there.

      • KraiZor says:

        I think that when you have 100 hours it feels weird if there isn’t much thought backing up the critique. The actual review part of the critique is the useful part, obsessing over how many people liked a thing isn’t a useful way of determining if a specific individual will like it. There are some reviews that it’s hard to know how serious to take because they have long play times and only one sentence explaining a negative review. On the other hand I’m sure regardless of how how long your critique is there would be some person trying to invalidate it.

  5. zind says:

    This is one of my favorite topics as a former Steam sale addict. I have an embarrassingly large number of games registered to my Steam account, and depending on who you ask, I’ve only actually played a tiny percentage of them. In reality, I’ve probably only got a backlog that’s about 5-10% of my total catalog, because if I am not having fun in a game and don’t see any fun in the forseeable future of the game, I drop it.

    I can be convinced to “try again” by fans of a game I’ve dropped, but only if they can point to specific things that improve after the initial however long, and if that initial however long is more than an hour or so the rest of the game better be DAMN good.

    Before I had a disposable income I was much more on the side of “I have to play this game from start to finish before thinking about another one” and it served my pocketbook well at the time, but now I am more fortunate.

    • rab357 says:

      Yup, same here. Lots of games I bought on the cheap on Steam…only to either never play or load up and say, eh, never mind.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Don’t we all? The curse of the cheap steam bundle is that you get half a dozen games you’re only peripherally interested in to secure the one or two you really want to try.

        • Ryanxcaveman says:

          Created an account to say this: Thank *Insert Deity Here* that Steam introduced a “Hide” section to cover up my shame from spontaneous Steam sale purchases.

  6. satan says:

    For me, usually just devotion to a franchise/universe. I want Orcs Must Die: Unchained – to work so badly, but it has always been a mess of a game, even now it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. If they’d just released OMD:3 they’d have got more money out of me, and a lot of other people, and we’d all have a game we could enjoy.

  7. mattevansc3 says:

    I played Skyrim for near a hundred hours before realising I stopped enjoying it an hour in.

    I notice it quite a bit with mobile games in that they are inoffensive and highly repetitive. There’s a rhythm and routine to those games that makes it easy to confuse not hating it with enjoying it.

    It was near the hundred hour mark on Skyrim that I realised I was just min maxing my gear. I hadn’t changed my load out in fifty odd hours. I didn’t know or care where I was in the story nor could I tell you what my last quest or dungeon I’d completed was. I could tell you it was the same generic cave I’d completed god knows how many times filled with those generic zombies.

    I was completely disengaged from the game and played it on autopilot because I’d been playing it for weeks.

    • Elric666 says:

      But doesn’t this happen with almost all games? If you play a game too long or for too long stretches, you start getting some kind of “tunnel vision” where you mind only goes looking for the next piece of “reward”, whatever it might be, completely fading out all the other things that make a game enjoyable, like plot or environments.

      I think the trick to games being enjoyable and not degenerating into a tunnel-vision powergaming mode is to enjoy them in short, controlled bursts.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        I only played in hour or so bursts, completing a dungeon or questline every play through.

        For me all there was in Skyrim was that tunnel vision you allude to. The plot, quests and environments are not that enjoyable, definitely not enough to keep my attention.

        I played Dragons Dogma for half the time and enjoyed it considerably more.

        • Elric666 says:

          Interesting. Well, I only get this tunnel vision if I play a game for a too long stretch. But this also happens to me while reading books. If I read for too long, I notice that I start skimming through most of it and don’t pay so much attention in order to get to the more exciting parts. The brain gets sort-of lazy and is just out to get the next dopamine shot. Like a junkie, this is actually a restless state where I stop enjoying and savoring the media.
          Whenever this happens it’s a good idea to stop whatever I’m doing and give it a rest.

    • carewolf says:

      I became suspicous of Skyrim after becoming Archmage as the most powerful mage in the realm, but still only knowning level 1 spells and no body being willing to sell or teach be better spells because I was too low level. And that after a short string of terrible linear corridor “quests”. I roamed around for a while trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, but after seeing the main-quest progressing equally boring and everthing being stupidly level-scaled, I had to admit the game was bad.

    • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

      “I played Skyrim for near a hundred hours before realising I stopped enjoying it an hour in.”

      Yup, exactly my experience. I suddenly realised that I was only playing it to somehow “100%”, and given that is more or less impossible, quickly gave up.

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    Nauallis says:

    Many folks also seem to struggle with the fact that it is okay to change your mind and your opinion about a game. (yes, I realize the article’s data pulls from steam reviews. It’s possible to edit or delete those)

    For example, I thought Endless Legend was grand, just grand, when I first played it. It was kind of like civilization, but more fantasy, more sci-fi, and a really neat take on the world map and city construction. After another twenty hours, I started to hate it. The mechanics are hugely opaque and not at all explained. Diplomacy is next to useless, since it’s impossible to understand other faction’s motivations in any meaningful way. Since it’s a game about running a civilization on a world with other interactive civilizations, that broke the game for me. I don’t regret the time that I put into it, either, because it helped me understand better what I don’t like about some games and particularly that one. I used to recommend it highly. Now, not so much.

    • Elric666 says:

      Interesting you should mention this game, as I just decided to give it a second shot recently. I only had one playthrough as those marine dudes under my belt. During that one and only playthrough I thought the mechanics and game world where very interesting and satisfying. I think Endless Legend goes out of its way in trying to explain where all the numbers come from.
      But the whole diplomacy system was a complete failure. I basically had zero interaction with the other factions, they didn’t initiate treaties, they didn’t even attack me, it was as if the AI itself was nonexistent. That kept me from ever playing it again. Now after some patches and the expansions I was hoping it might have improved in that regard.

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        Nauallis says:

        I suppose it’s worth clarifying – what I thought was terrible about the mechanics is that after a few playthroughs with any faction it becomes clear that each faction is meant to be played/best played in a specific way. On the one hand this is cool, because it’s very unlike many of the previous turn-based strategy games in the same genre. On the other hand, it’s extremely limiting, especially at higher difficulties, when winning is based predominantly on focusing on the faction specialty. At that point it’s like playing with a MOBA hero unit instead of a civilization – you can branch out into subset specialties to some effect, but fundamentally you have to play the class as intended to win.

        The Vaulters, for example (the human civ) are intended to have a small handful of extremely built-up and well defended stronghold cities that pump out an incredible volume of research (4-8 cities based on map size). Good luck winning an economic victory with the Vaulters, let alone a domination victory, because Vaulter units are meant to have predominantly defensive perks. I tried playing them as an industrial/economic powerhouse with lots of cities (30), and I ended up losing an economic victory to the Ardent Mages, who also happened to have unkillable-armies of lower tier units, which I presume had better equipment, though as far as I know, there’s no way to see the upgrades on your enemies’ armies.

        It’s definitely a neat take on the civilization genre, but I found that too limiting over time. Oh well.

        • Elric666 says:

          I didn’t notice that aspect during my playthrough as the Vaulters. I won the game by completing the faction quest. But the game does create the impression that you should carefully choose your race depending on how you want to play the game.

  9. Sian says:

    In my mind, part of the problem, if you want to call it that, is the binary nature of Steam reviews. I’ve seen a few that are basically on the edge but ultimately have to say either yay or nay or that are angry about one part but like the rest (the opposite seems to be more rare).

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      Steam’s been tweaking their review process lately, but they apparently can’t quit the “positive or negative” system.

      I personally believe that 90% of all player reviews are garbage (sorry to anyone who’s ever written one) but that number could go down as low as 75% of Steam allowed for a third option when writing reviews.

      • Mayobe says:

        If Steam wants to massively improve the review system they should allow people to vote without attaching a review.

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      alison says:

      I actually like the up/down reviewing option. It’s simply an answer to the question: would you recommend this game to someone else who shares your tastes? If you can’t answer that question about a game you just played, then you probably shouldn’t be writing a review.

      To me the real problem with Steam reviews is reviewers who misunderstand what that up/down choice is supposed to mean. It doesn’t mean good game/bad game. I have recommended plenty of “bad” games because there was a tiny moment of exquisite delight in them that made the price of entry worthwhile. And I have not recommended plenty of “good” games because there was a mechanic that I personally find insufferable. (Side rant: why is checkpoint saving still a thing!?) If people want to understand the recommendation, they need to read the review.

      The meta discussion about Steam reviews aside, though, I think the article’s question is interesting. There are some games I don’t enjoy and quit straight away, but there are others I don’t enjoy but play through because… because I don’t know why. Compulsive personality? Completionist? Wanting to know the end of the story? For most of those games I would have written the exact same review after 2 hours that I did after 20. Sigh. I guess it’s like people who keep watching TV shows they don’t enjoy any more. It’s less about being entertained and more about being occupied. Humans are weird.

      • Bartman12345 says:

        (Side rant: why is checkpoint saving still a thing!?)

        Because it can add to the challenge and gives a better sense of achievement than just hitting Quicksave every ten seconds to get through a section.

        Having said that, badly done checkpoints have killed the fun in otherwise enjoyable games for me, especially if they force unskippable cutscenes on you every single time you don’t make it through (my biggest game design peeve).

        I get why some people hate checkpoints, but I do think they have a place in gaming.

      • Premium User Badge

        quad341 says:

        I agree with liking well defined rating systems when there needs to be one (and, for Steam’s purposes, I think they “need” one). But I take it one step further: would you have recommended this to past you. It may seem like a weird question, but I also feel it’s the only question you can honestly answer.

        Then comes the text of the review which to me is my justification (again, to my past self) for why. Sometimes this is long and detailed (especially for negative reviews of popular/positive games) while other times I’m concise either because I feel “I share the general opinion of other reviews” or, honestly, laziness.

        But the idea of a review being “useful” I find to be problematic because it’s more a way that people can promote or demote ratings that they agree with. This generally means that negative reviews to a game that is mostly positively reviewed (and vice versa) are buried. Two of my reviews it makes me slightly sad that got buried are my review of Doom (2016) and The Witness. The former, I did continue to play when I was really bored in the beginning because “everyone” said it was so great (and I love FPS). I did find some great sections, but that wore off and I never felt it justified my initial boredom. The Witness just wasn’t for me. I wish I understood why people love it so much (I want to love more games too! It’s great fun when you find that perfect game you can’t get enough of) but I actually decided to go do the dishes rather than load my save game, so I knew it wasn’t for me. And maybe my comments would help someone else make a decision about their money too (refunds can help which I did exercise for The Witness, but that only works in a limited amount of cases and is contentious with some developers)

        Oh well.

        This is the first article in a long time where I’ve read so very many comments :)

  10. Peppergomez says:

    Over on Eurogamer I was flamed for suggesting that a not insignificant amount of gamers seem not to place a lot of value on their time…though I guess young people have been wasting time for many decades prior to before there were video games. Gamers seem surprisingly okay with playing buggy, unfinished messes of games, maybe either due to falling for hype, having a completist’s approach, wanting to play the newest shiny product, or being perfectly okay with replaying the game at a later point. To list just a few possibilities. Maybe it’s because I’m older and have less time, but a game better be stable, finished, and largely positively reviewed by critics and community alike if I’m going to spend my free time playing it.

    I held off on buying FO4 for example, due to the fact that it looked lazy from a technical and artistic standpoint. Leftovers from Bethesda, using a janky engine. And though I miss great space exploration games, respecting my free time was enough to keep me from buying No Man’s Sky.

    It really does pay to let games be out for awhile before getting them.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      I’ve sunk many hours into games I knew at the time were bad, or at least not great. For me, if I find a game’s premise to be sufficiently intriguing I’m willing to forgive a lot when it comes to the actual gameplay.

      Arcanum was a very mediocre game that I spent a lot of time playing. Why? Not many fantasy-steampunk rpgs get published on a regular basis, and I really liked its fantasy-steampunk setting.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      I’m guessing you got flamed because you’re insulting other people’s preferences, and using your own as standard. It’s good to like what you like! No need to be tearing other people down for liking their own thing, or liking something you don’t.

      Falling for hype isn’t a bad thing if ultimately a person enjoys whatever was hyped; or conversely, if a person learns not to fall for hype. Likewise, time spent enjoying something isn’t time wasted.

      • Someoldguy says:

        You also need to have a clear picture of what you would be doing instead if you weren’t playing a half-decent but not epic game. I’ll agree that FO4 wasn’t all kinds of awesome, but it was more Fallout with some new refinements that I liked and nothing at the time appealed to me more. I don’t regret spending time with it. Compared to the amount of time many players spend in MMOs which pretty much entirely consist of timesinks full of mediocre gameplay required to access the small amount of really good content, 50 hours invested in a single player RPG is peanuts.

      • Peppergomez says:

        Well, my post was mostly inspired by people ripping games in comments sections while discussing how many hours they’d logged and in many cases mentioning that they were still playing it. I couldn’t understand why so many folks seem okay with sinking their time into deeply flawed games. (I realize that’s relative, and a game can be janky and still fun to play.) There are so many other great things to do with one’s time than play games that are annoying/disappointing/super buggy/severely problematic in other ways. Self righteous of me? Probably a bit. But it is possible to game and still get a lot of other productive stuff (in my case, art and music) done. Just don’t waste time with the unenjoyable/bad ones!

    • mattevansc3 says:

      There’s a fair few sensitive people over on Eurogamer and you quickly learn which ones not to engage with.

      That being said, Eurogamer, like most mainstream gaming sites is full of commenters who think they are in the alamo. Gaming culture is perfect and if you dare desecrate their idols by criticising any popular game or trend you are the enemy and will be attacked.

      Anyway, I agree with your point. There does seem to be a preference for quantity over quality. Good games are criticised if they are “too short”. Extending the game’s playtime then comes with the accusation of padding IF its not a popular title.

      Most open world titles or RPGs are filled with empty spaces or cookie cutter town and dungeons. Yet whereas a Bethesda title or Final Fantasy would get praised for the huge amount of content, other games will get called out on it.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      Judging by the popularity of grindy bullshit games these days, yeah, one has to believe that a rather large segment of the gaming population places no value on their time. I like to tell myself it’s mostly school kids, because I recall the kinds of stupid bullshit I did as a kid to alleviate boredom, but I’ve met too many adults really in to those games to truly believe it.

    • Mayobe says:

      “buggy, unfinished messes of games”

      Yeah, I bet I know why you got flamed.

      The thing that cracks me up is how it’s taboo to rate things based on how much you enjoyed them. I’ve found this on Steam as well as on various anime sites that I’ve haunted over the years.

      I’ve actually had complete strangers just message me out of the blue telling me that my rating “system” is not acceptable and that I need to fall in line with whatever garbage they’re hung up on. My “system” is – from start to finish – “Did I enjoy this? Was it worthwhile to me?”

      What other metric is even worth considering? I set out to be entertained. Did it happen or not?

  11. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    DNF is actually a pretty okay game. Come at me bros.

    • milligna says:

      It’s solid and does what it says on the tin. The behind the scenes story is a pathetic tragedy but the actual game is certainly more fun than the bulk of excruciatingly twee trash we get fed by our favorite gaming sites, gawd bless ’em.

    • TheSplund says:

      I actually enjoyed DNF, whilst other fan-fav titles such as The Walking Dead I found boring as feck and with deeply un-inspiring gameplay (or, in fact, lack of). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a COD-type FPS fan, I love Kentucky Route Zero, Superhot, and Firewatch have been some of the best games I’ve played in the last 30-odd years I’ve gamed (and I was a late starter).

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorLag says:

      Right? I actually really enjoyed the first… I don’t know, half-hour? Hour? It was demonstrated a perfect awareness of its own ridiculousness and I got to draw a giant penis in a kid’s autograph book. Then it started to feel very much like a tedious FPS and I stopped playing, but that only puts it on par with the industry average for FPSs.

      All the hate, I think, is just because angry ranting at video games was cool when James Rolfe did it, so now every moron with a Youtube channel apes his character.

  12. Someoldguy says:

    I wonder how many bad reviews are backed up by a lot of hours because people can alt-tab out and leave the clock ticking. I know in the last few years I’ve been guilty of running a couple of games side by side and tabbing out to surf for solutions to problems, read reviews etc. Where I’ve got 30 hours invested into a game I found dissatisfying, at least half of that is probably hours spent checking out what others think about it or playing something else.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Don’t forget Steam Trading Cards. I’ve got a handful of have where I’ve played for more than five hours without getting past the menu screen.

  13. zenorogue says:

    Sometimes the negative review simply means “this game is okay, I do play it from time to time, but I do not recommend it because there are so many better games out there”, or “this game is good, but not as good as all the hype suggests”.

    But one thing this article does not mention: some games are addictive, in a negative sense. Whenever I see a game advertised ad “addictive”, it turns me off. They use psychological tricks so that players spend their time and/or money on them without actually liking them. For me, this happens for games with a good story but bad gameplay. Such a game would be better as a book or movie, hence the game gets a negative review. (my blog post with a more detailed explanation)

    • brucethemoose says:

      I know exactly what you mean.

      “For me, this happens for games with a good story but bad gameplay.”

      …Except for that.

      The “badly addictive” games I think of don’t have a great story. They just hook you in to the game using psychological tricks, and the “reward” you get for the gameplay is cheap and lousy if you actually step back to look at it.

      Games with a good story and bad gameplay, on the other hand, are just tragic. SWTOR comes to mind for me: there’s some beautiful art and good stories buried in that game, but to get at it you have to slug through WoW-style button mashing that makes me want to hang myself. It just doesn’t make sense to me: if the story is driving you forward, why force everyone through grindy nonsense.

  14. Sirius1 says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a really strange gamer. I will only play any game for as long as I enjoy it. Any game that I stop enjoying at any point is immediately discarded.

    This means a number of things:-
    1. I have a truly huge number of games that I’ve played but never finished.
    2. I large number of those games are games that I actually enjoyed, but eventually got bored with.
    3. The games I’ve enjoyed but got bored with are remembered as games I enjoy, and I restart them multiple times.

    This is probably influenced by the fact that I tend not to play games for the story – IMO any good book or movie has a far superior narrative to even the better scripted games. So any game has to drag me in based on the gameplay and only the gameplay.

    • aircool says:

      You are not alone. I rarely finish games because they either become boring, repetitive, a bit too hard to be fun or because a certain mechanic becomes to tedious or annoying to ignore (I’m looking at your combat and controls Witcher 3).

      The last 12-18 months have seen me finish more games than usual, and on top of that, go back and replay them start to finish more than twice; XCOM2, DOOM, Shadow of Mordor to name a few. I even played through the latest Deus Ex twice, and although I found a few new things, it lacked the drama and excitement of the first playthrough.

      The Binding of Isaac is in the opposite camp, whilst I really enjoy the game, it became just too hard when I got to the stage where all the rooms are a reddish colour, and I can’t be bothered ploughing through from the start again, knowing fine well that if I make it to the red levels, I’ll be dead quickly.

  15. shockedfrog says:

    I think the achievements system is sometimes to blame for this. I think that a healthy achievements system would focus on what the player has actually achieved, and would give players greater control over privacy or opting out completely – but what we have right now is the opposite, a system that’s designed to make people feel bad for not doing whatever the dev wants them to do, forced upon anyone who buys the game.

    Want your game to get a bit of free advertising via peoples profiles and make the bad reviews look silly because of the playtime? Simply add a ‘play the game for 100 hours’ achievement. Doesn’t matter if your game is only 4 hours long, some people will refuse to cheat it and will leave the thing running for the next 4 days just so the missing achievement doesn’t annoy them and so they’ll never have to install that stupid game again.

    • Mayobe says:

      I’ve never understood this at all. I’ve been called out by people on Steam for having a private profile because they want to look at my achievements to prove that my opinion as a gamer is somehow invalid. How does that even work?

      I’ve seen other people slaving over them like they’re going to win some kind of prize or something. I don’t get it at all. I mean I’m a completionist in games that I like, but even in those cases I don’t give half a damn about achievements unless they give me something in-game. It doesn’t make any kind of sense. Who gives a flying fuck if I triggered some arbitrary flag? I sure as hell don’t, and I don’t understand why anyone else would be interested in which arbitrary flags I’ve triggered either.

      Maybe it’s because I’m not into the whole social media thing. Your baby looks like ET and I sincerely don’t care about your ignorant politics or what you had for lunch. “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”

      But I guess that’s just me. Maybe just playing the game to have fun is the wrong approach and I’m some kind of pervert or something…

      Ha… I don’t care about that either. ;)

  16. RobbieTrout says:

    The all-time absolute worst game I played to completion — possibly the worst game I’ve ever played, full stop — was “Hysteria Hospital” on the DS. It’s a godawful excuse for a casual time management thing. The only reason I kept going was because, frankly, I was determined not to let anything that bad beat me. And I’ve kept it because it’s my moral duty to keep at least that one copy out of circulation.

  17. Frank says:

    Very interesting, thanks for this! I look forward to more such data-based stuff on RPS.

    Personally, I think I’m pretty good about quitting games I really hate. I’ve marked over half my games as “hidden” on Steam and often make that judgment with 0-10 minutes of experience trying it.

  18. vahnn says:

    Hell, I often don’t even finish games I think are fantastic.

  19. Konservenknilch says:

    Gaming Stockholm syndrome. It last happened to me with Dragon Age Inquisition. About 30 hours in, I realized that the game is kinda balls with an insane amount of busywork filler. But since it is a linear game with a definite end, I kept going. And now I want to play the epilogue DLC. Goddamnit.

    Actually, let me look at the playtime on Origin… 101 hours? What the fuck was I thinking?

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Dragon Age: Origins is my go-to example of this behaviour. Most things were really good, but the combat encounters were too many and quickly became tedious. Despite that, I played through it twice, because in my foolish naivity, I believed in giving games a second chance. Even such a large game as this one, the largest one I’ve ever played, before or since.

      It *was* better the second time, but I realized that I would never want to play through it a third time, so decided to make the most out of this second playthrough and really explore everything, because I’m a completionist freak. First time took 137 hours, second time took 168 hours for a total of 305 hours, making it my second most played game on Steam after VtM: Bloodlines with 347 hours.

      I regret giving the “silver medal” to DA:O (backlog clearing prevents spending more time with VTMB) and it is forever a reminder that quantity doesn’t equal quality and that a bad game doesn’t deserve my time.

  20. cosmitz says:

    The difference you are seeing is related to playability and accessibility.

    A game that’s playable despite what issues you may have with it, you’ll play longer. But a game that has instantly offputting elements which you find no joy in even going through the motions in.. you’ll drop sooner.

    Due to that, it’s easier to drop say, Shovel Knight, than Return of the Tomb Raider.

  21. natebud says:

    I used to just give up on bad games and books a lot. Kind of changed when I started trying to organize my steam library. I ended up tagging any game I hadn’t finished under “Z” and as of now I apparently own exactly 200 games I haven’t finished. Some of these are games I have hours on but just haven’t beaten (DiRT: Rally, Skyrim, GTA V) and others I haven’t even played. Now whenever I don’t know what to play I end up browsing those games first, there’s a lot of bad stuff in there. I kind of feel like I have to finish them since I bought them though. Perhaps it’s time to delete that category from my library so I don’t make myself suffer through trash games.

    Recently found the strength to finish Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood which is an abysmally boring game which is made even worse if you decide to play as a one character over another. At least a got a decent laugh out of some of it.

    • Mayobe says:

      I have a “Crap” category for games that I don’t ever want to play again. When a game wins this distinction I remove it from all other categories and put it in “Crap” and then hide it.

      Otherwise I just have “New Games”, “Library”, “Favorites”, and the overlapping categories: “Now Playing”, and “Pending Review”. When I buy a game – assuming it’s not one that I played before – it goes in New Games. Once I’ve played it for a while I put it in either “Library” or “Favorites” and mark it as “Pending Review” until I review it. You can guess what the “Now Playing” category is for. :)

  22. TR`Ben says:

    That’s something I’ve been strugling with lately.
    There are few games that I’ve lost myself in at some point. Those are mostly online games. I did enjoy them for a while, but then frustration, anger and boredome prevailed and I kept playing. I still get tempted to get back to some of them. I guess that’s the part of the gamedesign, to keep players hooked.
    It’s easier with single-player games. But I still feel bad for giving them up sometimes. Even if I think the games are bad and not interesting. The money I spent is defenetely a factor. Maybe there’s something else.
    I should probably figure out what I want from games I play, learn to accept my losses and move on.

  23. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Personally, I just try to make damn sure the game seems really up my alley before shelling out for it, so I’d consider most of my gaming time spent very well.

    What doesn’t help is just how bloated games seem to be getting lately. I swear, half of AAA games lately are open-world, oozing with filler. Considering how little gaming time I get, I just stay away from most of them, and while I feel like I’m missing out, this is undoubtedly the correct course of action.

    • Mayobe says:

      AAA became all about graphics. Talking to various devs, they seem to come down into two camps:

      1) Graphics is all that matters anyway (they won’t come out and say this, but it’s clear from everything else that they say).
      2) We’re trapped in this financially and we don’t know how to get out.

      In case 1 it’s just marketeering idiots and self-absorbed graphics programmers. There’s no helping such people.

      In case 2 the story goes: We had a team of people and we made a decent game and got a lot of cash. We hired more people and spent all our profits and then some to make another game with better graphics. We made a lot more cash. We hired even more people and spent all our profits to make even better graphics. We made slightly more cash. Oh shit, we can’t really get much better than this but we have to and it costs more than we can afford with the money that we have. We’ll have to hire a few more graphics people, but we can’t afford to pay them, so we’ll have to cut back in other areas first. Clearly the market dictates that gamers prefer graphics over content (this is sadly true), so… We’ll have to remove lots of content… There’s no way to go back here… We have to pay our employees… Oh shit… Oh shit…

  24. Zekiel says:

    I have a curse that I feel guilty if I don’t finish a game, so I do have a tendency to persevere beyond the point where I’m enjoying myself. That said, I am getting better – in 2016 I quite a whole bunch of games part-way through including titles that were quite well-regarded (but didn’t click with me) such Shadow Warrior, Hotline Miami and Spelunky.

    But there its also true that pretty much no game is going to be fun 100% of the time so you’re always going to have to push through a bit of content if you want to finish anything; the trick is working out at what point you should be cutting your losses and quitting.

  25. thegooseking says:

    I don’t know that you can assume an “unrecommended” game is bad. Take one of your first examples, Just Cause 3. I gave that a negative review, because although I thought it was good, I thought it was not really worth the money (specifically, I didn’t think it was enough of an upgrade from Just Cause 2 to justify the price). But even if I’d paid what I felt was too much for it, I still had it, so I might as well play it.

    I’m currently playing Gravity Rush Remastered on the old consoletoy, and in the comments of a review of Gravity Rush 2 elsewhere on the internets, someone said the original game was “easy to like; difficult to recommend”, which is something I certainly identify with.

    • thegooseking says:

      Another angle that’s just occurred to me is, good or bad, I only review games I care about. If I drop a game quickly, chances are I don’t care enough about it to review it. I don’t know how universal that is, but there might be an element of selection bias at play.

  26. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I don’t really and stopped wheel of time when it was clear the narrative was going nowhere. Also stopped reading “a song of fire and ice”.
    Sometimes the last achievement or endgame is like an hour away but I stop because I can’t stand the game no more, no problem.
    Time and the quality of spending it is imperative.
    Say, “Lords of the Fallen” (2 hours) isn’t really bad, plays ok but I can’t really recommend it because you could play Dark Souls-trilogy of the same genre instead.
    Same with “A Wizard’s Lizard” (14 hours) against tBoIsaac.

    Time is too short to play mediocre or average or ok games or “early access” -games who might become good in ten years. Instead of paying to play-test a game the dev might give up making any moment one might take a nap instead or drive to the american diner.

  27. Viral Frog says:

    The second I identify the fact that I dislike a game, I instantly stop playing. I’m not going to waste my time doing something I’m not enjoying, period. I don’t understand people who will force themselves to do something they don’t like and then complain about it. I personally feel like you shouldn’t complain about something when you forced yourself to do it, even though you knew you were not enjoying it.

  28. BenWH says:

    I still fall into the trap. Generally I play for 2-3 hours past boredom in order to give the game a chance, but occasionally I keep on going when I am hating it. Stellaris is a good example of this – partly it was because it was a gift, and partly because the opinions of several people I respect seemed to think highly of it. I just kept on plugging away trying to discover what I was missing, but it was still just a very basic 4x space game, except without combat… or diplomacy… or… I finally realized that even respectable review sites (ahem) haven’t played many of the recent, lower profile examples of the genre, which are all somewhat better, if not exactly great.

  29. thenevernow says:

    …because we don’t actually “don’t” like them. We love them but we consider them flawed. We’re forgiving with stuff we like, but merciless with stuff we love – at least sometimes.

    I just went to Steam, hit the Skyrim store page and scrolled down until I found the first negative review: 338.6 hours on record.
    In the comments of this very post, someone wrote that “the first 30 hours of Final Fantasy 13 were very bad”.
    There, I believe, lies the answer to the question in the title.

    Personally, I struggle to play 30 *minutes* of a game I find *very bad*.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Iamblichos says:

    This is exactly what I was doing over the past weekend. I went back to No Man’s Sky, hoping against hope that the new update had made it more… something. Acceptable? Fun? I tried on Survival mode, and while it was challenging, there was nothing there BUT challenge – there’s still no game present, it’s just that everything is almost existentially hard. The title for this game should be Sartre in Space.

  31. Rhygadon says:

    Scientist popping in to say: those are some damn fine charts! Combining four unlike parameters using a non-standard chart type, and having the result be so transparent as to seem obvious? Not easy at all. And bonus points for the firmly zero-based axes and for not letting the bar heights autoscale beyond reason. Warmed my heart, that did.

  32. Unsheep says:

    A better title for this article: ‘making up your own mind instead of blindly following the media and youtube personalities’.