Last year, my gaming library officially made the transition from being a backlog to a mountain of shame. When New Year's Eve came along, I resolved to do something about it. A familiar tale for many gamers, I'm sure.
While most New Year's Resolutions don't actually make it past the first month, I've been happily cruising through my backlog over the past six months. For the first time since I opened my Steam account in 2009, I actually feel like I'm back in control of my gaming library. It's manageable now. In the last few months, I've blasted through Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny, Dishonored 2, Transistor, Gone Home, Telltale's Walking Dead Season 2, Borderlands 2, The Wolf Among Us, Abzû, and Fire Emblem: Awakening (DS, not Steam, whatever).
I'm on a game finishing rampage, and it feels good to finally be removing more games from my backlog than I'm adding.
Here's how I'm doing it.
1. Organize Ruthlessly, Toss Out Games You Won't Actually Play
Before we attempt to tackle our mountainous backlog, the best thing to do is make the backlog smaller. Take stock and prune. This is the simplest, toughest, and most satisfying part of dealing with an unwieldy video game library.
Basically, we're going to KonMari our library — and if you've never heard of the KonMari method, then you've been out of the loop on the cornerstone of most lifestyle bloggers. The principles of KonMari tidying (named for creator Marie Kondo) are simple and are perfect for cleaning and organizing a video game backlog:
- Get rid of the things that don't bring you joy.
- Give everything you keep a designated place.
KonMari-ing your gaming means accepting that it's ok to just get rid of things; it's ok to recognize that something you own is just clutter. Even if you've loved a game or piece of clothing, whatever it is, KonMari asserts that it's ok to say goodbye to it, especially if it served you well and you don't plan to ever use it again.
It's ok, for example, to toss out games you feel an obligation to play, but don't actually have any attachment to playing. (Sorry, Alan Wake, everyone tells me to play you, but you've been gathering dust in my library for years, I've never even installed you, and it's just not happening. Bye.)
Personally, I pruned out about 60 games from my backlog that I was just never going to play. If anything, my only regret is not getting a "before" picture of my horrifying game library. I've now kept all the games that I would really love to revisit some day, the games I was proud to beat, and the games that I am actually looking forward to finishing.
Using the site SteamLeft (which estimates how long it would take to complete every game in your Steam account), I went from about 600+ hours to just about 230 hours. Much more manageable.
When it comes to our gaming libraries, here's how to KonMari:
- Get rid of the games you realistically aren't ever going to play, you don't want to play, or you're done with and never want to return to. Delete or hide them from your digital library; donate or trade physical games.
- After that, organize your remaining games into simple categories like "Finished," "To Finish," "Endless." Make sure every game has a home in your system.
I was a little more ruthless: I didn't just hide games, I removed a lot of games from my Steam account outright — I don't own them any more. Simple.
That's heresy to some, I know, but I also know that most of the games I threw away were mostly addon games from Steam Sale bundles and huge Humble Bundles. Most of these were games I never really cared about, and probably only spent a buck or two on, if not a few cents. I was just proud, at the time, of how large my gaming library was — as if it all somehow amounted to gamer "street" cred.
But I realized I like playing games more than I like collecting games. Why bother keeping games I know I'll never play?
2. Every Game Needs A Place
In Steam, and most digital platforms, it's pretty easy to make categories or folders to organize your games. And if you don't want to completely delete games you don't want to see in your library, you can often hide them.
Once you've done the tough task of pruning your library, the next step is to make sure every game has a home. As an example, I went with these main categories for my Steam library:
- To Finish: High priority games to finish next
- Rainy Day: Low priority games to finish at some point & endless games that I'm currently playing
- Finished: Games I'm done with but don't want to delete
While you might be tempted to further drill down and have even more granular folders, I strongly suggest keeping your organization as simple as possible!
The point of breaking your library into categories is to make it easier for you to get through your backlog. Keeping things visually neat and tidy will help.
With the above three categories, I usually keep the "Finished" and "Rainy Day" categories collapsed. These games are out of sight and out of mind. Instead of seeing my entire game library, I only see the few games that I'm currently working through.
The visual makes a huge difference and it is supremely satisfying to move games from "To Finish" to "Finished."
3. Figure Out How Far You Are In The Games You've Already Started
The website How Long To Beat isn't always accurate, but it still is very useful for figuring out what games you can get through quickly.
As you begin to figure out which games to tackle first, I recommend checking in on the games you're already partway through. I discovered, for example, that I was only a few hours away from finishing Pillars of Eternity — so I bumped it up to the top of my "To Finish" list.
It's important to get some quick wins when you start working through your blacklog, otherwise you might get demotivated. It's really nice to get a few game completions under your belt by finishing games with only a few hours to go.
I also realized that I had a few short games, like Telltale seasons that only take about ~10 hours each, so those are pretty quick and easy games to move from "To Finish" to "Finished."
4. Prioritize A Small List Of "TO FINISH" Games That You Play First
I would strongly avoid the temptation of just focusing on one game to complete at a time without giving yourself a little flexibility. Instead, I recommend a list of a few games (no more than 10) that you're actively playing.
This way, if you ever feel burnt out on a game or genre, you can just hop to another game on your To Finish list — guilt-free.
In my To Finish list, I've got a handful of quick-to-beat games, plus a few titles from a wide variety of genres and tones sprinkled in if I ever need a change of pace. For me, this means that Telltale's The Wolf Among Us (a dark interactive novel) sits between Dishonored (a freewheeling action/stealth romp) and Fez (an adorable puzzle platformer).
5. Take A Break From Endless Multiplayer Games
There are a lot of incredible multiplayer games, endless games, and open world games that you could play until the end of time. I love Overwatch and Hearthstone and Civilization 6... but there's no "end" to these games. So I make sure to either abstain from them, or play I them sparingly while focusing on my backlog.
These games will be there when you want to come back and play them. They aren't going anywhere, even if they'll probably have some exciting and tempting updates to draw you in. If you want to get through a backlog, you're going to have to avoid the siren song of endless multiplayer games.
If you need to, tell your guild, gaming group, clan, crew, squad, etc, that you want to power through some old games. Don't worry, they'll understand! Your gaming friends probably all have massive backlogs of their own.
Pro Tip: If you can't stay away from multiplayer games, then just play enough to get your daily rewards and bounce!
6. Create Short Term Gaming Goals
Ok, you've got yourself organized, you're ready to go. Now you just need to finally finish Skyrim - and you're going to give yourself a month to do it. Then, next month you'll play all the BioShock games, and you'll finally play Planescape: Torment in the month after, and then—
Let me stop you right there.
You might be rearing and ready to go today, but the reason you're in this backlog predicament in the first place is because you are interested in a ton of different games and your play time is always more limited than you expect it to be. If you fail to meet these plans for grandeur, you're likely going get really demoralized and that's not a good thing.
Instead of giving yourself hard deadlines and goals that you *need* to hit, take a breath and don't stress yourself out so much. Rather than making huge plans and timelines, make short term goals and set your expectations realistically.
Try shorter and smaller goals like:
- Finish Act 2 of Pillars of Eternity this week
- Play 15 hours of Skyrim this month
- Finish 3 episodes of Telltale games over the weekend
These are much more manageable and sustainable. I'm not telling you to not be ambitious here, but you'll find yourself much less stressed out about your backlog project if you keep your expectations in check.
7. Distance Yourself From New Releases and The Internet Hype Machine
- Don't buy new games,
- (even if they're in really nice bundles,)
- don't buy into the pre-release hype,
- don't watch E3/Gamescom,
- don't pre-order new games.
These things are the reasons you have so many dang games, so you might as well go cold turkey for a little bit. Unless there's a game you just can't live without, working through a backlog is a good time give your wallet a nice, quiet few months to relax.
Any game that is about to come out isn't going to disappear if you don't buy it right away, you can always play it later. Plus, it'll likely be on sale later. Bonus.
And don't worry, there will always be another Steam Sale or Humble Bundle or GOG sale where you can get a deal. Video game sales on the internet aren't going to disappear and the games will only get cheaper as time goes on.
Seriously, just take some time to focus on the awesome games you're already playing.
8. Remember: It's Ok To Not Be A 100% Completionist
Gamers tend to have this mentality that they NEED to 100% a game to really be done with it. There's gamer cred on the line... Right?
News flash: Most people don't 100% complete games. And it's ok. The world continues to revolve and people continue to play video games.
So, yes, a game like Borderlands 2 isn't 100% done if you beat the main story at level 30 because there's enough content to go up to level 50. But that doesn't mean to need to play all the rest of it.
No one will think you to be "less" of a gamer for not buying into the developers' endless achievement and trophy hunts. Actually, if you can bear it, you might as well just turn off those achievement notifications all together.
(And if your friends do judge you based on your trophies or achievements, then maybe don't be friends with them? Just throwing that out there.)
9. Play! Finish The Games You Need To Keep Up Your Momentum
First, I suggest looking for the quickest and most satisfying wins in your backlog — the more games you finish, the more you'll get into the habit of finishing them. Knock out the games that are going to make you feel good about completing video games.
This can mean different games to different people. For you, this might mean:
- Games that are quick to finish,
- Games you've been halfway through for years,
- The oldest (or newest) games in your backlog,
- The games you paid full price for,
- Games that are constantly cited up as must-play classics,
- That one indie game your best friend recommended,
The key is to just start actually finishing games and feeling good about it. The sooner you can start moving games from "To Finish" to "Finished," the better.
A Final Piece Of Advice
Like flossing, adopting the habit of finishing games can be hard to keep up. But you'll get better and better with every new game that you finish and you'll be blazing through your backlog in no time. Trust me, I'm doing it right now. Living proof.
Just make sure that you are feeling good about finishing your games.
If you end up hating a game, or it doesn't bring you some sort of satisfaction or joy, then stop playing and toss that junk. We're talking about playing video games. It should be fun, it shouldn't feel like work!
You're not going to be done with your backlog overnight, but hopefully this article will get you moving in the right direction and get you over your Steam Backlog Paralysis.
Now, if you don't mind, I've owned Fez for five years and I desperately want to see it in my "Finished" list...
Have any success stories (or horror stories) about your backlog? Share them in the comments below.