For me, finishing a video game brings me a massive sense of accomplishment. When I see the credits roll, I feel like I’ve climbed a mental mountain. That’s because of a few reasons, from my busy life at home to an actual case of ADHD. I have a tough time finishing projects, especially when said projects are games demanding dozens of my hours. I figured it wasn’t just me who struggled with finishing games, and the data we have access to now proves it. Tons of gamers are buying plenty of games, but a fraction of them are finishing. From media overload to service platforms to content bloating, there are a lot of reasons this probably doesn’t happen. Let’s get into it.
I’m mostly spitballing here; game publishers don’t exactly go out and have people fill out surveys to explain why they aren’t completing their games. But before recent console updates, all we had to go on was some data points if game makers decided to share them. Now platforms like the PS4 and Xbox One show percentage rates for trophies and achievements. Most games attach a trophy for getting to the end of the story, because that makes plenty of sense. So because of those percentages, while the data isn’t perfect, we have a much better idea of how many people finish games. And the numbers aren’t great.
There are trends in the data. A few reports have noted that the big, story-driven exclusive blockbusters are the most completed in general. Recent examples here are Spider-Man and God of War, some of Sony’s recent biggest games. And really, they're literally the biggest games. That’s besides the point though; what really matters for this purpose is that the completion rate for both of these titles, games that are explicitly story-driven, is around half. God of War isn’t even that long compared to most other AAA games these days. So you have best-selling, story-driven, single-player experiences and still only about half the people who played them finished. And that’s on the high end of the completion census.
As I attested to before, there are plenty of reasons folks aren’t finishing their games. For one, there are a ton of games and more than ever. New games come out every day, and plenty of them are big games with big hype. Fear of missing out is a thing in our social media-run lives, so folks will buy new games just to stay abreast of the conversation. The gaming demographic buying these kinds of games is skewing older as well, and being older means… obligations. Burnout, especially with how often games are huge, open worlds demanding dozens of hours to finish, is also a factor.
Along with the simple fact that people are busy, there’s more competition for free time than ever and less free time to fill it all with. People are burned out from working 40 or more hours a week and can only fit so much in when life, family, and duty demand so much upfront. We also live in an age of subscription services, which means unprecedented access to movies, books, tv shows, and comics. Even games apply, thanks to services like Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Plus, and Nintendo’s online program. Too Many Games is a common sentiment, but the real problem is Too Many High Quality Experiences. Technically, that isn’t a problem, but with peoples’ attention divided so many ways, it’s no wonder nobody can finish anything.
Sometimes I look at my backlog and think, “Good lord, what the hell is wrong with me?” Even when I get games through work, there are plenty of times I’ve gone out and splurged, bought a special edition I wanted to support, or just impulsively padded my collection via sales. But even without a growing backlog, finishing any game period can be as much an exercise in restraint as it is in skill or patience. As we can see from trophy and achievement percentages, half or more people who touch a game never see it through to the end. Is that a problem? People are still buying and having fun. At the end of the day, perhaps that’s all that matters.