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Finish Him: Why we constantly leave games undone

As the fall season approaches, we take a look at how few gamers actually finish the ones they start, and why.


The busy fall season is barreling down on us, bringing with it the promise of lots of new games to occupy our time. We tend to look forward to the next big thing, while the last big thing and the one before that falls by the wayside. We can hardly be blamed for constantly upgrading to the next powerhouse game or innovative idea, but on the whole we gamers have a horrible track record of finishing what we've started.

To get an idea of just how bad our habits are, I took a look at Trophy and Steam Achievement stats across PC, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4. Steam has been offering stats on achievement completion for quite a while, and Sony introduced it alongside the launch of the PS4, with some stats for PS3 games as well. I should note I focused mostly on older games, to make sure the stats weren't skewed by new players still buying and making their way through. 

Among PlayStation players, lengthy single-player games seemed to be one major culprit. Only 33% finished Batman: Arkham Asylum on Normal, but almost 50% at least completed it on Easy. Uncharted 2 fared slightly better, with 45% completing it on Easy and almost 37% on Normal. God of War 3, a marquee game for PlayStation fans, boasted a much higher 51% success rate for completion. Still, it can't be encouraging for game designers that a success rate just above half is higher than average.

Shorter and less challenging games are more likely to have players see it through to the end. Journey, a narrative experience without failure states, had 71% of players reach the dramatic ending. However, even brevity has its limits. The Walking Dead: Season 1 received critical praise across the gaming spectrum, and plenty of players at least finished the first episode. 80% reached the conclusion of that first entry with Lee and Clementine, but the other four episodes are a slow downwards slump. By the time Telltale reached Episode 5, less than 30% of the total playerbase saw it through to the end.

It's also telling that games with multiplayer components are hobbled from the start. Since some players are only interested in one mode or the other, we see a sharp split among the players even starting the campaign. Resistance 2 had similar finishing stats to other games, but a very early Trophy only had approximately 80% completion. That means 1/5 of the player base probably never bothered touching it, and that's for a series not known for its multiplayer prowess.

Grand Theft Auto 5 may be the ultimate example of games with a sharp drop-off in completion. Thanks likely to its reputation as a playground more than a story-based game, the vast majority finished the first Trophy that barred progress to the rest of the city. After that, almost half of players simply stopped engaging with the story at all, and apparently just explored Los Santos on their own. Only 57% of players received the second story-based Trophy.

Newer game data does seem to skew the results, but not in the direction I would have expected. Both Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Infamous: First Light actually have higher than average completion rates--67% and 46%, respectively. That's no doubt partially because they're so short, but also likely because early adopters are the people most likely to see a game through to the end. 

Steam, which has gained a reputation for offering deep discounts that result in libraries full of unfinished games, actually has a surprisingly better track record. Almost half of players finished Tomb Raider, for instance. Even when multiplayer is a selling point, as in the case of Call of Duty: Black Ops, 47% have finished the single-player campaign.

Games are long, complex, and require problem-solving to complete. By their nature they would never reach 100% of their intended audience. Realistically we should always expect some percentage of players to leave them unfinished, but the numbers are absurdly high. We have trouble focusing and finishing after the initial rush of a new game wears off. As we head into another busy season of releases, we should keep in mind how rare an accomplishment it is to actually complete a game.

From The Chatty
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    September 3, 2014 12:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Finish Him: Why we constantly leave games undone.

    As the fall season approaches, we take a look at how few gamers actually finish the ones they start, and why.

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      September 3, 2014 12:24 PM

      This really surprises me. I guess I'm the opposite end of the spectrum from most. I play a good amount of games yet still finish every single one I start (usually before starting the next one). I'm a bit OCD in that way. Why would I spend $60 or bother spending time starting something if I won't get the full experience/money's worth out of it? It actually serves as a way to gate me from buying too many games as I usually wait to buy the next until I finish the current one (except around Xmas time when I usually get a few at once).
      However, when it comes to the multiplayer modes I often don't even try at all as I prefer the single-player experiences. For those multiplayer games I do play I always finish the single-player before even launching into MP (including every CoD, GTAV, and BF4). I consider this a way to warm up with the game/controls/weapons/etc and prepare for playing MP.

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        September 3, 2014 3:09 PM

        ^^ I'm right here, except I often replay games a 2nd or 3rd (or more) times.

        I do have a backlog of games I've bought before completing others that I will eventually get to; Red Dead Redemption took me 2 years, but I finished it.

        Some "modern" games I just always go back to, like Rockstar's "Bully" (finished 4 times); "LittleBigPlanet" (working on the 2nd playthrough of both games); "Prince Of Persia (2008)" (played that at least twice; and I'd love to replay the latest Tomb Raider at least once more (but might wait until I get an XBOX ONE/PS4 and play the updated version).

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          September 3, 2014 4:00 PM

          I have games I have barely touched and then I have games like Deus Ex where I have beat it over 100 times.

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            September 3, 2014 9:14 PM

            Yeah, its odd. I haven't managed to finish Stick of Truth (despite quite enjoying it) and yet I'll go back and play something likd Evil Genius or Rise of Nations for the 50th time without hesitation.

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      September 3, 2014 12:46 PM


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      September 3, 2014 1:01 PM

      I guess I contribute to some of these stats. Here’s an example of my gaming habits- right now I’m playing Ni No Kuni. I’m loving it, and I will finish it. But while playing it I’ve bought 6 other games that were on sale. I’ve cracked open all of these games and played about an hour or two of each. Next week I’m getting the Destiny/PS4 bundle. What will likely happen is I’ll finish Ni No Kuni, shelve the other 6 purchases, and jump into current-gen gaming, never to look back. That’s the problem I’m trying to rid myself of-buying games while I’m playing one, instead of waiting until I finish the one to buy more…games are always on sale, and I can’t help but pick them up when I see a good deal. So I suggest stores stop having great deals, I’ll stop buying/not finishing games, and the world will be a better place. The End.

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      September 3, 2014 1:02 PM

      I'm somewhat guilty of this...however there have been games I put down for over a year then pick up again and beat. ME1 is the best example of this.

      I've gone back and am in the process of trying to beat Ni No Kuni after being off of it for more than a year.

      One game series I have most of the modern generation games but haven't beaten a single one are the Shin Megami / Persona games from Atlus. Love the games, haven't beaten a single one.

      I have beaten some games multiple times. FF2 / FF4 more times than I can count.

      Some games don't really have an "endgame" in the traditional sense. Look at MOO / MOO2 / MOM / CIV games - those are all games that the destination is most definitely not the goal; it's the journey that is compelling. Sim city, the Sims. Almost anything by Paradox.

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      September 3, 2014 1:15 PM

      I was just thinking about how horrible my completion rate is.

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      September 3, 2014 1:21 PM

      One of the major problems with this is that "finishing" a game is the same to all publishers/devs. I've seen write ups about stats showing that only 30% of achievements were obtained and therefore the game was incomplete. I'm 3-4 hours into Last of Us and no achievements yet. Heck, in The Swapper I finished that game without getting a single achievement.

      People are still not finishing games, myself included, but with a lot of AAA games introducing things just to prolong playtime, it's probably a symptom. I tend to finish games that are much more concise rather than a game that rewards collecting in game items. Give me a compelling story and I'll finish the crap out of your game. Don't lead me with your carrot. That doesn't fly with me.

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        September 3, 2014 2:28 PM

        i thought there was a bug in my copy of the swapper because i didn't get any of the achievements. then i looked them up and saw that they were all just secrets that were too well hidden for me :(

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      September 3, 2014 1:22 PM

      Who has time to finish all the games? If a game is boring or tedious I will not finish it as I have to move to another one, hopefully better! I do enjoy most of games I play though, so I tend to finish many of them.

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      September 3, 2014 1:25 PM

      I almost never leave one unfinished. I'll turn on cheats if I'm tired of it though and blast to the end. For some reason I didn't bother with GTA4 though :-/

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      September 3, 2014 2:07 PM

      For me it has a lot to do with my $ investment in the game. At some subconscious levelI feel like I can justify taking the time to beat a game I paid launch-day price for even if I'm not totally digging it, but I have a hard time making a time commitment to a great game that I got free from my PS+ subscription.

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      September 3, 2014 2:49 PM

      Half of it is changing my playing habits, so I blast through rather than trying to explore every nook and cranny of a level or a skill tree.

      The other half is the fault of the game devs, who don't have tip-top control over the pacing, the level design and/or difficulty curve. Way too many games that feel padded or have unevenness that wrecks the immersion. I've finished games that were actually quite long all the way to the end when it was a smooth, immersive ride all the way through to the end and have dropped shorter games because they'd just poop out in the middle somewhere or get repetitive.

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      September 3, 2014 2:50 PM

      Too many games I feel you get satisfied with the Gameplay before reaching the end of the story. So perhaps the story isn't engaging enough to keep you in.

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        September 3, 2014 2:52 PM

        In some cases with open world games that let you level up your dude to almost max level and weapons/gear after they set you loose following the tutorial.

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      September 3, 2014 3:00 PM

      "Almost half of players finished Tomb Raider, for instance. Even when multiplayer is a selling point"
      Really? Did you actually play the mulitplayer? it was woeful at best

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      September 3, 2014 3:40 PM

      Time > money

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      September 3, 2014 3:59 PM

      For me I either get bored, reach a frustrating section, or the gameplay mechanics become too transparent.

      Every now and then the odd game comes along that I will finish like Divinity which held my attention for 80 hours.

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      September 3, 2014 4:06 PM

      I used to be the kind of player who would pick one or maybe two games to play at a given time and I'd see them through to their conclusion before picking something else up. But in the last few years I've noticed that more and more often I'm not finishing games I've started. Even with games I really enjoy, such as Stick of Truth or AssCreed 4, I get them started and play 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through and then I get bored, or I get sidetracked with work or school and then just can't get back into them. I think the biggest problem is that once I stop playing a game like that for more than a few days in a row, it's really hard for me to dive back in. It's very odd and honestly a bit disconcerting.

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      September 3, 2014 4:15 PM

      I finish maybe 10% of the games I play, probably less.

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      September 3, 2014 4:34 PM

      I still have Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Part 2 on my backlog, mainly because it's a fight to get myself in the right frame of mind for a stealth FPS. When I get home from work, I'm usually more in the mood for something like Doom, Quake, or the first half of the main part of Bioshock Infinite. I know, I really have to fight through it and finish this one.

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      September 3, 2014 8:48 PM

      What is "completed"? Most of my completed games show < 50% achievements even though I did indeed finish the main story and quests. Obviously it's subjective and their data is erroneous unless a "game completed" message is sent when the end credits are reached.

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        September 3, 2014 9:17 PM

        There is usually some kind of achievement that is earned when beating a game. I'd imagine they base the stats on those.

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          September 4, 2014 6:46 AM

          Possibly, but I am not seeing any "Main campaign completed" achievements at all. I did see some "game+ completed" achievements, but that is different. I still think their data is erroneous.

          I'm not interested in completing every achievement or game+ or even every quest and yet I can reach the end credits indicating completion. They also can't track half of my library that is not on Steam. This study wasn't completed either ;)

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        September 4, 2014 10:42 AM

        I don't think getting all of the trophies or achievements are necessary to complete a game. More of often than not they are just optional goals to play the game in a slightly non-standard way. I can see there being added value in doing that for games you really enjoy. It simply isn't worth chasing some achievements that are basically grind quests (do x, y times) or (do x in y time).

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      September 3, 2014 9:33 PM

      Most of the games I play have no end, whether they are f2p games like Dota 2/Tribes or sports games where season after season of Football Manager pile up. It is tough not having an end though because you seemingly never put it down and get to your other games that do have an end.

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      September 4, 2014 7:45 AM

      Well this makes me feel better about being so obsessed with my Gamerscore percentages.

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      September 4, 2014 10:34 AM

      I am more of the sort of gamer that tries to finish a game completely to my satisfaction before moving on to the next game. A game has to either really grate on me with bugs or drag on for far too long and gameplay becomes stale/boring for me to quit without finishing the game. That is the games that can be finished or have set end objectives.

      Games like BF and Civilization that can't be finished in any meaningful way are games I might put down and come back to later. MMOs I reach a point where the grind is too much I am just done with that game.

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      September 7, 2014 4:21 PM

      The older you get, the less time you have - that's my problem in a nutshell.

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      September 9, 2014 9:12 PM

      This discussion is half the plot of the anime Martian Successor Nadesico

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