Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 25, 2013
Barriers to entry and exit

I find myself in the curious situation that I have a vast library of video games I bought, but sometimes find myself bored and unsure what to play. And if anything, this is getting worse with time, as cheap iOS games and Steam sales make me impulse-buy more games than I can play. But ultimately the problem is one of two psychological effects: A barrier to entry into a new game, and a barrier to exit from an old game.

The barrier to exit from a video game is well described here, as the Zeigarnik Effect: The human mind is programmed to remember tasks we started but didn't finish. Not finishing a video game thus leaves a nagging feeling in our mind, even if we are already past the "are you still having fun?" point. Although it is known that most people do not finish video games, it is a long way from just stopping to play to actually deciding that you are finished with that game and uninstalling it from your hard drive. Sometimes you install a game, play for some hours, and in spite of the game not grabbing you very much, you somehow feel that you will continue playing it. Only then you never actually do.

The barrier to entry into a new game is a different story, one which also in part explains why we have so many sequels on the market. If you start a completely new game, at first by definition you are a n00b. There is a certain effort required to learn how the game works, and how to play it well. Sequels and clone games help, because if you played some games from FIFA 95 to FIFA 12, chances are you don't have to learn much to play FIFA 13. But if you never played let's say a Paradox game and then start a game from the Europa Universalis series, you're likely to be put off by a steep learning curve for a very complex game. The more you switch between platforms and genres, the more you need to readjust every time, because the conventions on how a strategy game is controlled are different from an RPG or a shooter, and they are different on a PC, a console, and a tablet.

Syp has a project currently running in which he plays 10 games in 10 days. The games all being PC MMORPG, and Syp being an expert of that genre, lowers the barrier to entry. But still I am not sure if such an exercise is psychologically satisfying, or whether it leaves you with a lot of regrets of not having explored each game more. Plus constant problems because keybinds are different in each game, or similar issues of adjustment to a new game every day.

Me, I ended up not playing any new game this weekend. I played a bit of Anno Online, which is a game with a slow rhythm, one you log into a few times a day to play 10 minutes each time. And I played many hours of Ni No Kuni, which is a huge game in which sometimes you just hunt Pokemon familiars for several hours and grind levels in the process, and still have fun. But as I also bought some games in last week's Steam sale, and an iOS game or two, my list of un-played games is getting ever larger. How about you?

I have way too many games installed on my iPad (in fact I have a paltry 5GBs free space on a 64GB model) and most of them I don't want to delete because I've played a bit and want to "finish" them, but I never actually do.

Perhaps you should just keep adding to the unplayed list with a different genre. There are a couple of new CCG's being discussed: Solforge & Hearthstone.

Both will be supported on iPad. Solforge (MtG creator is one of the designers) is already there as a free demo and Hearthstone is from Blizzard (which is enough to make one at least look into it).
I don't know but for me is working on the opposite. The most excited experience I have is to learn the new game. Once I have learn it, I then lose interest..The only reason to play a sequel is significant better graphics or way too many new features to "learn". So the barrier for entry is not there for me and it actually I like the completely new.

From the other side, leaving is much how you described it. I may stop playing a game but still have it in my drive "in case" I want to play it again cause I didn't "finished" it and usually ends up just eating space on my hard drive. Aion and GW2 are some examples. Also there are games that I feel I must play them cause I have some unfinished things to do but I can't because is not fun that moment and because I have already "learned" that games
Price may or my not be my barrier. If I buy full price games will probably play it to completion. Games that are free/discounted are more likely to sit unplayed and frequently get dropped after just a couple of hours of play.

I don't know if this means I spend big on stuff I know I will like and spend small on things I am not sure about or if my psyche tells me I must play the more expensive games to justify the purchase. Probably a bit of both.
Was just talking to my friends about this the other day.

Of the 61 unique games in my Steam library, I have played 15 a reasonable amount, played 10 less than 1 hour each, and never installed 36.

I too feel a type of decision paralysis, wherein I want to play a new game but can't decide between the many options I have.
At the age of (almost) 40 I've realized I'm unable to "finish" a game. I tend to get bored way long before I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Surprisingly, grinding games such as Path of Exile or Borderlands 2 manage to keep me hooked: almost no story to follow and few seconds to get in the middle of the action, be it for 10 minutes or 1 hour.

I think this is why Blizzard games tend to be popular. The time it takes from double-clicking the icon to being in the game and playing or making progress is very short. It's less than 30 seconds probably, whereas other games it could be a few minutes to get in.

That definitely makes a difference when I am deciding on a game to play. I guess it's because the faster I can be playing, the faster I can know if the game is going to be fun or if I should quit and play a different one.

Games like Civilization 5 take several hours before you know if you are having fun or not. On the other hand, Starcraft 2 you can finish a whole game in 15-20 minutes.

It would be very interesting to know conversion rates. Every time someone looks at a game's icon and actual double-clicks to play it, or for Steam, every time they click on the game name in their library to view it and then actually choose to play. I wouldn't be surprised if the ones that get you in the game faster have much higher conversion rates.
I've got way too many games, of course (over 600 on Steam, I's an illness, I'm sure) and at one time I had pleny of time, yetI used little of it for actual gaming. Then my wife and I decided to have a child, and for the year or two that process took she and I both did a huge amount of gaming...almost as if we were trying to clear out the backlog before B-Day arrived.

Today, I have a 16 month old and he's a demanding little tyke, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I still manage to get some game time in at night, but I find I now really prefer games with a decent focus, a good story, a sense of progression that is visible in 1-2 hour time increments and a definite conclusion. This has effectively ruled out MMOs for me, and I find that I most enjoy story driven titles with 10-15 hour campaigns I can finish in a week or two at 1-2 hours a night, and an occasional late weekend splurge. I won't even touch RTS and strategy titles with a ten foot pool....the learning curve allows me no time for proper enjoyment (and prior to the dawning of fatherhood I just found the typical RTS tutorial to be like nails on a chalkboard...)
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