Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 25, 2017

There must be a rational way to manage buying and playing PC games. There must be an optimum of getting a maximum amount of fun out of a minimum amount of money spent, and getting the best out of each individual purchase. Unfortunately I must say that I am very far away from that optimum.

I have a large library of unplayed Steam games, which isn't unusual. The rational thing to do would be whenever I have the time to install an unplayed game and play it to find out whether I want to spend more time with it or not. But somehow that second part causes me a problem. For example I recently installed Wolfenstein: The New Order, because I was in the mood to play a shooter game. I played the game for an hour or two, but didn't really warm up to it. And now the game sits on my desktop and for psychological reasons I don't really understand feels like an albatross around my neck. When I turn on my computer, seeing the icon of the game doesn't make me want to play it. But somehow I feel that I *should* play it some more before uninstalling it and moving on. And I don't want to install the next game before having done that decision. So in the end I end up not playing any PC game at all, but play something casual on my iPad or watch Netflix or do something D&D related.

The rational me realizes that this is pretty idiotic. If I don't really like this game, I should just ditch it and try the next one. But the not-so-rational part of me has its doubts: Maybe I just wasn't in a good mood when I tried the game. Maybe it gets better after a while. Maybe the $25 investment in the game necessitates a second try (which my rational self recognizes as a typical sunk cost fallacy).

I believe that a lot about our enjoyment of games isn't really rational. We are perfectly capable of loving a game, then hating it, then loving it again. I always chuckle when I see Steam reviews of some player who has spend several hundred hours with a game and now tells you that the game sucks. The simple task of playing a game and deciding whether I like it or not turns out to be not simple at all. And then the default mode becomes procrastination until the game lingered so long on my computer that I finally uninstall it. Maybe I should try a service like Steam Advisor to find games I already own which I actually want to play.

Oh, gosh. I do this, too. Way too often. I'm not alone!

Then, I finally get in the mood to do some desktop housecleaning by the time things just get way out of hand icon-wise... and I go on a delete spree. I actually did this last week, and it felt good.

One thing I make use of are the Steam categories. I have a "Want to Play" category along with a "Have Played" and "Now Playing." So, if I have a game I know I want to revisit sometime, I don't feel as bad dropping it back into the "Want to Play" category. If I play it and it just didn't catch on, or I felt done with it, it goes into the "Have Played" list.

It doesn't make my backlog any better, but it's a semblance of organization and a way I can tell myself "I'll go back to this one later" without leaving it installed on my PC.
Just try some other game. Another time you may like the game you don't like right now. Your investment is not going away.
PS: Do you like adventures and puzzles? Try Rime or Talos Principle.
I got around this by waiting to buy most games at a price level that doesn't trigger the sunk cost fallacy for me (aka <$5 or 75% off or a bundle on anything that looks like an interesting concept that I want to explore/experience for a while).

Steam now calls me a game industry guardian (aka 1000+ games); I get to wallow around in unplayed games like Scrooge McDuck and enjoy being an archivist and have a huge variety of games to play or drop as and when I feel like it; the devs of any game that caught my eye and worked at it long and hard enough to garner good reviews from their fanbase over time get a little money from me (maybe not quite a $5 latte but some)...

It's generally win-win. Given that I paid $1-$5 for most games, even if I played it an hour or less, it's just the price of entry and I don't feel guilt-tripped about dropping it whenever. If I found I got an insanely good time out of my el cheapo investment, I usually follow the developer's next games and buy in at a more expensive price level to play their subsequent games sooner, so it'll average out in time.

Maybe some devs would be happier if I'm an earlier adopter of their first game and paid more, but then I would have to pick and choose. Ain't nobody got time to feel like an albatross.

I would like to ask you how many of your 1000+ game library are free to play titles? I'm just wondering, since you mention "sunk-cost-fallacy" as a personal paradigm by which you gauge the worth of games you actually spend money on, how do you gauge F2P games?
I bought Botanicula, 80 Days, and Dragon Age Origins - Ultimate Edition for $13 in this Summer's Steam sale. Haven't really played much of Dragon Age, but I started it (I wanted to see it). And I felt that 80 days had some clunky mechanisms that don't support what it's actually about (bad gamification). But I enjoyed what I played of it, and I've loved Botanicula so far - it's probably worth the $13. Of course it's by artists who never disappoint.

Anyway, just buy them cheap, and it's easy to find an amazing gem you got for nothing.

But honestly, why worry? I've bought a lot of books and not read them, I even bought albums and didn't listen to them, back when there were albums. I always loved to buy things second hand, so I didn't fret about the price - and Steam sales are just the same!

Some of the things I got for nothing became my favorites, others I never tried. It's all good.

I want to clarify something: I judge the worth of games by the experience that I get out of them. So both a F2P or a bought game are judged on the same criteria of enjoyment of experience. If I liked Path of Exile, Crusaders of the Lost Idols, Talos Principle, A Wolf Among Us, I'm going to say they are all good games in their right, and "worth" playing or experiencing (but maybe not "completing" - some can't even be completed anyway.)

The sunk cost fallacy that I try to avoid is the comparison of the "worthiness" of that subjective gameplay experience with the dollar value "worth" that was spent on being able to play that experience, and then subsequently feeling bad when the dollar value worth was higher than the gameplay experience "worth."

If the dollar value worth was -not- higher, then I feel good. No problems whatsoever.

So F2P games are very simple: dollar value of entry = 0; if I have the time to give a F2P game I'm interested in a spin, then by golly, I'm in. I'll play it for as long as I'm enjoying it, and then stop when I get distracted by another shiny butterfly of a game and feel no guilt by having not completed the first game or not having played "its money's worth."

Paying microtransaction money for a F2P game opens up another bottle of calculations altogether - is the MTX model ethical, did I enjoy the game, does the amount of gameplay I'm getting/will get roughly equivalent to a monthly MMO sub, how badly do I want the microtransaction, unsoweiter.

Counting an actual number of F2P games is tricky: how would you define something like Evolve Stage 2, which went free to play after I paid launch price for it? (Turtle Rock got my loyalty with a $5 Left 4 Dead, no hard feelings about how Evolve went.)

Or Rift or TESO or Tales of Maj'Eyal, which are technically F2P but which I bought?

If you lump 'em all in, maybe 13-20 as a very rough estimate.
If you haven't played a game in a couple of days delete the icon. This isn't an emotionally charged decision because the game is still installed. You can quickly get back to it via Steam,Origin etc. This is merely housekeeping but it makes a big difference to get rid of the accusatory icon on the desktop. I get a lot of games so every six months or so I have to clean up my hard drive and uninstall a bunch of games but by that stage the passage of time makes it much easier to uninstall something I haven't played for months even if it got 99% reviews and is a game I should have loved.

Thank you for the reply!

I guess my point with the question; was if you're using "sunk cost fallacy" to establish a baseline with games you openly purchased, why do people such as yourself even download and install F2P games when there is no way of knowing what the actual costs are going to be beforehand? Also, I was talking strictly F2P games as developed, not ones that were originally sold only to switch to F2P later.
It's been years since I felt the sunk cost fallacy about a single game. I just connect all the money I spent on games with all the games I have, and that's a pretty cheap hobby overall.

Just in case you want a new game: "Cayne" is on steam, free, point&click, a 4 hour horror story.
I don't know the ins and outs of Steams refund policy (I don't think anyone knows that) but if you only played it for an hour it might be worth trying to get a refund.
Doesn't work if you owned it for over two weeks, I think.
If you played 2 hours max you can ask for a refund up to 2 weeks after purchase. There is a human being looking at it, so if you do it too often they reserve the right not to refund anymore.

I did it once for a game that required me to make an extra account with the developer which I didn't want to do (wasn't made clear at the shop page). Took about 12 hours for the refund, worked like a charm.
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