When I was a kid there were no backlogs. Games were released very sparingly with maybe one to two new releases every two to three months at best. And many of those releases were skippable. Holiday season was the time when the good games dropped. I still remember waiting for Christmas to get The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (November 1998). This was a time when replaying games was not just common but the norm. There simply weren’t enough games to play. Not to mention that games were more expensive.
When I say more expensive what I really mean is that the prices didn’t drop. It’s fairly common to see a new release drop from $60 to $30 or less within a few months today. With the exception of Nintendo, it’s pretty much the norm. I bought Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a month after it released for $16 in a holiday sale. Worth every penny and then some, by the way. We didn’t have those price drops when I was a kid. Games simply were the price they were. We also didn’t have weekly free games on Epic Game Store, monthly free games on PlayStation Plus, and so on. You bought or borrowed every game you played, the prices weren’t discounted much if at all, and there weren’t a ton of games to play. This meant that you were usually caught up on games you actually wanted to play, assuming you had the money or friends to borrow games from. It’s not like that anymore.
I often feel like we as gamers have become spoiled when it comes to the volume of games available to us these days. There are just so many great games to play releasing so often now. In 2020 we get Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Doom Eternal, Cyberpunk 2077, Nioh 2, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part 2, Marvel’s Avengers, Watch Dogs: Legion, God & Monsters, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV. That’s just 12 of the many AAA titles releasing this year. We can also be sure that most of them will either have additional content added or will take hundreds of hours to play at a minimum. Then there’s the many remakes/remasters coming as well such as Final Fantasy VII, The Wonderful 101, Resident Evil 3, and so on. We have well over one knock out game a month. There’s enough content to get every normal gamer through the year with games to spare.
Not only are there plenty of new games to play this year but there are also all the games we still haven’t gotten to play. When I was a kid, we were waiting for the next release. “I have nothing to play” was a literal statement of fact. Not a metaphorical statement of preference based irony. I haven’t had nothing to play in a good 10 years. My backlog is so preposterous that I know I will never actually complete it. I have unplayed copies of Final Fantasy XV, World of Final Fantasy, The Surge, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor & War, The Witcher 2 & 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and countless other AAA titles sitting in my backlog with the intention of playing them. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that my Black Friday/Christmas sale purchases from 2019 just arrived at the end of February adding all of this to my already preposterous backlog. That is to say that I have well over one AAA game a month at my disposal for the next several years without ever buying another game. And remember that this doesn’t include the countless indies I have and would like to play, doesn’t include the various freebies from Epic Game Store and PlayStation Plus, when I don’t already own them (looking at your Shadows of the Colossus and Sonic Forces) and doesn’t account for all the retro ports I never beat as a kid and would like to play available on Nintendo Switch Online.
My backlog is quite large, but it’s not abnormal. I don’t know any gamers that aren’t backlogged. Pretty much every person I know that considers them self a gamer has accepted the fact that they will always be backlogged. Backlogs are like the US national debt. We as people have simply accepted it as part of life and though we may complain about it constantly we have no intention or putting in any serious effort or life changes to reduce it by a noticeable amount. Being a gamer means you simply are backlogged as a natural state of being these days. I believe that this is the first time in gaming history that we’re in a position where the industry can take advantage of that fact.
Let me preface the rest of this post by acknowledging that what I’m about to write is never going to happen. I’m aware of that fact. I have no delusions about the fact that this idea, though good and productive for all parties involved, goes against the status quo and would never actually happen. But I think it’s important to put it out there anyway.
As I said, games used to be in limited supply and expensive. The prices couldn’t drop in order for larger publishers to remain profitable because they had a limited number of products and no additional revenue streams. Now we’re in the completely opposite situation. Not only are there so many games to play, but those games continue to be relevant with additional content for multiple years in the case of some games. Rainbow Six Siege is four years old and just broke its concurrent player record on Steam. Games last way longer now and have tons of additional revenue streams with things like DLC, expansions, microtransactions, and e-sports revenue. What this actually means is that a company can put out a game and continue to support that game for a long time and remain profitable without releasing a new game for quite some time. What if that became normal practice?
People often complain about games getting delayed, such as Cyberpunk 2077, but there’s not really a valid reason to complain about those delays. As I’ve said, everyone is backlogged. You don’t need to play Cyberpunk 2077 today. You’ve almost assuredly got something else to play that you haven’t already beaten. You can also lean into online multiplayer in many games if you have absolutely no backlog to speak of, which is ridiculous. There are also plenty of free and older discounted games to take advantage of during the wait for a new release. Delays also mean a game gets more of its bugs worked out before launch. It means less patches required day one. It means less crunch time for the developers. There are lots of good things that come out of delays with very few bad things, unless a project ultimately gets cancelled because of a delay, such as with Scalebound (never forget). So generally I don’t have a problem with delays. So why don’t companies leverage all the time they need to get a game right from launch like they used to? I’m tired of large day one patches, broken games that need to be fully updated, and hearing about developers getting worked to death to make an arbitrary deadline. It’s simply not necessary when people can fill the time. Especially when you’re a company like Ubisoft where people can fill the time with other games already published by Ubisoft. Personally I’m nearing the end of Watch Dogs 2 and still need to play Assassin’s Creed: Origins & Odyssey. So the fact that Watch Dogs: Legion got delayed doesn’t faze me in the slightest bit. If anything it helps me.
When you look at this year’s AAA lineup you can see a large amount of corporate representation. Just about every large publisher is putting out something noteworthy this year. And most of these will be long form games with DLC, games as service content, and or plenty of base content. So why do any of them need to release another big game in 2021? What if instead every publisher agreed to make 2021 a development year? All studios will not publish any games and will instead allow all developers to work without a 2021 deadline so they maximize the performance of their games that would have released in 2021. Why isn’t that a thing? All larger players agreeing to periodically take a year off releasing and just ride their current revenue streams, allowing studios more time and gamers a year to focus on their backlogs. This is the first time in history that taking a year off publishing new titles won’t break the larger players. With so many additional revenue streams available now, they don’t need to release new games as often as they do and can still remain profitable.
Imagine what you could get done if you had an entire year where you were guaranteed that you wouldn’t miss out on any new games. How would that make you feel? What would you do with that time? You’d finally put some real work into your backlog. You’d revisit games you wish you had time to revisit. It could be a super productive time for many gamers. And people could save money for the next year of games.
Now obviously everyone wouldn’t care for this. Indie studios that can barely keep their doors open couldn’t take a year off like this and shouldn’t. Streamers that focus on new games at release would be starved for content, which isn’t really a concern of mine but it is something that should be acknowledged. Also let’s not forget that the PS5 and XBOX Series X are scheduled to release at the very end of 2020 so them not releasing any games in 2021 specifically is a tall order. But that’s a specific situation that doesn’t happen every year. So focus on the concept rather than the specific dates.
Again, this won’t happen. Too many powerful people would complain too much about a year off with no additional revenue streams being added to the mix. And too many whiny gamers that don’t want to work on their backlog would take to the internet with change.org petitions and angry Reddit posts. Changing the status quo is hard. Changing the status quo when it will reduce profits, even if only temporarily, is nearly impossible. But I think it’s important to note that for the first time in history, such a thing could be comfortably implemented without a required lapse in total gameplay hours for consumers and without AAA game companies having to suffer real losses from not releasing for a year. The only scenario where a company really loses is if they were already gold and ready to launch because that would mean idle time for that studio where no work is actually getting done. But something as radical as an entire year devoted to backlog play would be coordinated in advance so studios shouldn’t end up in that situation in most cases.
I think the idea of granting a year of gaming furlough to both consumers and developers would be a good thing. I think there would be many positive benefits to it, including the fact that gamers would be that much more appreciative of new games after having to wait an additional year to play them. People wouldn’t be nearly as critical when they spent a year playing only older games.
What would you do with a backlog year? Would you be able to keep yourself occupied or would you have absolutely nothing to play? Would you appreciate the time to catch up with older stuff and save money or is it a non-issue for you?