How To Finally Beat The Unfinished Games In Your Never-Ending Backlog

How To Finally Beat The Unfinished Games In Your Never-Ending Backlog

In a world of regular Steam sales and cheap used games, it’s easy to build up a massive stockpile of games it feels like you’ll never have time to get to. Well there actually is time, but you have to approach your backlog the right way. Here’s how to do it.

Photo by Adam Wyles, Michel Ngilen, Radly J Phoenix, Analea Styles

Make A Master List For Your Entire Backlog

Start by making a list of games you have on hand or in your library that you haven’t played to satisfaction or haven’t touched at all. When I say “played to satisfaction”, I mean you haven’t played them enough to feel like you got your money’s worth. Your list could be short or it could be really long. It doesn’t matter provided they are all there.

This is your actual backlog. You know what that is, but you may not have ever had a chance to actually look at it in its entirety before. The age of digital downloads makes it easy for us to forget about things. In our minds, the backlog just becomes an amorphous blob of lost digital content. If you use a client like Steam, you can see a list of everything you’ve purchased there, but chances are you have some games in other clients like EA’s Origin, or Ubisoft’s Uplay. You probably also have stand-alone games, and console games that are collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. Making a list makes you aware of everything. It’s not just a shapeless “backlog” anymore, it’s a soon-to-be-organised “To Play” list.

Cull And Prioritise Your Newly Formed “To Play” List

Once you have your “To Play” list, comb through it and remove the games you know that you’re never going to play. There are probably a few that you bought on impulse and haven’t even installed or unwrapped. If you have physical games, you can sell them to make some cash back. If they’re digital only, you may have some recourse if you can trade codes, sell on the Steam marketplace, or sell back to a service that takes digital games, like Green Man Gaming. If you want to help yourself out in the future, you can create a “shame list” of those games to remind yourself what kinds of games you never bothered to touch.

I also find it helpful to remove multiplayer-only games. These games can be too much fun for their own good. You end up playing the same game over and over again for just one more round or match, while your backlog cries in the corner. Remember, you can always come back to them later (and you might want to, if one of your “to play” games turns out to not be much fun).

With some games removed, reorganise your list so that the game you want to play the most is at the top. Then continue through your list until it’s organised from “most excited to play” to “least excited to play”. One last time, look at the games at the bottom of your list — the ones that excite you the least — and decide if you’ll ever actually play them. You might find a couple of stragglers that were holding on by a slight thread of interest. By organising your games this way, you can build the motivation to play through them all. You have a video game debt and snowballing your momentum can help you pay it off just like real debts.

Cut Off New Games At The Source

While you’re making your way through your backlog, it’s obviously important you don’t add to it. That one game you want so badly might be on sale, but chances are it will go on sale again, probably cheaper, during the next Steam sale. Resist the urge to buy new games until you’ve at least made some progress with your “To-Play” list.

To help yourself out, go on a brief game news blackout. Give yourself some time to get excited about what you’ve already purchased before a positive review sends you to the nearest game store at full speed. Remember all those new releases will still be around when you finish your backlog. Oh, and remember, never pre-order games.

Uninstall Or Hide Whatever Is Not On Your “To Play” List

Now that you have a neatly organised “To Play” list, make it seem like those are the only games you have. Uninstall the other games on your Mac or PC so you’re not tempted to return to the games you’ve already played. In Steam, you can also hide games by cultivating custom lists. Essentially, it will look like you only have the games on your “To-Play” list. Take your console games and hide them away in storage so it’s a pain to retrieve them. You can even ask somebody else to hide (or play, whatever) them for you, if you like.

It might sound a little extreme, but this removes the distraction of other games to keep you focused on your goal of whittling away your backlog. If you want, you can do a “one in, one out” system where you can re-install or bring back a game once you play a backlog game to your satisfaction and remove it from your “To Play” list.

Schedule Play Time And Keep Yourself Satisfied

You probably only have a certain amount of time to play games each day, but a little scheduling can help you knock out games more efficiently. If you have an hour to play every day, schedule a backlog game for a good chunk of it. You can set a timer to keep yourself on task, but always start your play time with a backlog game. That way you’ll either get sucked in and keep going through your allotted play time, or you’ll move on to something else after giving it a little time. Some progress is always better than no progress at all.

If you’re not enjoying a game, don’t torture yourself with it. Play it until you’re satisfied and move on. There’s also nothing wrong with playing a game without the intent to finish it. You may very well know that you don’t have the time to commit to a game’s completion, but still want to give it a go for fun. Or maybe you want to be able to talk about a game with friends, so you play it just enough to understand it on their level. However you decide to approach the games on your “To-Play” list, always make sure your personal satisfaction is the focus.

When You Finish A Game, Revel In Your Success

As you make your way through your list, keep track of the games you actually complete and tell others about it. Announce it to your friends and earn some cred, or write about it in your favourite online community. It feels good to see something through, so you might as well enjoy it as much as you can. Who knows, maybe you’ll rub off on some of them and get them to take on their own backlogs too.


  • I like that last bit. Had 2 weeks off and didn’t go away. So when people asked what I did on holiday it helped to tell them I finished 2 games from my pile of shame, read 2 books from my other pile of shame, built a PC for my father and reformatted my PC. Certainly sounds like a constructive holiday then.

  • I was making some major progress on my pile of shame earlier this year, then I decided screw it and just did a 100% run on Hero Mode/Master Quest in Wind Waker HD. I think from now on I’m just going to focus on playing games I want to play. I mean Last of Us was a fine game but I wasn’t that interested and at the end of the day I forced myself to play it all the way through when I could have been doing something more enjoyable.
    When I step back I realise the real pile of shame is the games I don’t play even though I love them. Why force myself to finish GTAV when I could replay Sleeping Dogs or Saint Row 2? I’ve got literally hundreds of games I love and yet somehow I got hung up on the games that I didn’t feel compelled to play while neglecting Metroid Prime or Sunset Overdrive.

  • I did this in hope of catching up, but I keep buying more games. One thing I have started is gaming from the treadmill. I set up the TV in front of it, got an extended hdmi cable and a wireless controller. Killing two birds with one stone!

  • “EA’s Origin, or Ubisoft’s Uplay..”

    “HA HA HA HA! Oh.. you were serious.”

    My problem is, Skyrim is such a great game and damnit you walk out of one cave and just to the right on your compass, another cave. But this one goes down into Dwemer ruins and is so massive you spend literally hours in there. You then talk to someone on your way out, and BOOM, another mission. But this one might have a super cool weapon or expensive armour in a chest at the end, so you stroll down, find a book that leads you on yet another quest and..

    ..sorry, I got off track. The important point is, screw you Skyrim. Let me play my other games. Stop dragging me in, all these years after your release.

  • When I was made redundant from my old work I was about to go on a 6 month trip. Before going, rather than plan the trip, I decided it was time to knock off a bunch of games I never finished. It was a pretty good incentive because the plan was to uninstall them as soon as I was done.

    That being said, trying to pick up Fallout 3 or Baldurs Gate from old save games it challenging. I’m not sure how many times I’ve played the dungeon level of Baldurs Gate with the intention to play on, to never actually go anywhere near finishing the game.

  • I use GMG’s Playfire Rewards to deal with my backlog – let someone else pick which indie games to focus on by seeing what earns moneys for achievements :p

    (10c/per/achievement isn’t much, but if you use it to order how you play the games you have you can end up with a few dollars credit to cover some extra DLC – plus no choice paralysis when 1000 games to pick from is whittled down to 4 depending on what will fill the time you have!)

  • If people stopped buying games until they’d cleared their backlog, the entire gaming industry would collapse instantly.

  • I’m slowly coming to the realisation that I will never get my backlog down to zero, along with the difficult but evident truth that more games are coming out than I can reasonably afford to both purchase and play.

    It’s sad, but I think i’m almost in the ‘acceptance’ phase…

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