Black Friday Backlog Sales Header

The Psychology Behind a Video Game Backlog

When I was a child I would always go with my mother to the supermarket, and demand every sweet under the sun. Suffice to say, I was being a tad bit greedy but the principle still stands. I was quite literally a child in a sweetshop, presented with far too much choice all at once, with no real inclination of what I truly wanted other than the fact that I wanted some form of dessert. As I have grown older I still find myself suffering from this, yet while my sweet foods addiction still stands, it’s not desserts I have the issue of choice with, but with video games. I have found myself with a backlog several hundred games deep, and it’s becoming a bit of an issue.

Finish this Article Before it Ends Up in your Backlog

The phenomenon of the backlog is a tale as old as time. Well not quite, but it has been an issue for gamers since the rise in popularity of video games. The more games that come out, and the more we buy them without completing the ones we already own, the more unfinished titles we accumulate to simply leave sitting out on our poorly constructed shelves to do very little else other than look beautiful and collect dust.

Steam-Autumn-Sale Backlog
Steam Autumn Sale (AUD) – Screenshot

Choice can offer us a sense of freedom, an increased sense of autonomy, and much more. Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, argues, none of this helps “when you’re standing before a towering aisle of water bottles, paralysed and increasingly dehydrated, unable to choose.” This concept of being overwhelmed by choice is a huge factor in how backlogs even begin.

Whether it’s the fear of missing out on playing one Assassin’s Creed over the other or the fact that you feel guilty because you should be playing the new Call of Duty with all your friends, the choice can be overwhelming. Which would explain why backlogs have been known to cause anxiety, frustration, self-blame, and an overwhelming lack of autonomy. So then why do we accumulate such a backlog if it does little more than to add to our already fragile states of mind? Especially in a year like good ol’ 2020?

Sales, My Dear Watson

We buy more stuff to compensate for gaps in our lives. Whether that’s a need to fulfil some sort of deep-rooted sadness that only retail therapy can fix, whether it’s to compete with your mate who’s got obscenely rich parents, or whether it’s because you simply just like owning new things, we’re always trying to fill a hole in our capitalist souls.

There is not a day that goes by without sales on gaming consoles. In fact, today there are over 500 games on sale on the Switch alone, and that is only including the digital store. PlayStation has started a Black Friday sale on all their biggest games across both PS4 and the newly released PS5, and Amazon has slashed prices on games across all platforms.

PlayStation Store Black Friday Sales (AUD) – Screenshot

The thing is, PlayStation, and all the other platforms don’t even need a reason to host a sale. Sure, everyone’s jumping on the Black Friday trend at the moment, but PlayStation has regular sales occurring all the time. It has gotten so bad on the Switch that publishers will put their games as low as £0.08 just, well, because.

Fear of Missing Out

Sales are addictive for numerous reasons because, let us not forget, there is a whole bunch of psychology behind all of it. One of the central reasons for our addiction to sales is the scarcity effect. In an article by Jamie Madigan, he outlines various reasons for why we may be addicted to buying games through Steam’s annual Summer Sale. He talks at length about the scarcity effect: “All the Steam deals are time-limited and feature prominent countdowns. If you’re thinking of buying a game, you have no idea if it will come up again before the sale is over, so you’re more likely to grab it rather than lose your shot.”

In essence, we buy games through sales because of FOMO (fear of missing out). We fear that if we don’t nab that heavily discounted copy of Race With Ryan straight away we may miss out on it forever. And as the saying goes, grab it while you still can.

In fact, Madigan argues that “psychological reactance” may convince us that we would get more enjoyment out of games that will become unavailable soon. In a recent update to the Nintendo eShop, Nintendo has added the ability to see exactly when a game will be taken off sale, including up to the last hour. Watching that sale timer count down in your wishlist, desperately weighing up the pros and cons of the sale, is what usually results in that cheap copy of Garfield Kart being added to your ever-increasing backlog.

Sales and Sales and Sales!

Ultimately, it all comes down to choice, just like it did when I was young looking at all those cakes. We choose whether or not to nab that delightfully low sale. Then we have to choose out of all the poor purchases we’ve made, bought because of said sales, what to play, and then we suffer from the realisation that whatever we didn’t play could have in fact been better. So eventually, we learn to choose to play nothing at all and watch funny memes on YouTube instead.

Editor in Chief
  1. I have no idea what it’s like to have a backlog.

    Quit looking at my Steam library.

    And my pile of Switch games.

    Any my pile of Genesis games.

    And Dreamcast games.

    And SNES games.

    …y’know what? Send help.

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