Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Don't People Finish Videogames?

Videogames have grown immensely in the last 30 years to become a mainstream fixture alongside movies and music. But you wouldn't know it by how often players finish their games.

In fact, the attrition (or bounce rate) of video games is pretty pathetic. 90% of players who start a game will never see the end of it. That's a lot of unfinished games.

And it's not just dull games that go unfinished. Critically acclaimed ones do, too. Take last year's "Red Dead Redemption." You might think Rockstar's gritty Western would be played more than others, given the praise it enjoyed, but you'd be wrong. Only 10% of avid gamers completed the final mission, according to Raptr, which tracks more than 23 million gaming sessions.

Of every 10 people who started playing the consensus "Game of the Year," only one of them finished it.
How is that? Shouldn't such a high-rated game keep people engaged? Or have player attention spans reached a breaking point?

Who's to blame: The developer or the player? Or maybe it's our culture?
The correct answer is, in fact, all of the above.

The aging gamer
At the beginning of the 21st century, the average gamer was pushing 30 -- mid-to-late 20s, to be exact. They weren't playing as often as they did in their adolescence, but in between entry-level jobs, earnest slacking and higher education, there was still ample time to game.

Fast forward to today, and the average gamer is 37, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The average age of the most frequent game buyer is 41 -- nearing Just for Men-type levels. They're raising kids. In the middle of a career. Worried about retirement. Not only that, but time is precious for gamers of all ages.

The longer the game, the higher probability a player will abandon it. "Red Dead Redemption" takes upward of 30 hours to complete, according to, and few players are willing to commit that much time.

A glut of games
Not only that, but the accelerating rate at which new games are released cannibalizes existing games and further distracts the already inundated player.

Not only did gamers have more time in the eight- and 16-bit days, but they had fewer games to complete.
Of course, engagement levels vary by genre and difficulty. 'Red Dead Redemption' is the lowest completed high-profile game because it's so big.

The gaming platform has an impact on completion rates as well. Low-caloric and hyper-short web games are finished 85% of the time, according to, a website that helps players finish the games they already own before buying new ones.

Either way, this shifting demand is more than enough to sway developers in a different direction. For starters, they are creating less epic games, at least in terms of duration.

With the expectations so high for visual and audio fidelity, lifelike animations, enemy behavior and movie-quality cinemas, it can take two years for a team of 100 people to create six hours of playable story. At an average burn rate of $10,000 per man month, that's $24 million just in developer cost. You're not likely to find a publisher that will foot the bill for extending that campaign to 20 hours. Of course, why make a 20-plus hour game when most players aren't completing them, as is the case with "Red Dead Redemption"? The answer is, most publishers don't.

Growth of online multiplayer
Which brings us to perhaps the biggest contributing factor in the decrease of lengthy campaign modes. It is this: Gamers may say they like playing epic single-player games. But when push comes to shove, what they really want is online multiplayer.

"The trend of low completion rates is equally driven by the growing importance of multiplayer," says Scott Steinberg, head of video game consulting firm TechSavvy. "Companies are more aware than ever of where and how games are being consumed, and what features players look for. As a result, they're de-emphasizing single-player, which seem to demand lower levels of player time, energy and investment."

Case in point: "Call of Duty: Black Ops." At an average of 67 hours played, it's the most-played recent game by far, according to Raptr, followed by "Halo: Reach" at 43 hours.

But that's not entirely true. What's really happened is that with their change in lifestyle, gamer tastes have evolved. Instead of "Zelda"-like games that take longer to start and resume, they're more inclined to play stop-and-go titles in bite-size games.

The future? Shorter games
So it's come to this: People have less time to play games than they did before. They have more options than ever. And they're more inclined to play quick-hit multiplayer modes, even at the expense of 100-hour epics.

Is that a problem?

Not at all Steinberg agrees: "Just because you don't slay the final boss or rescue the princess doesn't mean you can't see most of, if not all, of what a game has to offer in the hours leading up to it."

Gamers are already warming to the idea of shorter games. Many games now have a 40% to 50% completion rate, thanks to 10-hour campaigns instead of the 20-30 hour ones of yesteryear. Of course, that's good or bad depending on how you look at it. It's better than before. But it still means that more than half of all game content never gets appreciated.

Thanks to Blake Snow for the great piece. See more

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