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Managing Your Backlog

Managing Your Backlog

At the end of October, Valve will be running their annual Halloween sale on Steam. No big deal, right? That’s more than a month away! Except Valve ran their annual Steam Summer Sale just two months ago, and that’s a bigger sale than Halloween. If you’re like me—weak-willed—then your gaming backlog grew considerably with minimal impact on your wallet during the Summer Sale. Not only that, but the first wave of new game releases is next week, with another coming at the end of November.

Or perhaps you resisted the sweet siren songs during the Steam sale, but somewhere along the way, you’ve accrued a backlog. A backlog that is insurmountable! You have all these games but no time to play them. If you do have the time, which one do you even start with? Do you have space on your hard drive to install the game? How long will the download take? Once you have all of that out of the way, you might not have time to actually play the game anymore.

Personally, I have a few games in my backlog. Let’s just say it’s somewhere between understating-four-dozen and four-dozen. Some of these are games that I have already played, but intend on replaying to write an article about it. I’ve started some games, but played them for only 2 hours before stopping. I have a few games downloaded but haven’t installed them. The rest I haven’t touched at all.

If you’re interested in cutting down your backlog before it grows larger, here’s how I’ve been working through my own backlog.

Pick a platform.

If you’re anything like me then you have multiple gaming devices. I have an aging desktop that runs Windows XP. I have a more recent laptop that runs Windows 7. I have an Xbox 360.

I picked up the Thief series and the Legacy of Kain series during the Summer Sale. These are both old games, so the first thing to do is check the system requirements. None of the Thief games will run on Windows 7, so I downloaded those to my desktop. All of the Legacy of Kain games can run on Windows 7, so I’ll be downloading those on my laptop later. The reason why you want to check the hardware requirements is this:

Deus Ex

Graphics so old you can’t tell which screenshot shows how the game is supposed to look.

Another factor to keep in mind is what engine is running the game. When Carmelo and I played TERA, I noticed the game ran reasonably well on my crappy desktop despite how much detail there was. Games powered by Unreal Engine 3 run well on my desktop, which is what powers TERA. Surprisingly, UE3 games also run well on my laptop; my 9-cell battery can only run WoW for 3 hours, but it can run a UE3-powered game twice as long. When I buy a game powered by UE3, I know I could play it on either my desktop or my laptop.

Set aside time to download.

My internet service provider allows Steam to download at a speed of roughly 3.5 Mbps. I grabbed Dishonored, which is 5.3 GB. That means, at a minimum, it will take 30 minutes to download. My ISP sucks for sustained connections, though. For the last 3 GB of the download, my service dropped to an abysmal speed. It would be a burst of download for about five seconds, drop to zero for ten seconds, and then another five-second burst. The download finished after 48 minutes.

If I wanted to just play Dishonored that night, I would have had to wait 48 minutes for the download to finish before I could even start installing it. Setting aside some time for downloading got those 48 minutes out of the way when I was busy working on other projects.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your antivirus software is probably screwing with your downloads, too. Whenever Steam was downloading something, my processor usage would jump up over 90%. I couldn’t listen to music, browse the internet, or do any writing while a download was active. Temporarily disabling my antivirus software cut 60% of the overhead and allowed me to work while the download was going.

Establish a priority list.

Dishonored was released last year! I like watching Let’s Plays. I like reading what people have to say about games. When it came to Dishonored, I knew I wanted to play the game. I avoided spoilers for the game, so I went in completely fresh. This also put it at the top of my list.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is also on my backlog. I’ve had it sitting on the shelf since the day it came out. However, it’s been awhile since I played Wings of Liberty, so I want to replay that so I’m all caught up. Heart of the Swarm is actually lower on my list than Wings of Liberty.

The priority list is there so that you can keep track of prerequisites and get to a game before it’s spoiled for you. It’ll also help you manage your time. “Okay, I’ve finished Dishonored. What’s next on the list, Thomas Was Alone? Cool, I’ll download that.”

Once you’ve established your list and your games are downloaded, the next thing you have to do is…

Set aside time to play.

Think about this for a moment: would you have a backlog if you had time to play games? Not likely! You’re busy, that happens. So you have to set aside time to actually play these games. The easiest way to free up time is to stop wasting it on social media sites. Close Twitter and Facebook. Get off reddit and tumblr. All of those tweets, links, LOLs, and cat pictures will still be there when you’re done playing.

You set aside whatever time you have. If you can only play for 30 minutes, then set aside 30 minutes. But that’s not going to be enough. You’re also going to have to make it clear to everyone in your life—everyone important, anyway—that you’re not doing anything with them for those 30 minutes. It is your free time.

Here’s the catch, though: you aren’t just carving out a chunk of time to play. You’re also setting a stopping point. When your 30 minutes are up, you save, you quit, and you go back to the doldrums of your normal life. You have to abide by the time limit, too. You can’t set aside 30 minutes but end up playing for three hours.

Maybe you wanted to get a quick bite of game in before working on your project. Now you’re behind on your work and you have to stay up 2.5 hours later than you normally would have. Maybe you were supposed to pick your kids up from soccer practice; now they’re kidnapped by the football police and being held for ransom.

I played Dishonored at midnight when I had finished everything else I was working on that day. I had two hours to play before my normal bedtime. Instead, I played for five hours and that cut into my sleep time. Doing it again told my body, “We went to bed at 6 AM, so we’ll have to wake up at noon instead of 8 AM.” It screwed up my sleep schedule, which then cut into my work time. Now I was working until 4 AM just to make up for the work I missed from waking up on time, which only propagated the problem further.

I started having these really weird dreams, too.

I started having these really weird dreams, too.

The extra time you spent playing the game has to come from somewhere, and that will eat up your free time later. Not having free time is completely antithetical to the goal of working through your backlog.

You only have a month before the Halloween sale, and two months before the last of this year’s new releases. How many games can you finish before then?

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