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The RPG Files: Be Honest, You Don’t Finish Your Games

Columns By Christopher Coke on July 22, 2016

Be Honest, You Don’t Finish Your Games

For the last couple of years, I’ve been fascinated at how few players actually complete their games. It all started when I read this IGN write-up of a GDC talk where the narrative and design leads from Microsoft and Riot revealed that, at most, half of the games they examined were finished. Later that year, VentureBeat reported on confirming research showing that found a lower 42.7% of gamers even reach the halfway point in games, 29.6% finish, and a whopping 22% of games go completely unplayed. Bioware has also gone on record with these low stats. 

These completion percentages fly in the face of most of the conversations we see online. The positions of authority many online commentators speak from easily gives the impression that they’ve seen these games through. After days and weeks of similar conversations, confirmation bias seeps in and it’s easy to assume that everyone else has played more than you have.

You shall not pass and will eventually quit this game!

As someone who plays RPGs more than anything else, I am keenly aware of how much longer these games are than other genres. I decided to do some research of my own, focusing on RPGs. I took a cue from the GDC presentation and used Steam Achievements to determine completion percentages for 30 core RPGs. This is a small sample and far from perfect as it is only one of multiple platforms. Likewise, it is possible for gamers to play many of these games in offline mode or to acquire multiple achievements in some cases. It’s also important to keep in mind that these are percentages of total players, which varies widely from game to game. Just because one game has a higher percentage doesn’t mean more people actually completed it. Still, there is some crunchy information here that hints at trends in how gamers actually play games.

I selected the titles below based on noteworthiness and the availability of endgame story achievements (named on the right). Cases where there are multiple percentages indicate achievements for various difficulties to determine a total. Bioware statistics are pulled directly from their GDC 2012 presentation on the topic.

There are a few things to take away from this. First, the next time you’re in a comment section feeling like everyone else has beat the game, don’t. On average, 20% of PC gamers finished these AAA and indie RPGs. That said, it’s likely that gamers taking the time to read and comment on gaming sites are completing more games than whole picture percentages above. Whether that increase is anywhere close to a majority is up in the air.

Second, average completion of the RPGs here is nearly 10% lower than the holistic average cited at Venturebeat. Major games tend to be completed more often than indies, and being punishing hasn’t done Darkest Dungeon any favors (then again, it’s part rogue-like, so the more useful stat might be the “End of the First Year” achievement earned by 12.3% of players). This isn’t surprising considering the time investment required to complete some of these games, but it is alarming for how engaging players may be finding these stories over the long-term.

This could also make the case for shorter RPGs in general. Playing devil’s advocate, if, at best, just over half of your players will finish and more than half quit before they’re halfway through, wouldn’t development time on the second half be better spent on content most players will actually see? I don’t actually believe that, of course, but there is an argument there. Length surely cuts down on the amount of people who will finish a game, but it also is likely to sell more copies on Value for the Dollar.

Third, how surprising is Dark Soul 3 beating every other RPG on this list? With such an intimidating reputation and an unapologetically punishing outlook on teaching the player, I would have expected it to be half that completion rate. This should absolutely call into question everyone who has argued that the game “needs” an easy mode. I made that case, and still think it has some merit for the other 40%, but it’s definitely a “could benefit from” not a “need.”

Anecdotally, a few observations:

1. Games that have been out longer don’t necessarily have higher percentages. They may in fact have lowered over time as people have impulse bought them during sales and never actually beat them.

2. Skyrim having less than 28% surprises me due to how incredibly popular it is. On the other hand, it doesn’t because of how easy it is to get lost in.

3. More people completed Fallout 4 than The Witcher 3, despite The Witcher being regarded as the “better” RPG. I suspect this is due to length and The Witcher’s “your princess is in another castle” problem

4. Just because a game is a sequel doesn’t guarantee more people will see it through

5. This certainly lends credence to the idea that gamers have terrible attention spans. At the very least, with how well major games sell, it’s enough to make you question whether gamers just compulsively move on to the latest and greatest every month.

6. Final Fantasy seems to be middle of the road on steam, except for the remaster which apparently everyone lost interest in.

7. I find it very sad that only 6% of players finished Divinity: Original Sin, even though I myself never completed it.

As a teacher, summer is my time to catch up on my backlog, and I’ve committed to seeing a few key games through. As anyone reading this knows, finishing is just an incredible feeling. I’ve beat one game, and am now headed to the last nation in The Witcher 3 to see that one through and add myself to the 26%.

Do you care about finishing your games? What do you make of the above? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.