So another Steam Summer Sale is behind us, and with it a fresh host of gamers will be looking at their newly swelled library and thinking "When am I going to have the time to play all these games?" It's a common question amongst gamers once we get to a certain age and transition from the period in our lives where we have ample time but little money to the much longer stage where the opposite is true. The concept of the "pile of shame", the either literal or metaphorical stack of unplayed games is something that I've heard talked about in numerous circles. Some gamers carry it like a brand, or flaunt it like a trophy. It is something that most gamers will have to some extent or another. We buy all these games but never get around to actually enjoying them.
Some have resigned themselves to the fact that that's how things are and will always be. But a couple of years ago I decided to do something about it, and figured out a way of doing things that at least saves me money and gives a bit more of a chance of actually clearing my backlog. I doubt I'll actually ever actually end up in a situation where I have no games to play, but I will hopefully avoid the stagnating effect of newly purchased games constantly pushing older ones down the list.
The basic idea behind my system is simple: don't give in to impulse purchases, but don't ignore the impulse. If I see a game I really like the look of in a trailer or someone recommends one to me, then instead of immediately rushing off to purchase it I add the game to a list of games I want to play. In actuality I keep the lists by year, meaning that I have some notion of how long ago I had the impulse to buy it, but that's not really necessary. The important thing is that you channel the impulse away from actually purchasing the game and into a permanent record that can be referred to later. When I'm really tempted to buy something, I just have to remember that it will still be available to buy later, and probably much cheaper. When I'm considering what game I should buy next, I can look at my lists and pick something. More often than not, I just look at these lists and trim away a lot of titles. Once the zeitgeist of a new game has faded I often find that the impulse to play the game has diminished, and I can make time for more deserving titles.
The second basic idea behind my system is: organise and play the games you own. I suspect that the reason a lot of people's backlogs become stagnant is simply because they forget what games they have already bought when it comes time to pick something new. Make a big list of all the unplayed games you own that you will realistically play. Order the list with the next game you will play at the top and the game you are least interested in playing at the bottom. I also include games that I don't own but have easy access to, i.e. games that I know I can borrow off other people. Once that's done, it's just a case of popping games off the backlog one by one as you start playing them. If you do buy a new game, try to put it at the bottom of the list.
I say "try" because these aren't rigid rules that I always follow. There are currently 27 items on my backlog but I still dipped my toe into the Steam Sale just like everyone else. Usually there comes a point where a game you want to play isn't going to get any cheaper, which was why I picked up Just Cause 2 for £2. I do allow myself to buy new games on release that I'm especially excited to play, last month I picked up Remember Me whilst I was in the States. There's nothing wrong with indulging every now and then, especially since if everyone used this approach for every game then no games would ever sell at full price and the industry would collapse. Being a gamer is all about getting stupidly excited about new games and I'm definitely not trying to suppress that instinct. The important thing is to adjust your perspective to only make exceptions for the games you really care about, and for everything else you can either save a lot of money by buying it later or just skipping it entirely. I also frequently reshuffle the backlog to put the games I most want to play at the front, which does lead to some stagnation and has had the unfortunate effect of Bayonetta being stuck around 3rd or 4th place for almost two years!
As you can see, my system is heavily list dependent. I use Giant Bomb's list system since it ties into their video game database, but any of the myriad list or notepad apps and services you can get these days will do. I find it useful to have a list that can be synced between multiple devices, thus meaning that if I ever need to update or check a list I can wherever I am.