Why do we spend hundreds of hours playing games we don't like?

Bad reviews

In this modern world of user reviews, a strange phenomenon has begun to occur. Check out the most damning, angry reviews of games on Steam and you’ll see that many of the users have played the title in question for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of hours. And the first question you have to ask is: why did they play the game for countless days when they hated it? Why not just play a good game instead?

Playing a game you don't like? Why not try one of the best PC games instead?

Plagued by the question, I decided to gather thoughts from communities, colleagues, and even a psychologist. Perhaps inevitably, there’s no one true answer to the question. But there are suggestions that point to our identity as gamers and what is perhaps an ever-burning optimism that stands stoic behind our cynicism.

I almost never play games for hundreds of hours, but there certainly have been cases where I’ve played for extended periods whilst actively knowing I’m not really enjoying it. Watch Dogs is a prime example, and I know I was playing it solely because it was the new big game, and there was no other major release to play at the time. There were a few interesting elements, but I was purely playing it for the sake of play. I owned it, and it filled the hours I dedicated to playing games.  

Our staff writer Jordan Forward discusses with me a similar idea of playing simply to pass the time. “Sounds bleak, but I definitely think it's the case,” he says. His own example is Assassin’s Creed: “Sometimes it's as simple as the mechanics. I’ll commit a crime and people start chasing me, so I run around the city, lose them, and then almost immediately commit another crime. I'm never having a great time, I'm just sort of milling about.” 

Division Steam Review
After 390 hours, this reviewer discovered The Division was far from the game they hoped it would be. 

That point about mechanics is interesting: a game can be the exact opposite of our tastes, but provided there’s one mechanic that captures us, it can propel us through hours of gameplay that we otherwise find highly unsatisfying. Our news editor Ben Barrett found that with Rogue Legacy. “I wasn't very good at it and didn't find the platforming or combat very fun,” he says. “I was pretty much just grinding my progress until I was so powerful it didn't matter if I got hit, which was quite compelling.” 

But what if the game has absolutely no redeeming features? I turn to our ever-optimistic features editor Jeremy Peel, who explains how hope kept him playing the dreadful Diablo-wannabe Divine Divinity: “There were these dramatically long dungeons with nothing but enemies in them, and nothing to do but shoot them full of arrows,” he explains. “There was none of the feedback or showers of loot that make Diablo II brilliant. Occasionally, though, you'd come out into the sunlight and there'd be a hint of something fantastic. There were moments of brilliance that I was certain would blossom eventually, but they never did.”

Jordan raises a point during our discussion about input vs reward. “A lot of management games require a massive time input but give very little back,” he says. It’s a point that applies to management sims, but more notably to survival games: a lot of pressing E on trees for snail-like progress, with much of that progress obliterated if you die. It may take hundreds of hours for this cycle to eventually prove unsatisfactory for players. Alternatively, mashing E repeatedly to craft a spear for the thousandth time certainly passes the time. 

Dark Souls 3 Steam Review
This reviewer took very little enjoyment from the 154 hours they spent with Dark Souls III. 

As you’d expect, this situation has been widely discussed on gaming forums. “People are seemingly obsessively playing games they strongly dislike. Why do people do it?” questions a poster on NeoGAF, beaming my own question out into the void. The replies offer a little more insight.  

“Long-lasting games can have a good start but eventually it becomes sour, making it all feel like a waste of time,” suggests one user. Another poster agrees, offering an anecdote of their time in Skyrim: “Put in about 70 hours. I had just spent the past four hours in a cave, picking flowers and whatnot, and I suddenly thought, "What the hell am I doing with my time?" I realized I was doing absolutely nothing of any importance or interest and quit. Don't think I've gone back.”   

Our own deputy editor Phil Iwaniuk has similar thoughts, pointing to Skyrim’s Bethesda stablemate Fallout 4. “Sometimes it's a simple case of not realising that a given game isn't what you hoped it would be, and by the time of your grim realisation you've become invested in all the busywork,” he says. “Fallout 4 is a great example of that phenomenon. It's a much smaller step forwards for the Bethesda open-world RPG thing than I was hoping for, and its narrative never really gets going. But it takes twenty hours to really make that call definitively, and by then you've got yourself embroiled in all those fetch-quests.”

Fallout 4 Steam Review
Despite thinking that Fallout 4 wasn't good, this reviewer soldiered on for almost 217 hours. 

Diablo III is another example offered by the NeoGAF community. “I played vanilla Diablo 3 for hundreds of hours. I felt like I needed to experience everything the game offered, from leveling to endgame before I could form a solid opinion on it, and yes, it was a bad game,” explained a poster. Another felt the same way: “I played D3 for like 200-300 hours and it's my Worst Game of All Time.” 

Diablo is a historic case of patch work changing its fate; when the auction house was removed and many gameplay changes applied, Diablo III was eventually embraced. But patching can also reverse the goodwill of gamers. The War Thunder 1.37 patch, which completely re-worked the unlock system, deeply upset many players. It resulted in a complete change of heart in Steam reviews, with players having clocked 200+ hours of gameplay suddenly filing deeply negative reviews. And as War Thunder progresses, that feeling of upset remains, notably in patch work that continually appears to emphasise the game’s apparent Russian bias. 

Not all Steam user reviews adequately explain why the terrible game in question kept them playing. In these situations I suspect it’s because the writer was probably having a good time, but one element irked them so much they decided that their 200 hours was a terrible experience. Part of the problem comes from hyperbole: there’s nothing understated about opinions on the internet. 

DayZ Steam review
After 227 hours with DayZ's alpha, this reviewer has had enough. 

But for those who are genuinely having a miserable time with a game, It’s easy to wonder if there’s perhaps something about our brains that cause us to plough on. Seeking answers I turn to Dr. Linda Kaye, psychology lecturer at Edge Hill University, who explains that there’s similarities between gamers and TV fans. “We often hear people complaining about TV programmes they may be invested in. The term 'car-crash TV' comes to mind; we know it’s not stimulating but we actually get a sense of enjoyment from engaging in it (even if the enjoyment itself may not be positive as such)” she says. “This seems similar to why gamers may continue playing games that they report they are not enjoying for extensive periods of time.” 

There’s certainly correlation between the two mediums. For example, if you’re an avid viewer of superhero shows you’ve probably watched every episode of Arrow, even though the general consensus is that the series has been terrible since season 2. That’s 46 episodes watched with little sense of ‘true’ enjoyment.  

Kaye believes the root of the issue could lie in the gamer identity. “If you are a gamer who is invested in your 'sport', and self-identifies as such (I am a gamer, and this is important to me), then I can see how this may make you more likely to keep engaged as you may be willing to work through the bad times to fulfil a need which is inherent to your identity,” she explains. 

I feel this observation drills down into the individual communities. You could absolutely despise Blizzard’s direction with World of Warcraft, but if you’re part of the community you may feel a need and a duty to follow it through the ups and downs, even if it’s just to be on top of current affairs. 

GTA V Steam review
This reviewer's hatred of GTA V's online issues didn't stop them from playing for over 800 hours. 

Then there’s the social side. I played Dead Island to completion, and I believe it’s a truly hideous example of game design. But I played it in co-op, and while it’s true that playing with friends can make a bad game better, I know that I only kept playing because it was a conduit to spending online time with my friend. Community, be that a single friend or a hundred-strong guild, can keep us playing through the worst times. 

The games that see negative reviews from players with hundreds of hours played tend to have legacies; Fallout 4 and GTA V are from strong historic franchises, DayZ had amassed cult status on social media, while The Division emerged from years of ‘best game ever’ hype. They’re games that had dedicated players and communities before they even launched. And for those communities to continue, there’s an inherent need to keep playing. 

The correct answer to my question, then, is that there’s no real unifying theme, but almost certainly several camps of thought for each player. Perhaps you’re just an optimised with hope that the next hour will be better, or you’re part of a guild worth more than the gameplay changes you hate. But across all reasons, I suspect the underlying fact is that these games being reviewed are pretty good fun, even when they don’t meet expectations. 

What games have you played for hundred of hours even though you didn’t like it? Let us know why you endured them in the comments.

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Tovias avatarMountain_Man avatarChaz avatarMrJinxed avatarPhil Iwaniuk avatarllubtoille avatar+14
llubtoille Avatar
204
1 Year ago

Some games are easy to jump into and do something, anything, in. They fill that void when I'm not quite willing to commit time to play a more engaging game, but also don't want to just browse reddit for another few hours.

Leveling another WoW character may not be much better than staring at my desktop wallpaper, but it's still better dammit!

I guess what I'm trying to say is, games that are 'better than watching paint dry' don't really fit well into steam's binary scale of 'great or shit'. It's like the complaints reviewers often give when it comes to scoring games: don't just read the score, read why I gave it that score.

2
Tovias Avatar
1024
1 Year ago

fucking save me from warframe, this game is garbage and I hate Steve

2
Mountain_Man Avatar
729
1 Year ago

To be frank, anytime I see a negative review and a little counter next to it showing that the person put in hundreds of hours of playtime, I immediately dismiss their opinion because such a person does not strike me as reasonable or rational. That and the fact that such "reviews" tend to be bitter, hate-filled rants rather than a usefully objective analysis of a game's merits.

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Shriven Avatar
3449
Shriven(9 hours played)
1 Year ago

Strategy games are the worst for this. Crusader Kings for example. I spent 60 hours figuring out what I was doing and I didnt even manage to do that in 60 hours.

Edit: Oooh, 3000 club!

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Chaz Avatar
159
1 Year ago

Dawn of War II, 50 hours clocked. I first played the game co-op with a friend, he loved it but my impression of the game steadily diminished after the "new game" feel washed over me. A lot of people like the game though so I tried a few more attempts to get into it and just couldn't.

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MrJinxed Avatar
908
1 Year ago

Divine Divinity was not dreadful, you oaf. It was a really good oldschool rpg, and you can't compare it to Diablo 2, which is a game about defeating bosses and repeating gameplay. Finish the game? Start over. Finished it again? Start over again. Divine Divinity was a proper RPG. You can think it wasn't a good experience as Diablo, but you can't compare the two in such a manner. You also then complain about lack of loot showers in DD, which are present in D2. You can't be serious. Aren't you guys reviewers, who are supposed to actually know stuff about the games you talk about? About the only comparison that's fair to make is that both games are isometric.

I also noticed another jab at Ubisoft. Isn't that a little too easy. Oh hey look guys we also hate Ubisoft games because.. they're boring for.. reasons.

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Phil Iwaniuk Avatar
69
Phil Iwaniuk(1 day 21 hours played)
1 Year ago

Isn't the point of the anecdote you're referencing that someone played a game for ages that they didn't enjoy? I don't really see why it would matter whether you agreed or disagreed about the game specifically.

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MrJinxed Avatar
908
1 Year ago

The point is, if he's comparing it to for example Diablo 2, then obviously he has false expectations and won't like the game regardless. It's like saying Baldur's Gate 2 was boring because it was nothing like the glorious Diablo 2, and there wasn't a loot fest like Diablo 2. What a dreadful game. It makes no sense to use that as a basis of comparison. You might as well say you didn't enjoy The Secret of Monkey Island because you didn't get to shoot things in the face like with Call of Duty, and there was no leveling up your guns.

I don't know about you, but I expect maybe a tiny bit more from journalists. They should at least sound like they know what they're talking about, don't you think.

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Phil Iwaniuk Avatar
69
Phil Iwaniuk(1 day 21 hours played)
1 Year ago

But this feature is about people playing games they don't like. It doesn't really matter why they didn't like them, just that they didn't but continued to play. If this were a review of Divine Divinity I'd see your point.

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MrJinxed Avatar
908
MrJinxed replied to Phil Iwaniuk
1 Year ago

I see what you're saying, but the point is that this is still a serious gaming news & review website, and their journalists just made a completely dumb comparison which is not only unjust towards a game, it portrays a level of unprofessionalism (is that even a word) in the article itself, as these reviewers are supposed to at least know what they're talking about. In my mind anyway. They are after all professionals, and remarks such as this detracts from not only the article, but the competency of the reviewer in question and indeed the site itself for letting it slip through in a serious gaming article.

Honestly, it invalidates a lot of the arguments made when you can't even get the basic things which you draw your conclusions from right.

Maybe I'm just overthinking it, but stuff like that makes me lose an ounce of respect for the site, because not only did Divine Divinity get good criticism from the players and professionals alike, the whole comment is just...ugh, I don't know how to best describe it without repeating myself.

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Phil Iwaniuk Avatar
69
Phil Iwaniuk(1 day 21 hours played)
1 Year ago

I mean, aren't they both isometric RPGs from the early 2000s with hack 'n' slash combat and randomly generated loot? Come on.

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MrJinxed Avatar
908
MrJinxed replied to Phil Iwaniuk
1 Year ago

So you'd compare Baldur's Gate 2 (lots of random loot in that game too) to Diablo 2 as well?

Point is, you can compare Diablo 2 (which, by the way is considered the golden standard in that type of Diablo like that) to games like Van Helsing, Grim Dawn, Sacred 2, Nox, Torchlight, Titan Quest, but most assuredly not standard RPGs that is just made with an isometric viewing point, like Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Divine Divinity, Ultima 7, and so on.

1
Jezcentral Avatar
513
1 Year ago

AdVenture Capitalist is this one for me. It's nothing more than a Skinner Box that will take longer than the lifetime of the universe to finish, but I can't stop.

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Tactical Craptical Avatar
3
1 Year ago

I have very few games I have put more than 50 hours into, even ones I love.

I feel like I generally know after 2 or 3 hours max if I will like a game, I don't understand feeling compelled to stay. My game time is scarce and valuable. I can always play another game I know I like, even if it means more Street Fighter, Rocket League or playing through modded versions Final Fantasy 4 through 12 for the um-teen millionth time... or not play a video game at all.

I would imagine that most of these bad reviews with hundreds of hours are knee jerk reactions to feelings of regret over excessive time spent playing video games and they direct it at the one they spent the most time with and obsessed most over.

1
AnAuldWolf Avatar
865
1 Year ago

It's the carrot on a stick effect, isn't it?

In the case of most people, it's going to be the grinding that does it. The Skinner Box is an incredibly effective form of behavioural conditioning and someone will keep coming back to something expecting a big dopamine payoff even if they aren't enjoying it. I remember this happened in Champions Online where there were a group of people who kept demanding items with bigger numbers. 'But why?' the self aware would ask, 'That would just imbalance a game that they're already nerfing into the ground to suit your needs.'

And that's going to be how it is for the majority. They're after that holy grail and they see playing something they don't like as their quest. Even if it's deeply unpleasant, they believe that the dopamine payoff will be worth it.

For someone like myself? It's an intellectual payoff I seek. I want catharsis and the satisfaction of a good story. I want a mystery to actually turn out to be something clever. I played Fallout 4 for a while hoping that Bethesda would at least not be craven cowards, that the player was a Synth and that that would lead to interesting new perspectives and scenarios for the player character to have to deal with.

What I got was "OH NO MY BABY!" over and over again. With a baby that I never had any chance to connect with or know. There was so much forced emotional impact that just felt patronising to me. I felt sympathy, but it didn't feel like that emotion was coming from anywhere. So whilst I did feel sympathy for the Fallout 4 protagonist, I also felt angry about being patronised and mocked so soundly and thoroughly.

That base assumption that I'm an idiot and that this is the sort of thing that I enjoy. That I can't ever be smart enough to enjoy anything more clever than this.

And sometimes, there are good bits of an otherwise absolutely terrible game. Such as Valentine's story in Fallout 4 being really good even if the rest of the game was absolute garbage.

The latter camp tends to play less of a game than the former one since it's more quickly discovered whether lazy, cowardly, status quo humping writers are in charge or not. But they can string us along a bit with whispered promises and the potential of something more clever, only to later squander it, at which point we drop the game like a bad habit.

Those are the two main reasons, I think. Both groups are looking for something out of it, only to find out that it isn't there. And what happens is that both groups end up feeling used and annoyed about the time wasted. They want that portion of their life back, which they can't get, so leaving a negative review is just catharsis.

1
yourenotU Avatar
4
1 Year ago

Mr. old wolf, I agree with the carrot on the stick analogy of why people play games they do not like. As well as your conclusion that fallout 4 fractured it's 2 core audiences. What I am wondering is if you understand that the "intellectual payoff I seek" is the same dopamine surge one seeks when chasing a carrot on a stick. The developments in neuroscience show us this increasingly more clearly. I am unable to unpack this argument in detail at the moment. But will certainly do so when I return from vacation. My gf is worried we will not be ready to leave for vacation if I don't "WRAP THIS UP RIGHT NOW. I SWEAR, I'M GONNA TURN OFF YOUR DAMN COMPUTER." lol I must stop my comments short but will elaborate soon.

party on

0
Silentius Avatar
192
Silentius(6 days 13 hours played)
1 Year ago

Putting hundreds of hours into a game is a bit like a long term relationship; it either results in an enduring love story for the ages or a simmering pool of resentment and regret.

1
NihlusGreen Avatar
620
1 Year ago

Not mentioned: sometimes devs release a patch that takes all the fun away, as happened to Killing Floor 2 twice after 10 months release...also shoving in gambling based micro transactions before the game is finished and not mentioning it on initial release.

1
transparent cat Avatar
25
1 Year ago

video games are a weird thing. especially when you're talking about a topic like this i feel like a lot of things get left out of the equation or otherwise don't get considered.

"it's fun with friends" gets tossed around a lot with disdain, it seems, but it's still a very true statement ー friends make most things better. watching sports on the tv might not sound like the best way to spend a night but when you're doing it with friends the atmosphere of Being With Someone Else overrides the fact that you're just watching muscle men throw a ball and run around. four hours later the game's over and you're never getting those four hours back, but you don't think about that because you were with friends and that was an enjoyable experience in itself.

it's telling that most of the reviews you posted are of openworld games, because those are the most specifically engineered to be basically "playable" without necessarily requiring constant active intellectual participation. you can spend an hour in Skyrim picking flowers while you listen to a podcast or talk to friends on discord because muscle memory takes over and allows you to multitask more easily; it gives your eyes and hands something to do while your ears and your brain process something else.

even if the game is boring schlock, if it at least hits those beats adequately it's very possible to lose track of time and suddenly find you've sunk 200 hours into something you never once stopped and thought "this is a truly memorable experience i will cherish for the rest of my days" about.

"something you can play while doing something else" isn't the most attractive marketing tagline but it's a concept that's true about a lot of popular games. it's part of the enduring appeal of games like clicker heroes or cookie clicker or whatever ー games you can play while you're taking a shit.

1
silentwarrior212 Avatar
1
1 Year ago

It basically comes down to people who are blinded by the excitement of their new game until it all wears off and you start noticing all the negative things you missed in the beginning. Its simple psychology.

1
neonmosh Avatar
8
neonmosh(42 days 8 hours played)
1 Year ago

Reviewing games can be a very complicated, and I often trust (by a larger degree) reviews from someone who has spent more time on the game.

Then there is the upsides and downsides of Steam's scoring system, and if anything, I believe that video game reviews should be given a far more comprehensive point system in comparison to movies. The primary reason is that the majority of games in the market have additional concepts (such as multiplayer, branching story lines, graphical options, replay options, and various main characters) which should absolutely effect their score.

Additionally, I feel that PCGN really evokes these complexities well in offering viewers several open-ended questions for their own review surrounding some of the concepts that I mentioned. In comparison, I think what Steam does with the thumbs up/down approach is encouraging people to "thumb down" instead of submitting a mixed review. Which can be good or bad depending on how much you care about overall scores.

From a more analytical standpoint, I keep hearing that developers go by the reality that gamers often do not complete games, and I have noticed in a few products (often with procedural generation, or open-ended gameplay) a lack of development toward the end of the game.

There is also the fact that publishers have been quoted as saying that they only truly care about a game's profitability during the first few days after release. Which can be quite telling of their support (aka development time) toward the end of a project, as well as the concerted effort toward DLC before launch. Now, I'm not saying that all DLC is carved out, or even done during the development cycle, but there has been a bigger move toward reconstituting features which were once free in previous products.

What I am trying to say about this, is that when a person is reviewing a game, they are often the types of people who are (at the very least) passionate enough about the game to offer their view of the content. It goes without saying that this passion could have been placed into a concerted effort to give the game a fair shot, which can take quite a bit longer to pull off in comparison to an "initial impression" review. To be frank, that type of dedication is not always met in kind by the game itself after about 10-40 hours of content.

1
The Great Gratzby Avatar
113
1 Year ago

I can't speak for the phenomenon in general, but when it comes to reviews, it's an eternal double bind. Play fewer than x hours -- and you'd be amazed how high x can go -- and you're not entitled to an opinion/didn't give it a chance/missed the bit where the game suddenly got really amazing/obviously just wanted to hate it/are a stupid child with a stunted attention span. Play for x hours or more and lol why did you play this game so much if you didn't like it?

1
GLsimtam Avatar
1
1 Year ago

A story can be ruined by a bad ending. Same for games containing even modicum amounts of story.

1
Aever Avatar
615
1 Year ago

You mentioned this in your article. It's because people expect a game in a well established franchise to be exactly when they want it to be, usually the last best game in the series. Any deviation and "this game sucks", "worse game ever", etc because the color of the main character's boots is now black, not brown. People don't judge such games for what they are, for what they were intended to be, but for what they expected it to be.

Anyways, if you sink more that ... dunno, 30 hours into a game (arbitrary number), you shouldn't really be allowed to post negative reviews. It's obvious that you enjoyed the game because of the time you were willing to invest into it. People that don't like a game don't play tens of hours of it, they usually quit after a few hours.

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VeganGaro Avatar
51
1 Year ago

Not recommended and Ubi Games...wow haha!

#goVEGAN

0