What Makes YOU Stop Playing a Video Game?

Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Image by Namco, Atari, Warner Bros. via the official website

I’ve made no secret that I like video games, especially the sort of the RPG, sword and sorcery variety. Particularly the Dragon Age games. Sure, I’d like to say I rock Battlefield and Black Ops and whatnot, but the truth of the matter is, I’m really selective when it comes to most games. I think it’s a natural progression from my childhood, when Nintendo games like the Zelda and Mario franchises really shaped my particular brand of escapism. (Maybe that makes me a little narrow-minded, but I’d be lying if I said I’m RPG exclusive. I’ve been known to rock a Bond title now and again, and I still stand by my statement that Perfect Dark is one of the most excellent games known to man.)

But I digress. These days, my time is limited. Friends around my age (let’s say I’ll be coming of age relatively soon in hobbit years, okay?) seem to express a similar concern: we want to play games, but it’s hard to decide what to play. Because, quite often, we’re disappointed and we just stop altogether. And even when you’re talking a single game, that’s still a near $60 investment! Growing up, getting married, raising kids… suddenly free money and free time are harder to come by than ever. We tend to give up rather than play through if a game isn’t performing as we expect.

Recently, two games come to mind that I’ve played in the recent year which illustrate exactly what I mean.

When Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning came out, I got it on release day. I mean, seriously folks, I am this demographic. I wanted to love it so much, especially considering release-day pricing. And at first, I was really excited. The graphics looked like a polished World of Warcraft, the combat included Xena-style chakrams, and the whole world sparkled! It was easy as pie get started on, had major character customization (always a big bonus for me, considering how much I adore dressing up and changing my character’s clothing and hairstyles) and really seemed to itch that RPG scratch I’d been jonesing for since finishing Dragon Age 2 (even though I had plenty of gripes with it, as well).

Then I hit a wall. After putting about ten hours into the game, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my character was almost disembodied from the whole story, this strange “other” who just wandered aimlessly and occasionally convinced entire towns to try and murder her because she touched a book in someone’s house. There were an overwhelming amount of quests, and not a few bugs that made playing a headache. And more than anything I just didn’t care about the story. It took “stock RPG” to a new level, really, in spite of my sincere hopes to the contrary.

It wasn’t a bad game. It was beautiful to look at. I really enjoyed the combat. And I hate that the studio fell on such hard times after the game’s release. But I didn’t care about the story. And in an age with games like Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, and Fallout franchises pushing the limits of storytelling in video games, it felt sloppy, secondary, and overall, really disappointing.

Now, I picked up The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings because my friends (many of them) told me to. And my reaction to this game was almost the entire opposite of Amalur. The controls were way harder than I was used to. There was a tutorial just to get the game started. I admit to you, I almost gave up then. Not because I don’t like challenging video games, but because I have so little time as it is I really didn’t want to waste it on frustrating controls. But eventually I got the hang of it because I got sucked into the story right away and I really wanted to make things work. (Also Geralt is kind of sexy. But anyway, not my point.) The characters were amusing, endearing, even. They weren’t so overtly caricatured, like in Amalur. I felt as if I was able to give Geralt my own spin, even though he wasn’t a custom character (which, believe me, took a while for me to get over, what with my customization preferences). The cut scenes were gorgeous, the storyline wasn’t Oscar-worthy but it was surprising enough and engaging enough for me to keep going. The mini-quests felt fun and connected to the storyline rather than just level grinding. In other words, I enjoyed the heck out of this game.

Which is a very long way around of saying that, for me, storytelling really makes or breaks a game. I have the utmost respect for game designers, I do. I used to work in the industry, so I’ve seen just how much work and attention they put into these games. But, personally, I think storytelling is so often overlooked, especially as the gaming generation comes of age. While there’s always a place for games that just let us get out our aggression, more and more of us want completely immersive experiences that linger with us. It’s got to be more than a video game. In some ways it’s got to be a movie and a video game, or a book and a video game. If we demand more, I like to think we’ll get more. We’ll see. I don’t think Amalur did anything wrong, exactly–they just overlooked a huge opportunity to make the game great, especially considering their general competition. And when that happens, more than ever, players can just walk away.

How about you? What are your game stoppers?

32 Responses to What Makes YOU Stop Playing a Video Game?

  1. Getting to areas where I have to constantly reload saves due to bugs or a suddenly out of whack difficulty curve. Not that I don't like a chanllenge, but when you've reloaded for the 20th time it gets old.

    Games that throw in required elements that are core to the type of the game you're play. Like playing a RPG and suddenly having a twitch based action sequence that you want complete the game with. Or playing a FPS and having them suddenly decide that you need to do a RTS level.

    Feeling like I'm getting ripped off (world of tanks, I'm looking at your business model)

    Running into people hacking and or griefing frequently in multiplayer games.

    Story is good, but I don't need a complex story in all my games so long as the gameplay is good. However I need one or the other.

  2. Grindy pointless repetition. If I'm going to have to work a mechanic a lot to progress in the game, it had better be big fun. MMOs are some of the worst offenders, but some single-player RPGs also have too much pointless combat as well.

  3. I find myself in the same position of not having the time for games that I used to and I am also a big fan of RPGs, but I have nothing against a good shooter. By good shooter I mean the kind that isn't a mindless wave after wave of generic enemies (I'm looking at you Serious Sam, Painkiller, Duke Nukem, Hard Reset, etc.). Call of Duty (the original, not those piss-poor excuses they put out today), Tron 2.0 (one of the best games no one ever played), Vampire: Bloodlines (a shooter AND an RPG, my perfect game), Half-Life 2, BioShock… all what I consider to be "good shooters". For me, the game has to have both an engaging story and challenging (but not brutally challenging) gameplay. The Witcher (the first one) is one of those games that has one, but not the other. The story is amazing, but the gameplay (click mouse to attack, then click again when the icon changes, then click again… rinse, repeat) keeps boring me right out of the game. I've made serious efforts to slog my way through that game at least three different times and I've never made it past the second act without getting this "ho-hum" feeling every time I fired it up. As good as the story in The Witcher is, it isn't enough to keep me going when the gameplay just isn't there. On the flipside, you have games like Spellforce, which have great gameplay, but the story almost feels like it's an afterthought. After a while, it feels like you are just playing a bunch of RTS quickplay matches, loosely connected by a basic narrative that isn't all that interesting. But on those rare occasions, you get a game that has a near perfect balance of both… for those, it's not a matter of finding the time to play them, you MAKE the time to play them.

  4. The fact that even in the video gaming world, men are being targeted as "sexist". There goes the only medium I use to escape the harsh reality.

  5. I've had similar experiences with a lot of games. Amalur hit me the same way too. I started playing and it was a blast. I was running my custom character through, slaughtering things, having fun with the combat system, doing every quest I could find… and then it just started being "less fun". The story is huge, but the way it's presented is terrible. You ARE the faceless wanderer who's not really connected to anything. There's a ton of lore everywhere, but you have to pick it all up by doing hundreds of quests and finding info around the world which makes it all very disjointed.

    It's like taking a copy of Lord of the Rings, which is an epic story, tearing every page out of the book, mixing them up and reading them in random order. The story is there, but that method of presenting it to the reader just doesn't make it flow. In Amalur you do some random sidequest for someone and get some backstory on why someone in another town is doing what they do. It's just confusing.

    Other games can just get boring after a while. You have fun at first, but the gameplay becomes too lackluster. You're just grinding away doing the same thing over and over with no real progression. You start to lose the fun and the game becomes a chore. I loved the first Bioshock game, but when I played the second I got bored after the first few levels. The story was interesting but running around doing all the tasks it set you wasn't that much fun. I'd done it already and didn't have the drive to do it again.

    Meanwhile there's games like the LEGO games. I have all of them. And I love them. They're simple, fun and good for a laugh. They're all basically the same mechanics at the core. The gameplay generally doesn't change too much, they'll add some new features with each game but they're generally still the same core experience, just a different story depending on which you're playing. The puzzles are simple, the combat is easy, but they're just FUN. I've played through most of the games many times over. I get to 100%, put the game away and then a few weeks later delete my save and start over again.

    I wish more games had that appeal that could keep you coming back for more.
    Countless games these days try to keep the player playing by just padding out the gameplay with needless grinding and repetitive actions. Or giving you a new difficulty to play on once you've beaten the game with unlocks only available on that new difficulty. NO! Let me experience the full game from the start. If it's a good game I'll be playing through it again. I've cleared Beyond Good and Evil about a dozen times at least. If you make a good game people will keep playing. You don't have to force players to waste time with filler just to keep them at it.

    Tron 2.0 is one of the best shooters ever made. I've played through it so many times I've lost count. Does it force me to mess with quick time events? No. Does it make me sit in an area grinding away to unlock stuff? No. Does it give me new difficulties after clearing it? No. What does it do? It gives me an epic story in a kickass setting (that makes you feel like you're really in the Tron universe) with great gameplay that is simply a fun experience. No gimmick (other than being Tron). No grinding. No filler. Just a damn good game. And that's what keeps people coming back for more.

    Too many games these days are a one shot deal. You play through them (if you can) and you're done. There's no real drive or desire to go back. It would be much better to rent them, finish them and save the money you'd spend buying the game. Damn Blockbuster for going under. :p

  6. Escort missions. I hate escort missions. That's why I stopped playing Resident Evil 4. Which, speaking of: what makes me stop playing a series is a genre switch. Resident Evil 4 wasn't a bad game, but it wasn't survival horror anymore. Just like I couldn't play Metroid: Prime even though I enjoy FPSs… it just wasn't Metroid to me.

  7. I used to love RPG's (I was a HUGE Final Fantasy fanboy on the snes/ps1) but I just don't have the time anymore now that I have a wife and child. Given that my gaming time is severely limited, I have to be engaged by the story to want to keep playing. I tried Enslaved a year ago (which everyone said was amazing) but I just couldn't get into the game. The gameplay was fun enough (though a little repepitive), but it just wasn't an interesting story. I've since started the MAss Effect Trilogy and LOVED it (and I am rocking Halo as well, but that is just because I love the gameplay, even if the story does fall a little flat.)

    I need the game to either have 1 of 2 things: an amazing story, or unforgettable gameplay. Great games have both, but games with neither can't keep my attention.

  8. For me a good RPG and a good book (or series of books) have a lot in common. When I play a great RPG I get the same feeling as when I read a great story. I feel like I was a part of it, not just my character. I don't mind a mix of easy and difficult "quests" but it had better be part of the story and I should HAVE to finish every single piece in order to progress. Having good optional goals that help level your character without feeling the grind is a great way to keep from getting super bored with the standard storyline.

    As a dad with to little time and way to little money, a game has to be able to present something to capture my attention, something I can break away from easily when need be, and something that offers an easy few hundred hours of game play, even if most of it is multiplayer.

    Great article by the way!

  9. I need a game where I *can* grind. I lack the ability to manipulate most mechanics. I am absolutely horrible at games. So, when I get to skill based games, with no out for me, I just stop playing because I can't go forward (Cavestory, here's looking at you).

    If my devotion to the game can't give me a leg up to get through it, I can't finish it.

  10. What irks me the most is the recent decision by so many developers to put more attention into graphics over gameplay. I need a game to feel fluid, and I need a storyline that's engaging, even if it's the sophmoric humor of Borderlands. When a game's mechanics began to get in the way of my entertainment, it makes me contemplate putting the controller down or walking away from my PC.

    Like you, my time is very limited, so I'm not going to waste my precious spare time dealing with horrible development or completely botched writing. A good example of the latter was Gears of War 2. I played it for less than 3 hours before turning it off and giving it back to my friend. If I wanted to watch a war movie on the Oxygen Network, I'd do that. I recently almost completely walked away from Assassin's Creed III because of the terrible glitches/bugs and the fact that I had 100% completely lost interest in the Desmond Miles part of the game which I was being forced to play. Then throw in the fact that because I had missed a single conversation back in Sequence 5 which rendered me unable to level up the majority of my crafters, making the only way to achieve 100% (I'm a completionist) was to start the entire game over… *shakes fist*

    I remember when games were delivered to us complete and in their final state. It seems like games these days are rushed because they need to meet deadlines and fall back on the idea of pushing an update later. I also remember how engaging storylines used to be, driving us to want to know more. It's almost insulting to see how a good majority of games these days are dumbed down for marketing purposes: attract more people with amazing graphics because who cares about storylines, right?

    I digress… my apologies.

    • Yeah, extra content is another gripe all together. I mean, I know there's a drive to get games out the door and fast. But at a point you just get diminishing returns. I am not a fan of most DLC, it rarely impresses. If the game isn't good enough out of the box I don't want to have to wait (and then be disappointed) for something else.

  11. My biggest complaint is when a video game has a sudden major spike in difficulty. I don't mind if a game starts out hard or if a game has a linear learning curve. What annoys me is when I'm beating the game easily, and then very suddenly, I'm getting completely walked on. I end up being completely unprepared for the task at hand, and my desire to figure things out completely goes down the tubes.

  12. saving/loading, lack of story, not balanced.

    i like the online competition/drama also, i feel it "gives you a reason" to win(or call them a noob for calling u a noob, lol). i have rage quit tho

  13. I started on Amalur as well. I feel like I'm having the same thinking as everyone here. It was fun, but mindless. I like to play it on my heavy study days when I don't have to think much. Although I did pick up dishonored the other day and like the way that it draws me in to the game. It has a decent story that seems progressional and the game mechanics are fairly good. I can see myself playing all the way through. Tron 2.0 huh?…Curious to try it now.

  14. Needlessly changing the game mechanics in a sequel (Witcher 2, Doom 3, Disciples 3…). That will kill it almost immediately.

  15. I am very much along the same lines as everyone else. A bad story will end it, non linear difficulty. I also could not agree more with the "underwater missions" or the "escort missions" commenters. Most of the time if I'm enjoying the game as a whole I will be able to get through a 'low spot' in the game (be it a grind, or an underwater section, overly difficult, etc). Get a couple of those together though, eg a spike in difficulty underwater section with a long load time … forget it, I can all but guarantee you I would never pick that game up again.

  16. Games that keep getting bigger and shinier so you end up with a load of fx, cutscenes, walking, grinding, repetitive fighting… instead of story or depth. I'm not sure complex games would sell these days though, even I am surprised at having to activate my brain again when trying to replay an old gem, and I grew up on complex games.

  17. Community content and nothing but almost good games .. I was a Pro PvP player (pro meaning.. wasted to much time) i hate faction games.. i love trash talk.. i was sooo excited for Tera.. open world PVP .. and then the trolls from wow came.. so fail .. so mind numbing .. me bey there will be a new game.. that they will not spoil with their .. mom jokes.. over 9000 and constant babbling about alien wear .. till then its Private server PVP games.. where your allowed to hate .. and competion is still allowed.. care bear need not apply

  18. Boredom or I move on to another game.. or maybe theres a tv show I need to watch. It's mostly boredom though. I sold every AC game I have because I only really played it for the story.. the story went to shit in AC3 with a boring/nooby ancestor and a stupid story for Desmond. The controls are still poor and I had no reason to keep them around.

  19. For me, the worst is when I’m playing a game, and I find myself looking at something I have to do, and look up, and realize I’ve been trying to complete the same task for more than half an hour. Not because I don’t understand the task, but because the controls are so horrible/delicate that split second multi-key combos are required to do something as simple as jump across a ravine…and when you instantly die when you miss the ravine by significantly less than the reach of a characters arms? That’s just bad game design.

  20. I quit playing Amalor and Witcher. I think both were due to a burn out on Western RPGs and loot fest structures. KoA I was just as you. Loved it instantly then I started to get bored, it was a single player MMORPG. FFXII did that as well, but they kept the design and overall flow much tighter.

    Its mindless repetition that gets me I think. Dragon Age I vs II. II just kept rehashing the same areas begging you to comb over the same spot 3-6 times in order to not miss something. Or just hit a guide and follow it.

    I think that's it. In many games, exploration has become a chore rather than something legitimately fun. I think that's why Elder Scrolls and Fallout are so successful. Well planned massive worlds. Fun as hell even with all the bugs.

  21. The killer for me is bad atmosphere, if it gets too thin, I'm gone. Bioshock, Metro 2033, Witcher 1 and 2, Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness, all of those still have atmosphere despite some of them being rather old. Dues Ex 1 was another. Battlezone, fighting on Io, Mars, Neptune, you felt like you were there.

    Skyrim/Fallout never did it for me because it was just exploration. Do everything because you can. That's a massive break, one as strong as bad atmosphere for me. I don't see how my archer should be able to take over a school of magic and be a master thief at the same time.

    The best experiences I can think of now came from Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate RPG's for the PC, you explored and the world reacted to you, good or bad, fighter or cleric. You had a place, meaning, reason. If more games had that, then us vet's might have something to talk about.

  22. Pointless level ups.
    Recently i've been playing Oblivion non-stop but I really hate the fact that as you get stronger; the weaker enemies just get replaced by the stronger ones. Not only does it lead to less variation of enemy encounters it generally makes leveling up seem quite pointless as it doesn't really make your character seem stronger. I like games with weak enemies are in one place and strong ones in another, so at least when you re-visit a place you can feel that you've made some progress, or when you enter a place that's potentially hard, it's actually a real challenge at too low a level.

    Btw I mean the level ups you get after sleeping, not the skill levels.

  23. For one, I won't play a game on a console, so it has to be available on a PC.

    If the mechanics are too cumbersome or non-intuitive, I'll have to stop playing it. I like the combat to be challenging, but if I die more than three times in one encounter, then I just get frustrated and irritated by having to repeat the content. The combat does NOT have to be in any way new or interesting. Heck, I like adventure games, there doesn't even have to BE combat, it just can't be too annoying or frustrating.

    There has to be something that makes me want to keep going, whether it's moving the story along (that is the greatest motivation), or moving into a new zone/area and discovering more (this is one of the problems with games like Skyrim where you can pretty much explore everywhere at once–what's the motivation, then, for advancing the game?). If a game feels like just a big todo list to me I'll stop playing. That said I haven't given up on Skyrim yet, completely, and it generally feels like a big todo list. Actually, I'm not sure why I'm still playing that game.

    If I'm getting lost all the time, I'll stop playing.

    I much, much, much prefer it if I can play as a female. I have to get really sold on the game otherwise, or it has to be really inexpensive (for example, I've bought games in bundles with male-only player characters and I'll play those). Otherwise, it basically has to be a mostly-linear PC game with an incredible storyline, intuitive combat system, and fascinating puzzles for me shell out $60 for it. In other words, I haven't found one yet.

  24. Hey, Natania! As you know, I'm in the same boat — being an author and a mom and not having enough time to game. I will FIND time for a really great game (ah, Summer of Red Dead Redemption, how I will always think of thee fondly…) but I recently had to stop playing Alice: Madness Returns. Beautiful graphics, unique weapons, female character, great storyline. But the controls were awful. My family had to be sick of hearing me scream "I'm mashing you, button!!! why u do nothing!?!!" And I know it's not me. I've played through RDR (plus the zombie version), Infamous, Bioshock, etc, no problems. Still, I kept going, despite the control issues, until Alice started having Mario-type side-scrolling, jumpy levels. WTH? If I'd wanted to play that, I'd have bought a different game. I'm going back to Bioshock 2, which I'd stopped to play Alice, so I can be ready for Bioshock Infinite.

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