The Occult Business Logic of Skyrim’s Long Introductory Cutscene

I’m slowly preparing the second part of my Favourite Games of 2014 series. I’ve been doing some reading about the rise of the indies and how Steam figures as the primary platform for releasing indie games. (I’m clueless, I don’t have a PC.)

I stumbled across an article on pcmag.com claiming that 37 percent of games purchased on Steam are never played. Incredible, but I can believe it! (Incidentally I’d suspect this number is even higher on iOS.) From here, I linked to an article on Ars Technica describing the numbers behind the most popular games on Steam (as of April, 2014). To summarize, many of the most owned games have never been played by their owners, suggesting an economy of deep discounting, aggressive bundling, and general lack of interest.

The easiest way to analyze the data is simply to see which games are registered to the most distinct Steam accounts (i.e. the number of “owners”), as shown in the chart above. But that number isn’t always indicative of how popular a game is among actual players. Let's look at those top-selling games again, but this time, let's set aside the owners that haven't played the game even once (Steam reports play time data in tenths of an hour, so it’s possible that players who put in less than six minutes with a game are showing up as “never played” in our data).

Interestingly, Skyrim has the highest owned-to-played ratio of any of the top games other than games ranked #1 and #2, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2. (Note to self: what are these games?) I initially chalked this up to the fanaticism of the RPG crowd, but could there be something else at play here?

As anyone knows, the introductory cutscene in Skyrim is long. So inexplicably long, in fact, that it has inspired everything from a standard lowbrow Yahoo! Answers thread to a reasonable attempt at analysis from YouTube channel Extra Credits (one that, despite lots of huffing and puffing, still fails to draw any conclusion at all for the length of the cutscene).

Is there any conceivable way in which a game publisher might just, well, make a really long opening cut scene to a blockbuster game in order to make sure most players will get past the “one tenth of an hour” which will constitute “played” according to Steam’s metrics?

Probably not, eh? Probably not. That’s paranoid.