I want to play a game! But you must wait for me to turn on!
I want to play a game! But you must wait for me to download and install these updates!
I want to play a game! But you must watch our logos and splash screens and interact with our slow-to-load front end filled with complex layouts and deep menu trees!
I want to play a game! But you must play through our lengthy tutorial, which we’ve spruced up with some boring story content!
I want to play a game! But you have not mastered a dozen new game mechanics yet!
It’s absurd that games are the killer app for everything - smartphones, social networks, selling Wiis to non-gamers by the million - everything except so-called proper games consoles, which are increasingly held up as an endangered species.
In this golden age of entertainment, I am fascinated by how frequently I say “not now” to a game - for weeks, months or worse. And it really comes down to that delay. How long do you keep me waiting before I can start playing.
It’s hard to think of examples of another medium treating its audience so badly. Thirty second anti-piracy ads before DVDs were rightly ridiculed, but I’ve lost track of time spent looking at download bars, of the number of times a friend says “yeah, you’ve got to give it a few hours, and then it gets good”.
Really, my favourite thing about the PS4 announcement was hearing about the dedicated hardware to deal with the first two problems above - instant-on and background downloads.
That’s a real reason for me to buy your console instead of the competition. That’s a real reason for the wider world to try your console, rather than using it to distract their sons from fighting or talking to girls. Rather than whatever they’re doing now they got fed up with Zynga wasting their time (where the answer to I want to play a game! was But there is no game, I am merely a plant, please water me so that I can grow).
However, that’s not the whole list. The rest of it falls on developers.
Yet so often, those features - the first-load time, the front-end, the level-load time, the tutorial - are treated like second-class parts of the product. Something that sorts itself at the end of the project, something that is done well enough to pass certification.
It’s easy to get away with that when you’ve got a hostage audience - a customer who desperately wants to see some return on their £40 or $50.
But digital distribution will get better on consoles, this time around. That inevitably means a lower cost of market entry, more choice, and lower prices on the door - most likely free.
When I have limitless choice of what game to play - a point we’re almost at - what choice will I make? I will play the games that let me start playing the fastest. Console or not, the developers that let me do that will be the ones who get my money.