Ready to Play
The current-generation consoles launched making a bold promise: games downloaded digitally would no longer need to download completely before being playable. While I can’t speak to how that turned out on Xbox One, I can give some anecdotes as to how frustrating it has become on the PS4. It mostly comes down to two issues. So little of the game is actually available when it reports being “ready to play”, and what little is there often has little to no replayability.
Titanfall 2 is a good example. The only content available for you to enjoy when the game reports being “ready to play” is the tutorial to the game, which is about what you can expect from most games that implement this feature. I need to give credit for the tutorial, as it’s actually kind of clever: after teaching you all of the controls in safe areas, they give you an obstacle course to traverse in as little time as possible. Your completion time determines the difficulty level the game suggests to you for the campaign. This has more than zero replayability, as you can ostensibly play it over and over perfecting your time and skill, but it’s not something you will want to do for hours as the game continues to download.
When dealing with games like Titanfall that can have multiplayer be the selling point, it’s surprising they don’t simply include their best multiplayer map alongside matchmaking for deathmatch or something similar. Even with only a map, multiplayer would get much more mileage during the remainder of the installation than simply having the tutorial on hand.
Nier: Automata somehow got it even worse. Anyone who has heard of the game probably knows that it has over two dozen endings, at least two of which can be obtained during the prologue mission that is playable while the game downloads. The only issue is, once you reach an ending, your game is saved and you’re taken back to the title screen. The continue button is gated off until the game is done downloading, even though you’d start the prologue chapter over again when resuming your save. Your save keeps track of which endings you’ve gotten, but at that point in the download, your only option is to start a different game or overwrite your existing one, which is kind of a pain.
I think what a lot of us expected going into this feature was that the game would be downloaded from start to finish so you could gradually play more of the game as it downloaded, but clearly this is not what took place, nor is it really how the system was built. You’ve only really got two buckets to put your assets in as a developer: “ready to play” and the full game download. And for many kinds of games, it still wouldn’t be feasible to do such a thing because assets aren’t always grouped by level, or are shared to multiple levels. Some games don’t even follow a level structure either; how would you tweak an open world game to fit this kind of formula?
If these issues sound vaguely familiar, it’s because these are the kinds of complaints that arose from game developers on the Apple TV since tvOS. Originally, submitting a game to the App Store required you to have your base download at a small size and rely on the on-demand resources API to download assets as they were needed by the game. That unfortunately prevented entire classes of games that weren’t level-based or had assets broken apart by level from existing on the Apple TV, putting aside the terrible controller. The base file size limit was boosted significantly recently, perhaps due to pressure from big name game developers who couldn’t really do anything ambitious within that constraint. There hasn’t really been any impact on the quality or production value of Apple TV since that change though, because that wasn’t the only issue Apple TV was facing.
I guess the issue with “ready to play” is that it doesn’t make economic sense to spend time perfecting that experience because it’s something that will likely only ever happen once for most players, it’s nullified if you pre-order and download the full game ahead of launch, which developers try to push consumers to do more than ever, and it’s quickly forgotten once the full game is complete. It’s unfortunate though, because having your first impression of the game be negative due to being stonewalled by completing the ready to play content faster than the rest of the game can download sucks.