Console design is pushing away customers - Jaffe

Too many barriers to instant gratification; players getting better experiences on portable

Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe believes that home consoles are pushing away users through bad, restrictive design choices that delay the game-playing experience.

Checking for new downloadable content, updating software, cut scenes and the time between turning a console on and actually playing the game are just some of the problems that turn customers to more immediate portable experiences and social networks, said the outspoken designer.

"Portable game time is going way up, but why? Those of us in the console space are actually making choices that push our customers away. The time it takes to power on your console and be in the game playing takes too damn long. The gap of time from pressing 'on' to actually beginning to play is getting longer and it's annoying customers," he told an audience at GDC.

"Cut scenes, installs, updates, load times, system boot-up times - a lot of the stuff can be designed around. For me there are times I've wanted to play a new console game but I just don't because I don't want to deal with all the ramp-up time. Maybe that makes me lazy but look at all the other stuff that's competing right now for my leisure time.

"The one thing that they all have in common, the best thing, is that all of these pretty much have instant payoff. Literally seconds after thinking about doing these activities I can be doing this activities. Why would I put up with 3-15 minute wait times when I can be entertained otherwise, instantly?" he said.

These delays were tolerated in the past, said Jaffe, because console gaming was the better experience, but the evolution of portable, mobile and social gaming now rivals a traditional home console.

"If we're talking sheer fun factor, for the first time handheld, mobile phones, internet games, they're just as good, in some cases better - and in all cases cheaper - than the console options," he said.

"If I've got 5-30 minutes to kill and I want to do something it makes total sense that I'm going to reach for instant gratification. The gameplay on my DS, PSP and iPad is just as good as it is on my console."

Jaffe reeled off a list of possible solutions to some barriers, using tech and design choices to avoid annoying the player and turning them off from the experience.

"Can anything be done? What about if you have a disc in the system and there's a save file on the hard-drive for that disc, the instant I power up it shows me a prompt and says 'do I want to go to my latest save?' If I say 'yes' it bypasses everything - hardware logo, dashboard, XMB, game logos - all of it, and I'm in the game much faster.

"Another thing is, why can't - if it's technically possible - I have a sleep mode on my consoles like I do on my Mac and I do on my game devices. All I have to do is hit a switch and within seconds I'm back in the game."

To applause from the crowd he also called for a limit to the number of updates a game should have over the internet, forcing better design and completion of a game before it's released.

"Hardware manufacturers, I feel, should only allow 1-4 updates to the software per game every year. And none of them should come in the first one or two months of the game shipping. When I first started in the business the games we shipped was our last chance off the bat.

"If game developers could make it work then, we can at least make sure games don't have to be updated the same f**king week they hit shelves, thus causing more wait times for the consumer."

Discussing game length, he called for shorter games - not titles that are artificially lengthened to justify a high price point.

"Some of these games on console are just too long. They run out of gas in the first four hours and they should - I want them to. I want to finish stuff and feel a sense of accomplishment. I want to go from start to end of a story in a weekend.

"Ultimately what happens is these console, story-based games putter on for 3-12 hours just because the business model demands it. With portable, most of them focus on the purity of play and not story, it's less of an issue. And a fluid pricing system is acceptable for portable and phone games and story-based games on those platforms are shorter and can be priced accordingly."

And he saved his final criticism for multiplayer gaming on console, that according to Jaffe, has upped the number of players online purely for the sake of it.

"Competition I feel is best when it's one-on-one, and worst case when it's small teams versus small teams. Console multiplayer has lost sight of this just because technically speaking they've been able to. Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should do something.

"The spectacle of a massively multiplayer war will never get old, but the experience of the game in such a battle usually just feels like just chaos to the player. But console games rarely stop to think about this. Instead they just throw more virtual bodies at the issue and the result is often mind-numbing and empty.

"I still love console games," he concluded. "Every couple of times a year, just like big movies, there's a console game that makes it worth it - spectacle, drama, getting lost in the world. But now between waiting for those big events the great news is I've got something else that's just as good but very different to keep me entertained."

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Latest comments (18)

Private Industry 11 years ago
Agree on the installing, updating, searching for DLC, initializing trophies, unskippable logos and videos before the main menu (I remember a long long time ago where it was actually recommended or required from the companies that those can be skipped) and long loading times even with the installation. Uncharted 2 is a prime example on how to do it, no install, you don`t notice the streaming in the background and only one longer loading at the beginning. Compared to Mass Effect 2 (great game) where I take the lift to the captains cabin and have to wait ages for the loading and go back to the previous deck and again waiting for ages. I can understand going from one big area into another one that there is loading, but not from one small area to another small area.

For the length I`m more of the opposite many games seem to get to short now, like Medal of Honor took maybe 4 hours and I only bought that one when it was cheap because paying full price for such a short experience isn`t fair. Not a bad game, but with that length not worth the full price when I only played maybe 3-4 hours in total online. Again Uncharted 2 is a good example that took around 12 hours to finish, it wasn`t stretched and currently for an action game that`s extremely long. And for the more story based games as long as they are done well the longer the better, Mass Effect 2 took like 40 hours and that`s an amazing value for the 50 bucks. It`s personal taste and a matter of how much time the person can/want`s to spend with a game. I love RPGS that take ages if they are done well, play them from time to time and finish them at some point withing 1-2 month.

Prediction for Twisted Metal 10GB installation that will take 1 1/2 hours, 2 day one patches with 600MB each and a 5 minute intro that can`t be skipped. Kidding hope they find technical ways to avoid those things, nothing more annoying than getting home from work with a new game that you really want to play and than wait to actually play it.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Spot on, Werner, spot on.
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Lee Walton Co-Founder & Art Director, No More Pie11 years ago
Brilliant, I barely use my PS3 now (being a new Dad) as it takes minutes to boot, and I also have a projector that needs to warm up, then EVERY game I put in needs 100's of mb of updates EVERY time I put the disc in, these take 20-30mins to download! I literally had half an hour one evening while my son was asleep, and spent ALL of it updating a game, then I had to turn the PS3 off. This is NOT cool. I now turn to my iPad for quick gaming..... Sony/Microsoft, you are turning the console into a PC experience....
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Show all comments (18)
Arjen Meijer Owner, RedCell11 years ago
don't make me start on this! just creating accounts is impossible on consoles!!! I'm not going to count steps as I can't get that high!

Not to mention the steam dl's when you got a disc

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Arjen Meijer on 3rd March 2011 8:36am

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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games11 years ago
ipad2 could potentially be a console killer. given its processing power, HDMI output, ability to run games made with unreal engine at such high quality, the versatile nature of the device, etc etc. can render any PS3, XBOX and Wii useless. The only issue that i see with it is its social side. (with its true meaning, not facebook games) How are you going to play with your friends at home? controllers give that advantage. Unless all your friends have an ipad and you all connect wirelessly, able to play with one version of the game like with DS\3DS.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Yiannis, I don't see how the iPad 2 will render dedicated home consoles useless. The length of reasons is extensive but to sum up, can I get my Zelda or Uncharted fix on it? Can I use it like Move, Wii, Kinect or even a standard dual analog controller? Are you really going to look at your TV with a giant touchscreen in your hand as the game input device?
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 11 years ago
I both agree and disagree with some of Jaffe's comments. It definitely takes too long to get into a game with consoles - initial loading, company logos, maybe an introductory cutscene that runs a few seconds before it can be skipped, syncing trophies, possibly a patch, etc. Being able to 'sleep' the console and immediately power it back up where you left it would be excellent, and being able to skip all the guff and go straight back to your latest save point is also a great idea.

However, I think patches are something of a double-edged sword. Some games are never going to launch bug-free (particularly those with so much content like LBP or big open-world games) so saying you don't expect a patch in the first two months after release is a little unrealistic. However, in some instances I think games could clearly do with extra time in development but instead the developers try to address the issues post-launch -- which isn't a lot of good for consumers who don't have an internet connection. I do think on PS3 Sony should probably introduce some kind of patch size limit, as playing games like LBP, MotorStorm: PR or Killzone 2 sees the consumer having to download literally hundreds of MB of data before they can play, which isn't a lot of fun when you get home and can't play your new game for 30 minutes or an hour (mandatory installs notwithstanding). However, on the other side of the coin, patches allow for improvements both minor and significant, and in some cases months of intense user and technical feedback can make the game into something better than when it launched - MAG being a case-in-point, as it's a vastly improved and much more streamlined game now than when it launched, and with [apparently] excellent Move support too.

However, I don't agree with his suggestion that too many console games are padded out for the sake of it, and that they could learn more from the smartphone gaming market - I think they're catering for very different markets. When I switch on my PS3 at night I don't want to play Angry Birds or Abduction or Game Dev Story; I want something with a lot more depth, detail and a narrative, and something that if possible resembles more of a journey or an experience, rather than a five minute time-filler. I can get this with Demon's Souls or Bayonetta or BioShock; try as they might, the smartphones cannot possibly compete on this level, and this is why home consoles will always offer much more for me than smartphones can. Traditional handhelds perform better in this regard, but at the end of the day if I'm gaming at home nothing beats putting on a big pair of headphones, turning the volume right up and getting lost in historic Rome or Boletaria, or wherever.
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Peter Johnson CEO, Soluble11 years ago
Its a shame the consoles only update a game when you stick a particular disk in, surely it would be much better to have those updates all automatically queued up like the 360 does with demo downloads (your console already knows which games you've played on it, after all). They could then just work in the background when they have spare capacity, prioritised so the most recently-played games are updated first.

I can't even just turn my consoles on to update themselves at present ( I have a few in the house), as it needs the discs inserted to trigger each update.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 11 years ago
I agree with most of his points... Ultimately, for me, it comes down to implementation.

1. Don't force a patch or installation at game start. Give the player the option to *just play* and download in the background or at some other point. Why do you even need to have the game inserted/loaded to be able to download the patch? People can plan and have lives as well. If I knew there was going to be a zero-day patch but wouldn't be able to play until the evening, why can't i schedule a download during that release day when i'm at work?

2. Don't include too many layers or repeat affirmations/confirmations in games.

e.g. To play Test Drive Unlimited 2 i have to press start (well, actually just a button - so say this instead!) then confirm to go online or not before it will even load the game. If i've peviously selected to not go online, don't bring this up and force me to wait through it every time i put the game in. Let me change the setting in-game or give me an actual menu. If the game can save all my other settings why not things like this?

Then you get games were you quit... to quit to the menu... to quit to the overmenu.... to be able to....

I'm sure there are more things i can think of given time.

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Unskippable intros are unbearable, and it'll bring me back to that thing I hate so much, Arkham Asylum, which has the gall of telling me "Now Loading" when it realises I'm mashing "Enter" "Esc" and "Space" trying desperately to skip the ads in the beginning.

I agree that updates are a double edged sword. I personally find them something great, because consoles have been needing this for so long. We all can remember stories of bugs, exploits and imbalances that slipped past in console games and previously we just had to live with them. Nowadays we expect the devs to patch those up for us, much like in PC gaming.

For length I had an interesting experience these last few days. Steam had "King Arthur, the roleplaying wargame" on sale, and I got it. It's very good though it certainly could use a little polish here and there and definitely needs some bug-tracking. But the thing with Arthur is that I enjoyed it, and WAY too often I've seen myself suddenly stretching into the night playing it. Because it is SLOW. AND LONG. And whilst that's not necessarily bad, it brought back to me a concept that I always felt became central around the time Quake 3 came out: "Fast Pacing", because Q3 is perfect if you only want to do some quick 20 minutes before going back to whatever.

I'll disagree with Jaffe that games are too long, I just think there's a clear break in the market. Consoles are home to usually much more "encompassing" games. And you usually want something more involving and all whereas portables need lots of those kind of games you'll really only play whilst waiting for the tube to reach your station. So it's more of a question of market division and the problem I think, resides on people not properly aware of where in this spectrum their game is supposed to sit. In those situations you get the games that feel either too short or padded.
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Chris Riccobono QA and Design Lead 11 years ago
One of the coolest features to get around this is the save state feature of the PSP - I love being able to just turn the console off, right in the middle of a game, and turn it back on later, having it go right back to where I left off.

This approach is really genius - not only does it automatically account for horrible save state features from developers (I'm looking at every person that makes a DS game and does not implement an instant off save state, right here), but you never ever have to worry about being caught off guard by something in real life, unable to stop your game!

I don't know why no other system has attempted to do this, honestly. It's a feature I love and wish was available on all of my consoles!
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Hermann Rauth Game Audio Designer 11 years ago
Who knew? I still love my PC for gaming. Steam updates my games as I work and then when it's time to play, it's all there. :D SWEET.
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Private Industry 11 years ago
Peter that actually works, for PSN+ customers that is. The timed automatic download feature does also download and install patches for games and not limited to what game disc is in the console.

As for the desire to not force a patch, well that works too just pressing circle when the pop up comes will skip the patch download. Downside it will sign out the PSN profile and obviously not allow online play until updated.

Regarding the iPad 2 as competition for home consoles, well no. Like Jimmy said no Halo, Uncharted, Mario and so on on the device. Having the Unreal Engine 3 running on it is nice and good, but it does not match the visual quality of a Gears of War 3, Uncharted 2 or Killzone 3 running in HD on the TV. Somebody said it would be 9 times more powerful than the first one, but I can`t really believe that given the hardware specs are not that much better. As comparison the iPad 2 A5 is clocked at 1.08GHz and is using two ARM Cortex-A9 cores, compared to the NGP that`s using four cores of the same CPU (how much GHz unknown so far) and 4 GPU cores. So there is already another reason why the 600+ iPad isn`t going to threaten the home consoles. While we are already at the price, it`s not much fun to buy every single year a new device because Apple thinks they need a new CPU and what not. No gamer is willing to buy every year a new version of his console because the manufacturer decides to update the hardware and therefore introduce the possibility that new software does not work on the older devices. So now about the software, it does not help the device if there are only a handful companies making games with the Unreal engine. iPhone runs the unreal engine, how many games are out there using it? Exactly 1 game.

As far as the HDMI output goes, sure that`s great for Videos, or Photos. For gaming not at all, the device does not have a controller so having the iPad in the hand while using it on the TV not such a good idea as it`s big. Another thing, because it`s a touchscreen you always need to look at your fingers to know where you are because there are no buttons that you can feel. So you would still have to look at the iPad instead of the TV and while it`s surely possible to transfer the HUD to the TV alongside indicators where your fingers are it would not look very good and you still wouldn`t know how far you have to move your finger to be at the "button".
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 11 years ago
How about getting rid of the multiple screens before games with company logos that should be shown while the game is installing. Or even better, find a way to implement those logos into a credit sequence (playable, if possible). If I remember, Gene Troopers did this in its opening sequence (er, I kind of liked that game just for the crazy weapons and psi-power combo more than anything else).

Hell, I don't even take my consoles online anymore. If I'm installing an update, it's via a new game disc, as I don't even use any other services these days, have photos or videos on my consoles or any of that crap.

And yeah... no iDevice will ever beat a console, so stop that, please. As Werner states, who wants to shell out for a new product every year (or less) because Apple keeps saying "the next one will be even BETTERER!" Why not make it right the first time? Hell, it not as Apple hasn't previously forecast what will make the best (or most popular) device and PR it to mass market success. I don't own one simply because I hate enforced evolution and forced obsolescence, genius design or no.
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Mbuso Radebe Producer, Electronic Arts11 years ago
All very relevant points were brought up by Jaffe and the subsequent comments. I'd just like to add that I agree (kinda) with Jaffe on the game length issue. I don't think it needs to apply to all games but it's a worrying statistic that the average console game is completed by approximately 25% of its buying public. The standouts being Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain at a claimed 50% and 72% completion rate respectively. I'm sure more developers would like to know that the effort put in to make their "great third act" will be experienced by at least half of it's buyers. I know the comparison is a little unfair, but this is akin to more than half of an audience watching a movie but leaving the theater before the end!

I think one factor is that there is a rising demographic of gamers who now have families (like me) that would like to still have immersive video game experiences but don't have the same amount of disposable time they used to.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mbuso Radebe on 3rd March 2011 9:59pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Chris, the DS and GBA also have "sleep" states. With the GBA you hold both solder buttons and the select button. With the DS you just close the clam shell.
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Tony Johns11 years ago
Here is an idea, just include one system update every 6 to 12 months...

Therefore games that come out at certain times don't have to deal with someone waiting ages for a new system update for the consumer to play them.

Also...better yet, delete all the region lockout garbage and just have games being multi region to begin with.
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Gregory Hommel writer 11 years ago
All these issues are annoying to me as well, but let's be honest about it. No other type of gaming will ever surpass home console gaming. I want to be on my couch, with a drink at my side, staring at my big ol' 60" Sony Bravia. If there is a way to bypass all the delays while I'm still in that environment, count me in, but no handheld will ever draw me away from my big-screen. There could be a game that is the exact same on an IPAD2 as it is on my PS3 with the only difference being that it takes 10 seconds to get into the game on the IPAD and 10 minutes on the PS3, and I would still prefer the PS3 every time. I'll tell you one way to overcome some of these barriers. I can already power on my PS3 remotely using my PSP. So let's take this concept to a new level and allow me to do that over a 3G or 4G connection. Also, don't limit me to turning the console on, let me start up a disk or begin an update as well. The Playstation Plus automatic download option is a great start. I can't tell you how awesome it is to get home from work and turn on the PS3 to see that a patch or update was downloaded while I was at work. Auto download and remote access FTW!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gregory Hommel on 7th March 2011 3:17am

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