Imagine your player's first experience with your game. Finally, after waiting all these years, she's got the game in hand. She tears the cellophane, cracks the case, slots the disc, and . . . "Game is now updating. Please wait." Watching 20 GB load onto a machine is not anyone's idea of fun.
I have a colleague who gamed all through the 90s, then went on about a 13-year hiatus. A few years back he bought his first current-generation console as a gift for his wife who was excited about a new entry in her favorite series. He spent about $600 for a console, the game, accessories - the works. He rushed home to set everything up in time so he could surprise her by being in the living room playing when she arrived. Instead, she came home to find him downloading system updates, reading a book, and wondering why he just dropped $600. (They never show that moment in the game trailers.)
This is a technical friction that can turn a fan into a resolute cynic - and a proactive critic. We can groan about entitlement culture, but one fact is plain and unavoidable: People don't like waiting, and they don't think they should have to. If you make them wait while engaging with your product, you'll lose them to something that gives them the satisfaction of faster, more immediate access. Players want to... well, play.
And sure, they might come back, but they also might not. Increasingly, players aren't, even after purchasing your product. They've got too many other options to feel they have to wait around. I myself only have to glance at my Steam library and laugh with good-humored embarrassment: I've bought dozens and dozens of games, but I've only downloaded a quarter of them, and I've only played half of those.
But look - no game these days is perfect at launch. Even more importantly, no game can be perfect, really. If the choice is between perfecting ad infinitum or releasing and updating as needed, well . . . it's just not a choice, is it? An unreleased game increasingly costs you money. A launched imperfect game at least has the potential to make money.
So you need to patch, and you need to update. These are essential frictions; and by this point, the majority of players expect them. This is overall a good thing. This is what makes it possible to shift updating and patching from unavoidably harmful frictions into unavoidably beneficial ones. Players know patches and updates are required. They're not being caught off guard by the mere fact that you need to interrupt or preempt their play experience. The key is to do what you can to prevent situations like the one I originally described.
Just then, I purposely used a word to see if it would make you stop for a second. I'll draw your attention to it: "interrupt." A disruption can force companies out of status-quo plateaus and stir up progress, propelling an industry or society onward and upward. An interruption, though, is generally undesirable - very undesirable. An interruption is what my colleague faced when unboxing his system and new games.
When it comes to play experiences, be very careful not to introduce these record scratch moments - incidents that ruin the launch, immersion, pacing, or the flow of the game. Such interruptions include untenably long load screens or sudden, jarring quick-time events in a story-focused game.
Don't jam a stop sign in your players' faces when they're heavily invested in wanting to love your product. Smooth the way for them; don't interject friction. There are solutions, both technical and design-centric, that can greatly reduce or hide some of these frictions. You just have to prioritize them. Are you using the best CDN? Have you built your game to allow seamless sideloads? Make certain that you've answered these questions and more, and prepare your studio to deliver the best game experience. Check out our latest infographic for mapping out your frictions and strategy.