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Play-while-you-install: The Good, The Bad & The Annoying

Posted on Friday, December 30 2016 @ 17:31:21 PST

Lately, I've seen a trend emerge with games nowadays that allows users to download enough of the game to run it, then allow for the user to play the title whilst the rest of it downloads. Steam does not seem to have the functionality as of yet, but from what I've seen Battle.net, uPlay and select titles on the Playstation Network do have this functionality.

Given the increase of game install sizes in recent years, this is a welcome trend. If only everyone did it well, as I've seen some titles use this install method pretty poorly. I have listed my experiences with titles that use this functionality below, in order of encounter. I have also listed the distribution method and platform for reference as well as describing how the title implements the play-while-you-install system.

1. Starcraft 2 - Battle.net - PC (Digital Download)

My first time experiencing the play-while-you-install system, as well as my first time using a Battle.net exclusive title, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found that I could play the game while the installation finished. Battle.net seems to download the game in the order you encounter each mission in the campaign, and as such technically the entire game can be played before the download completes, but at the cost of expanded loading times, if the mission you are up to hasn't finished yet. It can be somewhat disconcerting to be in the middle of a game only to notice the texture work on your units suddenly jumping up a notch in terms of quality.

2. Overwatch - Battle.net - PC (Digital Download)

This one is a bit of a crock. The overwhelming majority of the game has to be installed in order to play Overwatch, and I suspect the only reason it can be played early at all is that if you played while you downloaded the game, you'd negatively impact the matches as a whole with your larger-than-normal ping. Barely made it onto this list, but technically it can be played before the install is finished, so it qualifies. Not an example to look up to, though.

3. The Crew - uPlay - PC (Digital Download)

This one starts out great, but ends up failing at the last hurdle. You can play the prologue section while you wait for the game to finish installing, and the install for the prologue finishes quite quickly compared to the full install. The prologue itself works fine and everything seems to be OK... right up until you reach the end. You see, the prologue ends inside of the HQ area. An area where you cannot access the menu needed to quit. And once you're inside the HQ, you cannot leave until you finish the install. Which means you have to either wait for the lengthy remaining install time to finish, or you have to kill The Crew with the Task Manager. Yikes.

4. Titanfall 2 - PSN - PS4 (Install from CD)

This one surprised me. I was not expecting to be able to play this game while it installed from the CD, on accounts of it being a Playstation 4 title, as I thought the play-while-you-install system was PC exclusive. Much like The Crew, you can only get a certain point into the tutorial before you have to wait for the install to finish, but unlike The Crew you don't get stuck with nothing to do at that point. During the tutorial there is a 'gauntlet' which you can play through, getting a hang of the controls and movement options present in Titanfall 2, and you cannot move on from this point until the install finishes. You can, however, run the 'gauntlet' as many times as you want, and there is even an incentive to do so, in that the game recommends a difficulty setting for you depending on how quickly you can run the 'gauntlet'. In essence, it'd be like if you couldn't get past the cardboard ship section of the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tutorial until the game finished downloading.

Overall, I do like the play-while-you-install system. With the file sizes and install times going up as games get more complex, it represents a consumer-friendly move towards alleviating the down-time spent waiting for the magical 100% needed to run the game. Clearly, we're still working out all of the kinks, and clearly its' not suited for every game, but it's still a step in the right direction.


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