One thing that really got on my nerves about Titanfall – completely disproportionately – is incredibly innocuous and unexpected. It’s not the matchmaking. It’s not the lack of map voting. It’s not the… err… I can’t really think of anything else bad about Titanfall.
No, it came before all that.
It was the splash screens.
Boot up the game and you’re greeted with about fifteen seconds of splash screens – none of which you can skip.
It’s a pet peeve of mine. Unskippable splash screens in PC games. Those flashing, spinning, swooshing brand names flying wildly around, obnoxiously chattering slogans and expectorating logos. They’re just so… gauche.
But the real annoyance comes from the wait. Those simple dozen or so seconds are agonising. They make me feel so helpless.
In a medium that is distinguished by its control and agency, any time I can’t do something frustrates me – and it all starts with the splash screens.
In my eyes, unskippable splash screens make a statement about your game, before it even starts. It’s saying that the game is willing to take away your control in favour of the message. I know that isn’t really the case. I know that it’s nothing more innocuous than branding. I know it has nothing to do with how the game will play. But damn it, hammering those buttons fruitlessly for ten to twenty seconds is aggravating.
Ah yes, splash screens do serve a couple of functions. Firstly, they mask loading. Well, the few seconds of loading it takes to cache in a start screen. Secondly, they provide branding. And there’s nothing wrong with creators taking credit.
Let’s address the first one. Most games I’ve played lately have managed to give me splash screens that go away when I hammer a button. Loading usually happens in the few seconds between starting the program, the brief black screen hang, then the splash screens. Occasionally that’s not enough and there’s a second, one or two second loading screen between skipped splashes and the start screen. The five seconds or so it takes from starting the game to start screen handles all the loading, and most of it happens outside of splash screens. So yes, it’s technologically possible to avoid ten to twenty second loading sequences masked by splash screens.
Secondly is the branding issue. When it comes down to it, what splash screens are is, essentially, branding. It’s marketing. It is a form of advertising. It’s about brand recognition, with players seeing whether it was ATI or NVidia or Unreal or Crytek or whoever providing the guts of the game, as well as studio pride. I definitely don’t mind companies receiving credit for work. I don’t mind branding. I’m not even opposed to advertising. But placing this at the very beginning of the experience, before the game itself, is just another obstruction that feels a lot like mandatory advertising within a paid product.
Unskippable splash screens are acceptable forms of unskippable advertising within a paid product.
Splash screens, in most cases, are entirely mandatory. Companies draw up contracts that specify how and when these splash screens show up. Companies even have contracts that specify how long these screens must appear for, down to the second, or even the number of frames. So it’s not like developers voluntarily add unskippable splash screens… most of the time. And that’s a reality of the business deals that go on behind the scenes within the industry. I don’t begrudge that.
But still. But still…
Unskippable splash screens, while a reality, and perhaps even a necessity, still annoy me. It’s not like that ten to twenty second wait measurably impacts on my quality of life. The frustration of that wait is more psychological than practical, I think. It’s the feel of being made to wait while I have to watch the advertising, when it’s MY game to play at MY leisure. It’s wasting my time, and, even though it’s a miniscule amount of time, it feels like the game is not putting me first.
I don’t like unskippable piracy notices before films. I don’t like ad breaks on TV. I don’t like autoplaying ads before youtube videos. They all annoy me. But unskippable splash screens annoy me more than all of these, because games are all about me, and my control.
So what’s the solution? What will keep middleware creators happy, developers needing loading times happy, and give me the ability to skip splash screens?
Well, I think the solution already exists. Cache the menu between opening the game and the splash screens for a few seconds, let the splash screens be skippable, and if that’s not sufficient to load the start screen, add a few seconds of loading screen. Have the splash screen logos showing along the bottom of the start screen. Have them in a prominent position during the credit sequence.
The bottom line is, make your cutscenes skippable, and that goes doubly for the very first screens you ever see. If my first impression of your game is that I have zero power, then you’re not getting off on a good foot. Make it happen, people.