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I am strictly a PC gamer myself, but I noticed a strange thing. When you start every released-for-console game, like Mass Effect or Borderlands, they ask you to press Enter (or any key, etc.) after the initial load, and only after pressing it do you get to see the main menu. PC-only games load the main menu immediately.

What's the reason behind this? I assume it must have something to do with the way consoles work, but what purpose does this extra button-press serve?

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Good call on tagging game-development. For games I've developed I have them press a button before entering the main menu so I can figure out which controller counts as player one. If I just assumed it was the first slot it would annoy a lot of people who have a controller plugged into the second port :) –  Sadly Not Mar 22 '11 at 22:11
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I was thought this was a legacy thing, like "insert coin to continue" from arcade days but this is a very nice discussion. GG –  bronzebeard Mar 23 '11 at 2:34
    
Why close(2) ? Something wrong with the question? –  Sejanus Mar 23 '11 at 7:37
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@Sejanus: Don't worry the question likely won't be closed. However, if it were closed you already have a nice range of answers here and nothing can keep you from browsing them in the future :) –  Sadly Not Mar 23 '11 at 13:47
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I always thought it used to be there so we could enter cheat codes and we just kept it =P –  Garet Claborn Mar 24 '11 at 6:50
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7 Answers

up vote 86 down vote accepted

I asked a friend who does certification for console games for a major studio (certification is the process to get it approved to be released on the console by the vendor). He said there's a requirement that the game must have some interaction with the user after a set time period, even if the game isn't fully loaded yet. The "Press Start" or what have you is to meet that requirement: the game only has to load that far within the time limit then the user can say when they're ready to load the rest of it.

There's also some conventions involved. Some games if left to sit on that screen have a video they can show, and some games will simply wait for input to figure out which controller is the one to let set things up (though other ones just require controller 1 to do that).

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Well that's one of the stupidest things I've ever read. –  Chris Marisic Mar 23 '11 at 15:31
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This should be the correct answer. –  kizzx2 Mar 23 '11 at 17:34
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I'm pretty sure this is nowhere near the strangest certification rule. :) The console ones are MUCH more indepth then the Games for Windows ones, and unlike GFW are confidential. –  Tridus Mar 24 '11 at 1:42
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Consoles typically have more than one controller, so they likely require a button press from a player to determine which controller that player is using. This way, no matter which controller each player is using, after the game loads you can determine who to consider 'Player One' by asking them to press a button.

PC does not need to do this because there is only one player and one controller: the mouse/keyboard.

Edit: This was a guess, but there are actual game certification reasons for having the extra button press. Please read the other provided answers.

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I haven't downvoted you, but every console game I've played forces you to use the first controller. Even the ones for systems with Wireless Controllers. All 3 current systems assign the controller a number. On the Xbox 360, it's represented by which one of the green ring sections is lit (left to right, top to bottom). The Wii and PS3 each have 4 lights on their controllers with a number below them; the light that's lit is the controller number. –  user2974 Mar 22 '11 at 22:37
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@Powerlord: Even if the Xbox 360 has the rings to represent which controller you have, that should not necessarily indicate which player you are in game. Principle of least surprise says if I pick up a controller and press a button after load, I am player one. As a user I shouldn't be concerned with which controller I pick up. –  Sadly Not Mar 22 '11 at 22:49
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A bit of supporting evidence, for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 whichever controller pushes start at the main menu is in control of setting up the match and picking options [Tangent: Which gets annoying going from fight stick to controller when swapping players]. So even if the controller isn't first player it allows the user to act as the first player. –  Rapida Mar 23 '11 at 1:24
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@Powerlord: most Wii games I've played will make the controller that hit + when starting up "Player 1" regardless of the lights on the controllers. –  Wooble Mar 23 '11 at 12:49
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@Sejanus: So my guess was good but apparently it's more for certification reasons, be sure to read the other provided answers. –  Sadly Not Mar 23 '11 at 13:43
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My PSP does this as does my XBOX, thus I'm sure it not about which controller is in use. I always assumed it was a licensing issue, perhaps to ensure the user as read the copyright notices and such.

Why non such requirement on a PC? I'm guessing that's because PCs are not closed systems. Anyone can write a program for a PC, but to write one for an XBOX, PS3 or PSP requires special licenses to be signed. I'm not sure where this sits with community games on the XBOX360.

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It's a design pattern. Just like other patterns in software: Why do you have to confirm every delete action in almost every software, confirm that you are about to buy the thing you really are about to buy on almost every website, etc?

It probably descends from arcade games where it made sense to wait for the player to be ready to play, and to essentially be in waiting mode until somebody puts money in/presses the button to play. Many designers don't see it as a design pattern and just copy it. I'm sure some console games have tried to break this.

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This is simply not true. We do think about this stuff. We make the annoying bits happen when we are required to do so (for whatever reason). –  Mag Roader Mar 23 '11 at 4:47
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You picked possibly the two worst examples. Deletion and spending money are definitely things that are good to have confirmation for. –  Sapph Mar 23 '11 at 7:00
    
Echoing @Sapph, both of those examples would be idiotic to not require confirmation for. A single misclick should not cost you money or data. –  Phoshi Mar 23 '11 at 10:10
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For my defense, consider Amazon's One-Click: Buyers buy with one click. No confirmation, nothing. People who do wish to cancel can click a cancel button. –  MPelletier Mar 23 '11 at 10:34
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While I agree that undo is generally a better option, requiring confirmation is by no means bad. Also, I don't think an undo would really work here :P –  Phoshi Mar 23 '11 at 16:51
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Another game certification reason that hasn't been touched on above is cert requirements (TCR, TRC, etc.) usually require some kind of 'attract mode'. That is the game should do something like replay game footage, show an intro video or something else at least moderately interesting if you just turn it on and leave it.

Attract mode exists so that when the game is loaded up and just sitting there at a Gamestop, convention booth or other installation it provides a little visual flare to attract attention.

The XBLA game Braid is notable here because it doesn't have an attract mode. Braid's main screen acts as the level select screen and you control the character directly on it.

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The ironic thing as you say this, I've seen just as many games that take you to the press start button and if you don't press start you ever get to the "attract mode" that's locked after hitting start. –  Chris Marisic Mar 23 '11 at 15:34
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+1 for Braid, nice example of breaking rules –  MPelletier Mar 23 '11 at 22:40
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The true reason is because it's a requirement that the console manufacturers enforce if you want to create games for their systems. PC games don't have requirements like this.

There are some convenient side effects of the Press Start screen, though, which probably help explain why the requirements exist:

  • When a user presses start, the game knows who's "in control" of the game at the moment. This means the game can do nice things like display the game environment in appropriate context. For example, if you have a saved character, the game can show that character.
  • It's a convenient place to put branding info, like company logos and such, as well as whatever legal text might be necessary or stuff like ESRB info.
  • It's a good landing page for the (also required) "Attract Mode" that shows something interesting every so often like a movie or some gameplay.
  • The game can load up the Press Start screen while other stuff is loading in the background. It gives the player something to look at if the intro movies are over but the rest of the game's front end isn't ready to go. You might notice that some Press Start screens actually don't show the "Press Start" text until several seconds after the screen appears (and if you noticed that, you're pretty dang observant, good job!).

If we didn't need a Press Start screen, I think we'd just skip making it most of the time (unless we wanted some of the benefits above I guess).

Note also that downloadable games may have different requirements than full retail games, so this might not be consistent across all the console games you've played lately.

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I don't know if this is specifically a rule for Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo (or from past console manufacturers like Sega or Atari) but it certainly SOUNDS like it could be one of the mandatory behaviour requirements (and, in practice, I can't see how you could implement a Demo Mode without it - and that, as you say, is required on all licensed titles from all vendors). –  Iain Collins Mar 23 '11 at 9:35
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Actually many things you listed can be found in PC games too, without pressing anything. Like intro movies, loading in background and company logos. So it appears that detecting controller is the main reason... –  Sejanus Mar 23 '11 at 12:08
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@Iain Collins @Sejanus agreed, there's no reason the demo mode doesn't start just from idle. That's actually even the behavior of many many console games that if you sit on the screen that's displayed after press start it goes into some kind of demo mode anyway. So all in all it seems like the screen is worthless. –  Chris Marisic Mar 23 '11 at 15:33
    
@Chris Marisic Good point (...although you'd need to press a button to get out of demo mode, so I perhaps you could make a tenuous case for always having to press Start / action button in the name of 'consistency'). –  Iain Collins Mar 24 '11 at 10:43
    
"When a user presses start, the game knows who's "in control" of the game at the moment. This means the game can do nice things like display the game environment in appropriate context. For example, if you have a saved character, the game can show that character." - So what you're saying is that when the game detects that the player is using controller X plugged in port Y, it knows which profile to load and what character to display solely from that? –  Shivan Dragon Nov 28 '13 at 15:05
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I haven't seen anybody answer this but I always thought that it was because that way game stores could just leave it on and the games would loop playing some type of video that showed off the game and then return to the "Press start" screen.

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