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
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 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 Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 2:34

7 Answers 7


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. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 15:31
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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
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 1:42
  • This explains why some games still seem to do more loading after "Press Start" is done and before the main menu is available. (Borderlands and Mass Effect are great examples of this.) I always figured the game should load to a point where it is fully prepared to display the main menu instantly after the "Press Start" event. However, a compliance/certification requirement to check for user interaction after a certain elapsed time would explain (though not really "justify") why this is not done.
    – Iszi
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 18:55

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
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 13:43

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.

  • 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). Commented Mar 23, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 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. Commented Mar 23, 2011 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'). Commented Mar 24, 2011 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? Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 15:05

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. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 15:34

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.


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.


I would add that older TV's may have had burn-in issues if the same menu screen was displayed for a long period of time, while the computer would have a screen-saver kick in instead


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