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I've seen a lot of games--I'm talking about video games, with my experience mostly being on consoles--that ask me to press the A key (for example) before they show me the main menu. Is there any advantage in requiring the user doing that?

I certainly understand it if there's an intro video, or something similar that needs me to be paying attention, but if it's just a menu after it, it seems like a useless step that just adds on time.

Is this just a legacy behavior? Are people used to pressing a key to continue, so now games do that to avoid people pressing a key and actually selecting an item? Or is there some advantage in requiring an engagement before showing them any choices?

Just to be 100% clear, I'm not writing a game or anything. I'm just curious of why a lot of games that I see do this. I'd love to hear interesting notes about what you might choose to do in such a case, but my biggest question here is why a game might decide to do this, not so much what alternatives might be. I also respect the fact that you can't guess why other designers do what they do, so if there's no known reason, I get that too.

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A quick Google search for "why do games ask you to press start" yields many insights.

Over at Game Development Stack Exchange is the following question: https://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/14182/what-is-the-purpose-of-a-press-start-screen

Several reasons are explored, the first paragraph of the accepted answer discussing a historical reason:

The historical reason for this is somewhat different from the current reasoning - previously it was to have a 'safe' screen to go back to which was always resident in memory, so that if the game had gone to a demo loop and the player touched the controller, it could instantly return to the start screen and let interaction commence with no delay.

Over at Arcade Stack Exchange is another question: https://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/18780/why-do-console-games-require-a-button-press-before-showing-the-main-menu

The accepted answer discussing certification requirements:

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.

And over at GamesRadar is yet another article: http://www.gamesradar.com/ask-gr-anything-what-are-press-start-screens/

In which they sought to answer the question, in part reading:

So we turned to our programmer friend, Martin Caine, who also helped us out with a question a couple months ago (Ask GR Anything: What is pausing anyway?). "On most modern games, that screen is used to identify the player," said Caine, who is lead programmer at Retroburn Games, which develops Xbox Live Indie Games like Positron and Accelerate.

Ultimately, the decision appears to be made with no effort to affect the User Experience.

  • Ah, interesting. I had done a couple searches, but I guess I just used the wrong terms--they were all the more obvious "you don't want a video playing without a person watching" type of thing. But that makes sense. The certification part is very interesting. It makes sense, but that's kind of a frustrating requirement. But yeah, all in all this is kind of what I was expecting, I suppose. Thank you! – Matthew Haugen Dec 17 '14 at 6:50
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Same could for asked about the initial movie/ads. I've observed dozen of people mashing start/esc to skip the initial items in a game. To me this would seem as a bad experience especially since some of these cannot be skipped.

To answer your question, I personally believe that the two main reasons about the press a key to continue are still used are for legacy issues and for retailers to leave the game on display.

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