Patent For Mini-Games Within Loading Screens Expires; Explosion In Better Game Loading Screens Forecasted

from the promote-this dept

Whenever we discuss patents here, it’s always useful to restate that the purpose of patent law generally is to promote creativity and innovation such that the public has greater access to novel and useful inventions. That the application of the patent system has been perverted from this original purpose ought to be obvious to everyone, which is why the mantra of patent protectionism by industry, often large industry, has always had the air of religiosity to me. Without patents, no creation would be made. Without patents, small inventors would be pilfered by monied interests. Without patents, we’d be without life-saving medicine. So goes the mantra of those prostrating themselves before restrictionism, repeated over and over again lest their imagined livelihood be taken away by the heathens who point out every counter-example.

Those counter-examples abound, of course, and we typically talk about them in terms of generic medicines that proliferate after a patent expires, or when life-changing technology is suddenly available to a wider public when access to it is relieved from restriction. But lesser examples can be useful to illustrate this as well. One such example is an absolutely asinine patent that had been granted long ago for mini-games being used within software loading screens. That patent recently expired and nobody is even pretending like this won’t suddenly mean the proliferation of much less tedious loading screens.

For twenty years, Namco Bandai has held patent US 5718632 A, which has given them ownership of the idea of a loading screen minigame. On November 27 (this Friday), that patent expires. This is a big deal! For two decades, companies that wanted to keep players busy during load times (like Ridge Racer’s amazing Galaga) either had to pay Namco, find ways around it (as EA’s FIFA series has) or…give up and go back to writing a ton of boring tips and lore screens for people to read.

Is this really a big deal? No. Also, yes, absolutely. No because having a mini-game inside of another game’s loading screen isn’t going to save a life or ease the suffering of the masses. But yes, too, because it’s an easily understood example of how broken the promise the patent system made all those years ago has become. Already there are plans to do a “game jam” for loading screens, where people will get together and spurt their creativity, now that what was once banned, is finally allowed. If the patent system worked on its original premise, this shouldn’t be a thing. The patenting of mini-games in loading screens should have resulted in the use of that concept throughout gaming. It hasn’t. If it had, a game jam built around building that very thing wouldn’t be necessary.

Loading Screen Jam’s “theme” is creating interactive loading screens (or anything that infringes on the abstract) and defiling the patent that held back game design for so many years! Create games/interactive material based on infringing the now-defunct patent in any way possible!

It’s yet another example of the reality of the patent system working in nearly exact reverse to its stated purpose. Once the patent expires, the public benefits.

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Companies: namco bandai

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Comments on “Patent For Mini-Games Within Loading Screens Expires; Explosion In Better Game Loading Screens Forecasted”

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Shill says:

Restricting mini-games encourages game makers to make games load faster lest players get bored. Therefore this patent was good. Now all these games will be cluttered with mini games which will make game makers think it’s ok to take forever loading games and these mini-games will slow down load time since they take up CPU cycles and memory. Game makers should focus more on improving the actual game instead of being distracted by stupid pointless mini-games and wasting their time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m inclined to say it’s kind of a trade-off. Generally speaking, minigames are used sparingly. I doubt the next fallout game is going to include whack-a-raider every single time you walk into a house.

What these minigames are great for, though, is situations where long load times are unavoidable. Between turns in a big game of civilization, while waiting for other players to load into a game of League of Legends.

I doubt people are going to just throw a minigame onto every single loading screen, because that’s just plain annoying.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Loading times aren’t CPU bound, they’re I/O bound. SSDs have made loading times for all but the heaviest of assets nigh instantaneous.

There’s very little that a developer can do to shorten loading times other than using fewer game assetd. They could use real-time compression, trading CPU for Memory, but that hasn’t been in style since the ’80s. Sometimes JIT (Just-In-Time) loading (or procedural generation) of assets can work, spooling up assets soon to be required in the background, but that’s a difficult technique, and doesn’t work for every type of game. Another technique is just to load all the assets into memory at startup, having an initial long load instead of having smaller incremental loads interrupting play, but obviously that can only work for smaller games.

All in all, hardware is going to solve the problem, not software. Loading screen minigames aren’t going to matter, one way or the other.

Rekrul says:

Re: Remember Invade-a-Load... in the 1987? On the damn c64?

Extra-infuriating because, see, we actually had popular loader minigames years before the stupid patent in the first place.

Gaming has come full-circle. In the 80s, developers put minigames in the loader for C64 tape games because they took a painfully long time to load. Then games went through a period where level loading was reduced to mere seconds by hard drives. And now we’re back at the stage where games can take so long to load that people need to be entertained during the process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Patent Binary? You can patent the English language if you want, and get the government to back you up on it. That way I won’t have a need to plead the fifth. Just need to brush up on my signing, unless of course you have a patent on that too, and a vendetta against the deaf as well. It truly is a wonder we ever made it out of the stone age. Guess I should file for copyright on the game name “Avarice & Greed”.

Joel says:

The article is missing a though

It’s probably just too clear for the author at this point, but I think it needs to be said to preempt the typical counter-argument, which may be applicable in some cases but clearly isn’t here:

Namco Bandai didn’t need the extra incentive of a patent to “invent” minigames in loading screens. Even if they didn’t have the prospect of exclusive rights for loading screen games they probably would have added it to their game anyway. It would have been worth it to make a better overall game. Just basic competition would have been incentive enough, in this case.

This is a common theme for patents which should have been thrown out for either prior art or obviousness.

nasch (profile) says:


For two decades, companies that wanted to keep players busy during load times (like Ridge Racer’s amazing Galaga) either had to pay Namco, find ways around it (as EA’s FIFA series has) or…give up and go back to writing a ton of boring tips and lore screens for people to read.

Or in the case of Bungie… nothing. You get to just stare at the screen and wonder how long it will take to load.

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