Video Game Intro Videos Must Die (Especially on Mobile Platforms)

Intro videos in video games. Just like upside-down eights in gas station prices, this is one of those situations that once you notice something, you’ll notice it everywhere. I recently started paying attention to how frequently video games have some kind of intro video before you get to the main menu. Indeed, it’s come up on this site recently. Once was in a discussion of how annoying title screens are, and again it came up in a discussion about the personality-infused main menu of Brutal Legend.

So the more I look around, the more I can’t help but notice how widespread this practice is. A few months ago I was thinking that the usage of intro videos was declining, though I’m not super confident that’s actually true. Regardless I’ve discovered something that makes me especially sad – Real Racing 2 for iPad features an intro movie. That’s right, an iPad game, with an intro movie.

With this knowledge, I am officially declaring that video game intro movies must die.

Flash Website Intros: I Wouldn’t Say I Was Missing Them…

Back in 2000, Jakob Nielsen wrote an article titled “Flash: 99% Bad“. The first paragraph of the main content goes like this:

“Splash pages were an early sin of abusive Web design. Luckily, almost all professional websites have removed this usability barrier. However, we’re now seeing the rise of Flash intros that have the same obnoxious effect: They delay users’ ability to get what they came for. On the upside, most Flash intros feature a “skip intro” button. However, their very existence encourages design abuse in several ways…”

Sound familiar? Game intro videos are the equivalent of Flash website intros. Here in 2012, I can’t recall the last time that I’ve seen a site that features a Flash intro. But the last three games that I’ve played all feature intro movies that I have to skip every time. What gives?

There Must be a Reason?

Okay, so why do intro videos exist? There must be some reason, right? Well if you’re interested in seeing the video, sometimes they can be entertaining to watch. I mentioned recently that the Brutal Legend intro video even ties into the main menu, which is pretty cool. So for first-time users, sure, they could add some entertainment value to your game.

After you’ve seen the video once though, are you ever going to watch it again? I mean, I’m a big Barry Sanders and all, but even I don’t want to watch him dominate this nameless Raiders punk every time I fire up Tecmo Super Bowl. No, instead I want to be Barry Sanders and dominate the Raiders myself, by actually playing the game.

Other times, maybe the intro video tries gives you some insight into the story. The intro video for The Witcher 2 is an event that is referred to in the story of the game. But would you know the significance of that event the first time (likely the only time) that you watch the video? No, definitely not, so while it’s a cool video, it probably isn’t going to help your grasp of the plot very much.

A quick aside: the Witcher 2 video I linked to above has an ad at the end for the game itself. So basically, the game’s intro video is also used as a trailer for the game. When is the last time that you went to the movies and saw a trailer for the movie that you’re about to see? Yeah, probably never, because that doesn’t make sense. Neither do intro videos.

I’ve also seen the argument that intro videos try and set the mood for the game. This is a valid argument for intro videos, as it’s really the first piece of real content that users are presented with. A title screen probably doesn’t set the mood quite as well as some full-motion video, regardless of how cool that blinking “push start” actually is.

Intro Videos Invade Mobile

Skippable intro video on consoles are annoying, yes, but intro videos on mobile devices? This is where things get serious. Real Racing 2 for iPad features a 45 second intro video that plays every time you open the game up. Are you serious? I realize this isn’t a traditional Angry Birds-type mobile game, but on a mobile platform it’s reasonable to guess that I’m in a time crunch when playing. I’m for sure not going to be watching your intro video.

The 720p video weighs in at 50mb. While the video itself way bigger than a lot of other iPad apps that I use, the size isn’t really a concern since the game in total is over 1gb. So you’re already investing some serious space into having the game on your device.

Thankfully, Real Racing 2 does offer a switch in the settings that allows you to disable the video. Unfortunately most people won’t see it, because there isn’t a whole lot else of value in the settings menu. And it won’t reclaim that 50mb back from your device either.

Alternatives

Then what can we do? My vote goes for just eliminating intro videos entirely. I want to play the game, so just let me play the game. Not having the video would save me time from skipping it, and developers time (and money) by not producing it. The developers of The Witcher 2 told Eurogamer.net that the intro cinematic was “the most expensive asset we ever created”. Everybody wins!

Okay, so maybe there would have been some sad advertisers if that video wasn’t produced. If we can’t get rid of intro videos, then how about something else – clearly, the game can tell if you’ve played it before by the presence of a save file, right? If there’s a save file, don’t play the video, and make it accessible from the menu if you want to show your friends. That way people interested in the video (first-time players) can watch it, and everybody else doesn’t need to skip it. I’ve seen this implemented before, and it’s really nice.

If there’s a video that you really want people to see before they start playing the game, then put it after the player starts playing the game. So they see it the first time they start playing, and it’s all part of the “new game experience”. That’s when gamers want to see your content – in the game!

Conclusion

Intro videos are leftovers from a previous era, where just getting full-motion video into your game was a huge accomplishment. I’m really curious if someone has stats on how frequently the videos are actually watched in their entirety; it can’t be very high. The 80/20 rule is a great principle in usability, and I’m pretty confident that 80% of users would rather avoid that extra button press on startup if possible.

First impressions are important. Don’t make your first impression something that always gets skipped!

6 thoughts on “Video Game Intro Videos Must Die (Especially on Mobile Platforms)

  1. Personally, I love watching the lovely cinematic at the beginning of a big game like Diablo or Starcraft. But of course, I might watch it once or twice after the first time; mostly I just skip it. I agree it sets the mood. Another aspect is that it can often be more highly detailed and rendered than the regular game, which can give you a more beautiful mental image of a character.

    But man, on mobile? NO WAY!

    • A good point, it can definitely serve to “flesh out” a character before the game ever gets started. I just wish they would move the intro movie to *after* the game starts instead of before, so I only have to watch it once!

      Thanks for the comment!

      • I agree with both points. Perhaps a good way to do it is, as you said, include the intro movie after the game starts (or immediately start off with a playable prologue before you even get to the main menu, as I believe Shadows of the Damned did), and then later offer a menu option to rewatch the intro (and other cutscenes). Makes it just as accessible without forcing it on the player more than once.

  2. I thought this was often used as a way of masking loading times. I could be wrong, but I thought its why things like RAD (Bink?) video codecs are still in use years after they have been surpassed by more compressible but more taxing streaming-wise.

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