Static loading screens are set to become a relic of the past with the patent on loading screen mini-games expiring today.
Loading screen mini-games will soon return to loading screens everywhere thanks to today’s expiry of the patent that’s withheld them. Before they merged with Bandai, Namco has held the patent for loading screen mini-games since November 27th, 1995, and its 20 years are up.
The patent refers to “auxiliary game program code,” which is smaller than the main game, “such that the auxiliary game program code is loaded first, before the main game program code.” You may remember loading screen mini-games from various Bandai Namco games like Dragon Ball Z: Budokai, Tekken 5 and Ridge Racer. Shrewd move by Namco to lock that up into a patent.
Thanks to their patent on loading screen mini-games, other companies have only been able to put static graphics or text on their loading screens. The other, more attractive alternative has been to hide the loading process like how BioWare hid the loading process with elevator rides in Mass Effect.
Notably, EA’s FIFA franchise circumnavigated infringing on the patent by loading a subset of the main game’s code (like a goal-kicking mini-game) as opposed to an entirely “auxiliary” game.
In celebration of the patent’s expiry, a game jam is underway, with entries closing December 4th.
Without a doubt, long loading screens are the worst part of any game. Developers have gotten better and better at hiding the game’s loading, but it’s still nice to know that games are now free to experiment with adding “auxiliary games” to the loading screens.