June 15, 2024
product image of an Xbox Series X tower-style console with a gamepad laying next to it

Few claims in the history of the modern technology age are more baloney than “updates automatically.” Games, apps, software, and hardware — not just for consoles like the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 — receive patches all the time, but generally as a push notification that the user has to initiate. Usually, these pushes are accepted when the player or user starts the game or app, obviating the “updates automatically” claim and requiring a lengthy wait as the patch downloads.

It still seems to be an unavoidable layer of friction.

Despite all this, Microsoft says it is going to take another swing at the auto-update promise with an “Update Pre-Download” feature recently introduced through its Xbox Insider program — which means it’s being tested and the company intends to roll it out to the general public later.

Never mind that updates and patches to console games typically must go through a certification process that can take a week or longer before distributing, frustrating gamers and developers alike. Online and live service games are capable of implementing “server-side” updates at the developer’s will, but anything affecting the game client itself — i.e. the app on someone’s piece of hardware — still must go through the console’s chain of command.

Inside the patch notes for the next Xbox operating system update, Microsoft has said that certain games opting in to the “update pre-download” feature will allow them to download their patches “days before they are scheduled to release, so you can jump in and start playing right when the update goes live.”

Uh huh.

The first game to take advantage of this supposedly new feature is Sea of Thieves, through that game’s Insider (public test server)  program. Players can enable it by going into the “My games & apps” menu on their Xbox, then selecting “Manage” then choosing “Updates.”

Currently, Xbox Series X users either manually download an update to their game once they boot it or if they go into their games folder and check for updates and ask the console to download them there. In either case, they must wait to play the game, especially if they want to access online features. (The same is true for PlayStation 4 and PS5.)

The failed promise of ‘updates automatically’

Almost a decade ago, Microsoft and PlayStation bragged at console showcases for the then state-of-the-art Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that their consoles would update their applications and games automatically — and even predict the kinds of games you might want to buy, downloading demos to your console while you slept.

That futuristic claim has gone unfulfilled in the decade since, as millions of gamers still boot up a game and find they still have to wait 20 minutes while a patch, which supposedly should have downloaded and installed while they were sleeping, arrives and is put into their game. So, we’ll see if this latest “updates automatically” claim is for real.

Our guess is it’s not, partly because of the fact individual third-party developers will have to opt-in to the program — and numerous legacy games probably will not — and partly because many titles have end-user license agreements, and other legal requirements, that must be accepted, that make automatic updates prohibitive.

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