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Xbox will let you install games before you buy them

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So your game is ready to play — yes, really — on day one

A screenshot of the Xbox Store, as it appears in a new redesign
The revamped Xbox Store, as it appears in overall Xbox ecosystem changes rolling out now.
Image: Microsoft

A new feature coming to the Xbox operating system allows players to download any game before its launch — whether they’ve pre-ordered it from the Xbox store or not — so that games on disc are as ready-to-go as their digital versions.

Jerko Cilas, a writer for Lords of Gaming, noted the capability on Twitter Wednesday afternoon. He activated the download using the Android version of the Xbox mobile app that’s in beta right now.

To illustrate his point, he’s picked up Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and downloaded it, without preordering — again, using the Android app. We checked on the Xbox Store (for the same game) and couldn’t find a means of pre-loading the game without pre-ordering it.

We’ve followed up with a Microsoft representative to ask for more details and clarity on when and how this feature will be implemented — whether it will be for all games on the Xbox Store, or only those flagged as “Smart Delivery”, which also affords buy-once compatibility across the console generations. We assume this will be part of the customary large-scale update that the Xbox dashboard gets in November, but we’re asking for confirmation there, too.

The quality-of-life implications here should be obvious: Every game on the Xbox One (and, one assumes, the next console series) must be installed to the hard drive, in full, whether the player has its disc or not. (The same is true for PlayStation 4). Since 2013, players have frowned at bringing home a disc from the store, waiting a long time to install it — and, by the way, the day-one patch that usually goes with most launches today.

For this console generation, Microsoft and Sony tried to take the edge off the inconvenience by requiring that all games have a “ready-to-start” mode for users to fiddle around with while the rest of the title installs. This has usually been a trimmed-down, demo-sized slice of the game that isn’t worth the bother, especially if you can’t start a career in a sports game or the main campaign in an adventure.

The new feature smartly addresses the unpleasant friction of waiting for installs, especially if game sizes are only getting larger (as well as their patches). Furthermore, value-minded players can go ahead and “get” the game, wait to read its reviews or community reaction, decide if it’s worth their money — and if it is, have it ready to play as soon as they click “buy.”