How Minecraft Saved the Day

Last weekend, I had a little revelation. It’s probably something I’d kind of understood for a while but I’d never actually seen its practical application.

I visit my nephews a couple of times a month and last time I’d been talking to them the eldest, who is almost 9, was telling me all about LittleBigPlanet 2. He’d played it at a friend’s house and was extremely enthusiastic about it. He was particularly keen on the notion that you could download user-created levels based on just about anything. “You can make it be any game you want, just by searching for that game!” he exclaimed with untethered enthusiasm.

I try to do everything I can to encourage kids to play videogames so when I went to visit this past weekend, I took my copy down and gave it to him. He was overjoyed. Super excited. Like it was the best thing to happen to anyone in living memory. Kids are great for their passionate reaction to just about everything.

Despite owning a PlayStation 3, the family had used it mostly for media streaming from a home server, rarely playing games on it. My nephew’s experience with videogames so far has been largely confined to the Wii, DS handhelds and his parents’ iPhones. This was to be his first serious foray into playing games on a PlayStation 3. Except he’d have to wait.

[drop]The console had recently been moved and hadn’t been reconnected to the internet yet (my sister-in-law’s concerns about that might make for another article…) so the first hurdle to overcome was to get it plugged back in and logged in to the PSN account on the machine.

That’s no problem, his dad is fairly tech-savvy and I was there too so making his console go online wasn’t an issue – for other kids in other households, it might be a little less of a smooth process. What followed was unavoidable and threatened to be quite heartbreaking.

First up, the PlayStation 3 needed a firmware update before it would allow online access to LittleBigPlanet.

Now, I know that the common defence for Sony from its hardcore fans usually goes along the lines of “if you used it more often, you wouldn’t find the regular updates so frustrating.” I get where that argument comes from and, despite it missing the entire point by quite a wide margin, I can kind of see an odd logic behind it. But the point of a consumer electronic device is that it’s there for your entertainment. It’s not an ongoing project. You shouldn’t have to keep on top of updates, it should just work as you expect it.

Of course, PlayStation Plus would also have fixed this specific problem (as well as all the other benefits that fantastic service brings) but for light users or – as in this case – a family altering the way they use their machine, Plus isn’t really a viable option yet either. Hopefully it will be, as my nephew’s attachment to his PlayStation grows and he uses it more and more but this was almost a first-use situation and it wasn’t going well.

The firmware update downloaded and installed in about half an hour, with my nephew watching it creep up through the percentages on its progress bar. The closer it got to completion, the more excited he got about playing. But there was a way to go just yet: restarting LBP2 showed that 17 updates were needed to the game before its online side would function. He was defeated. It was already past his usual bedtime and he was being allowed to stay up a little while because he had been so keen to play. He couldn’t hide the disappointment and I couldn’t help but feel responsible for it. Should I have quietly given the disc to his dad so he could go through the update and patching process before telling my nephew?

[drop2]While we waited, he played with his mum’s iPhone. He was playing Minecraft Pocket Edition and he was really, scarily good at it. All that talk about games needing buttons and touchscreen overlays feeling “unnatural” will amount to exactly nothing in another few years when kids this age are the bulk of a console’s “core” audience. He’d grown up with touchscreen devices and is more comfortable controlling Minecraft with taps and swipes than he would be with a 360 controller.

I was amazed at how competently he controlled the game and also how well he could build and mine and create within it. I was even more amazed when his six-year-old brother borrowed his dad’s iPhone and hopped into the same Minecraft world. He was just as comfortable and competent. Then their four-year-old cousin also wanted to play. I took my iPhone out, on to the Wi-Fi network in ten seconds, into the AppStore and downloaded the free “Lite” version of the game. They all switched out of the paid-for app and into the Lite version and within two minutes they were all involved again.

Three of them, aged four to nine, cooperating via touchscreen handheld devices on the same Minecraft constructions. Then my two-year-old nephew borrowed my wife’s iPhone and he joined in too. He wasn’t able to take part in the game so well but he was perfectly comfortable with the control system. Perhaps all this local Wi-Fi activity was slowing down the PS3’s download speed because it would take another hour or so before LittleBigPlanet 2 was patched and ready to play.

By that time, though, nobody remembered and it sat for another thirty minutes before it saw any controller input. Oh, and the first thing my nephew wanted to search for in the user created levels on LittleBigPlanet 2? Terraria.

It’s a changing world.



  1. It’s often frustrating showing new games to people who don’t have a PS3. The pauses to download and install updates can border on embarrassing.

    Plus doesn’t necessarily fix this, either – you need to have played the game for it to be added into the list of games to auto patch.

    Also it’s worth noting that updates to iOS games can be pretty lengthy too, but at least when you download one you get the latest version.

    • That last bit is what gets me about the PS Store. Why the Hell is it that so often when I download something from the store do I immediately have to patch it. Makes absolutely no sense (to me anyway) and is a poor user experience.

    • Couldn’t you just skip the update?

      • Not when online is required, as with the article. ;)

  2. i must admit, it is amazing how quickly kids watch and learn. It also worries me, because I don’t really want my children playing on tablets/computers all the time, but what can you do when their friends all do it, its very hard to say no all the time.

    • i suddenly know how my parents must have felt when i wanted to use the desktop computer when i was little.

    • Yeah, weren’t we all the same when we were little? I tried to play video games every minute of my free time and I turned out OK according my fiancé (although she rarely admits to it…). :P

    • Yup, the easy option is just to say ‘Yes’. Instant gratification for them and minimal effort from the parent. Win/win!

  3. The PS3’s patching process is one of the many things that annoys with the system, its a huge waste of freetime. Even worst when any random game thats ever bought have like loads of updates to painfully download. Playstation today, is now a terrible user experience. Needs fixed pronto.

  4. “The firmware update downloaded and installed in about half an hour”

    What are they on, dial-up?

    Usually takes me about 5-7 minutes, so I’ve never understood what people complain about. Recent updates to the 360 dash (I was in the beta) have taken me longer, and require more restarts.

    • I think they’re on 30MB Sky Broadband but not totally sure. Never had an update on PS3 go as quickly as yours though, and I’m on 100MB fibre connection.

      Not sure what relevance the 360’s update times have to this particular piece but I have also noticed the past few updates taking a little bit longer than usual to download.

      • 360’s update times aren’t relevant to the piece, but are to my comment. It was just an observation.

        I’m only on a 20MB Virgin cable connection (should be 30MB, but I haven’t applied for the upgraded modem as I’m waiting until they upgrade to 60MB next year), so that makes your relations’ update time all the more baffling.

        5 to 7 minutes is about the best I’ve had; its never usually much longer than that. The longest it’s ever taken me is about 20 minutes, and that was just when I only had a 10MB connection and was using wireless rather than wired.

    • @Paranoimia – I’m the same. Our PS3 firmware updates take no more than about the 5-7 minutes you quoted, and we’re on a fairly rural ‘up to 18 Mb’ broadband service.

  5. Any new ps3 owner would have to face a similar delay if they wanted to play LBP now, which is a real shame.
    Luckily mine was all updated when my godchildren were visiting and we had a hoot playing LBP – but they were impatient just waiting for it to load up, never mind all those updates! :)

  6. I’m gonna be a dad in 6 months. Gulp.

    • congratulations and good luck to you!

    • Take a good look at your bed. Now, go and lie in it. Lie in it all day and all night. Enjoy it. Really appreciate it. Really, really appreciate. The next time you wake up at the weekend (presuming you work a normal working week) at 9am or 10am, say to yourself that you’re very lucky because this will officially be the end of all lie-ins past 6:30am!!! Forever!!!

  7. Great article as the comparison is unjust and yet it isn’t. Comparing any console in any update situation would’ve created the same problem (potentially). However, it showed how they could gravitate to something that simply worked from the off but is there an online component (as oppose to wifi) where all the iPhones would need to be on the same version of iOS? Not just for leaderboards but for actual multiplayer action.

    In a way, it’s kind of refreshing to see how this was all about timing, or lack thereof, but fascinating to see how native touch controls can be… sometimes. The big thing, for me, is that Sony REALLY need to update their servers as the download speeds are effing laughable. Not just here and there but 99% of the day. Did you know they’ve been gimping the download speeds to the PS3 for ages? If you downloaded System Updates from a PC you can hammer it down from them!

    • I realized that back in my PSP days. Firmware updates were so fast I used them as benchmarks for internet speed connections… :P

  8. I really can’t understand why ANY game on the PSN should need a patch? Is this due to the PS3 Firmware agreement?
    You might agree to the PS3 update but not the game?

  9. get em started young and they’ll be hooked for life.
    they’ll start out beuilding a little house to survivie the night, and the next thing you know they’ll be building a one to one replica of Middle Earth or Azeroth. ^_^

    seriously though, great article.
    personally i think the psn is getting worse.
    lately the number of corrupt downloads i’ve got is just getting beyond a joke, i’m on my third attempt at getting Bulletstorm downloaded, and i only got Resident Evil 5 on my second attempt.

    and don’t get me started on speeds, in five hours yesterday my ps3 downloaded the All Stars beta, Resi, and a third of Bulletstorm, which ended up being corrupt anyway.

    and why is it when you press the download in the background button you always have to wait an age for it to prepare, while you cannot do anything.
    and then once it’s finished preparing and you return to the store everything freezes for five to ten seconds.
    that’s not a store issue because even if you do the same thing on the xmb through the download list you still get that freeze.

    gameplay seems ok, but there’s clearly a problem with their download servers.

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