Namco's patent expires after 20 years, and their competitors are extremely happy.
Back in 1995, Namco, now know as 'Bandai Namco Entertainment', were awarded the patent #US5718632 which covers a "Recording Medium, Method of Loading Games Program Code Means and Games Machine."The patent came about when Namco introduced the game Ridge Racer Revolution on the original PlayStation. Generating the game took a large chunk of time so it was necessary to create something to keep the users entertained while they waited. A smaller version of the 1979 classic Galaxian was used, then patented. The patent text explains "Unnecessary wastage of time can be prevented by first loading the smaller, auxiliary game program code into the games machine, before the main-game program code is loaded, then loading the main-game program code while the auxiliary game is running."
In the 20 years that followed, the company's competitors have struggled to find a way to make good use of a loading screen. EA found a way around the patent, meaning they were able to introduce their own loading game, narrowly avoiding infringement. They pointed out in the small print, that the patent only covered an auxiliary game.
The patent expired on November 27th this year, leaving the floor competently open for competitors to explore this avenue of gaming, and develop to their heart's content. A website has been set up solely to encourage people to create their own mini-games and in their own words"defile the patent that held back game design for so many years."
Now more than ever, the technology world is moving at lightening speed and 20 years is a very long time. Game developers are doing their best to decrease waiting time for gamers in a world that demands instant results.... However if you see a rise of loading games in the coming weeks, you'll know why.