The last thing you want on Christmas Day is for your kids to not be able to play the game console they’ve been waiting for so long. Read on as we explain why you should pre-game your console gift experience.
Updating: This article is still relevant in the age of the Xbox Series X | S, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. We originally wrote it for a previous console generation, but we still recommend updating ahead of time for a better Christmas day experience. The latest consoles (and their games) still need updates.
Why do I want to do this?
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Unlike today’s game consoles, the consoles of yore, ranging from the early first-generation game consoles like the Magnavox Odyssey to fifth-generation consoles like the Sony PlayStation, had hard-coded firmware that rarely (if ever) received an update.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System you bought in the 1990s still uses the same control code it came with (and probably still connects just fine despite 20 years of no updates). Game consoles were simply designed differently back then because there was no simple mechanism by which to update them.
Starting with the sixth generation of game consoles and the introduction of network updates for the original Xbox game console, suddenly updating your game console became ‘a thing’. That thing has proven to be a persistent element of modern gaming and the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, and Switch all include updates over the network, as do many handheld gaming platforms such as newer versions of the Nintendo DS product line ( so in fact, the tips in this PSA also apply to portable gaming devices).
Not only do the game consoles themselves need updates, but the games we play on them need updates (and often need to be downloaded in the first place before we can update and play them).
In terms of gift giving, why does it matter that modern consoles all have updates over the network? It’s important because these updates are large, occur fairly frequently, and even on a good day, they can take a while to download and apply. A good day to update the console is any weekday in the middle of the year when network traffic is at rock bottom.
A bad day for updates? Christmas Day, when millions of people around the world open their Christmas presents, plug in the power supply and slam the game maker’s networks with requests for updates. What could have been anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours of updates on a normal day may not happen at all on Christmas Day due to the increased traffic. What makes the problem even worse is the fact that many game consoles are very insistent on applying updates and once the process has started you wait the wait.
To compound the problem even further, in recent years we’ve seen Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks launched on game networks around the holiday season. For example, in 2014, a major DDoS attack on both PlayStation Network and Xbox Live brought both networks to their knees and made everything from updating your console to even playing online almost impossible for players around the world.
All these things (the need to update the console, the large download size of updates for both consoles and games, the server overload on Christmas Day, coupled with the possibility of another DDoS attack on the gamer networks) paint a pretty picture clear picture. If you want your kids to be able to sit down and spend a lazy Christmas day afternoon playing with video games, you should update the game console in advance with updates, download games (and / or the game updates), and have the console ready to rock as soon as it comes comes out of the box.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how best to do the job.
Hide the update process
Hide the update process? you say, “Of course I’m not showing the kids that I’m updating the console!”; don’t worry, we don’t doubt your ability to hide the physical act of extracting and updating the console. We encourage you to stay covert how you do it.
If you know your child’s gaming network username and password do not use it to update the console. It is very common for electronic devices to send automated messages (or, more specifically, for the networks they are members of to send automated messages) like “Hey Steve! Welcome to SuperFunGamingNetwork! Your new UltraConsole is online and ready to use. Check out these free games you can download today! ”If your child gets that email or message on their gaming account, the gig is over. They will wonder why there is now a brand new current generation console on their account.
To avoid that, you should first see if the console is updated without logging in to a particular profile. If it doesn’t update without being logged in to a particular profile, create a profile for yourself. While there are many payment services on modern gaming networks, you can all create a basic account (for console updates and games downloads) for free. Use that profile to perform all updates and, perhaps after gifting the console, you can use that profile to play with the kids.
Download and update games
If you want to pull out all the stops, you can not only update the console, but also download games and apply any updates. As we mentioned above, just as the console needs updates, the games often have updates too. We don’t get as much time to game these days as we used to and let’s tell you it’s annoying to boot up the old Xbox after being inactive for months just to update and restart every game we want to play.
For games with physical media, you can put the game into the console, launch the game, and generally updates are downloaded and applied. You can also take this time to copy the game to the console’s internal hard drive if your console supports such a thing (this way, the game will load and play faster).
There is a part of this section that conflicts with the previous section. Many game consoles, especially when you buy vacation bundles, come with game voucher codes. These vouchers are either for a specific game or allow the user to choose one of the three available games or similar.
On modern consoles, the game purchases, even if they are voucher purchases, are tied to the specific user account of the user entering the voucher code. In this case, if you use the “stealth” profile you created in the previous step to download the game from the game maker’s network, the game will be associated with your account (and not your child’s). However, this only happens with digital downloads and not physical media. Nevertheless, it brings us to a final consideration.
Consider your child’s age and temperament
For young children, setting up the console in advance is a real win. They’re young, they’re super excited to play with their new game console, and they probably don’t care about or even consider the update process. They just want to play with their new toy (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
For older kids, the entire process of setting up the console, updating it and, of course, using the voucher codes to select and download the games is a large part of the process in much the same way as building the game -pc. is part of the process for many PC gamers.
With that in mind, you might want to consider some sort of compromise when you’re dealing with older kids and the gift of a new game console. If you want your older child to have the experience of unpacking the game console and preparing it on their own (and certainly many gamers, young and old would tell you that unpacking / updating is fun in its own way), you might consider extract it and update it. with them a few days / weeks in advance so it’s all ready to go, but then set it aside until Christmas. You lose the “Surprise!” factor on Christmas morning, but you’ll also get a close experience with them and the expectation (and knowing the console will be ready to go) is sure to keep them excited until Christmas.
Update via USB on Christmas Day
If you just can’t bring yourself to break the seal on the box and perform the update, or if you want your child to have the experience updating the console after opening it for the first time, there is a workable, but less-than-ideal solution.
Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One support updates via USB. While updates over the network are preferred (and the Xbox documentation even discourages you from performing USB updates), you can download the current updates to a USB stick and keep them handy for Christmas Day. This way you can keep the magic of opening a fresh new console and still have a way to apply updates that are not network dependent.
You can learn more about how to set up a USB stick for updating and how to download the updates by viewing the respective help files for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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