Under the Hood: PSP Load Times

Let's face it. The PSP suffers from horrendous load times. But just how bad are they?

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Loading is a four-letter word.
Loading is a four-letter word.

When you play a video game, you'll always have to wait for the game to load. From the moment you turn on your PlayStation or Xbox, you'll wait. Sometimes you might wait a few seconds, other times you might change the channel and watch a little golf. You'll even fruitlessly mash buttons in attempt to make the loading screens go by faster. When the game finally finishes loading, you might get to play some of it, and then you'll see another loading screen. It makes you wonder, when developers claim that a game has 40 hours worth of gameplay in it - do they factor in the time you spend staring out into space?

Recently, the PSP caught some heat for its inordinately long load times. Some users even posted videos on the Internet describing their experiences. One game in particular drew lots of ire: WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006. The game takes multiple minutes to start a match, regardless of whether you want to use a custom play mode or simply want a quick match. Long load times aren't anything new; but when you combine them with portable devices, they're sure to press a few buttons (pun intended).

We're certain that most of the issues arise from the UMD media and the optical drive. The PSP has to spin up the drive, seek across the disc, and load the data. All of these actions require large amounts of time in comparison to Nintendo's cartridge based system.

In the interests of gaming science, we decided to find out how long it takes the PSP to move you from a dull glassy eyed stare to actively playing. We tried to test every game currently out for the PSP, but instead had to settle for all the games we could get our mitts on. In the end, we managed to include over 80 games in the article, which should make for a good representative batch. Our tests showed that very few games could load up in under a minute. Many games took two or even three minutes. One game took four minutes to load - WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006.

Testing Methodology

To ensure that we obtained reliable data, we measured the load time of each game from the moment we powered up the PSP to the point where we were actually playing the game. Where necessary, we quickly proceeded through the menu structure of each game, loading saved games, or choosing the quick-play option where possible. We ran each test two times and averaged the results.

Our tests have, at the minimum, an error of plus or minus three seconds. With each run, the speed at which we navigated through the game's menu structure changed slightly. Another source of error arises from our ability to start and stop the timer accurately while watching the PSP.

Additional Notes

The PSP has a standby mode that lets you boot a game up very quickly, but every user will have to start the game from scratch at least once, if not many times, if they change games often. We chose not to test the standby mode, as most games booted up within a handful of seconds with this feature.

If you have a PSP, how long do your games take to load? What about the games from your other handhelds or consoles?

PSP Load Time Results

Graphically simple games, such as Lumines and Gradius, have some of the shortest loading times. The longest load times belong to the sports category. WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006 took an astonishing four minutes to load, topping the next-slowest game by a full minute.

Before we even got to the loading screens, we noticed that many games had an inordinate amount of splash screens that we couldn't skip. Each splash screen would generally add a few seconds to the load time.

Load Times Organized by GameSpot Ratings

If we break down the games according to their GameSpot ratings, we see that the best-rated games have the lowest average load times. Average load times also trend upward as review scores drop. Once we dig down to games rated 6.9 and below, the average load time drops considerably, breaking away from the prevailing trend.

Genre Load Times

Broken down across genres, we see that sports games take much longer to load. Racing games follow behind by a wide margin, and the rest cluster much closer together, loading at under a minute and a half.

Sony PSP vs Nintendo DS vs Nintendo GBA

We didn't have the time to test a great deal of DS or GBA games, but from the random few we tested, we're more than certain that both of Nintendo's handhelds load games much quicker than the PSP. Much of Nintendo's speed comes from the solid-state nature of its games. Cartridges in general will have lower load times in comparison to optical discs, but the trade-offs are numerous, storage capacity considerations chief among them. UMDs can hold vast amounts of storage in comparison to both DS and GBA cartridges. Game developers can use the extra space for larger textures, which results in better graphics, and a host of other features like speech or full motion video.

We tested the following games for the Nintendo DS: Nintendogs: Chihuahua and Friends, Kirby: Canvas Curse, MechAssault: Phantom War, Tetris DS, Mario Hoops 3 on 3, Lost In Blue, and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team. We also tested the following GBA games on the Nintendo DS: Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.

Conclusion

PSP games take a long time to load. Hardly any PSP games took less than a minute to load and quite a few took two or more. To be fair, once you manage to get past the initial load time, subsequent loads from standby mode are much quicker. Booting a game from standby generally takes a handful of seconds. However, this doesn’t mean you won't see further, rather lengthy loading screens once you're in the game.

If you have a PSP, how long do your games take to load? What about the games from your other handhelds or consoles?

PSP Load Time Results by Game

GamesSeconds
2006 FIFA World Cup122
Ape Escape Academy64
Ape Escape: On the Loose97
Archer Maclean's Mercury95
Armored Core: Formula Front109
Astonishia Story51
ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails158
Bomberman90
Bounty Hounds95
Burnout Legends109
Bust-A-Move Deluxe60
Cars89
Coded Arms86
Crash Tag Team Racing114
Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower96
Daxter84
Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai80
Exit87
Field Commander105
FIFA 06114
FIFA Soccer133
Fight Night Round 3108
Frogger Helmet Chaos76
From Russia With Love94
Generation of Chaos71
Go! Sudoku81
Gradius Collection54
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories71
GripShift64
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire129
Lemmings80
LocoRoco115
Lumines55
Madden NFL 06150
Madden NFL 07118
Major League Baseball 2K6165
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects107
Me and My Katamari92
Mega Man Powered Up72
Metal Gear Acid 286
Miami Vice: The Game87
Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition170
MLB105
MTX Mototrax122
MVP Baseball135
MX vs. ATV Unleashed: On the Edge135
NASCAR85
NBA Ballers: Rebound185
NBA Live 06104
NBA Street Showdown130
NCAA Football 07105
Need for Speed Most Wanted 5-1-082
Need for Speed Underground Rivals93
NFL Street 2 Unleashed152
OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast67
PoPoLoCrois84
Race Driver 2006132
Samurai Warriors: State of War85
Spider-Man 294
Star Wars: Battlefront II119
Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX95
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror106
Tekken: Dark Resurrection75
Tiger Woods PGA Tour75
Tokobot64
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix126
Twisted Metal: Head-On90
Ultimate Block Party75
Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins66
Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade95
Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble89
Virtua Tennis: World Tour80
Wipeout Pure95
World Championship Poker 2: Featuring Howard Lederer160
World Poker Tour160
World Soccer Winning Eleven 9154
World Tour Soccer 06104
Worms: Open Warfare76
WRC: FIA World Rally Championship135
WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006245
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse135
Ys: The Ark of Napishtim87

If you have a PSP, how long do your games take to load? What about the games from your other handhelds or consoles?

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