Indie game devs confirm that loading bars are totally fake, and my worldview has shattered

(Image credit: Doenertier82/Wikimedia Commons)

Indie game devs are coming crawling out of the woodwork to confirm that in-game loading bars don't actually convey any useful information. And while I knew in my heart that was true all along, it still feels wrong.

Earlier this week, comedian Alasdair Beckett-King joked that "game developers need to invent a loading bar that moves at an even speed [...] once that's done, they can start working on graphics, jumping etc." I think that's pretty fair - whomst among us hasn't watched a loading bar jump back and forth erratically, given no indication of how much longer you've actually got to wait?

The catch, however, is that that's by design. Indie developer Mike Bithell noted that while Beckett-King was joking, the reality is that "players don't trust a smooth loading bar." Apparently, the stutters and pauses show you that the load is "'biting'". Bithell goes on to say that he's faked that effect in previous games, and he's not the only one.

Rami Ismail chimed in to say that "we faked loading bars, extended loading times, or artificially made loading bars move at uneven speeds. Don't think I've ever coded a straight-up correct loading bar." In response to those tweets, dozens of devs have come forth to detail their own strategies; my favorite comes from one dev who says that on one of their games, the loading bar would get stuck at 10%, even when the game was loading correctly. To fix that, they simply told the bar to creep forward gradually, until the program took back traditional control around the 90% mark.

What's really thrown me for a loop is not so much that this happens, but that it's so widespread and appears to have been so for such a long time. Greg Street, formerly of Riot Games, notes that "the loading bars in the Age of Empires random maps were me writing 'now move to 20%' at what felt like appropriate lines of script." That means that this strategy has been around for as long as 25 years, when Street was first working on the RTS series. Given that I'm 28, it's starting to feel like my entire gaming life has been a lie, but I'd still take a fake loading bar over those notorious Mass Effect elevator rides.

Some of these upcoming indie games might have real loading bars, but I wouldn't bet on it anymore.

Ali Jones
News Editor

I'm GamesRadar's news editor, working with the team to deliver breaking news from across the industry. I started my journalistic career while getting my degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick, where I also worked as Games Editor on the student newspaper, The Boar. Since then, I've run the news sections at PCGamesN and Kotaku UK, and also regularly contributed to PC Gamer. As you might be able to tell, PC is my platform of choice, so you can regularly find me playing League of Legends or Steam's latest indie hit.