Xbox 'FastStart' hands-on shows an extremely useful new feature

At E3 2018, Microsoft showed off the new FastStart feature, which is designed to allow you faster access to your games by letting you start gameplay while titles are still downloading.

Unlike other types of intelligent delivery that required developers to build their games a certain way, FastStart requires no input from developers and is instead fully handled by the Microsoft Cloud. Microsoft's servers analyze which parts of a game installation are accessed first, and begin compiling the install order to reflect that progression. As such, games will be ready to play far faster — up to fifty percent faster, according to the company.

As game installation sizes get bigger, and as more and more gamers experiment with new titles via Game Pass and other subscription services, this could be a game changer.

FastStart is now available on the Xbox Insider Program on a select few titles for testing. We took a look to see how it all works.

FastStart is seamless and speedy

FastStart doesn't require any input on your part. It's enabled by default on a title which is supported by the algorithms. Presumably, Microsoft will prioritize Game Pass titles first to encourage their downloading and use, but eventually, it should learn and span across all titles on Xbox Live.

One of the titles to utilize it first is The Flame in the Flood, which is a stylish survival game and a personal favorite.

Viewing this game in the download queue immediately tells you if FastStart is contributing to the speed of the download, and it gives you a small red arrow that signifies when it should be ready to play. Various other games on Xbox Live do this if they were built a certain way, but many won't actually work until the title is fully downloaded, even if it says otherwise.

The Flame in the Flood said it was ready to play at just 40 percent of the full game. It only took around two to three minutes to get to 40 percent on my connection speed, which is impressive. Over time, that's potentially a lot of minutes and hours saved per year downloading games.

Once it hit 40 percent, a notification popped up to let me know that my game was ready to play, courtesy of FastStart. I booted it up, and it ran as though it was fully downloaded, with the remainder of the game downloading in the background.

A truly impressive start for FastStart

This technology is impressive, and if it rolls out across all Xbox Live titles, it gives Xbox another advantage in a world where all-you-can-eat subscription services and ballooning game installation filesizes are becoming commonplace. We'll keep an eye on how FastStart develops in the coming weeks, but we're already quite excited for the tech.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • With big games like Halo 5 Guardians rockin in at about 100gb including HDR content this will make a huge difference
  • I wonder if this tech or something like it could be used for load times.
  • No, because the underlying issue is fundamentally different. FastStart optimizes content delivery so that files needed to start the game and begin playing are downloaded first (might be hard depending on how the game is built internally). It basically tries to mitigate the issue of your internet connection, which is much, much slower than your hard drive. When it comes to loading times - well the game already loads what it needs to go, you can't really pick what to get first. This issue is already partially reduced by streaming assets from the HDD into RAM as you play (actually used widely for about a decade by now), but the fact remains that you just have to read, decompress and process a few gigabytes of data when the game loads - HDD read speeds and CPU throughout are the main issues here.
  • Sure! Like they did for Halo 2 for Windows Vista. Same old stuff! People getting excited for no reason.
  • No it's not the same old stuff.
    Halo2 for Vista may have pioneered the effort.
    Xbox One further refined it. Both required the games to be packaged in a certain way.
    This uses ML to scan a game determine what needs to be delivered first. Similar, not the same.
  • I'm wondering how many resources could actually be shared by certain games. Textures and sound files for example across titles like Battlefield, CoD, Assassin's Creed etc. And that their machine learning and OS could start recognising these files and remove duplicates. Not only saving download times if you already have one of the other games, but also hard drive space.
  • Don't think games share resources with each other. Never heard one and I've never code anything does that before (and now)...
  • Would be interesting but the question remains: are those assets even compatible? Even among different versions of UnrealEngine, for example, you cannot just swap the compiled asset archives, they won't work even when technically you put the same thing inside them. Maybe between games in the same series, running the same engine and made by the same team, but even then - it would basically require games to be written and prepared to support asset sharing. AI won't work here.
  • Origin and I believe Steam have both had this for years. It's about time XBOX got it.
  • They do have it? I got both systems on my PC and haven't noticed anything similar to a partial installation nor FastStart amongst about 150 games I own on both accounts combined. You sure about that?
  • Origin does have it on newer titles. Battlefield 1 and SWBF2 I know do have it.
  • Oh, didn't know that, maybe because I'm not interested in those games at all. The fact remains that it's a vast minority and can't really count here.
  • Nothing has ever had something like FastStart...
  • I've never seen this on steam in all the many many years I've used it. Is it only certain games that use it?
  • This isn't about streaming installs, which the Xbox One has had since launch, but, has, up to this point, on all platforms and games that have used it, required developers to explicitly support it and set up the order that files will be downloaded in. That's a lot of work for developers so it's often not supported properly or well. What's different about this tech is that the machine learning algorithms figure out the ideal install order based on data from users so that there's no need for developers to set up or tune the install. Nothing currently does this.
  • Cool but I can't remember the last time I downloaded a game after the release date, I almost always pre load all my games as soon as they are available for pre download.
  • IIRC this is for Game Pass where you already have access to a lot of games, so no pre-orders/-downloads here.
    You will be able to start game faster, in comparison with usual downloading.
  • Does this make the Xbox faster, or at least as fast, as the PS4? Because it's crazy quick to get into games while they are installing/downloading sometimes on that machine.
  • Yes!!! I've been wanting to play HALO: the master chief collection but with over 80 gb of updates and my internet connection it will take about a week of downloading . Hopefully Faststart can fix that .
  • This is for PC too?