In context: The one thing that digital versions of video games cannot provide is instant playability. Depending on connection speed and the game's size, downloads could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. And that is not even considering the time it takes to install.

According to a recently awarded patent, EA may have come up with a solution for bypassing the long download and install times altogether. The process uses streaming technology to start the game instantly, then switches to running it locally once enough data has been downloaded.

Sony uses a similar approach with PlayStation titles. When users start a download, many games will prioritize essential assets so that users can begin playing while the rest of the game downloads in the background (below). However, these initial assets also take time to download, so instantly playing is still not an option.

With EA's method, a new player clicks on the game they want to play, and it starts immediately streaming to the client device. Meanwhile, the local machine downloads the title's data and assets while the user plays. Once the client has enough of the game data, the streaming server seamlessly hands off playback to the local machine.

Digital downloads are gradually becoming the standard medium for video games. They offer many advantages, such as eliminating the physical clutter and storage space of disc games, and they never become scratched or worn out. You can access them from just about anywhere, but they are not available to begin playing instantly.

Game streaming is still in its breakout phase but is gaining some momentum. Using this burgeoning technology to overcome the limitations of digital downloads is a good idea. However, patents don't always make it to practical application, so don't get your hopes up just yet.