I don't think about game updates very often. The vast majority of the games I play are on Steam, and because I never turn off my PC it's free to do whatever it does to keep all them up to date while I'm blissfully unconscious. For those who subscribe to a more conventional on-off schedule, though, it's not quite so simple, and overdue updates could mean some unexpected waits before you can jump into whatever it is you wanted to play.
The proliferation of non-Steam launchers complicates the matter even further. I have Steam running full time but I only fire up others, like Origin and Uplay, when I want to play a particular game. That can mean more unexpected updates, and more waiting, as games suck back potentially weeks' worth of updates all at once. It's not exactly a major problem that millions of gamers struggle with every day, but when it does happen, it's a real pain in the ass.
PowerNap is a new utility that aims to reduce that hassle by greatly simplifying the process of ensuring that all your updates, across all your launchers, are taken care of simultaneously. It works by starting all the launchers that you have installed, enabling them to begin their update processes, and then keeping your PC from going to sleep until they're all finished. Once everything is done, it will either shut down your PC or put it to sleep, based on your selection.
"PowerNap is designed to launch all of your libraries before bed, so that one launcher that you haven't used in two weeks still gets updated," lead designer Nate Danziger told me. "It also gives you the option to sleep your displays during a PowerNap, for maximum power efficiency. This is a lot closer to how consoles and phones update their apps at night."
The first time you run PowerNap, you'll need to browse to the executable of each launcher you have installed on your PC. It's not complicated, as long as you have at least a basic familiarity with Windows Explorer and where your programs are installed, but it's definitely not the most elegant UI I've ever encountered. You'll also need to set all your other launchers to enable automatic game updates when they start.
You may further want (or need to) make changes to the minimum download or disk write speeds required to keep your PC from going to sleep, especially if your internet connection is slow or prone to dropping. Once you've got all that squared away, use PowerNap's dropdown menu to set your PC to either sleep or shut down when the process is done, and then click the big, blue "Update Games" button.
You'll notice at this point that PowerNap does not completely automate the update process. Steam in particular has its own way of scheduling game updates, and so while PowerNap will launch Steam, it won't actually force the updates to start—you'll need to manually trigger each one. (PowerNap will warn you to do this when it begins the update process.) Steam is the only launcher to put consistently delay updates in this way, something Danziger believes it does in order to prevent its servers from being blown out of the water whenever a big game gets a net patch.
"Right now, the only way around it is to quickly make sure that everything is queued up before you put your monitors to sleep," he explained. "We totally understand that this is a bit disappointing, but once you get used to manually queueing your steam updates before putting your displays to sleep, it becomes second nature."
He also expressed hope—perhaps not realistic, but dare to dream—that Valve might someday provide a simple API to enable developers to override Steam's built-in scheduling, although he clarified that he hasn't actually been in contact with Valve about it. "We want to grow our user base a bit before asking them to make a change like that," Danziger said.
It's not a magical app, then, but a quick-and-dirty utility for reasonably savvy PC gamers who use multiple launchers but don't want to keep all of them running full-time. For that particular niche, it works quite well: Once you've got each launcher properly configured, it's a simple matter of starting the application, pushing the button, and forcing whatever Steam updates are queued. Come back the next morning and, barring any unforeseen internet problems, everything on your PC will be up to date and ready to go.
PowerNap is currently in beta testing and scheduled to launch on Steam on March 12, for $4.