Steam: Illustrated

 By Shamus Jul 12, 2010 160 comments

Part 1

I click “Play Garry’s Mod”:

steam_fail.jpg

Actually Valve, that wasn’t a request. It was an order. Run the software I bought from you. I’m busy too. I’m trying to make a comic, and I didn’t ask you to get involved.

Sigh. Fine…

Part 2

I click “Restart in Offline Mode”:

steam_fail2.jpg

Yes, yes. Just piss off and get out of my way already.

Part 3

I click “Play Garry’s Mod”:

steam_fail3.jpg

- Fin

I record this here because every single time we have a Steam debate we get fanboys who wave in the direction of offline mode every time someone has a problem with the platform.

As always: Use Steam or do not. I do not evangelize either position. Like everything else, it is a decision with many complex tradeoffs. I only urge people to be aware of what they’re buying into when they do it. I would like to also urge Valve to get their collective act together.

There is a very real possibility that we will get no comic tomorrow, the first miss in 210 strips. This is not entirely Valve’s fault, mind you. Lots of other factors contributed to this hellish span of 24 hours that everyone else is calling “Monday”. But Steam failed when I needed it and added to the already considerable misfortunes of the day.

EDIT: The “please try again in a few minutes” starts to sound really hollow after two freakin’ hours.

A Hundred!202020Many comments. 160, if you're a stickler


  1. This service is not all it STEAMS to be… (kills self)

  2. The reason it occurred is in the second image; only up to date games are available while in offline mode. The fact that it was trying to connect to a steam server which was too busy was as it was trying to update, and that’s why it couldn’t run. There was an update to gmod today, so that’d be why.

    I get just as aggravated at this kind of behaviour, especially when it used to be impossible to start Steam in offline mode without telling it you wanted to ahead of time (how do I know when my internet is going to fall over).

    • acronix says:

      So, the server is too busy to grant him access to the game or update it, but not so busy as to let Steam know it has a new update…?

      • Ranneko says:

        Yep, it is fairly easy to distribute a list of version numbers between content servers. But content can lag behind.

        That said, it can be irritating getting steam to try new servers after a while, so you can try quitting it and then deleting the clientregistry.blob once it has closed, and start it up again.

        I mostly run into this problem when I have restricted steam to using the content servers my ISP hosts (to avoid using up my download limit) and the content is not available on one of them.

    • Moriarty says:

      Isn’t it possible to deactivate the “keep on latest version” button in steam for a particular game and play it in offline mode without the latest version?

      I was pretty sure you can get around most of steam issues by fiddling around in the controls menu

      • Sumanai says:

        And I’m fairly certain* that if the game is tagged “updating” it’s too late.

        So you’d have to leave auto-update off, and I have no idea how Steam tells you that there’s an update available so you know to do it manually.

        * read: “I don’t actually know, but I have this bad feeling at the back of my neck.”

        • utzelgrutzel says:

          It *should* work like this, but only whenever Steam bothers to save that setting…
          …or the fact you are in offline mode…
          … or just simply the password…

          I had the same problem with Audiosurf, for 3 days in the course of 2 weeks I couldn’t play. That was the final reason my boycott now includes the games I own. So, anyone want to buy an account?

    • Nick says:

      How does the client know if the game is up-to-date if it’s in offline mode?? Does it just guess?

      • ehlijen says:

        This.
        It just seems like a deliberate invitation for incidents like this (I’d call them disasters, but I’m not sure anything game related can be called that with a straight face).

  3. GuiguiBob says:

    Somebody somewhere should really give those software devlopper a course on managing errors.

    That would clearly be a case for me of “revert to last sucessful behavior” If last time the user could execute the game why not this time. what’s the worse that can go wrong, we leave a user access to a game he shouldn’t? once or twice? Next time the server are up we’ll check if he had the right to it and block him then.

    But that would not be secure??? I don’t see how really so someone please explain to me why this wouldn’t be a good idea of a default behavior.

    • Jabor says:

      If Steam saved a copy of the old version whenever it updated, it could require potentially gigabytes of free space in order to actually update anything.

      So it doesn’t. And so once an update begins, there’s no way to rollback to a consistent state. And trying to run this weird frankenversion could do anything from corrupting your save files to crashing your computer.

      Also:

      what’s the worse that can go wrong, we leave a user access to a game he shouldn’t? once or twice?

      If all you had to do to play a pirated Steam game was block Steam’s network access … yes, that is pretty bad.

      • Duoae says:

        Jabor… so you’re saying that the developers who worked on steam all these years aren’t smart enough to only update the programme AFTER downloading all the relevant data first? Same as pretty much every other self-updater (including windows) works?

      • Disk is cheap, my time is not. When my hard drive drops below 20GB free, it’s cleaning time. Steam is able to identify how much space is available and how much is needed, and to (for all practical purposes) atomically allocate that space ensuring that it won’t disappear out from under it. If there isn’t enough space, warn the user up front, “Disk space is tight, so once you start this upgrade you will be unable to play until it finishes. Upgrade now?”

        If all you had to do to play a pirated Steam game was block Steam’s network access … yes, that is pretty bad.

        If you have a “pirated” copy, you already have a crack and Steam is irrelevant.

        If you mean that it would be “easy” to violate the EULA and
        share a Steam ID with a friend, it’s pretty easy today, thanks to offline mode.

        This foolishness is doesn’t really stop the pirates and hurts legit owners. Of course, that’s overwhelmingly true of DRM.

      • GuiguiBob says:

        what I mean is, you’ve already granted him access to the game last time he played, if not block him until authentication. So that way the pirate isn’t really a concern, the only person who would be able to is one who could play last time he fired steam.

        Switch him in offline mode for this game, so having the last version isn’t an issue.

        Get the updated files first, you could even do it in the background, while the user is playing if he wants.

        I fail to see how pirates would be able to abuse the system, but I’m no security expert either.

        By the way that’s how Microsoft manage it’s updates on the Xbox 360 so it should be normal behavior across all platforms IMO. Pretty logical stuff and not that hard to implement.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Unless you can perfectly reconcile the behavior of multi-player games running different versions of the client software, the correct answer is to require all players to be using the same version of the software, whatever that may be. And once someone can turn off the “keep me current” requirement, then the number of different backlevels becomes unlimited. So, unless you want to maintain all versions of the game, in perpetuity, on all client machines, and re-reconcile all clients every time someone joins a game. And that’s very likely to lead to a lot more frustrating user experience than saying “You can’t play right now.”

      Now, that’s a good deal less applicable (and less forgivable) for 100% single-player games, especially those that don’t even make use of the Cloud services for saved game storage, etc. GMod cooperative features, though, tend to push it much more into the “multi-player” management space in this regard than (for example) Torchlight (only uses Cloud for game save storage), or Railworks (only uses Steam for (maybe) DRM and content distribution, and that non-exclusively).

      • Sumanai says:

        Or you could block the multiplayer parts of the software. Or you could limit to LAN or servers that are using the same version. You know, like in the past?

        Having the game check up on it’s version after you try using online functions (that depend on the software being current) and blocking you for not having updated isn’t exactly The Coding Challenge of the Century.

        • pneuma08 says:

          Hrm, but that would require the game itself knowing that it’s outdated. That said, I suppose that could be easily reconciled, too (the server or other client going, “hey, we don’t have matching software” and refusing the connection – as it has been done in the past).

          It *seems* like it should be pretty easy, just allow the user to run the game in offline mode despite it being flagged to update. It being so simple, though, I wonder why it would be disallowed in the first place. If I had to guess, I would say it sounds like Steam flags a game as “needs to update” when it launches and first connects to a Valve server (while logging in), and is probably too dumb to tell the difference between “an update exists but you still have an intact, previous version” and “this game is updating” – if Steam updates by replacing files directly (which could be done to avoid excessive use of disk and to speed up the update process, off the top of my head) this could cause problems with the integrity of the game itself.

          Of course, this is all pure speculation on my part. Maybe someone who knows how Steam works better can clarify exactly what is going on.

  4. Low-Level DM says:

    Indeed. I sympathize with your run of bad luck, here. Steam is frustrating when it wants to be, which is seemingly at whim, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it, other than the clearly sometimes ineffectual Offline Mode. But, it does have benefits – the nearest actual retailer of actual, physical games to my house is at least 45 minutes away, and has such a poor selection as to change probably around once a year. So, in that sense, Steam is all I have – and most of the time, it’s plenty worth it. I know not everyone who uses it is in my kind of position, and I know that certainly doesn’t make up for utterly stupid flaws like your error message here, Shamus, but it deserves to be said.

    • silver Harloe says:

      I’m pretty sure amazon.com is only a few keystrokes and a mouseclick or three away from your location. I mean, if you didn’t happen to find Steam useful and/or wanted boxes and disks.

      • Varil says:

        I less-than-three Amazon. It’s my primary retailer of anything I can’t be arsed to go drive somewhere to buy.

        • Andy_Panthro says:

          And of course the multitude of other retailers, such as (at least in the UK) Play.com, Zavvi, GAME etc. or those other digital distributers like Good Old Games, Direct2Drive, GamersGate and so on…

          There really is a lot of choice out there on the interwebs.

          Personally, I’m a Play.com, GamersGate and GOG customer for the most part. But each to their own.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Steam lets you burn disks, if you want. I have done it once, to streamline the process of reinstalling my OS (no waiting 6 hours to download the game), and it went well. I don’t know how this feature interacts with offline mode tho…

      • Irridium says:

        Doesn’t quite fix the problem when the game requires Steam in the first place.

  5. pneuma08 says:

    Yeah, the service is not perfect. I’d like to hear of one that is.

    This experience reminds me of a recent trouble I had with Office 2003 – something went wrong during the install and a file was corrupted (or missing, I forget), which apparently didn’t change anything except have Office try to fix itself every time I launched Excel. I tried to simply replace the offending file with a working one, but Windows wouldn’t let me, admin permissions be damned.

    (Oddly enough, right after reading this I went through something similar on Youtube. “An error occurred, please try again in a few minutes.” Thankfully, watching videos isn’t a necessity for me.)

    • Sumanai says:

      You mean you paid for the video(s) you were about to view? Because free content doesn’t exactly entitle anyone for a good customer service in the same vein as one that you paid for.

      And what does the imperfections of the world have to do with this? Bad service is bad service. If no-one draws attention to problems, how will anyone know to fix them? Especially since this problem is avoidable.

      • pneuma08 says:

        I think you’re reading into what I wrote a little too much. Did I imply that I am entitled to a video? I was merely sympathizing with a bad (or rather, annoying) experience with a service.

        I also did not mean to imply that Shamus shouldn’t complain or that his complaint has no bearing (especially after the two hour edit – in my experience with this error lasts no more than a few minutes, if that).

        Also: if the system is not perfect, then it should be expected to run into an error every now and again. Although unfortunate, it would be unreasonable to expect the service to work 100% of the time (although it should operate near that mark). As for this problem being avoidable, based on the discussions here I’d say the solutions and even the problem are hardly clearcut in detail – but that’s a different topic already being discussed, no?

        • Syal says:

          “I’d like to hear of one that is” sounds like “You can’t complain.”

          Also, “errors every now and then” are supposed to be for unknown reasons; errors with known sources should be fixed. Just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to make it that way.

          • pneuma08 says:

            You’re assuming there is a “perfect way” that can satisfy everybody and solve every solvable problem simultaneously. If this is not true, then even if there is a “best way” such that the maximum number of simultaneous problems can be solved, there are still some number of problems that are not solved with implementation of the “best way”, despite their solvability if implementing some other solution (which, by definition, can only have equal to or less than the number of problems solved by the “best way”).

            I doubt the existence of the “perfect way” in all but the simplest of systems because of my experiences (most relevantly with computers and program design) – but nonetheless I qualified my statement with “if the system is not perfect”. Thus it would be unreasonable to expect that the only problems are the ones that should arrive out of unknown sources or physical malfunctions – even a system were designed and implemented in the best way possible.

            I suppose what I’m saying is that the idea of “there is always a better way” is nothing but blind optimism. Does that mean we should stop searching? Of course not – but although we should pursue perfection, we should not expect to reach it. Does that mean there isn’t a better way in this instance? Of course not – but we cannot discount the possibility that there isn’t, until proven otherwise. In this instance, it’s hardly clear. There probably is, but that only means, “maybe not”.

        • Sumanai says:

          I meant to contrast the difference in the situation, and failed to get it out right. When you pay for something you are, and will most likely feel, more entitled to a certain level of service. When a problem occurs, especially one that prevents access to the whole thing, it’s more infuriating than if it were free. Sense of entitlement itself isn’t, in my opinion, wrong if it’s within reason.

          About the problem itself:
          If Steam first downloads the update, and then applies it:
          If Shamus’ connection with the server cut before actual patching, why can’t he just run it? If it’s because Steam can’t tell the difference, why not? How difficult would it have been to add separate state tags for “fetching update” and “patching”?
          If Steam got to the patching phase, why doesn’t it finish it while offline?

          If Steam updates piece by piece while downloading:
          Aside from sounding problem prone, why is updating on by default? It should at least default to asking before starting, precisely because of situations like this. In fact, why on earth doesn’t Steam have that option on by default anyway? Even Windows offers the option, and MS wasn’t exactly the UI master when XP came out.

          The problem I have with this sort of thing is that it sounds like it came about because of poor design, and should be easily avoidable. Even my ideas could provide an acceptable solution for all users, assuming that “update without asking” is added to options (both game specific and general, so you don’t have to change all by hand).

  6. Danath says:

    This doesn’t make sense, I JUST started gmod in offline mode this very moment…

    I’m not arguing with Shamus, that really sucks, but, I don’t understand why it displays that error. I decided to check it out myself and it worked for me, so I’m just sitting here confused about what happened to him.

  7. Benjamin Orchard says:

    I like both Steam and Impulse. Neither is perfect, both have serious drawbacks…and both are incredibly useful. I look forward to the day when not only do they give you the ability buy the games, but to keep a copy of the executable for install if you are gonna be away from the net for a while and might want to install the game for a bit.

    Frankly, for a lot of the gaming I do, I’m going to be connected. Single player games just don’t hold much appeal for me these days. I played through torchlight, but only because it was a cheap purchase. If it had been expensive, I wouldn’t have done it. Not worth the time.

    Now when torchlight multiplayer (whatever it ends up being called) finally gets released, I’ll buy that and play it a lot. Because it promises to be fun.

  8. GuiguiBob is right, Steam really should allowed to play, I have no idea if it had flag the game for updating (easy to unflag again IMO) or worse it was a authentication check? (which is a DRM “bug”)

    Going somewhat offtopic:
    Hey Shamus, as a fellow programmer and hater of the horribly inflated claims Big Business has on file-sharing and compensation.
    Ref: Judge Declares File-Sharing Fine “Unconstitutional”

    I came up with this calculation: (It’s PureBasic code but even those of you not familiar with that will hopefully understand this):

    EnableExplicit

    Define.d tracks,averageprice,shares,sumprice,sumshares,result

    ;Quick example using average, proper calculation would use exact lowest price and exact length for each track and them sum.
    ;all tracks must be over 30 seconds long (fair use length), and partialy shared tracks not included due to ambiguity.

    tracks=10 ;number of tracks shared.
    shares=8000 ;number of times tracks was shared in full.

    averageprice=0.99 ;dollar or euro or local currency, lowest sales price (aka iTunes or similar).
    sumprice=averageprice*tracks ;multiply tracks with price
    ;Ideally the actual price of all tracks should be summed instead of using an average.
    ;For full albums shared, simply divide the album price with the album tracks and use that as the track price,
    ;or just treat it as a single but obviously more expensive track.

    sumshares=shares*0.01 ;only around 1% of casual copying are actually potential sales.

    result=sumprice*sumshares ;multiply price with shears.

    Debug result ;Should hurt but still be a sensible compensation for unauthorized copying.
    ;(Note! The initial sharer will in addition be liable for illegal publishing/distribution and is beyond the scope of this calculation.)

    I don’t know about you folks, but I find this math to actually make sense unlike the clams we see in articles like the escapist one.

    • TehShrike says:

      I was hornswaggled when I read about that case. 22.5k per song was unconstitutional, fine, I can dig it, but then she just hands down 2.25k per song without any justification?

      I mean, if you’re going to call an offensively ludicrous amount of money an unconstitutional penalty for downloading a song, do you gain the power to wave around fines that are merely stupidly ridiculous?

      Argh.

      • Danath says:

        I think you need to read about the case more closely, the decision was NOT reached arbitrarily. There are a whole bunch of cited situations and cases involving actual businesses who infringed who didn’t have to pay nearly those kinds of fines, and which is the basis for slashing the award since the individual did it without monetary gain of any kind. There are other reasons, but you can read the whole document yourself.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        From what I remember, short version is, 2.25K per act of infringement is the minimum fine for what the poor sod was found guilty of. It’s a best of a bad situation thing, the judge can’t just throw out the law.

      • Irridium says:

        I’d assume most of the money is for legal fees.

  9. Mr. Blue says:

    Shamus’
    This is a great opportunity! Steam may be down, but I don’t think anyone has ever made a Freecell comic before.

  10. Marlowe says:

    In reality, this situation is pretty fookin far from ‘OK’ Mr User Interface Designer.

  11. The automatic updates keep biting me. All too often “I’ve got 30 minutes to kill; ooh, I’ll play a bit of Borderlands” becomes, “Wait 20 minutes for Borderlands to update, then give up because 10 minutes isn’t long enough for a fun session.” Sure, you can disable updates, but you have to do it on a per-game basis, so inevitably I forget to disable any given game when I install it. If you manually check for an update, it toggles the option back to “make me want to punch Gabe Newell in the face.” Once the update has started, there is no “Let’s not do this now, maybe later” option.

    All I want is a “Ask before updating games” option. It’s alright if refusal to update locks me out of online parts, especially multiplayer. My fscking Xbox 360 gets this right, why can’t Valve?

    Relatedly, Large Fonts mode in Windows makes it easy to read text on my big screen TV from ten feet away. Naturally Steam ignores my font settings and gives me itty-bitty text, because it’s oh so important to look arty on a bloody application launcher.

    • Kalil says:

      All I want is a “Ask before updating games” option. It’s alright if refusal to update locks me out of online parts, especially multiplayer. My fscking Xbox 360 gets this right, why can’t Valve?

      Amen. I’m currently at sea, and my internet connection is limited to 5 gigs of dload per month – and even then, it’s horrendously slow. If it starts an update (as it did for Borderlands a few weeks ago), that game might be unplayable until I get to shore. Some updates are small and handleable. Others are not.

      Worst of all, it starts the updates without any notification – when I noticed that Borderlands was updating, it had already dloaded 300 megs. That’s 6% of my monthly limit, if you’re keeping score.

      • There’s an option on each game where you can tell it to never update the game. You have to set it per game, annoyingly, and sometimes you can’t get to the option in time if you just installed the game (it then quickly start updating your new game). But at least it’s there. It doesn’t always prevent updating, mind you, which I found out the hard way on a slow, expensive 3G connection.

        I also don’t understand why they can’t download an update first before applying it (hence, keeping the game playable until the update applies). That may take an extra few hundred megs of space per update, but really, I don’t think that would affect many people at all.

        Steam can’t even store half an update – when my connection wipes halfway through a steam update (as in, not a game update, one to the program), I have to restart the update. On GPRS that really, really hurts.

  12. asterismW says:

    Oh, I dunno, Shamus, it looks like you’ve got three screenshots for a great comic already. It just might not be the one you had planned…

    Addendum: My sympathies about your Monday. Mondays are bad enough, but Mondays Squared (a Monday of a Monday) are the worst.

  13. Tesh says:

    This is why I often say that Offline mode is outright incompetent. Let me play the game I purchased, plain and simple. If the software on my machine works, let me play it.

    Sure, if you’re midpatch and it blows up, the game won’t run. OK, so let it try to run and if it doesn’t, well, I’ll try to get the patch later.

    The “must be updated” bit is highly annoying, too. Maybe it’s just Steam covering its rear, but if I have a stable version of the game that works, I should be able to play it.

    • silver Harloe says:

      And don’t forget that if you have a stable version that works, it might forcibly auto-update to an unstable version. Fun :)

    • Simon Buchan says:

      And what if it’s a partial frankenversion that corrupts all your save files? The correct behavior is to download the patch data and then apply it when completed.

      @Shamus: People are claiming that offline mode fixes the main problem with server-based DRM – which it does. The fact that it doesn’t fix dumb updater behavior is a different, but still valid rant :).

  14. Irridium says:

    Shamus, just use that for your comic.

    And I have that same exact problem all the time.
    Steam is great, when it decides to work, which is rare.

    • Bear says:

      That’s pretty close to what I was thinking… Did he have his first miss in 210 or did he get done a day early? Only history will decide.

      Heck, throw Travis or the “EA Guy” in as a forth panel and just call this one phoned-in.

    • Ergonomic Cat says:

      Apart from patch days, which are awful, I’ve only had three issues with Steam. One was fixed in 15 minutes of searching. One went away with a restart. One required an email to support but was my own fault.

      Steam has issues, and it’s a big rental service really, but I don’t have any real issues with the client. What are these myriad of issues people keep seeing? Shamus’ issues are totally related to the engi update. Are there non patch week issues?

      • Irridium says:

        Well, I’m happy you’ve had so few issues with it. I, and many others, aren’t so lucky.

        These issues happen all the time to all kinds of people. No one relaly knows why they’re caused, and Valve doesn’t seem to be doing anything to fix them.

        I’ve used Steam since Half Life 2, and these problems have always been here since then. Thats what, 6 damn years?

        I know its free, but just because its free doesn’t mean it should escape criticism or be told to get its damn act together. If free things shouldn’t be criticized so much, perhaps people should stop ragging on PSN and Home.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          Part of the difficulty with things like this is that the happy people don’t get counted. Steam “just works” for me. iTunes “just works” for me. TiVo mostly “just works” as well. Does that mean the experience is flawless? No, I can still shoot myself in the foot with them, and have. But when bad things happen it’s usually because I am doing something unusual (and you can read that as “probably shouldn’t”). In the case of Steam, I let it update at will. I leave the Steam client running all the time, and I end up restarting the client by rebooting several times a week due to other operations with my machines, so the client gets to check in and reload regularly. I very seldom face the “you must update now” issue because .. well, everything tends to have updated already by the time I get around to looking at it. (Heck, TF2 has updated several times since I last played it.) But that does require me to surrender a little bit of control over when things update in order to have them already updated by the time I want to play a game. Just like iTunes is happiest if I am willing to surrender control over my music and video files in trade for getting powerful tool for finding and playing the music I want to listen to.

          But it really comes down to me deciding that what was important to me was that I wanted was to listen to music, not to manage libraries of mp3 files. So by surrendering the control, I got what I wanted for virtually no hassle. I want to play games, so I gave up control over the updates, and now they’re pretty close to always available when I want to play them, and SOMETHING is always playable.

          • Sumanai says:

            So your answer to devices and software malfunctions is to “surrender control”? What. Inability to change settings without breaking it is not inherent problem with technology. Imagine if you tried adjusting bass and your stereos broke. Now, it might be that you actually did fiddle with things you shouldn’t have, but that doesn’t mean others have.

            I’ve had for several years 512kbit connection, running Steam, and having it update something often drained it. Just browsing the net was sluggish. If there ever was, and every now and then there was, a big update I would have to pause it. Which apparantely fell on the “probably shouldn’t”-functions, because Steam sometimes crashed when I tried to resume. The only updates that, for me, went “oh, there was an update and it’s already patched” was with small ones. And those I could’ve started manually.

            Where I live my connection was deep in the slow end, but there are people who can’t have fast connections (or ones without limitations). It’s good that you’ve had positive experiences with Steam, but that doesn’t negate the bad experiences others have had in the past. It’s irrelevant if there are 5 million users who have no problems whatsoever, if there are 10 thousand who do. It’s still a notable amount of clientele, even if it’s a small percentage. Especially when it’s something as simple as adding an option to ask before installing updates.

          • Syal says:

            The only possible problem with happy people not being counted is if the fix for unhappy people screws up the service for happy ones.

            I’ve never used Steam, but I have lived in several places that don’t have stable Internet (some don’t even have stable power.) A constant connection to their service is not possible and should not be treated as a solution to any problem.

            • Sumanai says:

              And since the service is a gateway to other services (or well, content) that doesn’t, or shouldn’t, demand costant connection, it should be designed with more consideration to those without reliable access to the net. Unfortunately, that’s a very common problem nowadays. Flash is the bane of all with poor or low download speed.

  15. Grudgeal says:

    Ten games st(r)eaming across that internet, and what happens to your own personal internet? I just the other day got an internet that was bought from Valve at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday! Why? Because it got scalded by all these things on Steam that are going on the internet commercially.

    Remember, the internet is a series of tubes. And tubes should not have too much steam in them. Or it will overheat, and melt.

  16. Johan says:

    Make a comic about this. It may not be funny, and it may not generate traffic, but impotently shaking your fists at the man is always a good way to blow off a little STEAM

    (yeah I’m late to the pun-party, what of it?)

  17. WILL says:

    Make a comic out of this if you need to, it’s about as funny (in a cruel way) as the rest of Stolen Pixels.

  18. LafinJack says:

    I first tried offline mode when my internet went down a while back. Well, wanted to try it. You have to be connected to the internet to go offline, which I assume follows the “I can’t let you do that, Dave, your games may not be up to date” reasoning others have mentioned.

    I never use any of the online features anyway, and all the games I play are older and don’t need updates, so now I just keep it in offline mode all the time and only go online when I know I need something.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      And that “only go online when I know I need something” is the primrose path that will eventually lead to *something* breaking sometime. Like you go online to play Game A, while Steam notices that Game B is out of date and starts a 6 GB download, which you don’t notice and interrupt to go back offline or reboot and pop offline or whatever, and now Game B is broken until it downloads 6 GB of stuff, and you find yourself in Shamus’s position right quit. I don’t buy the “don’t need updates” argument either. People thought that about Portal for years…

      • Syal says:

        The point being that it shouldn’t start updating Game B without letting you know.

        What do you mean you don’t buy that people don’t need updates? I can only assume you modify or replace your computer every time an upgrade comes out.

  19. Sec says:

    Oh how I can relate to you. I have these kind of problem nearly every time I want to play a game on steam. I notes that there is an update and refuses to let me play until it is finished. There is just nothing you can do at that point, you basically lost. Seriously, whats so hard about an “Ask me before you start an update”? If I have 30 minutes to spend on a game, I don’t want to spend 20 of them watching steam download a patch, it could very well do that later.

  20. Mr_Wizard says:

    I’ll add my vote to a “make a comic out of it” crowd.

  21. Yar Kramer says:

    These kinds of shenanigans are exactly why I do my damnedest to get non-Valve games by means other than Steam.

  22. Did it occur to anyone that it might not have been Valve at all? Did it occur to anyone that it could have been the amazing giant glue and stickytape ball that is the internet?
    Fact is, the internet remains to be a ‘best-effort’ service, and despite what it may lead you to believe it is not always best to rely on.

    FYI – I love my internet and a love my steam.

    • Fosse says:

      But Valve could easily fashion Steam so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.

      Offline mode exists so you can play games without a current connection, yet it’s implemented in such a way that Shamus’ plight is possible. (It used to be even worse. When offline mode was first implemented you had to GO ONLINE to get into offline mode, which meant that if your internet went down you were SOL until it came back.)

      That’s why this is a problem with Steam, not with the internet.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        How the heck is your internet access being broken a problem with Steam instead of your internet access being broken?

        “Going offline” is a lightweight enough task that any kind of backup access is good enough. Borrow Grandma’s PeoplePC dialup for three minutes or something.

        • Nidokoenig says:

          It becomes Valve’s problem because their software specifically makes it their problem. Their products break without internet access, a problem which does not affect other games, therefore they should work out a way to correct that. A simple fail-open system would work, or it could only stop loading games if more than 70% of start-ups happened off-line.

        • Raygereio says:

          When I can’t play my legally bought singleplayer game because my Internet doesn’t work and a “pirate” can because he cracked it. Then that really is Valve’s problem for providing an utterly shit service to their customers.

        • ehlijen says:

          An act that doesn’t in any way, shape or form involve an outside server (ie the very definition of ‘offline play’) should not require even a single moment of connection at all.

          Games have been able to run in single player for decades without internet access. It’s only steam that changed that, so if the internet fails, it’s steam’s fault for requiring it to work to begin with.

  23. Binks says:

    Just curious, but did you try changing your region? When Magic the Gathering launched I got that same error (too busy). Swapped my download region (Steam->Settings->Downloads+Cloud) to one that’s actually nearer to my house, and more importantly isn’t the same as what it autodetected, and boom, game works perfectly.

    Not that that excuses this, but it might help. Steam really does need to get their act together on this, if I want to play a game installed on my machine I shouldn’t be blocked just because some server is too busy to say ‘okay, have fun’.

    • Valaqil says:

      +1.

      Team Fortress 2 had an update last week. I couldn’t play. After ten minutes of this nonsense, I asked someone how to fix it. He suggested I change my download region to one of the European locations. Lo and behold: The update downloaded from a different server and I was able to play inside of 5 minutes. It sucks to learn this after the fact, I’m sure. But it’s something to try next time. Since there will be a next time. :(

  24. JKjoker says:

    you should make the comic out of these 3 pics, it always helps to remind the fanboys that steam has flaws

  25. Kage says:

    Completely off-topic, but you might want to be aware, Shamus, that images in your posts don’t come through the RSS feed. I just see a bunch of broken image icons, and have to click through to the actual site to see the images.

    I know the RSS feed used to only have the first few sentences of the post, so I would click through to the actual site all the time, but if you’re going to include the full post in the RSS feed, it’d be cool if the images came too, so I only need to click through when I want to comment. :)

    • krellen says:

      In a previous post, Shamus stated that his ad revenue is based on page views; I doubt RSS page views count. So clicking through is the polite thing to do anyway, to make sure Shamus gets his due.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        RSS views don’t allow joining in to the scintillating conversation either… I only use the RSS thing as a convenient way to get a link to the post here and a hint as to what’s on the plate. As far as I’m concerned the RSS feed could cut off after the first paragraph and be just as useful to me.

  26. Allen says:

    While that’s terribly annoying, it strikes me that the problem is more that Steam isn’t telling you what’s going on (I’m stuck in the middle of an update). The auto-updates are annoying (I’ve had them show up right at Ready To Play time myself, although never had an error), but I understand the need with all the multiplayer games out there.

  27. And here I was giving the fan boys the benefit of the doubt when they said it was fixed and Steam offline mode was now perfect.

    From the comments it seems Steam offline is just as crap as it was when I last tried it a year or two ago.

    That is why I don’t buy Steam games unless I must have them (Impulse I can live with). The real dilemna will be when Civ 5 comes out and is a steam game. Might be the first Civ game I don’t own and play… or maybe the attraction of a pirated version without the irritating baggage will win out…

  28. croikle says:

    By the terms of the license agreement, you didn’t actually buy the game, you just licensed the right to play it. They can take this privilege away from you, with or without compensation or justification, at their discretion. Granted, this doesn’t seem to happen very often, but it makes me uneasy enough to avoid putting money into the service.

    • krellen says:

      Probably the primary reason I won’t use Steam. They can get away with this “licensing” nonsense with a download system with no physical media. If I buy a disc, courts are far less likely to support this “license” nonsense.

  29. Arquinsiel says:

    This is a known issue with Source engine games. I had the same happen when trying to play free Portal. The fix is apparently to delete all your Source files and then Steam will update with fresh shiney new versions that work.

    I then played Portal through in a few hours, got bored of the challenges and a few days later got sick of the constant on-boot BSOD’s which had never happened to my machine before and uninstalled Steam. I got about 5gigs of HD space back, but the BSOD’s are here to stay.

    • Correlation does not imply causation.

      • Arquinsiel says:

        Apparently also a known issue when more than two AV/Anti-Spyware programs and Steam are installed on the same machine. It’s something to do with a stack allocation issue for file management and with Steam on top of them the OS gets told to hump it when asking for memory.

        Of course other people claim the issue is that Steam hates network cards with less than 100% up to date drivers but that seems far less likely.

  30. SatansBestBuddy says:

    *emails blog post to Valve*

    *awaits response*

    EDIT: as a side note, I’m curious as to why Steam doesn’t separate downloads and installs so that we can play our games until the update is finished downloading, then be given an option to restart and install the update or continue playing the non-updated version.

    Actually, an option to refuse the update and just play the damn game would work, too.

    I mean, is it really so hard to think up ways to make it so that we can play our games whenever we want, regardless of Steam’s condition?

  31. X2-Eliah says:

    This is why I use Impulse and not Steam. Atleast with that thing, I can press ‘run’ (or better yet, launch the game without launching Impulse at all!) and it runs – if there is a patch/whatever, I can choose what to do.

    Shame their catalogue is smaller.

    • Sumanai says:

      Amusingly* it’s not even Stardock’s fault, directly. Apparently companies don’t like the whole “one world, one price” -system and demand to dictate separate prices for all areas. There are quite a few games I haven’t bought at all because they were region limited in Impulse.
      Oh, and thanks to all the Steam-fans Steamworks is increasingly common DRM for all versions of a game, so they would require Steam anyway. So they dont’ end up in Impulse at all.

      * as in, “not in the least”

  32. Rosseloh says:

    Argh. I see people have problems with Steam all the time — my close friends included. And you, Shamus!
    For all the good the platform is, there are definitely issues to iron out.

    But: It’s not a 100% thing. Maybe I’m just lucky (constant broadband connection with good speed/bandwidth; update downloads tend to be done before I even know about them), but the only problems I’ve had so far were the “Cheap Mass Effect shortage of CD keys” thing, and the fact that downloads love to stop when I start a game unless I tell them to start manually. I agree that it would be nice to be able to remove the phone-home functionality entirely, although you’d have to come up with some kind of DRM first…

    Maybe I love Steam only because my library of games would fill a large bookshelf if they were all encapsulated in those massive plastic boxes publishers love. The sales certainly help though….mmm, $5 for Mass Effect, $3 for Thief: DS, etc etc etc…

  33. Nick says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. They will keep doing this kind of thing if we keep putting up with it.

    Vote with your money people, it’s the only thing they understand!

    • pneuma08 says:

      The problem with voting with money is that there’s no indication as to why you chose to vote the way you did. If you buy a game from somewhere else and not Steam, they don’t know if you did so because it was cheaper, because you don’t like running Steam or any other app, because you wanted to give it to a friend who doesn’t use Steam, because you saw it there first, or if you’re primarily an offline user who has temporary access to the internet.

      Basically, Valve at this point doesn’t know if they should put their money into advertising, convincing publishers to put their stuff on sale, or fixing offline mode, or if they should just write you off as a lost cause and instead work on making Episode 3.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        Also, you can only vote with your money in a positive manner, by buying stuff. If you don’t buy, you don’t vote, you can’t in any way ‘vote’ a negative or ‘vote’ for someone else. You only get positives and ones who abstained.

        • CTrees says:

          Of course you can cast a negative vote. You just have to go rob Valve. Maybe mug a random employee?* That has the added benefit that you can say/leave a note explaining why you dislike them.

          *bonus points for Gabe himself.

  34. Avilan says:

    I don’t know what type of internet connection Shamus has, but I think that 90% of all problems with online services stems from bad ISPs or connections. (Yeah, I know: “Duh.”)

    I have not used steam since I played Half Life 2 all day long several years ago, these days I use the EA download Manager (since I play almost exclusively Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2). I have never had a problem with either, but then I have a permanent 100Mbit cable connecting my router to the world. No modems, DSLs or other crap.

    I guess part of the problem is that a lot of online services takes these kinds of connections for granted although they are fairly rare.

  35. As someone who pretty much always plays games single player, Steam has little to no point for me. It’s installed on my machine, but only so I can play Portal (and in the fullness of time, Portal 2)

  36. ClearWater says:

    Use Steam or do not. There is no ‘try’. — Master Yoda.

  37. Simon Buchan says:

    EDIT: This is in reply to phobiandarkmoon ^. How did I screw up “Reply to this>”? :/

    This is my game list (compressed where obvious): AvP2000, AssCreed, AudioSurf, B:AA, Beat Hazard, Bionic Commando: RA, Bioshock, Bloodrayne, 2, Blueberry Garden, Bob came in pieces, Borderlands, Braid, Bullet Candy, CoD4, RA3 (though I wish I didn’t), Keen, Crayon Physics, Cryostasis, Crysis:Warhead, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!, Darwinia, Dead Space, Defcon, Deus Ex, 2, The Dig, Dirt 2, Doom, 2, 3, Final Doom, DA, :Awakening, Eets, Evil Genius, Fear, 2, Fallout 3, Freedom Force, 2, Galcon Fusion, Gravitron, Gridrunner, Gyromancer, HL, Exps, 2, Ep 1, 2, Heretic, Hexen, 2, Hitman, 2, Blood Money, i-Fluid, Indiana Jones Atlantis, Crusade, Indigo Prophecy (Farenheit), Jade Empire, Just Cause 2, Kings Bounty, L4D, 2, Loom, MtG, Majesty 2, Mass Effect, 2, Mirror’s Edge, Winterbottom, Monkey Island SE, 2, Multiwinia, Oddworld, 2, Penny Arcade, Painkiller, Plain Sight, Portal, PoP (08), Prototype, Psychonouts, Quake, 2, 3, Exps, Trials 2, Resident Evil 5, RtcWolfenstein, STALKER, Sacred, Saira, Sam&Max 101-305, Serious Sam 1st, 2nd, Shatter, Civ4, Exps, Colonization, Spectromancer, SW Dark Forces, Jedi Knight, 2, 3, KotOR, Force Unleashed, Sword of the Stars, Tales of Monkey Island 1-5, TF2, Titan Quest, Exp, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Torchlight, Trine, Tropico 3, Unreal, 2, UT, 2k4, 3, Uplink, Wolf3D, X-Coms, Zeno Clash.

    (Also some other random Valve stuff they threw in with HL2, CS, etc…)
    There are *plenty* of points for someone who always plays single player.

    • Raygereio says:

      Yeah, Steam offers a lot of single player games. It’s still stupid that you have to be connected to the Internet to play them, though.

      • Simon Buchan says:

        This is true if you bought a disc in a store. Not so obvious that you shouldn’t have to connect to play a game you downloaded. Also, I’ll take the tradeoff that I can get and play these games legally, for however long the steam servers exist; since I’m pretty sure that will be longer than it would take me to lose or break the disks :). As an extra bonus, I don’t have to deal with hard-sell annoying EB employees!

        Interestingly, I *was* very angry when I bought Portal in a store and realized I would have to get an internet connection at home to play it (I had been leaching the net at work until then). Now, well… look up. Valve seems to have a good business plan there.

        • Raygereio says:

          “Not so obvious that you shouldn’t have to connect to play a game you downloaded.”
          I don’t really follow that logic, so we’re going to have to disagree on that. For me it basically comes down to service; how well is Valve treating me as a costumer. Forcing me to wait until some slow ass server in Germany (or wherever the EU server for Steam is) has finished processing my request is not good service.
          Letting me wait and then telling me there was a time out error because the server’s overloaded is utterly dreadfull service for a singleplayer that does not require the Internet to function.
          Let me repeat that: The game does NOT require the Internet to function. The DRM on it does. Seriously. Can you give me a good reason not to crack that game’s executable at that point? Anyone?

          • Simon Buchan says:

            Well, it’s reasonable to assume you to have an internet connection at least every so often if you downloaded a game, isn’t it?

            This is a problem with the way auto-update works, not the DRM. (I have tested that offline mode works correctly several times since the client update that fixed *that*.) Sure, this is still broken and wrong, but if you complain about the thing that is actually wrong, it’s far more likely to get fixed, and you don’t get stupid arguments: “It doesn’t work!” “Yes it does!” “No it doesn’t!”….

            • Raygereio says:

              Yes. It is reasonable to assume that if you download a full game you have a working Internet connection you use regulary.

              It is not reasonable to asume it is then okay for the game to force you to be connected every time you want to start up the game. That is the fundamental issue with Steam.

    • So? My point is, if I’m only ever going to play them Single Player, why should I use Steam to get them, when crap like this could happen when trying to play them?

      I can, instead, buy the physical game. And play it when I have no internet connection.

  38. Tzekelkan says:

    Hi, Shamus. First time posting, love your blog and your work at the Escapist.

    Just wanted to suggest, like someone already did, to try changing your download region if this happens. It’s not convenient, I know, but maybe it’ll help you avoid two hours of frustration. If that still doesn’t works, well… it’s pretty much Steam’s fault.

    I love Steam, but I agree that it’s far from perfect. Maybe if they announced updates a day ahead?

  39. Spider Dave says:

    I’ve had this sort of problem too, and am left with no idea why I can’t play something. In my experience, the steam servers are usually only too busy to not let me play a couple of my games, and the others are fine, which leaves me more confused as to why the one I want doesn’t work.

  40. mfberg says:

    If you don’t like Steam then refuse to buy software associated with it, or buy software that also offers other types of keys. If enough people refuse to buy the Steam associated software and it starts costing a couple of million here and a couple of million there, eventually the companies will stop using the Steam engine and go to something more sinister… easier, I mean easier.

  41. DaveMc says:

    Being a Mac user, this whole Steam thing is new to me … I’ve been lucky, so far, I guess: when I’ve tried to fire up Civ IV on the bus, it’s worked for me in offline mode, but then again, those are games that don’t get a lot of update action any more, so maybe I’ve just dodged that particular bullet.

    It’s nice to finally have a disc-free version of Civ IV without having to download a crack (which I did), and the Steam specials where games go on sale for drastically reduced prices are very nice (I got the entire Civ IV set, up to Colonization, for $10, which is sub-GOG-level pricing). I can see what Shamus means about the downsides of Steam, though: for this convenience and random low pricing, I pay with the lock-down of the games. I’m sure I’d be equally furious if my laptop’s Steam told me to buzz off when I tried to play offline. If things are available on Impulse (through a Windows emulator like Parallels) or GOG, I’m still inclined to go with them, instead. Neither of them has a Mac client, though GOG says they’d like to (the barrier for many of their games is licensing rather than technology: DOSBox runs on OS X, so they could create Mac-friendly wrappers except that they’re not currently permitted to).

  42. You are not alone on this. I experience this every time I try to run in Offline Mode. Steam insists I must first log into Steam to be into Offline Mode. I have said this numerous times as a proponent against Steam simply on this notion and have received generally the same response as you have–I am told it’s my fault, that this shouldn’t happen, et cetera, ad nauseum.

    Personally I am of the same opinion. Hey Steam, I’d like to play the game I have paid money for. But you’re at the mercy of their services.

  43. Tizzy says:

    Anyone noticed how sparse the online help for Steam is? I guess if you have a real problem, your chances of troubleshooting it yourself are pretty low, you will pretty much have to contact customer support (uncool).

    For a very long time, I used Steam exclusively in offline mode, and that worked pretty well. I resent that I had to yank the ethernet cable out of the computer every time I wanted to start Steam, though… I’m guessing they still have not added a feature that lets you start in offline mode even if you have internet access.

  44. esther says:

    Hay dadoo I got round to visiting your site. By the way cool spoiler warning :)

  45. Mr_Wizard says:

    ALL OF MY HATE is reserved for Steam right now. I had downtime today and time to kill, and i wanted to play, but my internet was down No problem, I had Steam settings to have offline mode enabled if it couldn’t connect. But then, I tried to start up steam and it WOULDN’T LET ME REACH MY GAMES

    So I spent the time to make this .gif for you Shamus :D It’s a slide show of my plight last night.

    http://img96.imageshack.us/img96/2485/annoying.gif

    It’s a little big, It’s like my first animated gif >.>

  46. wererogue says:

    It’s been mentioned once before in a reply above, but if this happens again, here’s what you do:

    Steam->Settings->Downloads and Cloud: Change the download region to somewhere in Europe. You’ll be told to restart Steam; do it.

    I usually pick Manchester because I’m from the UK and it reminds me of home, but places like the Czech Republic are usually your best bets. Those serves aren’t going to be as busy, and you’ll get your update nice and sharpish.

    No apologies for Steam – it’s always been awful software, and the server connection handling has always been the worst part of that. I really like the UI upgrade, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the problems.

    At least we get to laugh at the release notes when they post something like “made offline mode work” roughly once a year.

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