Yay! It’s time for a rabid, spittle-covered rant on computer games! Enjoy!
How would you react to finding out that when you purchase something at a store (let’s say, a big TV) that you are forced to register your TV before you can use it. You have to call up the company and let them know you have one of their TV’s before you will be able to turn it on. Let’s also say that it is impossible for you to give or sell this item once you have done so. If the manufactering company loses power, you can’t turn on your TV until they recover, even if you have power and everything is fine on your end. If they go out of business, your TV will cease to work forever. Oh yeah – they don’t tell you all this up front when you buy the thing. You find all this out once you get it home and unpack it. Also, if you take it back to the store you won’t be able to get your money back. You can only exchange this bizzare television for another of the same model with the same restrictions.
Let’s see: You can’t sell it, you can’t loan it out, you can’t return it, and you can’t use it without the blessing of the maker. I suggest that you don’t even own the TV. You paid for the right to keep someone else’s TV in your house and watch it as long as they allow.
I am, of course, talking about the crime against gamers that is Steam. People were all over this last year when Half-Life came out, but I’m having my say now.
But first: I freely admit that Half-Life 2 is one of the greatest games ever made. It is important that I stipulate that my love for this game is surpassed only by the raw hatred I have for the way in which it was sold. Half-Life 2 is a beautiful piece of work crafted by people who clearly know exactly what they are doing. It is marvel of both technology and design. It is a wonder to behold and a thrill to experience. We are talking Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind of computer games, here. Okay?
The problem is, that in order to play the game, you must run another piece of software called Steam. Steam is a “content delievery system” which means that you can buy games over steam instead of going to the store and getting the boxed version. Since they don’t have to print out a manual, burn a CD, jam it into a cardboard box, ship it accross the country, and pay a retailer to keep it on the shelf until you buy it, this lets them save a lot of money. The folks at Valve software pass $0.00 of that savings onto you, the customer.
Now, if this were the end of it, I wouldn’t mind so much. I am happy if talented people become rich when they work hard. That is their right and the natural order of things. But it doesn’t end there.
If you buy a game that runs through Steam, then you NEED Steam to run the game. It doesn’t matter if you download the game or get it retail. The software you bought is encrypted onto your hard drive, so that it cannot be run directly. Not without the help of Steam. To register for Steam, you need to give them a real name and a credit card to verify your identity, so don’t get any ideas about making up a bogus name and using a throwaway hotmail account. Note that you find all this out after you open the box, at which point everyone assumes you’ve ripped images of all the CD’s and uploaded them to your pirate network in China. You can’t return it. Not for money, anyway.
You don’t just need the software when you install the game, you need to LOG IN, online, with your name and password, every time you want to play the game so their server can give you permission to play the game you paid for. I’m talking about a slow pig of a software system that more than doubles the already lengthy time it takes to launch the game. It runs in the background, downloading and applying “patches” and “updates” without so much as a “by your leave”. If their server goes down, or you lose connectivity, you can’t play your game because you have no means by which your computer may ask to run it. You can’t sell the game or give it away, unless you feel confortable with the other owner impersonating you on Steam. Your account can only be logged in at one place at a time, so if you own more than one game through Steam (you idiot) then you can’t play one of them while your friend plays the other. I hope you don’t expect to be able to loan the game out, as if it was a movie or a book.
Steam runs in the background, chewing on memory and bandwidth unless you hunt around in the options and find the checkbox that tells the program to piss off. Imagine what the system tray would look like if everyone did this. Keep in mind that all of this stupid hassle is to keep you from stealing a game for which you have already paid.
All of this copy protection is in ADDITION TO the normal hassle we’ve all grown accustomed to: Typing in huge serial numbers the size of nuclear launch codes and always keeping the CD handy so we can prove to the game that, “Honest, it’s just me, and I’d like to play my game now please.”
Once I realized what STEAM was, I would have returned their filthy software to the store right that moment, without ever playing the game, without seeing what all the buzz was about, and without even taking a peek to see how it looked. It would have gone right back in the box and right back to EB games, that very day, if I could have. But you can’t. I could only return it if it was defective (the disc was scratched) and even then all I could get was a replacment disc. As far as I’m concerned the software is unaccepeable, non-returnable, and impossible to sell. Software that doesn’t run when I tell it to is of no use to me. My day is too full to go around asking software if I can have permission to run it. These punks at Valve software have robbed me in the name of protecting themselves from pirates. (As an aside, pirates have indeed cracked Steam, and people who have never paid for the game enjoy it without any of the hassles I describe.)
Now I hear there is an expansion coming and I just laugh. There is no way in hell I’m giving them another cent. I’m sure it will be another landmark in gaming, but I’ll never see it. I am a principled man. I won’t buy the game and I won’t have anything to do with piracy. But I’ll tell you this: If the kids out there skip paying for the expansion and use their already-developed cracks to acquire it, I will be very happy.
Talented, hardworking people should get filthy rich. Dishonest, arrogant, paranoid, ignorant bastards that don’t respect the property of others (i.e. my computer) deserve to see their efforts thwarted at every turn.
Yes. That would be very pleasing indeed.
The Best of 2013
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2013.
The Middle Ages
Would you have survived in the middle ages?
The story of me. If you're looking for a picture of what it was like growing up in the seventies, then this is for you.
Grand Theft Railroad
Grand Theft Auto is a lousy, cheating jerk of a game.
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.