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Thursday, February 21, 2008

This Is Why PC Gaming Is Dying

I had Steam download The Club last night in an attempt to keep from being bored with my PC. I got a break from work, and I was working from home today, so I figured I'd take about a half hour, have some fried chicken and try it out.

It launches. First I get a popup telling me I need to write down a reg key for multiplayer mode. And by write down, it's not kidding, you can't seem to highlight and copy the text or anything. Whatever, I pull up Notepad and jot it down. I send the popup along its way.

DirectX rears its ugly head and insists on installing .... um, nothing I think. But it wanted to be sure, so, ok, whatever. It does its thing and disappears.

Screen goes dark. I put on the headphones. I make sure my fingers are clean from fried chicken goodness.

I hear that wonderful Windows alert noise. Screen stays blank. I tab out to the desktop and see two error boxes. One is Windows firewall telling me that The Club wants to do something nasty with the Internet. I tell it that's just rubbish and to go away. The other is a JIT compiler error. I'm hoping one has caused the other, so I relaunch the game. It reminds me about that reg key thing again, launches, goes black and crashes. JIT error.

Fine. I reboot. Rebooting fixes things. I reboot, launch the game.

Screen goes blank.



Steam pops up a window asking if I'd like to take a hardware survey. I tell it would not. I try to find some kind of handy left-click off "The Club" which will help. Something like "find updates" or "patch this crap" or "work, damnit" but the closest I see is a link to visit the forum. So I hit that. No word on a JIT error, just some guy complaining about the graphics. And a big link at the top reminding me about that whole "Ask A Question" thing which represents Steam support.

I click that and get sent eventually to a page which tells me there's an error because I'm already logged in. I go through the hoops to "Ask A Question", which is hard at one point because The Club isn't even listed under the games list and another because it wants things like "CD Key" and I don't know if that's the same key as before and I'm too lazy to care, so I just send it along anyway.

Steam support tries to be friendly and offers me three knowledge base articles on "cafe" to see if that helps.

It doesn't. This time I did get response from an actual Steam support person who asked if validating the local cache would help.

It doesn't.

So this is why PC gaming is dying. And yes, it is dying. It is getting smaller while game sales in general is getting larger. You can say it isn't isn't isn't but it is, is is ... and this is why:

Users are annoyed with the PC game publishers. We're tired of the copy protection crap crashing the games, the installation hassles, the endless patches, selling us beta software and lousy, half-assed technical support.

PC game publishers are annoyed with the users. They're tired of throwing money at useless solutions to solve piracy, endless hardware configurations and annoying bloggers who send them drunken rants at the early hours of the morning.

PC gaming is dying because it is quickly getting to the point where it is too annoying to be left alive.

Update: Steam support just responded with a link that can basically be summarized as "blame Sega". Need any more proof?


sterno said...

I think I'm convinced this is going to be my last gaming grade PC. It's funny how people whined about how expensive the PS3 is, but if you want a gaming PC, the video card(s) alone could cost you as much as the PS3. Then once you get your screaming hardware all set up, you're treated to the misery you've described.

Another factor for me is that I've switched to Apple. Eventually if I want to keep pace with gaming I'd need to get Vista which seems like a giant waste of money and a hassle for something that I'd use only to play games. I prefer a keyboard and mouse interface for FPS and RTS games, my favorites, but, I think I can just get over it if it saves me hassle.

Josh said...

My general fear and loathing for Vista certainly does not help. It basically echoes my ordeal with digital cable - it offers me no real solutions to actual problems I have but offers a slew of brand news while putting some kinda of fancy animation over the whole damn thing.

And sadly most of the games I'm interested in available on the 360 ... and some exclusively. I would love to play some coop Fable 2 with the Girl, but somehow I don't see us waiting for the PC convesion this time.

I think by 2009 we'll have a PS3 in the living room and a 360 in the study.

Mark said...

I just don't understand why it has to be so incredibly bad. The devs say that computer game piracy is the root of all evil, yet consoles have piracy and they don't make console users offer up their left nut just to play the game.

I think a large part of the problem is twofold. One, the complexity of the windows system. Want to try and make a game that uses something interesting in DirectX? the amount of programming to make anything work is massive especially in Vista where the video and audio drivers are now so complex (in order to handle to DRM requirements imposed by MPAA) that things just don't work any more, where the "program files" folder is locked against you (or your game) being able to make any changes, etc.

The second is the copy protection, which is designed to interfere with your system (but in benign ways) - although the number of PC games lost to piracy has to be minuscule compared to game systems just by the 10 to 1 ratio of purchases. Still, PC games are saddled with increasingly bizarre schemes, gone are the days when games like Doom 3 installed and didn't need a disk to play, now I have to have a disk in the drive, authenticate with a central server to register, validate every time I play and maintain a license code in some disposable spot somewhere.

Sadly, Vista was supposed to simplify things. The Halo2 system where you just put the disk in the drive and start to play is a good idea, but in practice isn't working all that great.

With that said, if you turn off UAC in Vista 90% of the problems go away, though I haven't tried Steam with anything but HL2.....

Josh said...

I keep expecting Patrick to poke his head in here and say it's not dying but evolving and probably make some analogy to birthing pains or something...

.... and ack, I had a long rant about Vista but I didn't like the way it was worded and I have to take the dog out...

Thomas said...

No problems with Steam or Vista here.

...which does nothing but illustrate the point, of course. It would be a rare thing indeed to hear that we both had consoles, but mine runs games fine and yours is a nightmare of incompatibilities.

I don't expect the market will die completely (and I have a certain reflexive, completely unconscious revulsion at the idea--guess I really identify with it), but it's not going to last as a target for huge AAA titles.

A testing ground for smaller games that then get picked up by the consoles for further development (see: Alien Hominid, N+ on XBLA)? Yeah, maybe. A platform for small, portable web-based games? Well, that'll last as long as console browsers are still really terrible. Sadly, that's probably got legs.

That said, I'll be damned if I play an FPS with a gamepad. So I don't have much of a choice.