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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Steam on OS X: Nice But Certainly No Nirvana

Last Wednesday, Valve officially released Steam for OS X. Along with the release was the promise of the release of essentially the entire Source library for Mac eventually.

To date, only one Source game is available - Portal, but it has been offered free for a limited time. Portal is a pretty great game, so Steam + Free Portal is pretty decent gift to the Mac community. And honestly, I'm still optimistic - but having played around with it for nearly a week now, most of my original feelings about Steam haven't changed.

For one thing, Steam is buggy. I can't speak to the PC version anymore - but I never knew it to be terribly stable. The OS X version likes to do things like block you from closing Steam because a game is running - even though a game is not in fact running. The browser Steam uses shows an almost interesting lack of performance considering how basic most of the pages are constructed. It will lock up. It will zombie.

Also, Steam is just poorly designed. Essentially one large custom browser with a lot of access rights, Valve didn't bother to actually coordinate your Steam account with your community account, forum account or support account in 2008 - and they apparently haven't bothered to add such things by 2010. The end result is a decent browsing experience, a relatively robust checkout experience and a a lackluster everything else (at best).

Partially because of that - Steam is quite possibly the most user unfriendly gaming product in the history of gaming. It's not just that their support section feels like a bad PHP script bolted onto the side of an online store, but rather that is the support for a product which can at any time update code on your hard drive without any control on your part, completely trash your game, and then simply walk away.

And remember people, Steam does not offer refunds (unless you feel like reporting them to the BBB it seems). So if Valve forced an update on you and it broke your favorite game - well, tough. And I've had Torchlight less than a week and guess what? That very thing has already happened. I don't think there is a Mac user on the planet right now who can play the game.

And has Valve responded to any of the many forum posts about it? No. Have they sent out any tweets from the Steam twitter account? No. Have they bothered to respond to any of "Ask A Question" support tickets (I could go on for some time about how annoying that they frame support issues as me asking questions. I shouldn't have to ask Valve why their QA sucks)? Not that I've read and certainly not mine.

So yeah - Portal for free running natively on the Mac? That's a nice thing. And if down the road I can play Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead off the MBP as well, then that will be a win. But Steam is still Steam - it's a buggy mess and does nothing to empower users when things go wrong. So remember Mac users - Steam is buyer beware for the digital age.


jvm said...

Oh man, Lost tonight was awesome...oh, wait... too early for this.

Sorry to hear it's still not Nirvana. :( There is all this speculation about a GNU/Linux client, so maybe eventually I can try some of that out for myself!

Torchlight is PSN-bound, so I'm planning to get it that way.

Josh said...

That's funny, because when relating this to a friend this morning, it came up that if it were just on PSN - I would been playing it last night.

If Steam is the best digital distro for games for non-consoles, then PC gaming is far more worse off than I've ever thought.

Thomas said...

Man, you've got the worst PC gaming luck ever, and it's just followed you over to the other side.

Steam's always been great to me, and I think there's a strong argument that it's done more for the platform (particularly for indie titles) than anything else in years. For me, it leveled the playing field with consoles, and exceeded them in some areas.

Josh said...

Well, this time it certainly isn't isolated. Valve fscked an entire game for an entire platform with a single update that took about a minute to download.

I can't really disagree that it has done wonders for the PC platform and especially indies ... it is just that is so sad - because Steam is seriously subpar when compared to PSN or XBL. With a few features (ability to roll back updates, real technical support, transparency into crashes and problems) - Steam could shine. But since they are really the only game in town and they haven't changed that game in almost three years, I'm not holding my breath. The old bad experience I've had with PSN is downloading some less than desirable games.

So - let's hope your luck keeps up :) Because trust me, when it runs out with Steam - you're basically screwed. I've had my entire PS3 replaced in less time than it will take Valve to respond to this (which I highly suspect will be never).

Josh said...

As a footnote - it's been over 12 hours since I submitted my "ticket", and I still have gotten nothing but an automated response.

In fact, the only public response has been from Runic on their forums, saying their working with the Steam guys to fix it.

Thomas said...

Yeah, I've seen where this is a system-wide bug. And I know you're not inclined to give them a lot of leeway. But it is a roll-out on an entirely new platform, it looks to me like they've done pretty well overall. The same kinds of things happened when they first launched on PC--remember the HL2 lockout?

As far as luck goes, though, I'm looking over a list of more than 20 games, all of which have worked flawlessly, and many of which have gotten continual, stellar support because of the Steam backend--TF2, Zeno Clash, and Torchlight in particular. I think the odds look pretty good.

Josh said...

Well that seems to be the Steam support philosophy: hopefully nothing ever goes wrong :P

Winkyboy said...

I tested out Steam when Half Life 2 was released and I felt it was a horrible mess, uninstalling it because it was so infuriating.

However, in the last six months I have reinstalled it and I must say that it's come a long way. I actually like it, now, and I wish the consoles made digital downloads more prevalent on their systems because it works so well on the PC.

Thus, I suppose, they'll eventually smooth it out on the Mac as well. One can hope.

Josh said...

Well, it's fixed now. After Runic tweeted about it, posted about it, looked into it - apparently then proved it wasn't them and then Valve looked into it.

Runic also first alerted users there was a fix up. I think morning I finally got a response to my ticket from Valve that it was safe to go back into the waters.

And think this is the core of my gripe with Valve: their communication sucks. And they have some of the greatest tools on the planet to shove stuff on my hard drive and subsequently break it - but pretty bad tools and policies about dealing with it afterwards.

Anyway - I agree that at least it's new for OS X, so maybe this will shake out better in the long run.