This could well be considered a rant of Angry Internet Proportions. Frankly I don’t care. Bill has a vision for the future of gaming, and I don’t like it. It’s a bleak picture of confusing interfaces, irritatingly specific internet connection requirements and unwieldy, restrictive, deceptive financial transactions. I don’t think any of my points here are going to be new, but given my recent Dawn of War II connection anguish, and the upcoming Fallout 3 DLC Operation: Anchorage, I felt it important to let you, the consumers know a little more about what you’re getting into when you use the service, since I can imagine that like myself, many of you will be using it for the first time.
So first off, lets look into the bit that really stings – buying off the Marketplace. I haven’t actually done so just yet, and will be doing so only grudgingly, because it’s a confusing, obscured process as far as I can tell. The essential summary is, you don’t use “normal” currency to buy items off the Marketplace. You buy “Microsoft Points”; a virtual currency stemming from Games For Window’s Live‘s Xbox birthing. For an excellent run down of these costs, I suggest you take a look at the Wikipedia article regarding Microsoft Points. The crux of the matter is that depending on where you live, you’re going to be shafted over due to exchange rates. Granted this is nothing new to anyone familiar to buying stuff online. Steam has made some headway in improving the state of affairs, though not without some headaches – most glaringly, by charging extortionate amounts to Euro buyers.
Acquiring this online currency is a painful experience in itself. You can only buy them online if you have Visa, Mastercard or Am-Ex. Again, it’s a common problem, but a company as reputable as Microsoft should know better in all honesty. I just cannot fathom why so many companies are so slow on the uptake when it comes to payment options – why no localised bank options? Why no Pay-Pal? All are secure, and fast options. Finally, you have to treat these points as for what they are: easy money for MS. With some variations, buying with these points comes in odd numbers – the Fallout 3 DLC for example costs 800 points. The smallest amount you can buy from third party retailers (I’m buying mine off Amazon, with its whopping 50p discount) is 2100. So come the third DLC pack, I’m going to be 300 short. I’ll have to buy more. And yet, there will likely be little I want to buy off them otherwise; much like vouchers are easy money for highstreet retailers. It’s a horrible system. Horrible.
Anyway, I wouldn’t mind all this if MS had the good will to actually provide a decent service. Those of you who’ve already loaded (intentionally or otherwise – the recent Fallout 3 patched slapped it on for me in anticipation of my buying the DLC) will know what I mean. It’s a counter-intuitive service in almost ever respect. There’s absolutely no logic in the layout, and no indication of how to actually use its various functions. It’s slow, clunky and unwieldy to use. The process of buying anything is a horribly veiled one. I’m coming to dread actually using it to get the Fallout 3 DLC. I implore you all to hang on and see what I and other bloggers and sites have to say about how it all works before getting it. Part of me is already anticipating the experience to be fraught with niggling irritations, regardless of how good the actual content is. I think the content is going to be awesome for the record books, though time will tell on that one.
Mention has to go to the horrible technical issues that plague the operation of GFWL. I’ve spent at least an hour every day (2-3 one day) trying to get the ingame GFWL interface going, in Fallout 3 and the Dawn of War II Beta from everything from networking to registry alteration. How on earth can MS justify releasing software that might require potentially clue-less consumers to tinker with highly volitile areas like this? Bizzarily, I could connect to the exterior application fine, but not the ingame one. If you look at Steam, the interface and connective systems are all integrated. GFWL’s in contrast appears to be a patchwork implementation. I have to say though, regarding my issues, Relic developers and consumer representatives were nothing less than excellent in their striving to help allieviate the problems. Hats off to them. There’s a very useful thread here for help and advice for people struggling with it by the way.
Everything about GFWL reeks of sloppy coding and implementation, I dare say as some kind of misguided attempt to link X-Box Live and GFWL, no doubt in an attempt to cut corners and save a bit of cash. As one forumer I read had to say, X-Box Live networking and Windows should be kept on seperate continants, let alone in the same service. Though of course, it must be noted that doing that would probably put one of the two in an unsupported area. Only some countries are graced with Microsoft’s beneficence after all… which is again, quite ridiculous for what should be a universally international service in this day and age.
I get what MS are trying to do. Providing a unified structure for gaming is an ostensibly noble cause. But when Valve and Stardock are demonstrating how to really do things, Microsoft are proving themselves horribly inept in comparison. As I mentioned before, I suggest you all wait for me to wander into the Fallout 3 DLC minefield before buying, which I will be doing as soon as it’s available this Tuesday, with a mind to informing you all by Wednesday at the latest.
Edit: Unfortunatly, Amazon still haven’t dispatched my points card yet. Things might be delayed a little if it doesn’t arrive tomorrow. Also, in case you missed Seniath’s comment on the matter, it seems someone else wasn’t happy with GFWL in Microsoft. It’s general manager has been sacked. Not surprised.