So, a little while ago I had my first experience with a Games For Windows Live game, that being Red Faction: Guerrilla which I’d gotten as a part of a bundle.
About three hours into that process, I realized that Games For Windows Live (GFWL) is a blight on the face of PC gaming.
Shiny new game, hooray. Let’s get it all nicely installed.
Done. Let’s fire it up and play!
Wait. It’s telling me that I need a GFWL account otherwise I won’t even be able to save my games. Okay, off to the GFWL menu.
Okay, it tosses me out to an external web-browser to create an account. Email address, check. Long, randomly-generated password from my password manager, check.
Now, I return to the game, and it asks me to log in to GFWL with the new account.
Email address, check.
Password… what? No pasting. I have to type in all 32 characters of the password that I’d randomly generated. Gah! Switch to the password manager, and hand-write the password onto a scrap of paper.
*taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap(did I get that right?)taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap(umm… think I hit the wrong key, backspace)taptaptaptaptaptap(where am I up to again?)taptaptaptaptaptaptap*
Thankfully, that’s over with.
GFWL now asks me for my product key on the next screen. Steam gives me that with SHIFT-TAB, and offers me the option to copy it for pasting.
But no. I can’t paste it, and I can’t have both on the screen at once. More hand-writing.
More careful typing.
Okay. Good to go. Hit the button, and GFWL goes off and thinks.
It won’t tell me if I mistyped the password, the email address or the key, but I now have to re-enter them all again.
Much typing ensues, more carefully than last time.
A third effort. Check that everything I’ve written down is right.
A fourth effort, very very very very very slowly, so that I’m sure I’m hitting every key exactly once and right on.
Success. At bloody last.
After thinking for a little bit, and starting to download my GFWL profile (whatever that really is) it tells me that there is an update for GFWL, and that I can either allow it to do that, or I can give up on the notion of playing and saving the game.
Okay. Update time.
The system downloads about 130MB of data, and then crashes to the desktop.
GFWL fails to connect properly.
GFWL fails to connect properly.
Success, but GFWL tells me the downloaded profile data is corrupt or incomplete, and I have to go through, find out how to delete that and then log in again. That takes me some time.
GFWL fails to connect properly.
GFWL downloads my profile data, tells me there is an update, downloads 130MB of data and crashes to the desktop. But, at least it isn’t asking me to reenter my email address, password or product anymore.
Okay, well, GFWL has a standalone client. Maybe I can run that and it will update itself, right?
No. It runs alright, and produces a badly messed up display of the GFWL store, but there’s no updating going on.
Try the game a few more times, interspersed and in parallel with the standalone GFWL login. Hope springs eternal, right?
Start using forums and Google.
Okay, apparently the update gets downloaded to a specific place on the hard-drive, and I can manually extract parts of the update and copy them across to the folder where the game is installed and that works for some people.
Checking. The folder where the update is supposed to be is there, but the files aren’t. Hmm.
Okay, run the game in Window mode, go through the process, and this time I’ll keep a window open and watch that space.
But wait, GFWL won’t connect. It refuses to login successfully for about an hour.
Finally, it changes its mind and decides to let me on.
Watching everything like the proverbial hawk now. (This is about the three hour mark, where I decide that GFWL is a blight)
Yes! There’s the update file! It appears in the folder for about 3 tenths of a second just before the application crashes to the desktop, and vanishes again.
More time with Google leads me to an obscure part of the official product Web-site where there is an official, manual patch. It may or may not be for my version, and reports are that it may or may not mess up my installation.
What have I got to lose at this stage, other than more time and composure really?
Download yet-another-130MB (I’ve now downloaded about a gigabyte of data just in patch attempts), back up all the game files in case I need to revert, and install the patch.
Run the game… Looks okay. There’s a new version number on the menu screen.
Try to log in with GFWL, which doesn’t work.
Try about ten more times.
Do something else, like playing another game.
Reboot and try again.
Get more coffee.
Rinse and repeat for two more hours. Yes, I’m now about five and a half hours into the process.
Okay, a successful connect… which then fails because my profile data is messed up.
Manually delete profile data, and try again.
GFWL fails to log in. Twice more.
Then succeeds, and does the profile download again, then thinks, then tells me I must download an update.
I’m almost past caring at this point. Alright. Go on. Have it your way.
The download works, but requires me to reboot.
I do that. I finally get into the game, and connected to GFWL, and it is ready to play.
I try it for five minutes, and it works.
I save the game and go to bed. It is now a little six hours after I started.
I’ve played the game some since, and GFWL has been well-behaved (that is, if I start the game, I have to go and get coffee while GFWL connects, because if I don’t wait, it doesn’t get connected properly and warns me that I won’t be able to save my darn game).
It’s an enjoyable single-player game, I’ll grant – but I can tell you one thing right now: I’ll likely never, ever touch the multiplayer features of the game, because they run through GFWL. Sorry if you’re one of the folks who worked on the multiplayer side of Red Faction: Guerrilla, but that was a wasted effort from where I stand.
Seriously. It probably requires a week of fiddling and standing on my head whistling the Warsaw Concerto to get it to work or erases my saved games, or causes hair-loss in pets.
So, that’s my very first Games For Windows Live title – and I have no doubt that it will be my last. In my opinion, GFWL is a technology that needs a warning label.
Sure enough my opinion is empirically based on just a single experience, but I think that experience has been more than memorable enough to justify forming a lasting opinion.