Hopes for 2010: Games for Windows Live

I’m sorry. This isn’t going to be pretty.

But then again, nei­ther is the “ser­vice” known as Games for Win­dows Live we PC gamers are being forced to swal­low. So far, you guys have done an amaz­ing job of harass­ing your cus­tomers and hurt­ing PC gam­ing. You’ve done more than I’d thought pos­si­ble to make it as painful as humanly pos­si­ble. The mere pres­ence of your logo is enough to make every PC gamer I know want to go have a lie down.

GFWL isn’t just the infa­mous pol­ished turd. Partly because it is in no way pol­ished, but mainly because it is not just a turd, which is a pas­sive object that, while smelly, can be eas­ily walked around and sim­ply avoided, but a turd-being-thrown-in-your-face, an entity which actively tries to ruin your day. Most bad PC soft­ware can sim­ply be avoided — we just choose not to use it — no such luck with GfWL. We don’t have a choice in the matter.

Here is a short, and incom­plete, list of what you need to fix to even reach neu­tral ground. Fix­ing these atroc­i­ties is enough to nearly make your ser­vice tol­er­a­ble. To actu­ally make it an asset, some­thing that enhances the value of the PC plat­form, you have to reach far far beyond this. But just mak­ing it less nau­se­at­ing to use would be a won­der­ful start, and should mean that you’ll have your hands full for the entire year.

But enough rant­ing. On with the list:

  • Fix the friend list. When I want to invite a friend to a game, the cor­rect approach is: 1) Hit a key to pull up the friends list. 2) Click on my friend. 3) click “invite to game”. You may have noted that this is what Steam does, and has done for years. Invit­ing a friend to a game takes per­haps one sec­ond there. Now, since it’s pretty obvi­ous none of you have ever attempted to do this in GFWL, I should prob­a­bly explain how it works (or fails to work) there: First, you hit a key which con­flicts with every game that has a chat box: home, the key which is nor­mally used to move the caret to the begin­ning of the line/text input. Then you wait for the screen to go dim and the slow and painful ani­ma­tion of the GWFL client unfold­ing. You now get to some kind of “main menu”, from which you can do absolutely noth­ing. Here, you click on the “Friends” but­ton, and again, wait for the ani­ma­tion to fin­ish. Now you get your friends list, from which you may.….. click on a friend, and wait for yet another ani­ma­tion to fin­ish. You may then click “Invite”, and you get, once the next ani­ma­tion has fin­ished, a god­damn email inter­face! Then you click send, and the request is sent off, in a semi-random lan­guage (see one of the fol­low­ing points). Or, of course, you may some­times go directly to the email inter­face, from where you can either 1) fill out your friends name from mem­ory, or 2) click the “to” field to bring up (slowly, after another ani­ma­tion), a list of every god­damned per­son you’ve ever played a game with. In short: When I want to invite a friend to a game, I do not want to send an email. I don’t want to see the list of sev­eral hun­dred jerks whom I was matched against in ear­lier games. I want to see a list of my friends, the ones I have per­son­ally indi­cated an inter­est in play with by adding them to my friends list, click on the right one, and click “invite”.
  • Fix the lan­guage set­ting. I don’t want to get game invites in Nor­we­gian just because some­one from Nor­way is host­ing the game (as pointed out above, I don’t need an actual mes­sage from them at all! Just give me a choice of click­ing “accept/decline invi­ta­tion, not an actual email mes­sage). I also want to be able to set the lan­guage myself. Yes, I use Dan­ish regional set­tings, but that’s because I want the time and date for­mat­ted that way, not because I want to read your dodgy Dan­ish trans­la­tions in the GFWL inter­face. And despite those regional set­tings, I’m run­ning an Eng­lish copy of Win­dows, for pre­cisely this rea­son: My eng­lish is good enough that I pre­fer your prod­ucts in their orig­i­nal lan­guage, side­step­ping all the inevitable trans­la­tion issues. Said Nor­we­gian friend lit­er­ally didn’t under­stand what GFWL was try­ing to tell him when he first logged in. The so-called trans­la­tion was unin­tel­li­gi­ble. Of course, another Nor­we­gian friend, and god knows why, as they’ve com­pared all regional set­tings they could find and couldn’t find any mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence, got GFWL in eng­lish. Why? I’ve got­ten Dan­ish on a few occa­sions, but luck­ily, so far, it has mostly been in Eng­lish. But even so, I want 1) to be in con­trol of the lan­guage to use, and 2) proper trans­la­tions if you’re going to trans­late. And 3) as long as you don’t allow me to choose the lan­guage, I at least want it doc­u­mented how GFWL deter­mines which lan­guage to use. Then I can change that par­tic­u­lar set­ting in Win­dows, and get the lan­guage I actu­ally wanted to begin with.
  • Make the GFW logo (the non-Live one, to begin with) syn­ony­mous with actual qual­ity. Gears of War, one of your flag­ship titles was so badly ported it’s scary. Not only did the installer take the bet­ter part of two hours to com­plete, it was also buggy and required a patch to even launch the game. Which then didn’t work on 3 out of the 4 com­put­ers I’ve tried it on. This may sur­prise you, but to enforce a min­i­mum qual­ity across PC games, it is not enough to design a new logo, you also have to ver­ify that the games that get the logo actu­ally do behave sanely and actu­ally work on a PC. You have to ensure not just that the game works with a 360 con­troller, but that the game works bet­ter than those with­out the logo.
  • The ser­vices you pro­vide to games tied to your ser­vice should be bet­ter than what they’d have made them­selves oth­er­wise. Dawn of War 2’s match­mak­ing is an atroc­ity. It matches new play­ers against the most hard­core, it fre­quently takes min­utes to find a match even in Last Stand games where there’s only one team and it was full to begin with, so the total num­ber of play­ers it has to find is a big fat zero. And NAT errors are fright­en­ingly com­mon. More so than Relic’s pre­vi­ous game, Com­pany of Heroes. Or Dawn of War before it. Relic’s own home­brewed match­mak­ing and NAT-traversal code worked bet­ter than that being made avail­able by you for the bet­ter­ment of PC gaming.
  • Make it pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate and use your Marketplace.
  • On the sub­ject of the Mar­ket­place and lan­guage set­tings, per­haps it might look less ama­teur­ish if you could set­tle on just one lan­guage on the info page for your games. The tex­tual descrip­tion for most of the games cur­rently alter­nates between three lan­guages in my client: first I get a sen­tence or two in Dan­ish; then one in Ger­man, and finally we round off in Eng­lish. And this is all in the same textbox. They’re not even sep­a­rate para­graps, there’s no line break between them or any­thing. It is ridicu­lous, and very, very amateurish.
  • Lis­ten to com­mu­nity feed­back. When high-profile games jour­nal­ists have noth­ing pos­i­tive to say about your ser­vice, you have a prob­lem. When “ordi­nary” gamers feel just as bad about it, you have a big prob­lem. Per­haps a good start would be to pro­vide some­where for users to leave feed­back. Put it on Microsoft Con­nect. Or per­haps open a blog for GFWL specif­i­cally (rather than extend­ing what­ever XBL-related blogs you already have to also cover GFWL). Per­haps just add a “Con­tact” or “Feed­back” link on the GFWL web­site, even. I’ve spent far more time than is rea­son­able look­ing for a place to pro­vide feed­back, and failed to find anything.
  • Lis­ten to devel­oper feed­back. Even if you man­age to con­vince games jour­nal­ists and actual gamers of the ben­e­fits of your ser­vice, you need to get devel­op­ers on board as well.
  • Make the ser­vice for PC users. Show­ing us images of the 360 con­troller is just a bad joke. Yes, we may have bought one of those, and it may even be con­nected to our PC, but the default mode of con­trol is mouse and key­board. Deal with it. Telling us to press the A but­ton is not help­ful. Show­ing an icon of the 360 con­troller in the main GFWL bar only serves to make it look like you ported the ser­vice straight from the XBox, with­out chang­ing a line of code.
  • And finally, your ser­vice has to pro­vide us with some kind of value. What exactly do I gain from one of my games being GFWL-enabled that I wouldn’t have got­ten if it was 1) Steam-enabled instead, or 2) old-fashioned not-tied-to-any-thirdparty-online-service?

So dear Games For Win­dows Live team… Is 2010 going to be the year when you finally can­cel out the pain caused by your ser­vice? I’m not ask­ing for mir­a­cles, I don’t want you to makeany­thing that adds pos­i­tive value — I just want you to stop sub­tract­ing value from the prod­uct that uses your ser­vice. Please? Is it at least going to be the year when you start solic­it­ing feed­back? Open a blog? Open a con­nec­tion on MS Con­nect? Pro­vide a feed­back email address? A Twit­ter account? Any­thing that might show that you’re not just a bunch of mon­keys bang­ing blindly on keyboards.

Well, like I said, harsh, but some­times, the truth hurts. And it is noth­ing com­pared to how much your prod­uct cur­rently hurts PC gamers.

So please, tell me that when 2011 rolls around, I’ll be able to write a more upbeat post about my hopes for you in the fol­low­ing year.

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2 Responses to Hopes for 2010: Games for Windows Live

  1. Raj says:

    Nice post, agree with all the points ya made. Its funny, I came across this as I was search­ing for an error I was get­ting whilst using the GFW client. What a lovely ser­vice, makes me happy to be a PC gamer.….

  2. Scott Chiesa says:

    What a bunch of idiots at MicroSoft. I have been try­ing to pur­chase Age of Empires, but guess what?! The god­damn GFWL panel is all in Chi­nese!! I live in Hong Kong but I can­not read the lan­guage. I sim­ply can­not believe that there is not even an option to change the lan­guage. What a bunch of com­plete TOSSERS!!

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