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.