Once again, Microsoft “relaunched” Games for Windows Live, either gambling that if they keep relaunching the same thing, eventually everyone will just give up and start using it, or perhaps that if they keep relaunching the same thing, eventually everyone will just give up and buy an XBox 360 instead. I don’t know. But it is really getting ridiculous.
Unlike the last time it “relaunched”, however, this time it actually has a new feature as well: it is now possible to view (and use) their store from a browser, or so they claim. And what’s more, games can now, apparently, be bought using money, actual human currency, rather than imaginary Microsoft Points.
In practice? Not so much.
I’ve mentioned before that the GfWL service is little more than an insult towards PC gamers and that Microsoft seemingly just doesn’t care. Once again, I’m left wondering whether the GfWL team is really as incompetent as it appears, or if has somehow been tasked with instilling as much hatred and loathing as possible in the average PC gamer, in an attempt to get everyone to move over to the much more profitable XBox.
So I never had high hopes when they announced yet another relaunch, this time with a web-based storefront. I assumed it would be as half-baked and sloppy as the rest of GfWL has always been. Turns out I overestimated them. It is worse.
The following chronicles my attempt to check out their new web marketplace:
Visit the website
I head over to http://www.gamesforwindows.com/ and attempt to log in. I am asked to sign in with a Windows Live ID. Now this, in itself, might be considered acceptable. Windows Live ID is widely used, but it makes me wonder: given that every one of their potential customers are known to already have accounts at one or more competing services, wouldn’t it perhaps be a smart move to try to support something common? Something that, unlike Steam, GoG or GamersGate, doesn’t require the user to create yet another account? Something that might at least give the illusion of accomodating the user, rather than trying to get the user (who really doesn’t care about GfWL, as he already has 50+ games on Steam, and another dozen on GoG and perhaps a few on other services) to jump through hoops for the sake of GfWL? In short, why don’t they allow me to sign in with my OpenID, or Facebook Connect? I am aware that many people do not use (or are not aware that they have) an OpenID, but nevertheless, it could have been a unique selling point of GfWL: “unlike our competitors, we do not require you to create yet another unique account whose password you can never remember. You’re allowed to reuse your industry standard OpenID, your Windows Live ID or your Facebook Connect.” That would have been a point in their favor. That would have given them a unique advantage, something the service severely needs.
Nevertheless, I give in, and sign in with my Live ID, the same one I used previously when I was forced to use GfWL. I am now faced with this:
Kindly explain to me why I have to visit xbox.com in order to accept the terms of service? I thought I was signing in to the PC Games for Windows Live service. They really are trying their hardest to impress on us that “you really actually want to play your games on XBox instead, right? Forget about this silly PC business, just like we’ve done”.
They don’t even redirect me to the site, they just give me a link, telling me to manually visit another, from the customers point of view, entirely unrelated, domain.
But never mind, this was hardly unexpected, and I’m curious to see this through. I head over to the XBox.com website, where I have to sign in again.
- the clause that they may revoke my access to the service if my gamertag is something that other users may find offensive. So not only can I lose access to the games I paid for based on what other users think, but they’re not even required to find my gamertag offensive — it is enough that there is a possibility that someone may find it offensive. Given Microsoft’s history of blocking users for the heinous crimes of living in Fort Gay, or even worse, having the last name Gaywood, I can’t help wondering what imagined offense will prevent me from accessing the games I paid for on their service.
- the disclaimer that “available content on The Service may occasionally be made unavailable” (translated from the Danish ToS I was faced with), which doesn’t really make it clear if we are talking about temporary unavailability (which is of course acceptable. It’s not like Steam has ever managed to stay afloat when a big game was launched either), or if they mean that they may occasionally remove content permanently — which would, well, suck, if it was content I paid for.
- and that content bought in a supported country may not be available in other countries, and I may therefore be unable to redownload bought content. This one just has me baffled. Surely my GfWL account has an associated nationality (and we’ll get back to that). As long as I am registered as a Danish user of GfWL, why should I not be allowed to redownload my games when I am on vacation in, say, Tanzania? Steam lets me download the games I have on my account, wherever I am. They do of course restrict access to purchasing games if I am in a country where the game is unavailable, but once I have paid for a game, Steam lets me download it and play it.
I briefly wonder if I can get these issues clarified by contacting support, and after clicking on the big Support button, I see this:
Soo, support regarding GfWL, or the Terms of Service you want me to accept is not an option, I take it? Very well…
Because of these concerns, I am now pretty certain that I won’t actually buy anything from the GfWL marketplace, but I still want to check it out. So I accept the ToS, and am, of course, taken to the main XBox.com page. (A sane service would of course have automatically redirected me to the ToS from the GfWL page, and then returned me to the GfWL site after I had accepted the terms. But hey, these are minor nitpicks.) I close the browser tab, go back to the GfWL site, and.… am asked to log in.
So as the good and patient would-be customer that I am, I sign in again, for the third time so far. But surely, the ordeal is now over.
Or is it?
Now, there are a couple of puzzling things about this. First, of course, is the question of *what are you talking about? Denmark has had GfWL for years. I was able (but unwilling) to buy games from your old client-based store, so why can’t I do it here?
The second is a follow-on, going “why is this still limited to select countries at all? Steam lets me access their store regardless of where I’m from. They just don’t allow me to buy individual games that aren’t available in my region.
The third is “wait, why does it say “United States” up there next to my username? I don’t recall lying about my nationality when I created my GfWL account. So either I never specified a nationality, or I entered “Danish. If I never entered a nationality, I would assume the website would ask me to fill in that information now. And as said above, if I claimed to be from Denmark, I would expect to be able to see the store.
Fourth: wait, so if you think I am from the USA, then are you seriously suggesting that your store is not available there? This is absurd.
And fifth: why does it refer to an “Xbox LIVE” account region? Why would I care about Xbox Live? This is the Games or Windows Live website, isn’t it? And I just signed in with my Games for Windows account. Could we perhaps stick to the matter at hand, and consider the availability of Games for Windows Live in my Games for Windows Live account region?
Let’s get this sorted out. First try: click on the “United States” link up next to my profile info. Presumably, if I can change this to say “Denmark”, then GfWL will recognize me as a Danish user and present me with the marketplace that, I presume, is available in Denmark.
Or not… Now, there are two ways to interpret this, and neither of them are what I need. Either this means that these are the only countries that are allowed to visit the GfWL store (which would exclude me), or it is merely allowing me to choose which language I’d like to see the site displayed in, which has nothing to do with whether or not the store is available to me at all.
I investigate a bit, and under Support, I see this:
So it seems pretty clear that the canonical list of supported countries is, where else, on xbox.com. Off we go again, and find this:
At this point, I’m starting to get mildly annoyed. It seems very much like both Denmark and the United States of America are supported countries, in which the marketplace should be available. I am still not sure what nationality GfWL thinks I have, but I assume it must be one of those two. And yet I am not allowed to visit the store.1
Even visiting XBox.com, and editing my profile from there yields no hint at how to specify a nationality. I can fill out a free-text “Location” field, which obviously does nothing for GfWL, but merely tells other users where I am from (or rather, where I would like them to belive that I am from)
Smooth. Real smooth…
So, let’s try one last thing: maybe if I log in again (in addition to the first three logins I described previously, I have regularly logged out and then back in, hoping for this to solve the problem. But now I do it again, as a last ditch effort before I throw in the towel)… Please, GfWL, just work this one time, will you? Let’s see…
ok, don’t work then. That’s cool too. But really, did you need to display not just an error message, but a broken error message, on a broken page? How very Microsoft. (Of course, if this had been MSDN, I’d instead have gotten a “This content has been moved”, and a link to another page which, when I click on it, would give me a 404 error.)
Some websites (the ones that actually attempt to run a successful business) would
- redirect the user to an actual error page when an error occurs, instead of rendering half of the “please select a country” page, and then, instead of displaying the countries I can choose from, display an error message, and
- display an actual error message, not just the internal name of the error, and of course
- not ever show the text “need message”. Either they would provide a message, or they would ensure that the message is never required. What’s next? “todo” labels on the main page? Frankly, this is just embarrassing.
Well, at this point, I gave up. Games for Windows Live is a joke. I’m not sure at whose expense. It certainly makes a mockery of the GfWL team and of Microsoft’s so-called commitment to PC gaming. Sadly, it also seems to be a big arrogant practical joke directed at their users. “Haha, we got them to give our so-called service another try”. It is obviously not intended for PC gamers to use or benefit from. It is clear that even the team behind it does not care about it, and does not take it seriously. It is clear that no one further up in the ranks are interested either.
But just to rub it in, here’s a bonus screenshot: after I’d given up, I remembered that during one of my visits to XBox.com, I was asked if I wanted to fill out a survey, that I accepted this request, and that I still had a browser window open with the survey.
Here’s the first question it asked:
I guess visiting the website because XBox Live’s sister site told me to is such a completely unexpected reason, especially on the launch day of said site’s new store, that the survey couldn’t possibly have taken it into account. Somehow, this just sums it all up wonderfully.
If anyone involved with GfWL is actually, genuinely trying to create a viable service, and if you feel I have grossly misrepresented you and your team, or if you just want to understand why I, and every other PC gamer on the planet (not least the entire staff of the world’s biggest gaming site dedicated entirely to PC games) loathe the service so much and how it can be improved, feel free to drop me a line (my contact information is displayed here, or contact me on Twitter. I promise I won’t bite.
Edit 16/11: added link to my previous rant on GfWL.
The reader may also find it amusing that in the last three screenshots, I have, apparently, been logged out again. I’m not sure how this happened, as at no point did more than a minute or two elapse between page requests. ↩