GFWL: Malice or Incompetence?

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.

Visit XBox.com

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.

I can’t recall see­ing another site that was so clumsy as to require the user to sign in again when, after sign­ing in the first time, he or she is required to accept the Terms of Use. But this is Microsoft we’re talk­ing about. And not even that, it is Microsoft’s GfWL. It’s par for the course. So I log in again. I am now faced with their new terms of ser­vice. It does leave me won­der­ing about sev­eral things, such as

  • 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.

Wait, what?

I was just on this site. And even if that login expired, I just came from another of your domains, where I was updat­ing this very account and accept­ing the terms of use for it. And now you expect me to log in again? What hap­pened to giv­ing the user a pleas­ant expe­ri­ence? Just jok­ing. I already know how much you don’t care about that.

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?

Unavail­able

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?

Sup­ported Countries

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:

and 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.

Bonus

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.


  1. 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. 

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4 Responses to GFWL: Malice or Incompetence?

  1. Maxnormal says:

    Same story here in NZ. I was actu­ally look­ing for­ward to this after buy­ing FEAR 2 a few weeks back on spe­cial from the games for win­dows client. It down­loaded fast and included the DLC so i was pretty happy with the deal. Now I can­not like you log inot the store at all, and the daily deal spe­cials do not show up in the GFW client either.

    MS really dont want my money.

  2. Bwa­haha, what a bril­liant rant! :)

  3. neolith says:

    Kudos — I wouldn’t even have made it past the stu­pid Win­dows Live ID…

  4. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    “they may revoke my access to the ser vice if my gamertag is some thing that other users may find offen­sive“ Well, that ensures I won’t use it, as my GFWL user­name is an offen­sive remark about GFWL itself.

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