So I read about a new RTS game, Dawn of War II, and since Strategy games are my favorite type of PC game, I picked it up at Best Buy while on vacation.
I've been a computer programmer for 26 years (professionally for 22). I was part of the Microsoft team which put out the first version of Windows NT. I know how computers work, inside and out. I know how operating systems work, although I will admit I don't use Vista for anything except playing games so I'm not very good with it.
I go to install it on my MacBook Pro with 3G RAM and 512MB video card running Vista 32 Home Basic (I have MSDN with all the Vista versions, but this is the smallest install so that's what I used).
First, it makes me install something called "Steam." This is something I have assiduously avoided installing because I have heard it is very intrusive and prevents you from actually owning any game you own, but since I was on vacation and could easily wipe my Boot Camp if it did something unsavory, I decided to go with it. This Steam install seems to take a very, very long time (an hour or two) and forces me to create some sort of Steam account, which I do because it didn't ask for any information other than name and e-mail address. (I would have given it a fake name too, except for the fact that my e-mail address is a give-away for my name anyway.)
Finally, it gets Steam installed, which does lots of back and forth on the Internet and then keeps running in the background. Mind you, I'm trying to install a single-player game for which I own the DVD and it's sitting in the drive. But, the game is not installed, I learn, when I tell it I want to play the game and there are no games listed in the "My Games" section. Well, that's stupid, so somehow I figure out how to tell it to install the actual game Dawn of War II.
This goes amazingly slowly. I mean, it's already been over an hour and I don't even have a game installed. This takes about two hours - no joke - to install 3.6 GB of game from a DVD. I can watch a 2 hour 7 GB DVD in the same amount of time, so I have no idea why copying files takes 2x as long as viewing them. Hard drives just aren't that slow.
So, I eventually gave up and let it install overnight and came back to it the next day.
There is no desktop icon for Dawn of War II, so I hunt around the hard drive to try to run the installed game. I finally found it, and all it seems to do is run Steam, connect to the Internet and hang. I try running it a handful of times, and then I run the Steam program (which was actually running the whole time in the system tray, wasting my memory and CPU resources). There, it says Dawn of War II is installed so I attempt to launch it (with the launch button). It shows some multiplayer code on the screen and says I need to enter it into the game to get it to work. I ignore it because I couldn't give a damn about multiplayer, I just want to play the game already after several hours now in the second day of trying.
The game hangs for a long while. I cancel it and re-launch several times. Finally I just give up and let it sit there for like 30 minutes. It does something about patching, or installing, or updating, and pops up a command line window which then disappears again after a while, and finally dumps me back at the Steam games list which now has a button saying "news" and some comment about it being fully installed. You mean, it's only now fully installed after three hours?
Anyway, so I launch it again, and nothing. I kill the program, exit Steam, and try again. Still nothing. After a few more tries it turns out it was popping up an error message underneath all the other windows, saying that my Windows Paging File size must be at least 1.5GB. Wait, what? Why? I have 3GB of RAM and I don't want any virtual memory being used. But, it doesn't care, and eventually I give in and tell Windows that it can allocate a paging file anywhere between 16M and 1536M (1.5GB). I re-launch the game and, guess what... Same thing! So I tell Windows it can create a paging file between 1536 and 1600M and the game now finally launches. Mind you, now I also am wasting 1.5G on my hard drive for a paging file that will never get used, out of a 20G partition (half of which is the smallest possible Vista install).
So, guess what... The game finally launches!
I have to sit through 4 introductory scenes that I couldn't escape out of. Flying logos for THQ, Relic, nVidia, and another one I can't remember what it was. A waste of a minute. Then, it starts some sort of video cutscene. This is extraordinarily violent and my 4.5 year old son is sitting right next to me, excited to try the game out. I hit escape. Space. Click the mouse buttons. Hit every other key on the keyboard, but I can't get the intro video to stop playing, and it's only getting more and more violent. Finally, I turn the monitor off using the brightness controls, so my son doesn't have to watch it. Five or six minutes later the game finally gives me control back.
So, now it's been about four hours and two days of installing this game, and I get a menu that says three things: Campaign, Multiplayer and Options (oh, and Exit). Of course, I set the options first, which is no big deal. The opening graphic on lowest settings actually runs smoothly, but each time you change the options the game completely restarts. You're kidding me, right? At least it didn't replay the opening video.
Finally, I go to play the game after all this. My son is bouncing up and down excited to play a new game. (He plays all sorts of games with me, like Everquest, Guild Wars, World of Goo, Lego Batman, etc.) I hit the option for the single-player campaign and get a message saying that I need to have a Windows Live account to play. I click the button saying I don't have one, and it goes back to the main menu.
I can't play the game that I bought, that I have the DVD to and box to right here, in single-player mode with my son sitting next to me unless I give Microsoft detailed information about me, and create an account, and am connected to the Internet?
That's it. I'm done with this game.
In fact, I'm done with anything with "Steam" or "Windows Live." I tell Windows to uninstall Steam and Dawn of War II, and I'm going to return the game to Best Buy. If they don't want to take the return, then I will tell American Express to cancel the charge.
I would have loved to play the game. It should have worked like this:
1) Install game
2) Play game
That's the way every other game works, and how games should work.
This vendor has turned a customer who loves computer games, who is willing to pay $50 every month (and sometimes several times a month) into someone who will never buy another game from "Relic" or "THQ" or "Steam" ever again, and will assiduously avoid any game that says "Windows Live" on it.
I would say that I would go and find some Internet version of the game that has none of this crappy baggage (just unzip and run) and play it, except for the fact that they have pissed me off so badly and left such a terrible taste in my mouth (not to mention disappointed my son), that I do not ever want to play this game again. I can't believe I wasted four or five hours of my life - and my vacation - dealing with this piece of crap.
Well, my list of things I won't do on my PC is expanding; the above vendors join Electronic Arts and their SecuROM, limited install stuff. The PC gaming vendors are losing all my business.
The vendor that will have my business is Stardock. They have some great games (Galactic Civilizations II, Sins of a Solar Empire, World of Goo) and make it very easy to install on as many computers as I want, with or without the CD/DVDs. No SecuROM.
I cannot recommend to software vendors enough: Avoid DRM. Avoid Internet connections. Avoid anything other than having the DVD in the drive at the worst. (I used to hate that requirement but all the laptops I've owned in years have all had DVD drives so it's no longer a big deal.) I'm through with your abuse; I'm a paying customer and I am not going to pay for it anymore.
Conclusion: Do not buy Dawn of War II. Avoid at all cost.
Corollaries: Do not buy anything that uses Steam. Do not buy anything that uses "Windows Live." Do not cede your first sale rights. Make sure the DVD you buy actually contains the game you bought.