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Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Time to stop buying from Steam?
 

Time to stop buying via Steam?

Posted by Richard Goodwin on 13:07, 28/7/2009 | , ,
 
Back at the start of this month I decided to take a break from debugging some code and have a quick de-stressing blast on Team Fortress 2. As I loaded the Steam client, the "updates" window popped up what seemed to be a bargain - Fallout 3, half price just for that weekend! That'll be fun, thinks I, and cheap too!
 
It really didn't turn out that way.

I never got to see the game in action at all. I mean, I got to see the menu - loads of times - but after "Start New Game", all I'd be seeing is my own desktop. All the more galling, I'd get little messages popping up telling me "Phlamethrower is now playing Fallout 3", taunting me. I would have liked to have been playing Fallout 3, too.
 
There are, alas, two main problems with buying games from Valve via their Steam client:
  1. They don't support games they don't write
  2. They don't do refunds
The first point is kind of understandable - if they didn't write it, they probably don't know enough about it to help get the game running. On the other hand, most developers just develop games for delivery on shiny disks, whereas Valve would be the experts on Steam itself - so if the problem was to do with a corrupted download, you might expect at least a "delete the cache and re-download" raindance. You could also argue that most first line support is done from a script these days, so it's not so hard for anyone to support a product - but that's an arguement that could cut both ways (if anyone can do it equally well, why hassle Valve?).
 
What I got was a stock response telling me to go to their support page and follow a link to the developer's website. Which didn't work. So via Google I got to the Bethesda forums, which gave a link to a Microsoft download to fix the Live software. That link didn't work. After thrashing around on my own I went back to Valve, who finally gave me a link that did work, to Bethesda's generic support contact form. Guess what? It didn't work. The email server seemed to be rejecting mail from the web server.
 
In the mean time I'd been reading the Valve forums, and it appeared the game has problems on a certain operating system - there was a long line of "me too!" posts from Vista users. I followed a number of suggestions - updating .Net, my video drivers, Live; disabling software such as ffdshow; even installing a hack to disable the game's Live component completely - all to no avail. Needless to say, the game didn't exactly take my mind off that debugging quite as much as I'd hoped.
 
The only option seemed to be to take the game back to where I'd bought it, and ask for a refund. Only, Valve don't do refunds.
 
Actually, I didn't know that at this point of the proceedings, mainly because Valve didn't bother to answer when I informed them I couldn't get through to Bethesda. After ten days, I sent yet another request, pointing out that this level of service didn't bode well for future Steam purchases. It was only then that I found out about their refund policy:
Please note [...]
that Steam purchases, per the Steam Subscriber Agreement, are not refundable
There are a number of problems with this. It's well established that very few people read "shrink-wrapped" contracts, which makes their enforcability somewhat dubious even in the States. In the UK I should be protected by laws such as the Sale of Goods Act - if a product you've purchased is "unfit for purpose", you're entitled to a full refund, which trumps any amount of small print. I purchased the game in the UK, and prices are all in pounds sterling, so don't UK laws apply? The problem is I just don't know - the company is obviously American, and on further inspection it appears the "store" is hosted in America too, despite detecting where you're accessing it from and using your local currency. I'm not even sure I purchased the game, or if I'm just renting it in some way - and come to think of it, what happens if Valve go bankrupt and their servers go offline?
 
Whatever the legal technicalities, you would expect if a game doesn't run at all, you can just go back to the shop you got it from and ask for a refund. True, some people might abuse this by playing the game and then taking it back afterwards, but here Valve is in a somewhat unique position - they know exactly when I purchased the game, exactly when I first started saying I had problems, and in all probablility when I connected to their service to actually play the game. None of that really matters however, because in retail most stores would probably just give the money back anyway, just to keep the customer sweet. But I had a game that didn't work - never got past the title screen, likely it never would - and I was expected to just write the money off.
 
I should come clean and say that, for dramatic effect, I snipped the ends from my previous quoting. The line that informed me of the refund policy reads in full:
Please note in the future that Steam purchases, per the Steam Subscriber Agreement, are not refundable -
this refund was issued as a one-time customer service gesture.
So I did get back my money eventually. So all's well that ends well, right? Well, not really. This time I got my money back. But what about next time? The only reason I got a refund might have been because my message slipped through the cracks for 10 days - or they might refund anyone who makes enough noise. Whereas if I just buy games on shiny disk from a bricks and mortar shop (or a "proper" online shop like Amazon), I'm pretty certain of their refund policy. And that, if it does work (as is most often the case), the game will continue to be mine in the future.
 
And that I don't have to spend all day downloading it over my Virgin broadband connection that drops to 1Mb part-way through.

 
  Time to stop buying from Steam?
  flibble (20:54 28/7/2009)
  Phlamethrower (23:24 28/7/2009)
  Loris (00:38 29/7/2009)
    filecore (05:00 29/7/2009)
      rich (09:53 29/7/2009)
        filecore (11:11 29/7/2009)
          rich (12:03 29/7/2009)
    rich (09:46 29/7/2009)
      Loris (19:13 1/8/2009)
        filecore (20:07 1/8/2009)
          rich (14:36 3/8/2009)
            bhtooefr (14:41 3/8/2009)
              Phlamethrower (00:13 7/8/2009)
                bhtooefr (01:42 7/8/2009)
                  filecore (05:34 7/8/2009)
            sa_scott (09:40 10/8/2009)
  VincceH (08:18 29/7/2009)
 
Peter Howkins Message #110693, posted by flibble at 20:54, 28/7/2009
flibble

Posts: 859
Piracy, the marketplace of the future.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Jeffrey Lee Message #110697, posted by Phlamethrower at 23:24, 28/7/2009, in reply to message #110693
PhlamethrowerHot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot stuff

Posts: 15053
The number of "Phlamethrower is now playing Fallout 3" messages would be a lot less if the game didn't crash so much unhappy
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Tony Haines Message #110699, posted by Loris at 00:38, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110693
madbanHa ha, me mine, mwahahahaha
Posts: 1025
I lost track of the number of games I bought in the old days, on cassette, 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" floppies that didn't work, and never got a refund from.

Oh, and you're running Vista? Are you mad?
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Jason Togneri Message #110700, posted by filecore at 05:00, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110699

Posts: 3867
Of course you own your copy, and if Valve goes bust and the servers all go offline - didn't you realise that Steam has an offline mode nowadays, to allow you to play when you're not connected to teh intarwebs?

(I think at some point it didn't and the creation of such is the result of much angst and furore on the part of the user community; and even if it didn't, there's always the illegal Steam emulators and suchlike.)
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
VinceH Message #110701, posted by VincceH at 08:18, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110693
VincceH
Lowering the tone since the dawn of time

Posts: 1577
Their refund policy can probably be trumped anyway - you just report the issue to your credit card company. AFAIK it's not going to matter where the "shop" is based. It means a few more hoops to jump through, but it should get the money back. (Next time).
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Richard Goodwin Message #110703, posted by rich at 09:46, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110699
Rich
Webmaster
The Icon Bar

Posts: 6765
I lost track of the number of games I bought in the old days, on cassette, 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" floppies that didn't work, and never got a refund from.
By did you actually try? Without clarification it might seem like you're equating laziness with lack of rights.

Also, I think games a much more expensive these days - you used to get tapes from the local Co-op for pocket money prices, now game DVDs can cost up to £60 (certainly £30-40, before they get old and discounted).
Oh, and you're running Vista? Are you mad?
Vista's fine - if:
a) you didn't have to pay for it and
b) you got it when you upgraded to a quad core machine
I tend to buy very cheap ex-Dell stock, and occasionally you get the OEM discs.

Once you disable the user access control stuff, it's almost exactly the same as XP that some modder made pretty, except it also has DX10 and a filer that works properly - if you start an overnight disc copy, it does what it can and then asks what to do with the rest, rather than sitting there like a dumb shit all night with an error box that stops the operation dead.

The machine I'm typing this on is Ubuntu, and to be honest the number of times I had to type the password (or required a root shell to fix problems) when setting it up makes UAC seem tame.
________
RichGCheers,
Rich.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Richard Goodwin Message #110704, posted by rich at 09:53, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110700
Rich
Webmaster
The Icon Bar

Posts: 6765
Of course you own your copy, and if Valve goes bust and the servers all go offline - didn't you realise that Steam has an offline mode nowadays, to allow you to play when you're not connected to teh intarwebs?
But only if you go online first to tell them you want to offline a game, so it seems.

My Internet connection goes down every winter when water gets into the box at the end of the road, and I couldn't just flip to offline mode. That was several months ago of course...
________
RichGCheers,
Rich.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Jason Togneri Message #110706, posted by filecore at 11:11, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110704

Posts: 3867
Nope, I'm sure I've used the offline mode before - you try launching the game, and if it can't make a connection, it will eventually revert to offline mode. You don't need to ever have been online. Or possibly there's also a command line switch you can insert into a shortcut (so you can have an online and offline shortcut - I can't recall, but I think it's "-nosteam").

A quick search on Google (not, you'll note, "a quick google") brings up the following:

Select File -> Go Offline. Steam will restart and you'll be in offline mode.
and

Make a text document and write ForceOfflineMode=Enable and then save as steam.cfg (not steam.cfg.txt) in Steam map.

Then it will enter offline mode everytime you start steam, without the need to start steam online and then enter offline from there.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Richard Goodwin Message #110707, posted by rich at 12:03, 29/7/2009, in reply to message #110706
Rich
Webmaster
The Icon Bar

Posts: 6765
And how was I supposed to Google[*] this information with no Internet connection? tongue

The text file hack sounds like the best way of doing it. It does, however, back up my assertion that by default (i.e. without this hack) you have to start online to go offline, which is silly. The previous info says you start in online mode, then restart the client - why on earth should this be necessary?!

Waiting for something to time out is bad from a usability standpoint, although as a workaround is OK as long as you know about it. Well-designed software shouldn't really rely on workarounds however.

Of course, one of my favourite time wasters of the moment is Team Fortress 2, which is very useless without an Internet connection wink

* It's been verbed, get over it wink
________
RichGCheers,
Rich.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Tony Haines Message #110767, posted by Loris at 19:13, 1/8/2009, in reply to message #110703
madbanHa ha, me mine, mwahahahaha
Posts: 1025
I lost track of the number of games I bought in the old days, on cassette, 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" floppies that didn't work, and never got a refund from.
By did you actually try? Without clarification it might seem like you're equating laziness with lack of rights.
Well, I did what I could. At 10 years old or so you don't necessarily know your rights or what to do about it. I couldn't pay by credit card so that wasn't an option. Maybe the law on software licencing was a bit more of a grey area then too. Sometimes the problem was that the game ran fine on other computers, it just didn't work on ours. Often it was a copy protection vs hardware issue. On the Arc I eventually discovered that some games were trying to run the memory faster.

There was one game, I think it was called Bambuzle, which was particularly annoying, because it was the copy protection which buggered it - there was a demo which worked fine. When I spoke to them they promised to send an unprotected copy if I returned the original. Then the fuckers went bust or something and disappeared.

My impression is that PCs are even worse for getting games working now, so I don't buy any. Not that I have the time anyway.
I bought an episode of a TV series I missed fairly recently. Getting it to play was a nightmare, it took hours of installing DRM shit to guarantee that I won't be able to play it on any other computer or if any part of the computer's configuration changes. Not doing that again.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Jason Togneri Message #110769, posted by filecore at 20:07, 1/8/2009, in reply to message #110767

Posts: 3867
I bought an episode of a TV series I missed fairly recently. Getting it to play was a nightmare, it took hours of installing DRM shit to guarantee that I won't be able to play it on any other computer or if any part of the computer's configuration changes. Not doing that again.
Piracy is your friend big grin
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Richard Goodwin Message #110791, posted by rich at 14:36, 3/8/2009, in reply to message #110769
Rich
Webmaster
The Icon Bar

Posts: 6765
I bought an episode of a TV series I missed fairly recently. Getting it to play was a nightmare, it took hours of installing DRM shit to guarantee that I won't be able to play it on any other computer or if any part of the computer's configuration changes. Not doing that again.
Piracy is your friend big grin
I was about to say the same thing smile Good job I read to the end.

With games, some people will download dodgy copies just to get something to remove the copy protection on a game they've bought. The game might work but be a bit of an arse swapping CDs around all the time, or it might just plain not work. There are sites devoted just to software that defangs copy protection, but of course downloading dodgy software off the Internet is an invitation to viruses and the like to cause havoc with your computer.

With TV, there are some legit (US) services to view or download TV shows, but some of these are so ridiculous you end up downloading a dodgy copy anyway. For instance, services like Hulu (and Comedy Central*) don't play to non-US residents, even things like previews or interviews which surely they'd like as many people as possible to watch!

iTunes may or may not allow non-US residents to download US TV shows (I doubt it!), but offer a crappy-sized movie file that often, if you add up the cost of a season, costs more than waiting for the DVD box set - which is expensive to start with! I don't have an iPhone or the like however, so I don't know if this is still the case.

In the UK, the BBC iPlayer has forced most other companies to follow them in having free, fairly open repeats of most shows, available for up to a month. It seems pretty popular.

With music, the recording industry is even more screwed - they are just starting to wake up to the fact that restricting what devices people can use to play something they've paid for is an invitation to piracy, only to find that free, legal Internet streaming is in the ascendant. They can't even get music stolen now, never mind bought!

* it might just have been the Stephen Colbert stuff I wanted to see after reading an article about him - they made some lame joke about not sending any more Red Coats over there in the error message.
________
RichGCheers,
Rich.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Eric Rucker Message #110792, posted by bhtooefr at 14:41, 3/8/2009, in reply to message #110791
Member
Posts: 336
Some networks in the US offer their stuff for free for a while after it airs, too. And, try viewing iPlayer content outside of the UK. Works just as well as trying to watch most US TV content outside of the US, so I have to pirate Top Gear episodes. (We do get them on BBC America... about 6 months to a year later, and with a lot of stuff edited out to make room for ads. Besides, I don't even have a TV, much less cable TV.)

(And no, it's not just the Colbert stuff, IIRC. They were just trying to be funny with their error message.)
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Jeffrey Lee Message #110853, posted by Phlamethrower at 00:13, 7/8/2009, in reply to message #110792
PhlamethrowerHot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot stuff

Posts: 15053
That's the most impressive Fallout 3 crash I've seen so far - it managed to knock Windows down to 640x480, 16 colours!
Image1.png 640x480 7.9KB
Image1.png
640x480
7.9KB

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Eric Rucker Message #110854, posted by bhtooefr at 01:42, 7/8/2009, in reply to message #110853
Member
Posts: 336
That's likely a video driver bug, not a Fallout bug. wink
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Jason Togneri Message #110857, posted by filecore at 05:34, 7/8/2009, in reply to message #110854

Posts: 3867
That's likely a video driver bug, not a Fallout bug. wink
No, you're wrong, surely. Microsoft write all their own video drivers (after all, they do manufacture all the hardware); therefore, anything that ever goes wrong with Windows - 3rd party apps, 3rd party drivers, 3rd party hardware - must therefore be Microsoft's fault. Or maybe part of their evil plan! OMG WTF LOL.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 
Stephen Scott Message #110867, posted by sa_scott at 09:40, 10/8/2009, in reply to message #110791
Member
Posts: 70
Shame you've had such a bad time with the Steam client. I have to admit, I've only used it to play the Half Life series (which I have to say is the pinnacle of FPS, in terms of all round entertainment, atmosphere and storytelling), and I've had no problems with it (even when initially using dialup to install HL2 on a laptop in Malaysia, and this was the early days of Steam).

We're slowly but surely getting spoiled for choice with regards to online content. iPlayer is great for BBC TV and radio, Spotify is an absolute gem for listening to music freely, and legally, and Steam does provide a genuine opportunity for developers to sell their games.

It's a shame then, that such services are still subject to old school legal hurdles and restrictive distribution agreements, preventing someone outside the UK being able to access iPlayer. Stephen Fry admitted to downloading an illegal copy of House in a recent speech, only because he couldn't find a legal way of watching it.

Consumer demand will result in them being overcome, as the alternative is resorting to illegal means.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
 

Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Time to stop buying from Steam?