So yesterday I had some free time while my wonderful fiance made dinner, and decided was going to have a 'quick' game of Batman Arkham Asylum. It was a pained and frustrating experience, and here's how it went.
I fire up my games PC, (hooked up to the TV) and launch BatmanAA from the shortcut. I just installed it a few days ago so I decided at bare minimum I'd have time to play through the cut scene and get my game set up for proper action next time I play. The game loads, plays through the usual company logos and incessant nvidia whispering and gets to the menu. A box pops down from the top of the screen telling me I need to log in to GamesForWindows Live. In a pleasant stroke of luck I remember both my username and complicated password. I fill them in, and tell it to remember my details and sign me in automatically every time, lest I forget said password. I am presented with a message that "this game requires an update. If you decline this update you will be signed out". Signing out means I can't save my game progress, so I don't want to do that.
I do the update. A message tells me my computer "may restart" after the update. MAY restart? I take it I have no choice in it then? It's a bit vague and misleading. While it continues updating, it sits there with Batman AA in the background, meaning I literally can't do a THING with my PC until it's done. No surfing while I wait. No reading emails. Three minutes later its done, no restart required. Lucky me.
I relaunch Batman as it has dumped me to the desktop. I have to log in again to GFWL again, though I had already told it to sign me in automatically every time. Maybe I didn't check that the first time afterall. Oh well. Check it this time for sure. Now I am once more presented with the update message. Looks like it didnt work the first time. I try to update, and it won't connect, then it kicks me out to desktop. I change tactics and run GFWL from the start menu. That tells me I need a different update, not for the game but for GFWL itself. A prompt urges me to enable automatic updates (for Windows i assume, no I don't want that - already had it screw up my Nvidia drivers on me once) OR I can download it manually and run the install file. I choose the manual option, and it starts to download the gfwlupdate. I've now spent 15 minutes trying to play a game.
I Install the update to GFWL, and restart the app. Have to log in AGAIN. Tick automatically sign in AGAIN. Now there's an error message, a very helpful error 80154002.
"Click here to resolve" it says. I click. It launches IE8 even though Chrome is my default browser. It takes me, not to GFWL, but to the Xbox Live site where I am prompted to set up a profile. I know I've already done this for GFWL but I'll try anything at this point. I create a new profile for myself, same microsoft passport login. It creates the profile, redirects to another page and gets stuck in a redirect loop. After a minute or so it bombs out to a cert error page.
I navigate back to the Xbox Live site and put in the username and password of the profile I just created. It tells me I cannot use my profile with this site.
I google Games for Windows Live and go to the page it was presumably trying to send me to. This page is a giant empty hole where Flash should be.
I am prompted to install Flash, despite already installing it when I installed the OS. Flash installer crashes without installing in IE, reloading the page keeps prompting me to install it.
At this point I'm trying to remain calm, and I realise that the profile HAS been created so I probably don't NEED the website to work, as long as GFWL works now. I close it the IE8 window and start the desktop app for GFWL again which asks me to log in yet again. This time it works, prompts me to install Silverlight.
I follow the prompt. Silverlight installer launches in Chrome this time, not IE8.
Can this really be the company that created Xbox Live? Seriously? Between all this mucking about and documenting it, it's been half an hour or more. I have GFWL running now. It is cropping its own Silverlight ads so I can't see what they want me to buy, but I am logged in and GFWL is updated and thats all I can care about right now.
I start Batman again.
Unbelievably, I am prompted to log in a fifth time. It is now "Downloading profile".
I get the update message for the game. Again. I now realise "your computer may restart when the update is complete" does not mean it'll reboot, it means it 'may' forget everything I've done for the last five minutes and start at the beginning again. 45 minutes of Non-Gaming has now elapsed. This time it appears to actually be downloading something. 10 minutes later the progress bar is at about 40% (although there are no numbers). At around 60% it bombs out with error 0x80004005. This turns out to be a problem with my internet connection, as windows 7 has decided that my wifi network is gone, even though XP and android phone are picking it up fine. I go get a 15ft Ethernet cable and hook it directly to the PC and restart the process. Start game again. Log in again (6th time). Download update again. At this point. Fiance has long finished cooking dinner and is wondering why I'm so angry when I got to sit on my arse 'playing' with computers while she had to cook. I give up on the game, and we watch The Daily Show. Jon Stewart roasts some american politicians I've never heard of, and it's still very funny. 30 minutes later I check back in with GFWL and it has finally installed. My game is now ready to play, just a mere hour or so after I started the PC.
Rather than just yelling about how useless microsoft are, let's examine everything that went wrong here.
1. Most Crucially, the system failed to work correctly. It took several attempts to finish the process of updating the game so I could play it.
2. Communication breakdown: error messages were either vague or too technical.
3. A dodgy login system: even though I'm running the GFWL app and logged in, I'm forced to re login to GFWL when I run the game I want to play. It also never remembers my password at any point
4. Forcing the updates: I didn't NEED the updates in order to play. I could have been given an option to play as is
5. No background updates: Steam will happily update my games in the background while I play others. GFWL not only requires my full attention to install updates, it also locks me out of doing anything else at the same time without resorting to CTRL+ALT+DELETE. And I can't alt tab on Win7. Updates for individual games are not shown in the GFWL desktop client, and I can only download them once I start the affected game. This means that I can't play when I want to because the game has to update. In Batman's case, this update was made mandatory by GFWL threatening to log me out if I didnt do the update
6. Design inconsistency: GFWL on the desktop looks different to GFWL in the game which looks different to xbox live and the xbox live website. Not in mind altering Black is White, Up is Down ways, but different enough that buttons are not where you expect them to be all the time. GFWL login on the desktop looks like MSN Messenger with the numbers filed off, but not the in game or web signups. Sometimes they call it Xbox Live, sometimes GFW Live. One side uses Flash, the other silverlight. Some errors launch in the default browser, others do not. Some show codes, others don't. UI elements like progress bars and buttons do not sync up.
Games for windows live presents a user experience which is at best third rate and at worst a non-functional nightmare. The fact that Microsoft can deliver an experience like xbox live and then turn around and deliver THIS, is amazing.