Notoriously, infamously broken gaming social network/store/DRM Games For Windows Live appears to be, if not quite yet dead, then at least waiting nervously for a visit from the priest. Few shall mourn its loss. Indeed, I had hoped to never experience again its peculiar, malfunctioning attempts to control my savegames, DLC and freedom to play videogames I already own. Unfortunately for me, yesterday I decided it’d be a jolly good idea to play the excellent, under-promoted BioShock 2 add-on, Minerva’s Den. I forgot that it could not be installed via conventional in-game methods or even via Steam. I forgot that I had to go into the very belly of Microsoft’s ill-tempered GFWL beast. What followed was a two-hour oddyssey of installations and reinstallations, hidden folder hunting and registry editing. I was so angry, and yet today I feel oddly grateful.
PC gaming has become easy. Not compared to consoles or telephones, of course, but compared to PC gaming as-was. For the most part, we click a button on Steam or Origin or GamersGate or Desura or wherever, a game is delivered to our hard drive, we dick around in settings a bit and then we play it. Things can and do go wrong, of course, but either a patch, a forum post or a graphics card driver update so often fixes it. I have become lazy and complacent because of this – I expect to press a button and have everything just work, more or less. I have forgotten my time in the offline wilderness, the time that made a man of me. (I.e. a man who knows about stuff like regedit and EMS vs XMS) Yesterday’s travails took me back to the dark/golden ages of PC gaming, where installing a new game entailed girding myself for war, preparing myself to wade knee-deep in the blood of my PC’s file system.
While BioShock 2 can be installed and played via Steam without having to go anywhere near GFWL, if you want the multiplayer or any of the DLC, you have to invite Microsoft’s monster into your home. Minerva’s Den can only be acquired and/or installed via the Games For Windows Live client, which is an entirely external application which has repeatedly changed form, function and even name since BS2’s 2010 release. I doubt anyone’s monitoring, updating or supporting it now, but inevitably it blocked me from signing in and accessing that which I already owned. To battle, then.
I hated doing it. It felt like a punishment, I couldn’t believe that 2K, Microsoft or whoever it was could care so little about their PC players that they’d be happy for them to go through this. But when I emerged from the long, bitter conflict, after filleting my PC’s registry to the point that Windows wouldn’t start, after exploring and repeatedly deleting the darkest depths of the mysterious hidden AppData folder, after somehow having three different versions of the GFWL client running simultaneously, after uninstalling and reinstalling a 9 gigabyte game three times over, after reading innumerable abandoned forum threads, after the whining, both to myself and on Twitter, after being told that login details had changed and I would be returned to the main menu more times than any man could count, after so very nearly giving up but ultimately electing to have just one more go…
After all that, and more, to then, finally, be allowed to open the GFWL client, to login without being met by an unexplained error message, to simply click ‘install’ on the 1.9GB Minerva’s Den add-on, to load up BioShock 2 and then play the add-on – reader, I felt like a god.
I had done it. I had beaten that which meant to destroy me, that dark gatekeeper determined to stand between me and my entertainment. The ancient knowledge and confidence to tear away at my PC’s operating system and roll with the consequences had subsided, atrophied over time. Now, it is back. You can’t stop me, Games For Windows Live. Or anyone else. I will do whatever it takes to make software run on my hardware. GFWL, you tried to strike me down, but you have only made me stronger. For that, I thank you.
(Also Minerva’s Den is great, you should definitely play it. GFWL probably won’t let you, of course.)