I don’t want this to turn into a rant post, so I’ll keep it as un-rant-y as I can. But I have a bone to pick with digital distribution. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say I have a problem with the management of digital rights.

Don’t get me wrong… I think digital distribution is one of the best things to come along since… well… the Internets. The ease of access to information, and the ability to transfer huge gobs of that information in the blink of an eye, is still a feat that blows my mind almost daily. Yes, I am easily amused. But certain companies out there need to realize that they are not providing any service whatsoever, and are only scaring away potential customers.

I don’t want to name names… but of course I will. I’m talking specifically about Games for Windows Live. Games for Windows Live has annoyed me many times before, but yesterday I finally put my finger on exactly what it is about them that frustrates me. Here’s what happened yesterday…

I was playing Batman: Arkham City, as I am still wont to do, because, as we all know, it is a fantastic game that merits continued play. After making Catwoman beat up hundreds of stupid thugs over the course of about an hour, I decided I wanted a change of pace. I used my Steam client to buy the Nightwing DLC, so I could continue to beat up thugs, but this time with electric batons. Obviously.

So I complete my purchase through Steam, as I usually do, and I wait for the content to start downloading and installing automatically, as it usually does.

Nothing.

“DAMN YOU, STEAM!” I cry. “I WANT TO CONTINUE TO BEAT UP THUGS! I AM AN AMERICAN AND THEREFORE VERY IMPATIENT! WHY ARE YOU NOT DOWNLOADING MY PURCHASE?!”

That last part is the legit part. I just spent a small but real part of my paycheck on an product, and I would like to possess the product, now, please. And Steam is usually so on the ball with this kind of thing. It’s trained me to not worry about doing anything; I just pay, and then Steam downloads and installs my game for me. No muss, no fuss. I kind of like it like that.

But now I’m on Google and looking for a reason why my Nightwing DLC is not downloading, because I didn’t get so much as an error message through Steam. After some digging, I find that Steam is not the culprit. They’ve done nothing wrong. I should have figured. Sorry again, Steam. I take you for granted so often, and you’re so good to me.

Guess who the culprit is? Go ahead. That’s right… it’s Games For Windows Live. Because guess what? Even though I bought it through Steam, I have to download it through Games For Windows. Does Games for Windows inform me of this minor detail? Of course it doesn’t. I had to find this out through fellow gamers on the Interwebs. So, finally, I figure out that I have to log in to GFWL in-game, put in my product code that Steam gave me, quit the game, download the content through GFWL, restart the game, and there, Lo and Behold, was my Nightwing DLC.

And that’s when it hit me; Games For Windows Live does absolutely nothing. They provide no service to me. I bought Arkham City (and the DLC) through Steam, so I need to use Steam to play my game. I get that. That makes sense to me. I made that choice when I purchased a game from their digital storefront. But every time I want to play the game I have to also log on to Games For Windows Live. Why do I need to do that? I don’t know. I never use GFWL for anything. It’s just there whenever I play, taking up valuable seconds of my play time, or asking me to restart the game several times while it updates itself.

This brings me to my admittedly long-winded point. If you are a service that does nothing for the consumer, than you are not a service at all. Get out of the way. If I owned an XBox and I wanted to buy a game online, I would have to use you. I understand fully. But I am playing my game on a PC, and so I have other options. If you want me to use Games For Windows Live, you should give me a reason to do so. Offer me a deal on some games, like Steam does. Tweak your service so it’s easy and painless to use. Like Steam does. Offer me an incentive. Don’t cram your superfluous software down my throat because you need to plaster your brand on something you had no part in. It’s just one more password I have to remember.

I know… it’s a very minor inconvenience. This is why I didn’t want to rant about it. I just don’t understand why it’s there in the first place. GFWL literally does nothing for me. I log on when I start the game, and that’s where my GFWL experience ends. And they’re not the only guilty party. I also bought Assassin’s Creed 2 through Steam, and Ubisoft had some useless GFWL equivalent that I was required to install before I could play the game. All I get is a cluttered splashscreen that I promptly ignore so I can get to the important business of using the product I just bought.

Why is this important? It’s not, really. It’s proof that I run a website and am willing to post my ramblings for the entire world to (potentially) see, and that’s about it. But Mass Effect 3 is coming out very soon. And it is not available through Steam. I have to use EA’s client, Origin, if I want to buy it online. Which is fine, I guess. Fair’s fair. Even if I buy a physical copy of the game, I still have to use Origin to play the game. Not something I like to hear, but Valve does the same thing, and so again, fair’s fair. And I was pretty happy to be able to re-download a copy of Left 4 Dead when I was staying at a friend’s house and I didn’t have my physical copy of L4D with me. But I’ve also heard nasty things about Origin. That it’s intrusive, that it’s essentially spyware. I don’t know if that’s true. I honestly haven’t read up on it enough. But I do know that you don’t keep customers by forcing your product upon them. You entice customers to your doorstep by offering them excellent customer service and the occasional sweet deal.

Which is what Steam does.

I leave you with a recommendation. It’s a great article by Kyle Munkittrick at his blog Pop Bioethics, about why Mass Effect is absolutely tip-top science fiction. It’s a fantastic read if you’re a Mass Effect fan. I happen to agree with him. A warning, though. If you are unfamiliar with Mass Effect, the article has MAJOR SPOILERS FOR MASS EFFECT 1 AND 2! So don’t read it if you haven’t finished those games. Play the games first, see for yourself how great they are, and then read the article. Also… why haven’t you played Mass Effect yet?

Oh, and do yourself a favor and check out The Penny Arcade Report if you haven’t done so already.

I’m going to go beat up some thugs now.

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