Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Trouble With Steam

This is not a posting about water above 100oC, it is about the online gaming service called Steam.  Now, living away from home five days per week and lacking the money and the energy to go out at all, my laptop is my prime source of entertainment.  As regular readers know I have long been a fan of the 'Total War' historical computer wargames.  Unfortunately since 'Empire Total War' in 2008, even though you buy a disk to load the game into your computer, you have to subscribe to Steam to play it.  There is no charge to subscribe, but it does inhibit game playing quite a bit and leaves me feeling resentful that many evenings I am unable to play a game that I have paid for.  You can buy games that you download from Steam too and they sell numerous classics at a discount rate, I reconnected with 'Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines' this way and was able to play it without having to download the 23 patches needed to make the disk version work.

I can see why the Steam system was developed.  It allows the company to advertise upgrades and extra content and they encourage you to buy other similar games.  There is also an online community to connect with.  There have long been options to fight battles in the Total War series online.  However, given how unpleasant the bulk of people I have encountered through online gaming are, notably so many players of 'World of Warcraft' I have no desire to play with them.  This blocks many of the unlockable achievements on the Steam system from me.  I hate being compelled to become part of a community.  I used to be a regular contributor to the online fora for Total War run by Sega itself and between being told I was utterly useless because I could not simply storm through each of the games on Very Hard setting by people unable to spell properly and having my comments censored by the company, I got very little joy from there either.

The key problem with Steam, though, is that despite having paid my £35 for the game, unlike in the old days with games like 'Medieval II Total War' or 'Rome Total War' simply having the disk is not enough to play the game.  I have owned a copy of 'Napoleon Total War' since it came out and enjoyed it.  There was a bug which meant that the game crashed about four years into the game time.  However, there was a patch that resolved that.  When I got a new laptop I reinstalled the game, but, of course, with the cyber attacks on Sega they had taken down the patch.  Thus, when I try to play it through the Steam account I am compelled to have, it simply crashes as before.  Steam are no use simply sending me back to Sega and anyone offering the patch now is in fact nothing more than a scam trying to infect your machine.  Thus, through no fault of my own except upgrading my computer, I can no longer play the game.

A new problem has arisen over the Christmas period with simply accessing games.  I have been enjoying the Rise of the Samurai scenario of 'Total War: Shogun 2'.  However, just when I have my strategy planned of how to defeat the tough clan in what is a pretty challenging version of the game, I find that I cannot get into the game.  I get time markers and then am told that the game is unavailable or has crashed.  Repeated tries bring no joy.  Again, I cannot play a game I have paid for.  The £35 only bought me the occasional chance to play the game, not regular access to it.  In addition, every couple of months there is some upgrade, some of them entirely spurious such as the one which made the opening screen which shows a 15th century Japanese castle, suddenly decorated with snowmen out the front of it, one holding a candy cane, something only invented four hundred years or so later, on a different continent.  In addition, the downloads seem to make my computer forget that I have bought the game and it tells me it is unavailable.  Initially the Steam staff again referred me to Sega, but then another told me I had to delete almost all the files and reinstall the game from Steam.  This I do diligently every time.  Again it is clear that paying my £35 has not brought the game to my computer, it has simply allowed me occasional random access.

I understand why, for commercial reasons, a hybrid online-disk system like Steam was created.  However, in terms of customer service it marks a real retrograde step.  If I buy a game I cannot be sure that I will be able to play it more than one or two evenings per week.  In the old days, as long as the disk was not scratched, once I had bought it, I could keep on playing it repeatedly for years to come.  The disk of 'Shogun Total War' that I bought in 1999 still works and I go back to it when I find for whatever reason I am unable to access its sequel. 

This model of only be able occasionally to use something you have paid good money for seems to be the acceptable model.  When I had BT internet they kept charging us month after month even though the internet connection broke down on a daily basis.  Despite a very patchy service they wanted to charge us £120 to break the contract and a further £90 to remove their equipment.  Since when did basic economics state that you have to pay for a service you might actually receive and pay even more to try to get out of that purchase of in fact sometimes nothing?  Will it spread and I will go to the dry cleaners and sometimes find my suit has not been cleaned and then be charged more if I want to have it cleaned at another dry cleaners?  Will I try and buy a burger and be told that they are unavailable at the moment and I have to come back an hour later for my fast food?

P.P. 04/02/2012
Steam has now deteriorated to the extent that I am unable to ever open 'Total War: Shogun 2' any more.  Even before that I was encountering other problems with the games I have via the service.  In the past month playing as different clans on 'Total War: Shogun 2' I have reached a certain date usually a round number like 1200 (if playing the 'Rise of the Samurai' add-on) or 1600 only for the game to crash.  I have gone back to an earlier saved game and tried picking different options to see if that will spare me from the crash only to find it still happens at the set date.

I have also gone back to playing 'Napoleon Total War' and the Peninsular War add-on which looked very interesting.  While I can still get into that game, it crashes the moment I attack someone or someone attacks me.  I have tried finding a patch for this problem on the internet but Sega seems to have stopped all the genuine ones.  The only ones advertised are in fact scams.  So another game which I paid for and used to be able to play is effectively shut off from me and Steam seems to be doing nothing about it.  The only response that I get is that I need to check my computer is suitable for the games.  Clearly it once was, well, up until January, and now for some reason it no longer is, or as I suspect something is going wrong with Steam.

1 comment:

Yammerhant said...

It seemed to me that every time I fancied a quick blast of Half Life 2 or Portal or whatever, Steam would announce that it was downloading updates, which always trickle down at a snail's pace. So I would wander off, make a cup of tea and pick up a book, and by the time the update process finished I had completely lost interest. It has certainly put me off purchasing anything else through Steam, and tempted me to download cracked versions of games instead.