Rantasmagoria: A Puzzle of the Tech

20 Feb

Perhaps you recall Shamus Young’s rant about Games for Windows LIVE, the snarl of ass-backwards interfaces and computer cancer that Windows is using to…I’m not actually sure what it’s for. If it was intended to compete with Steam, which is conceivable, then it’s actually a little bit funny how badly they’re doing. There’s a pretty bleak contrast between their quality, ubiquity, and fan support. One the one hand, Steam is a service I’ve come to accept and even welcome on my computer. It offers a few interesting features, an efficient game installation hub, and a vast, easy-to-use store that’s chock full of bargains on any given day. You will find many people who are actual fans of Steam. Games for Windows LIVE has as many fans as chlamydia.

I had my first brush with Games for Windows LIVE fairly recently, when I booted up Arkham Asylum and it prompted me to create an account. It offered me a choice between an Online Account and an Offline Account. Now, keep in mind that neither was even a little bit necessary. The game already has Steam’s DRM loaded. It’s designed for single-player gameplay. If it has an achievement system in Offline mode, I haven’t seen a trace of it. But what the hell, creating an Offline account is reasonably quick, so I’ll get it over with.

This is my account. Did I mention I've been in a bad mood lately?

Then Kane and Lynch comes along. Yeah, everyone hates it, bad reviews, the Gerstmann thing, I know. It was on sale for five dollars–and even then I wouldn’t have even considered buying it, except that Jibar and I needed a new game to play co-op for our video series and K&L is based around a co-op mode. Besides, Jibar actually really likes the game. We deducted ten bucks from the JaR profits and each got ourselves a copy.

Once we’d loaded it up and determined that it could be recorded smoothly, I set about making a LAN game to host on our Hamachi server. It was then that I discovered—and this is not reported anywhere—that to play co-op, you need an Xbox 360 controller.

That’s right. To play with two people on the PC, you need a 360 game controller plugged into the machine. They took a game that was designed to be played with two people, and when they ported it to the computer, they require it to be played split-screen. That’s like designing a car that only works when it’s hooked up to at least two horses, and then not listing that in the car’s features. Re-reading the game’s listing on the store page, I can be just charitable enough to call their approach grossly misleading. I would be more tempted to call it swindling.

Luckily for our recording prospects, there is another, less elaborate gameplay mode that can be played multiplayer. It won’t make for a full JaR season, but it’ll fill up a couple episodes and we can get our money’s worth. The only thing is, despite the game using Steam’s servers, you can only play if you have a LIVE account. Great.

With some difficulty, I bring up the intensely ugly Games for Windows LIVE dashboard that’s crowbarred into every Windows release. I try to move my mouse to select the menu, but the cursor doesn’t move. Did it lock up my machine? I press an arrow key experimentally; this changes my selection on the menu. No mouse support on the menu, huh? Fantastic. Let’s party like it’s 1996.

I find a link on the menu that’ll let me create a GWL account, then click on it. That’s when the game locks up.

After rebooting, I go through the above process again, and it somehow manages to work this time. The link actually takes me out of the game and brings up a web page using Internet Explorer, which I didn’t even know I had installed. I was just lazy enough not to copy the link and bring it up again in Firefox purely out of spite.

The web page tells me that before I can create my LIVE account, I have to register an e-mail address. I think. I’m still not exactly sure what it was asking me to do, but that’s okay, this is what spam accounts are for.

I go through an invasive, lengthy, and captcha-ridden application process, by the end of which I have furnished the Microsoft database with a host of fraudulent information about my name, whereabouts, and birthplace. This takes about ten minutes, about half of which is spent coming up with creative ways to work insults into my “personal information”. Then I go back to other page and follow the link to create my actual account. The link, which is provided on the official Microsoft page linked to their contemporary GWL releases, is dead.

Not only is it a 404-type page, it’s a 404-type page on the Xbox Live website. Now, I’m the first to admit that I have something of a working knowledge of computers. I can find my way around them and solve simple to moderately complex problems, and I have a rudimentary knowledge of computer structure, but it’s rare that know exactly what I’m doing and I do occasionally mislay or misinterpret hardware buzzwords. However, while I’m not an expert, I’m pretty secure in asserting that a personal computer is not an Xbox. What’s more: I’m pretty sure the FAQ/press release on the last page pointed out that GWL accounts and Xbox Live accounts are not the same thing, and cannot be used the same way.

I don’t think this website has what I’m looking for. I guess it’s time to hit the Google. The first page I come to when I search, “Games for Windows LIVE,” is a page indicated in the search results as, “Welcome to Games for Windows LIVE marketplace.” This seems like a good place to start, so I click the link.

The site I am directed to is entirely in German.

Now, I speak a little bit of German. I’d even make a cute trans-lingual statement to that effect if I could be bothered to look up the commands for umlauts or double-esses. But I’m not fluent enough to attempt making an account in this language, and I don’t see a way at all to switch it to English. The top bar does have a rider at the end specifying German, but deleting it and reloading the page just kicks me right back to Deutsch, and inferring what the US or English equivalent would be from the conventions used in the url just kicks me to a, “SEITE NICHT GEFUNDEN,” page.

Keep in mind that this is Microsoft’s storefront. It’s the equivalent of the Steam store. How badly did they have to muck this up that you can’t even shop in the correct language?

I shop around a bit more, and after about twenty minutes, I finally manage to find the right page and make myself an account. It’s worth pointing out that when it came time to choose an account name, every anti-Microsoft slur I could think of was already taken. I felt a sudden, gratifying moment of solidarity with the hundreds of people who had already beaten down this path of misery and confusion, and had, like me, struck out in the only way they could. What else could we do? We’ve already given Microsoft our money for this nonsense. It’s their platform. All we can do is accept their pointless, dysfunctional boondoggle of a system and whine about it later on the internet.

Finally, after a little over thirty minutes, I load up the game and try to access my account. After getting it to understand that I have a LIVE account, a laborious process, it finally prompts me to enter in my CD key. Now, I’ve played many Steam games that required CD keys before, which is pretty damn silly, but this is the first one that wouldn’t let me just copy-paste it in there. Once I get it in, the game starts loading something, then says it’s going to go download something else. Then it crashes and burns—which was apparently what it was supposed to do, because from its ashes another loader appears, which downloads a few things, stalls, and vanishes without warning.

The account still isn’t working. I doubt it ever will, something I’m beyond caring about. I guess what I’m really trying to say here, and I apologize in advance for how radical and unpopular this opinion might be, but what I’m trying to say is: Microsoft sucks.

And so does Kane and Lynch. But don’t tell Jibar I said that.

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Leave a Reply


  1. Majikkani_Hand

    February 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Blasphemy! All hail the almighty Microsoft, and may the wrath of Gates fall upon you like the climate of Icewind Dale!

    Actually, I’d bet that getting the Internet to work right in Icewind Dale requires fewer resorts to magic that getting anything from Microsoft to work–and there, you get knucklehead trout as a bonus.

  2. Nidokoenig

    February 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Jesus Christ, how horrifying. I remember having to sign up for GfWL for Fuel or something. Far too damn much effort for playing offline.

    Does Microsoft somehow profit from torrents in a way nobody’s figured out yet?

  3. Dromer4ever

    February 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    The only thing I perticularly like about Windows is their OS. Their stupid live-thing, authentication, and other pointless and arbitrary processes add, like, a minute and a half to my boot time. When Ubuntu boots in about 4 seconds on my machine.

  4. psivamp

    February 20, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I just did this like two days ago to get my copy of Arkham up and running — well, crawling along at something distantly related to a playable framerate at 640×480. I had to download the shiny new version of GFWL and an update to XP to “allow it to download larger files.”
    I have to completely agree that GFWL is laughable and I would much rather that developers just integrated Steam in fully rather than have any attachment to this monstrosity.

    As for Windows Live and XBox Live accounts not being the same, I can’t say. Mine are somehow linked and I now have over 600 gamerscore of duplicate achievements.

  5. Shadowflame66

    February 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    I’m one of those fans of Steam, and this is one reason why. Can no one but Valve do anything right in this sort of thing?

    Microsoft has certainly never gone for “ease of use” on anything they’ve done. But you’re right, all we can do is wish there was a better option as we trudge through the Microsoft mire.

  6. Daniel

    February 20, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    The best part is that despite failing every step of the way, this was a completely different set of failures to Shamus’ attempt. It’s actually kind of impressive just how badly this can be screwed up. I mean, I’d punch the guy who did it all the same, but man – coop forcing an xbox controller? you practically have to plan a feature like that in advance, that’s just…wow.

  7. Davie

    February 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    The problem with Microsoft is that they seem to believe that if they try hard enough, they can turn their PCs into Xboxes and make extra money. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the ludicrous mess that is GFWL.

  8. X2-Eliah

    February 20, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Hmyeah, GfWL is a really awful mess even still – especially since it often acts as a tertiary drm, and not the primary – like on that batman game, which already has steam, or on gta4, which already has the social club and securom.

    And, of course, making an account is a daft and stupidly convulsed process.

    Then again, Steam has its own share of problems and stupid things still, but you certainly GfWL is not the only, or, in fact, not the best alternative out there.

    So, just get Jibar to set you up with a GfWL account and use that.

  9. Jibar

    February 20, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    As a fun fact, I actually had some awkward moments with it when it decided to give me two mice on screen.
    And also, because I already own Kane and Lynch on the 360 and your GfWL account is the same as your Gamertag, I now somehow have two of the same achievement.

    Rutskarn has also failed to mention just how bewildering the Kane and Lynch port is. Because it runs beautifully. None of the Saints Row 2 or Grand Theft Auto 4 system shattering nonsense. I was up, I dropped like 1 graphics setting and I had the game running perfect. The controls work great, the mouse aiming is synced nicely…
    And then I pull open the multiplayer menu and it’s asking me about LIVE Gold accounts and other such crazy things.
    What the Hell.

  10. Jarenth

    February 21, 2011 at 2:29 am

    Fun fact: I occassionally play Dawn of War II, multiplayer. The base game uses Games For Windows Live as its matchmaking system of choice, which works about as well as you’d expect — which is to say, I have a better chance of finding a decent matchup at a reasonable speed by going to the nearby supermarket and yelling at the shoppers.

    Now, there’s a stand-alone expansion thing being released for this game, and one of the things it changes is switching the matchmaking and friend system to Steam. This is actually the major selling point for me.

    New campaigns? New units? New faction? Pshah!

  11. Tormod Haugen

    February 21, 2011 at 5:27 am

    I feel with you. I recently procured GTA IV under the delusion that since it was bought on Steam it could in no way need any other system to protect it.

    Then again, having to be logged into Steam, Social Club, Games for Windows FAILive in order to get autosave working is just plain silly – and ensures that I will never discover anything negative about the game.

    Other than that driving a car in GTA IV without an Xbox controller is just plain silly.

  12. Kdansky

    February 21, 2011 at 6:12 am

    It took me the better part of two hours to get my Steam-bought SF4 copy running online. It requested to download patch after patch for GFWL, sometimes crashed through the patching process, sometimes just hung itself up, and asked me to retype my password at least twenty times. In the end, I had to search for the piece of software on google, install that manually and patch a few more times. Wow do I hate GFWL.

  13. DanMan

    February 21, 2011 at 6:38 am

    It’s things like this that has kept me away from Computer gaming for so long. At first, I had a really lousy machine and didn’t feel like fiddling with settings to get things working correctly. Now, I have a real job and a nice machine, but I’m still a bit wary of trying to get into PC gaming.

    I know that people talk about a lot of differences between consoles and the PC (as well as the fact that it’s a heck of a lot easier to get screenshots and video from a PC), but in my experience, if it works on a console, why bother with a PC?

  14. Vipermagi

    February 21, 2011 at 7:03 am

    “if it works on a console, why bother with a PC?”
    For me, this is because the Xbox doesn’t have Firefox (and I’m notably worse with a controller than with my mouse&keys). I like being able to alt-tab and check 50 forums, blogs and whatnot without having to use an entirely separate machine. I have serious issues playing games for more than an hour without obsessively refreshing some website.:p

  15. DanMan

    February 21, 2011 at 7:18 am

    @Vipermagi – Seems like we have inverse problems.
    See, I actually like having a separate machine. I game full-screen, so even when I am gaming on the PC, I have my old heap next to me to check sites and the like. And when I have my console up, I always have my laptop next to me.

    Also, years of console gaming has made me significantly better on a controller than mice/keyboards.

  16. Desgardes

    February 21, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I only ever used GWL for my Fallout3: GOTY edition. And I regret it every time I load it up. First off, your saves are either on GWL or not, and putting them in the goddamn folder is annoying where I have them. Second, all the DLC requires you to be connected all the time, which wouldn’t be so bad, but connecting can take a minute or two every time it crashes, which is just an extra reason to not do it, and thirdly, if you happen to use your xbox live name, you now have all your friends list on the computer where it does no good, and all your windows live *messenger* friends on the goddamn xbox, even when I can’t see those people when using GWL, where they’d be useful. I’m just flabbergasted at their design choices.

  17. Ateius

    February 21, 2011 at 10:04 am

    @ DanMan: I prefer PC gaming myself, really just because it has all the strategy games I love (I will gladly bear Paradox Interactive’s children). And since I need a PC already to play those, I might as well spend a little extra to be able to play other games too, rather than spend the money on an XBox.

    Also I can’t aim with a controller.

  18. Drue

    February 21, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I hate to tell you this, but MS is probably just blocking your attempts at anti-MS account names. Because they won’t bother to make sure their store works, but by God they will make sure your screen name doesn’t insult them or their properties.

  19. Rutskarn

    February 21, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Drue: I thought of that, but some of them were kinda oblique. None of the obvious trip words.

  20. psivamp

    February 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Jibar: I had always just assumed that Kane and Lynch was developed for PC and then ported to XBox since prior to that IO-I had always made PC games… But in light of the nonsensical requirement to have an XBox controller for multiplayer on the PC…

  21. Blanko2

    February 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    ah GFWL how i hate it. but you do have a knack for getting the worst situation possible, i mean, german?? what. it detects your ip location!

    also, the menu DOES have mouse support… so no idea what happened there.
    yeah GFWL is really shit.
    but i still hate steam.
    if only all steam games were on impulse

  22. Rosseloh

    February 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    “I was just lazy enough not to copy the link and bring it up again in Firefox purely out of spite.”

    Don’t worry, it wouldn’t have worked anyway. It is for that reason that I purposely DON’T uninstall ie the earliest chance I get — because it will inevitably come up at some point. And I hate them for that.

  23. Von Krieger

    February 22, 2011 at 1:29 am


    You don’t HAVE to be signed into GFWL in order to run the DLC’s. You just have to snag them out of their remote little directory and stuff them into Fallout 3’s data folder like you would any other mod.

    That was what I did.

  24. Occam

    February 22, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Sadly, your experience is typical of the Microsoft customer experience. Having worked in the computing field for over 25 years, it’s been continually frustrating how MS has failed to use their market dominance to create products that innovate and delight customers (or, too frequently, actually work reliably).

    The heart of the problem is the MS culture, where “product features” are driven by their Marketing department with objective of controlling market segments. This market-focused approach is very different from a company like Apple, for example, which strikes a good balance between continuously improving some products (OSX) and creating innovating products that seek to radically improve the consumer’s experience (iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad). But the designs are led by engineers with a constant product vision and customer focus. I haven’t always liked (or purchased) their products, but each new generation has been better.

    I’m hard pressed to think of a single MS product of the last five years where I don’t have strong desire to corner the product manager and slap them silly. MS Office (f’ing ribbon and auto-format), Windows Mobile, MS Vista/7, GFWL–the list goes on.

    I use MS products because I have to. I use Linux, Google, Pandora, Steam because I *want* to.

  25. Desgardes

    February 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

    @Von Krieger But, for the same reason I don’t like bitching with my saves, I never did. In addition, isn’t it always a problem when the user has to make things right?

  26. krellen

    February 22, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Incidentally, it is literally impossible to run Windows without having IE. IE is part of the OS; it cannot be uninstalled. This is also why it is riddled with security holes and flaws.

    In case you’re curious, IE6 is the native browser for XP, IE7 is Vista, and IE8 is Windows 7. You can go up versions from these, but never down.

  27. Volatar

    February 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    @krellen That is not true. You can uninstall Internet Explorer from Windows, its not actually very hard to do so even.

  28. guy

    February 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I had to create a GFWL account to play Dawn Of War 2, which really angered me because it also required a steam account, despite not being bought via steam.

  29. Rosseloh

    February 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm


    Actually, he’s right, for 7 at least. While you can “disable” it by going into the Add/Remove Windows Components section of the control panel, the rendering engine and basic structure will still exist. So it’s still there, just not as a “standalone” browser.

  30. DanMan

    February 23, 2011 at 2:38 am


    That is true. In fact, Microsoft just went through a heated court battle in Europe over how integrated IE is into their OS. The EU forced them to decouple it.

  31. Adalore von Commentor

    February 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    In my adventure with DAWN OF WAR II, windows live was a annoying speed bump to actually playing the game, I am glad that the newest expansion coming out ditches GFWL completely and uses steam for match making.

  32. rayen

    February 23, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Arkum asylum is as much as i deal with GFWL and even thats more than i’d like. I dunno why microsoft insists on having a game platform when all it does it cause tears of frustration and angry tech support calls. steam stardock even bigfish all have better systems and more realible clients integreate with one of them and stop trying to get in on something you clearly aren’t equiped and can’t be bothered to properly do.

  33. Marques White (Viktor)

    February 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    One theory I’ve heard is that Microsoft views PC gaming as competition for the Xbox, and any “support” for PC gaming from them is as terrible as possible in order to make more people turn to consoles.

    It makes far too much sense, in my opinion.

  34. Abnaxis

    February 24, 2011 at 3:30 am

    @DanMan: Do you have a reference where it talks about the particulars of the EU doing this? I’m curious how it went down now…

  35. Диагностика автомобиля

    February 24, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I hope this was a very interesting post thanks for writing it!

  36. Marques White (Viktor)

    February 27, 2011 at 12:30 am

    @Диагностика автомобиля
    I thought it was. Why, didn’t you read it? Or is it that you can’t read, what with being a spambot and all? Maybe if your creators loved you more, they’d have taught you how. Instead, you spend your days hocking substandard merchandise to internet assholes who hate your very existence. I’d pity you if you weren’t such a worthless wast of code.

  37. Zak McKracken

    March 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    The actually horrifying thing about all this: Microsoft still makes people subscribe to this shit because after you bought the game, you’ll want to play it, dammit! So then, five Dollars and lots of sweat and curses later, you’ll eventually have that stupid account (working and all), and then …? You’r in their system, you’ll also buy more GWL games, because hey, you’ve spent so much patience on getting in there, you might just make it worth the effort, right?

    By the way: I do get the German page by default, too (though it’s not an error in my case), and I can just change to the US version by cklicking on “Deutschland” in the top right corner, then choosing “United States” on the list in the center of the page …

    The worst thing about all this, though, in my view: All this makes steam look good, and I hate Steam. Troubled times, when sucking just a little is enough to be the best 🙁

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    April 7, 2011 at 8:37 pm

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