Tomer Gabel's annoying spot on the 'net RSS 2.0
# Wednesday, 16 January 2008

I take pride in being one of the few people I know who actually buy their media: I have a sizable collection of CDs, DVDs, computer games and software that I've bought over the years, and I always feel good about having paid the people responsible for these efforts.

Until recently, that is.

It is commonly said that one of the most obvious traits of Israelis is that they hate to be screwed, and this is as true for me as it is for everyone else. It seems the media companies have taken upon themselves to screw me in every conceivable way, and paying for media is fast becoming an exercise in frustration for me. A most recent example of this is Valve's not-so-new-and-shiny content delivery network which goes by the name of Steam. I don't even know where to begin recounting what's wrong with this thing:

  1. Content delivery speeds are abysmal. I recently downloaded Half Life 2 Episode Two and got 200K/sec maximum transfer rate (more common rates hovering around 50K/sec) on a dedicated line with 5Mb downstream. I consistently get 300K+ rates to even the most busy content delivery servers (Akamai, Microsoft etc.) and it's not like I can use a download manager to better tune the download to my connection.
  2. The download manager is shit. Even ignoring the fact that the only controls it exposes are "pause" and "resume" doesn't help the fact that the error detection code is buggy as all hell: the first time I tried downloading the game it got stuck on 99% without any type of diagnostic or error message, and wouldn't resume. Reading piles of angry forum threads led me to the conclusion that the downloaded content files are simply corrupt; deleting and re-downloading the game solved the problem.
  3. Terminology is all screwed up: telling the game manager not to automatically download updates for a certain game will pause any pending download for that game, including the game content itself.
  4. Although there is no apparent reason for this, playing a game pauses the downloads for all other games. That, at least, has been my observation (Episode Two was downloading when I started on Episode One, and hasn't progressed a single per cent when I quit the game).
  5. The application itself is completely opaque. At no point does it give any indication of what it's doing; you can start the client, nothing happens for two minutes until it finally shows you an "updating Steam client" window. There are no visible clues when it's attempting to access a server (e.g. when clicking on Show News) or when a downloaded upgrade is being installed.
  6. I don't want to connect to a server to play a locally installed, legally bought game. That's just unforgivable, even if it didn't mean I sometimes have to wait for several minutes before the server actually logs me in instead of timing out.
  7. It might shock you, but I still play old games. Sometimes very old games (think Master of Magic). Will Half Life 2 be playable in five- or ten-year's time when the Steam servers have long been cold? I doubt it.

I know Steam probably works well for a lot of people, but for me it's a god-damned affront: I'm a paying customer, there's no reason why I should have so little control over a game that takes up gigabytes on my hard drive. To add insult to injury, the pirated versions often work better: the pirated version of Half Life 2 itself had considerably lower loading times, didn't suffer from the audio stuttering issues that plagued the original, and didn't waste hours of your CPU time on decrypting the game content once it was finally downloaded. If Valve wants to keep my business, here's what they should do:

  1. Switch to an open distribution model (HTTP or, preferably, BitTorrent) so I can use my own software to download their games if I so wish;
  2. Get rid of the dependency on Steam for their games. When I click on the HL2E2 icon I want the game to come up, and I don't give a rat's ass about Steam;
  3. Move to an asynchronous, transparent update mechanism for their games, preferably one that allows me to download game updates and install them on my own.

With the original versions becoming increasingly irritating and pirated versions becoming better than the originals (not to mention less costly), does paying for media still make sense? Remember, that's just one example, I could give a great many more.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008 12:24:04 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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