Monday, February 22, 2010

Windows Live nightmare

Last week I purchased a copy of Gears of War - it cost me some 12 bucks in local currency, one of the benefits of only buying 2-3 year old games. Yup, I'm the guy from this comic. So it happened that this weekend I decided to play a bit with it, so went to install it on a Sunday afternoon.

As installs go, it was uneventful, and I got to launching the game.

First snag, it tells me that it needs to install an "AMD Processor Update" otherwise it will crash during gameplay. Okay, let it install it. Reboot machine. Restart the game. I can play now, right?


It again tells me it needs to install the same update. Uh-oh. Okay, give it another try. Reboot machine. Restart the game.

I get to the main screen. Fine. I can play the game now, right?


I attempt to start the campaign, and it tells me that unless I have a Windows Live profile, I won't be able to save games!

Excuse me?!


Oh well, let's create a Windows Live account, I can live with that. It opens a browser, I fill out few forms, and off we go. I can play the game now, right?


Next it tells me that now it needs to update the local Windows Live client binaries. It tells me that I can choose to not update now, but I won't be able to play the game until I do. Yeah, that's great choice, indeed, how very thoughtful of them to give me options.

We're now at about one hour mark from the moment I inserted the install DVD. But once it got updated, I can finally log in and play the game, right?


It now tells me that Windows Live is "not supported in my region." How splendid! If I live in Hungary, I'm not allowed to save my bloody games, is that what you are telling me? Apparently, yes.

Another hour of googling and forum reading ensues. I end up on some dead links at sites named and and the likes where I can supposedly change my region but in reality I can't. I end up on a site where finally I can do it (I think it's some long domain name with words "windows" and "account" and "services" in it in some order). I lie that I'm in UK. It seems to accept it. So, I can now play the game, right?


They still claim I'm in "unsupported region". Turns out, they're protecting against such smartypants as I am, naive people who believed that Internet is global and makes it irrelevant where do you sit physically. Nope. No matter what you change your location to, the initial location when you created your account sticks with you. At one forum, a user tells me that if I were to create a different account now (forget the one I already have, it's tainted forever he tells me), and initially log in through some obscure UK site, and supply plausibly looking UK address and phone number then I could... sheesh.

I give up, play Bioshock for 15 minutes (all I had left of my evening), go to sleep, cursing my actions that led me to being exposed to a Microsoft technology again.

Next morning, more forum trawling. Turns out that you can create a "local" or "offline" profile, and that it lets you save the game locally. Hey, that's all I really ever wanted! So, how do I do it? Because, sure enough, I didn't see this anywhere on the UI when they were gently pushing me in the direction of creating a Live account.

Turns out, you need to click some kind of a "Learn More" button during the account creation process, and the help document will contain a link (only if you scroll to the bottom of the page) that will open a dialog to create a local account. At least it didn't say "Beware of the tiger" on the door...

So, let me get this straight: some Microsoft genius, in an attempt to drive as many users as possible into signing up for their Live service thoroughly hid the offline account creation, even if this will cause genuine grief for a subset of those users that are in an "unsupported region".

To use an analogy (it'll be a car analogy, of course), it's as if you'd have a four-lane highway, and all traffic signs point you to drive there to reach your destination, and of course you do, but after a bit of a drive, there's suddenly a blockade on the road, and since the license plates on your car are from an "unsupported region", you aren't allowed to drive further, and the grumpy officers won't tell you how you're supposed to get to your destination, only that they have specific instructions to not let pass the lower castes such as you are. So you drive back, and eventually find some secret vagabond scratchings on a wall (that'd be the forum posts) that point you to an otherwise unmarked dirt path through a forest, that will let you eventually reach your destination.

In the end, I have my local profile, so I can play the game now, right?

Right. Except I feel like I've been kicked in teeth by the whole experience so far, so it'll be some time before I'll have any desire to go back to this. Honestly, yesterday evening I was an inch from ritually burning the DVD. And I know that next time I hear that a game requires Windows Live in any capacity, that'll be a good sign for me to steer clear of it.

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