In the end, software fixes itself

I recently purchased a GeForce graphics card from an online retailer. The card, as a promotion, included free copies of “Assassin’s Creed IV”, “Splinter Cell: Blacklist” and “Batman: Arkham Origins”, all three recently released PC games, with a current combined market worth of 180€ (whether or not that price is ridiculous is another question). I’ll happily play those!

Just how hard can it be for me to actually get these games running?

If I just downloaded the games from The Pirate Bay, I’d have to mount the ISO image, run the installer, and copy the cracked files over to the game directory. In my perfect dream world, for the free games they’d send me an email together with a download link for the installer. Time taken: download time plus 5 minutes.

Reality looks a bit different. With the graphics card package, they actually shipped me a physical coupon that had a code written on it. Actually, two coupons. One for Batman and another for the other two. Makes perfect sense.

The coupons each told me to visit an Nvidia-owned page to redeem them. As I know Batman is sold on Steam, I optimistically tried entering the product-key-looking thing into Steam’s activation box. Aw, no luck. So, on to fill out the nVidia form, which actually wants your date of birth and address (of course I simply entered garbage). Of course, they also subscribe you to your newsletter. Great, a CD key appeared! On to enter it on Steam. Yup, that worked. Thanks, Steam!

This serves to demonstrate that even stupid policies can be so well-executed that the overall experience doesn’t suffer remarkably. Steam is just that – “bearable”. I’ve never had issues with Steam as an end user, and pragmatism trumps my philosophy here. (Keep in mind that in setting up my Steam account, I of course also had to enter all of my personal details, and I’m forever tied to these games and prohibited to selling them off to anyone else. An issue for another day.)

Now on to the other two games. In order to get the second code, you have to visit a different Nvidia-owned page that is identical to the other one except for the header text. Enter all your data again, and you get two other codes for the other two games. These look suspiciously short, I thought. Of course, Steam doesn’t accept them. After clicking through three “How to redeem” links on the nVidia page, I realized that those weren’t actually codes to be used with Steam. They were to be used with UPlay.

Valve launched Steam back in 2003. Starting in 2005, non-Valve games could be purchased on Steam, provided the developer made an agreement with Valve (with Valve obviously taking a cut.) Today, Steam has 65 million users, 3000 games, and 75% of digital PC games sales are made through Steam, according to Wikipedia. Of course, Steam profits greatly from the network effects provided by the enormous user base.

Now everyone else thinks they have to do the same thing. EA made Origin, which is a copy of Steam. Ubisoft made UPlay, which is a copy of Steam. What’s different is that on Origin, you can only play EA games and on UPlay, you can only play Ubisoft games. How any company executive can be so narrow-minded as to think people would accept this as their go-to gaming platform is beyond me. And when people just use your software because they have to, they won’t share shit on Facebook from it, they won’t read your update news, they won’t take your surveys and the last thing they’ll do is buy more things in your store.

Fine, fine. I’ll start UPlay. I even have it installed! “Updating UPlay.” A minute goes by. “Your account details”? You can’t even remember my email address from the last time I signed in from this computer? After trying several email addresses, I finally get in.

Now let’s enter that code. Hm. “Invalid code.” That’s strange.. oh, great, this is actually not a UPlay code, but a promotion code for the UPlay store. That’s .. reasonable. Open the UPlay store, sign in again, confirm your UPlay profile (else you can’t access the store). Then click on the two links buried in the Nvidia guide to add the two games to your “Shopping Cart”. Then “Go to Checkout” on the UPlay Store. Enter address again. Confirm payment details. For no payment. Yes. Yes. Confirm. Finalize.

Now, a little notice pops up on the Checkout page. It doesn’t look like an error, so I ignored it the first few times. When I actually read it, I started to cry.

“Some of your items are only available for purchase from 11pm to 6am due to child protection ratings. Between 6am and 11pm, you can’t purchase these items. However, you can keep them in your Shopping Cart and check out later.”

What the actual fuck is that.

I don’t think this needs any further explanation. With about 20 browser tabs open, I managed to to redeem one of my three games. This took 20 minutes of my time. For now.

Now, who can I blame here? In my rage, I blame everyone. Alternate (the online retail store) and Nvidia for failing to provide even a vaguely reasonable procedure and interface for redeeming your coupon. Ubisoft & EA for not accepting that other people make games, too, when designing their horrendous user interfaces for UPlay and Origin, respectively. German politics for imposing “opening hours” on the internet. And myself for not torrenting the games in the first place.

As I see it, all these issues can be fixed by applying basic reasoning, human intellect, and maybe a bit of non-crappy software.

PC gamers are a strange lot; most of them don’t really know what actually happens inside a computer, but are great at comparing benchmarks and spec sheets and picking out the best components for their machines. They also know their way around a file system for modding, patching, and cracking their games. Though mostly, they don’t care about any of the extremes; they neither care about the ease-of-use that end users require, but they also don’t care about the philosophical implications of DRM that lie at the Richard Stallman end of the spectrum. For them, it’s all about the game.

The good part is that DRM will lose in the end. Activation, serials, CD keys, game launchers, overlays, all that crap will go down the drain eventually, just like CD protection rootkits failed. It’s simply a consequence of data being digital; as soon as a single computer-versed person on the globe breaks the encryption/protection/whatever, they can just share the pure version with everyone else. (Of course, the same applies to information in general. And that’s why it’s a great time to be alive!)

Needless to say, I now downloaded Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed from The Pirate Bay. Off to playing now.