After boldly proclaiming its intention to “lead the way” in PC gaming, Microsoft's cast its latest shiny thing into our waters in yet another attempt to lure us back. Unfortunately, the bait – a redesigned Games For Windows Marketplace – only serves to disguise a jagged hook that's just as painful as it's always been.
The store's certainly functional; don't get us wrong. But it's still lightyears behind Steam and similar competitors, which is just about as far from “off to a good start” as you can get. Foremost, the selection of games and add-on content is only a small sliver of what Steam and co. are peddling, and system requirements, game descriptions, etc are practically incomplete – mere skeletons compared to the meaty wealth of info provided by other services. On the upside, the service is very upfront when it comes to warning you about DRM and things of the like, but it still omits too many other useful details.
Steam's excellently pervasive community integration is also completely absent (signing in with your Gamertag lets you buy things -- and that's it), as are reccomendations, indie titles, and demos. Yes, demos! Currently there's an option to search for them, but it only serves to slam you face-first into the brick wall that is a “no results” screen.
The frontpage, meanwhile, is as about as barebones as they come, displaying a few select games, a daily deal, and a weekly deal. It's not awful by any means, but – as with the rest of the service – there's really not much to it right now. And there's definitely not anything that makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd.
You're also forced to deal with a bunch of malarky about signing in at Xbox.com to read and agree to the new Terms of Service – an extra intial step that seems totally unnecessary and sloppily implemented. If Microsoft's trying to convince us that the PC's no longer playing second fiddle to the Xbox, this is a pretty crummy way to do it.
Overall, there's simply no reason to choose the new GFW Marketplace over Steam, Direct 2 Drive, Impulse, and other such established storefronts. Anything GFW does, they still do better. Microsoft's service is still trailing behind like it always has, and if this is Microsoft's idea of whipping it into shape, then that incredibly depressing status quo won't be changing any time soon.
It seems like so long ago that we were skeptical Steam could get us to stop bitching about DRM and provide a viable distribution system that both publishers and game players could live with. Well, we're not finished groaning about DRM, but there's no denying Steam does what it's supposed to, and does it well. Perhaps too well.
According to U.K.'s weekly gaming rag MCV, some retailers are threatening to ban games that integrate the Steam service on fears that Steam has a monopoly on the download market.
"If we have a digital service, then I don't want to start selling a rival in-store," said the head of one of U.K.'s biggest gamers retailers. "Publishers are creating a monster -- we are telling suppliers to stop using Steam in their games."
A purportedly big-name digital service provider backed up those remarks, saying "At the moment the big digital distributors need to stock games with Steam. But the power resides with brick and mortar retailers, they can refuse to stock these titles. Publishers are hesitant, but retail must put pressure on them."
Should retailers be concerned that selling games with Steam baked in only pushes users towards buying games through Valve online, or is this just another 'wambulance' call?
One step forward, two steps back. Just when you thought Microsoft's consistently behind-the-times (or “draconian,” because we think that's a neat word) online service had lost one of its main footholds and fallen into the abyss of your bad memories, Dawn of War and Company of Heroes publisher THQ has decided to forgive and forget.
“It's been easier for development [moving to Steamworks], so far, but Microsoft is really talking to me a lot about getting back on Games for Windows Live,” THQ core games boss Danny Bilson told Shacknews. “I like both platforms and I really, really, really like Microsoft as a partner. They're fantastic partners. I want to respect them.”
“There are a lot of discussions going on about that now because it's a sensitive issue. But from a development point of view, it has been easier on Steamworks. That has nothing to do with Steam as a distribution platform, as you know. The developers really like it, but again, I have incredible respect for Microsoft and they're really fantastic partners. And so, there's a lot of ongoing discussion about that.”
On the upside, Bilson also threw his company's considerable weight behind the PC, saying that “you're going to see every single title from [the Core group at THQ] that makes sense, on PC. I mean, almost every one.”
Meanwhile, in GFWL's little slice of the gaming world – which we have to imagine is located under a rock, unburdened by silly inconveniences like recent developments or timely feedback – they're just now getting around to lauching a dedicated online marketplace. Granted, it's lacking a number of Steam's features, but hey, at least they're finally getting rid of those silly Microsoft Points. Which is all a very roundabout way of saying: Danny, we love you, so please don't make us hit you.
When you can boast that your product is the size of two-and-a-half World of Warcrafts, it’s pretty much a guarantee that any numbers you put out will make all the other numbers feel so small and inadequate that only the purchase of a big car or remarriage to a disproportionately young spouse will make up for it. So, with that said, grab a cushion, because your jaw is about to make a crater in your floor.
In the past year alone, Valve’s ubiquitous download service has seen a 178 percent growth spurt in its userbase, bringing its total tally up to more than 30 million. Sales, meanwhile, have jumped up a whopping 200 percent, which probably means Valve can afford to add an aircraft runway to its complementary employee party yacht package. The publisher’s also beaming with pride over its infrastructure, which now runs at 400Gps. According to Valve, that’s enough to “ship a digitized version of the Oxford English Dictionary 92.6 times per second.”
Yeah, uh, your jaw crater? It’s getting a little drool-filled. You might want to clean that up.
"Steam is on track to record the biggest year in its six year history," said Valve president Gabe Newell. "The year has marked major development advances to the platform with the introduction of support for Mac titles, the Steam Wallet and in-game item buying support, and more. We believe the growth in accounts, sales, and player numbers is completely tied to this work and we plan to continue to develop the platform to offer more marketing, sales, and design tools for developers and publishers of games and digital entertainment."
Remember back when Steam first launched, and everyone thought it was gonna be a total flop? Well, consider this Valve’s official response: “Hahahahahaha [sounds of giddy skipping in the direction of a bank].”
Valve kept it short and to the point when addressing a rumor that Steam is getting ready to dabble in used game trade-ins. We'll get to Valve's succinct statement in just a minute, but let's first take a look at the rumor that's been going around.
"Steam gives gamers enough other stuff so that they don't resent the fact they can't trade in their games," Michael Pacter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan, explained in a recent interview with NowGamer. "And you know, name all the Steam games that you've purchased that you've traded back in to somebody else for credit. Steam's about to let you do that supposedly, you know like trade and exchange, but they're going to take a fee from it."
Game publishers haven't exactly kept it a secret that they vehemently oppose the used game business, and we have a hard time envisioning Valve going this route. So does Valve, as it turns out.
"Untrue. We've never met with Mr. Pachter," Valve's Doug Lombardi told BluesNews.
Last week, we reported that Gearbox was handing out gold slips to its magical Duke Nukem Forever factory to those who purchased the Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands. The main perk of said First Access Club? Why, that'd be early access to next year's Duke Nukem Forever demo. Of course, plenty of players immediately read between the lines, and the ones who did so with their faces too close to the page got jabbed in the eye by a big ol' middle finger to early Borderlands buyers. Or so they thought.
Turns out, anyone who bought Borderlands on Steam – whether they stuffed the game and its bazillion guns into their PC yesterday or yesteryear – has been given a code to get into the club. Just click on Borderlands in Steam, select the CD key tab, and you'll find your code there patiently waiting for you -- like a loyal and trusty hound, except better because it brings you videogames.
The First Access Club doesn't appear to be operational just yet, but we'll let you know when it is so you can make arrangements to brag at your friends accordingly. While the demo will likely be the main event, Gearbox has also promised a “wealth of goodies,” which should be exciting to people who like free things, which is everyone ever.
It’s hard to maintain any kind of neutrality when writing about Valve’s Steam service. Indeed, it’s hard to write anything about Steam without adopting a grin the size of a cartoon character and lavishing compliments on the service faster than needles firing out of a medic’s syringe gun.
The recent partnership between AMD and Valve that put an easy-to-access, “download new video drivers here please” tool within the game-drenched packet manager has been an unexpected-yet-delightful addition to the service. And I’ve said it before: It’s about time.
However, it's also time for hardware manufacturers to step up to the challenge of releasing clean, comprehensive drivers for their full product lines--legacy hardware included. More importantly, Valve needs to take its little "AMD experiment" as more than just fun dabbling. As gamers and enthusiasts, we're way overdue to see someone rise to the occasion to deliver a one-stop shop for zero-hour driver updates that gamers of all backgrounds deserve to have.
And yes, if you say, "What about Windows Update," I'm going to throw up.
Usually, when you subscribe to an MMO, you expect that it's going to stick around long enough that you don't feel like you've, well, been robbed. Unfortunately, such was not the case with Realtime Worlds' short-lived cops 'n' robbers MMO All Points Bulletin, whose tombstone sadly reads “2010-2010.” Between subscription fees and the initial price tag, then, one could certainly understand why players are getting off the ride and immediately asking for their money back. Unfortunately, for a little while, it looked like no one planned on ponying up.
"Customers should revert to the entity from which they bought the game in respect of their entitlement to any refund,” joint administrator Paul Dounis said.
Ok then. Steam, what say you?
"As with most software products, we do not offer refunds or exchanges for purchases made online as outlined in the software license," said Valve.
Wait, that didn't help at all! But look! What's that in the sky? It's a bird. It's a plane. No – it's a large multimillion dollar corporation, swooping in to save the day with free stuff.
According to a Steam thread on the subject, players who've gone to publisher Electronic Arts with their disgruntled mumbles and grumbles have come away with $20 vouchers, refunds, and even free games. We suppose it's just like the old saying: “You can't spell 'apologize fre' without 'free.'” Hey, we never said it was a good saying.
AMD has made available its ATI Catalyst 10.9 software suite, which you can download directly from AMD or access via your Steam account.
There are only a handful of performance improvements in the latest release, including double digit gains in Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark for HD 5700 and HD 5800 graphics cards owners, and single digit performance gains in The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena for HD 4800, HD 5700, and HD 5800 owners.
Some new profiles have been added and updated (Aliens Vs Predator, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, F1 2010, Kane & Lynch 2), as well as a handful of resolved issues for Windows 7, Vista, and XP.
We're pretty sure Dawn of War II is the only RTS in existence that requires more micromanagement before you're able to play the game than while you're clickity-clicking through the thick of battle. See, in order to even view the sci-fi strategy title's start screen, you have to first negotiate your way past two login menus – one for Steam and one for Games For Windows Live. In addition to that relatively minor annoyance, most of you probably know GFWL by its true acronym: SATAN.
Fortunately, THQ's decided that it's high-time Microsoft's online games “service”/dark lord of the underworld be kicked to the curb. From here on out, it's full Steam ahead.
"The move to Steamworks will also allow us to provide features like guest passes, free multiplayer weekends, pre-loading and the ability to provide fast turn-around on future patches and updates,” said THQ in a statement.
"This new back end will allow players to invite friends into matches from their Steam friends lists and take advantage of the full set of Steam community features including groups, achievements, and Steam overlay chat channels.”
Dawn of War II: Retribution, which is scheduled to launch in March 2011, will be among THQ's first to finally tell GFWL that “no means 'no'” and declare that its one true love has always been Steam. Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, to continue the metaphor, will be singing its best rendition of 'N Sync's “Bye, Bye, Bye” to GFWL as well. Good riddance, eh? This makes us almost as happy as when we heard 'N Sync broke up.