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This was meant to be a Fallout 3 DLC review

This was supposed to be a review of Operation Anchorage, the new downloadable content for Bethesda’s Fallout 3. As you’ve probably noticed though, it isn’t a review of that. This is a column.

The topic of the column is fairly simple too; explaining how totally awful Games for Windows Live is and how it’s lost Bethesda at least one customer as a result.

And it is truly bad, by the way. It’s not just a little flaky and irritating, like Steam was in the early days when everyone was just getting used to it. Games for Windows Live is more like the software equivalent of flossing with barbed wire. It’s negatively impacted on every game I’ve ever seen that features it.

Here was my plan for playing Bethesda’s new piece of downloadable content for Fallout 3; I’d nag Bethesda’s PR for a copy of the game, install it, play it, review it and then, if I liked it, go home and buy it to play there.

"Games for Windows Live is more like the software equivalent of flossing with barbed wire"

What actually happened was that I ended up writing this, my rage running so hot that the bile I’m spewing is practically boiling.

The review actually got off to a good start though and a keycode to download Operation Anchorage actually came through with no need for nagging, but everything after that was downhill.

I booted up Fallout 3 and opened Games for Windows Live. I tried to sign-in, but the game insisted that I hadn’t registered this game. I duly dredged up one of the review key-codes for the full game and registered, wondering why I hadn’t had to do this at install. Games for Windows said it needed to update and that a restart might be needed. I said OK and the game started updating both the game and the GFWL platform.

I restarted and re-launched the game and everything seemed to be working fine, except there was no marketplace option in Live and the downloads tab on Fallout’s main menu said that no new content was available. I checked the official site for the game and confirmed that, yes, the only way to get the game for PC is through Live.

"Did you know that Valve only has 13 people working on Steam?"

The update must have failed, I thought. I signed out of GFWL, which Microsoft told me would stop me from being able to save, signed back in and…still nothing. The system was convinced it was up to date and wouldn’t auto-update anymore. I quit, went to Microsoft, manually downloaded the update, installed it and...still nothing.

I fiddled, I fumbled, I recruited the rest of the office into helping me, but there seemed to be no way to fix the matter. Checking on how other game journos were doing revealed that the only proven fix was to completely re-install Games for Windows, then redo all the updates presumably.

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Joe Martin

It’s at that point I decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort. Early reports suggest the DLC is less than two hours long and weighs in at a 350MB download – if I spent much longer fiddling then I’d have spent more time installing it than playing it.

Luckily though, that mean I didn’t have to face the later annoyance of swapping my money for MS points and wondering why I can only buy them in batches of 500 or 1000, though the games only ever cost 1200 or 800.

"I fiddled, I fumbled, I recruited the rest of the office into helping me, but there seemed to be no way to fix the matter."

This isn’t the first time that Games for Windows Live has faced ire either – it’s been either broken or useless ever since it first drunkenly swaggered onto the scene and declared itself the new Steam in the way that only a Seinfeld-influenced Microsoft can. No game we’ve seen has benefitted from its inclusion.

Exactly why it’s so broken though fits in nicely with an idea I have and a bit of trivia I learned the other day. Did you know that Valve only has 13 people working on Steam? That’s because contrary to popular belief, Valve isn’t actually a huge company like, say Blizzard or Microsoft.

And that’s a good thing. 13 people may not seem like many, but smaller teams actually get things done faster in my experience. They’re more focused and dedicated, communicate more quickly and stand a better chance of surviving a zombie apocalypse. Big companies and big teams are the exact opposite – mainly because there’s more room to pass the buck around in.

13 people managed to get Steam to where it is today, bringing innovations like Steam Cloud with them, yet the whole of Microsoft’s Games for Windows team can’t even make it so I can download an expansion pack? That’s why not all the recent lay-offs are always a bad thing, even if I won’t be buying or reviewing Operation Anchorage after all.

Oh, and just for the record, it turns out that not only is Operation Anchorage already on Torrent sites, but it’s easier to download when pirated too. Good job, Microsoft.

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