I want to start by saying that I am a huge fan of services like Steam and GOG (Good Old Games). These companies provide a service that I never dreamed possible, video games direct to my computer without having to risk losing any of the bed sores I’ve been working on by getting up and actually walking to my car. Something I am loathe to do, as it would most definitely remind me that I still don’t own a car, and would have to ride the subway to a game store, then likely get robbed on the way back, because well… subway.
Services like these catch a substantial amount of flak as proponents of a system which would all but steal your rights as purchasers away or sell as much of your information as they can legally get away with, arguments that may yet be proven true. And usually, when you see “DRM” or “Cloud server” in an article, you can be sure it’s going to be followed by a string of profane declarations of people who are angry that they can’t play their game without internet access, and so they complained about it on the internet, which they can clearly access.
But that’s not what I’m on about, at least not today. Today, I’m here (actually physically here inside your computer, and I can see what you’re wearing, Greg), because I can’t play a game I just bought on Steam for a reason completely unrelated to the service itself. And while that isn’t Steam’s fault, it is their responsibility. The game in question, Fray, was the first strategy game in a long while that I had been excited about, and when it went up for sale on Steam, I downloaded it within minutes. Game downloaded and installed, I set up an account for some steamy multiplayer action and got to town spending the next four hours watching my absolutely not lame Babylon 5 DVDs, because the game didn’t work….at all.
Fray is an unfinished product. The servers were unstable to the point that it took 20 login freezes before I could even access the network, the tutorial literally has “work in progress” screens on it, and the game itself crashes so often that the waiting room chat window is mostly people bragging about how they just managed to play five minutes in game before it crashed. Truly a stunning piece of failure worthy of our lowest and most foul insults.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “how is Fray being bad Steam’s fault?” And the answer is, it isn’t. Steam didn’t make the game or have any input into the creative process. But, they are still liable for their product as a shipping service. Product Liability is the idea that vendor and manufacturers can be held legally responsible for defects in the products that make and sell. Laws related to this protect consumers (in theory) from being scammed by everyone from auto manufacturers to convenience stores by encouraging those companies to reimburse customers for faulty products. Think about it: if you buy a blow-up doll from the local porn shop, but if turns out it was accidentally built with an industrial vice installed within, someone ought to pay for all the damage you did with that thing, right?
If you want to purchase a car, where do you go? Do you visit your local dealership or is it wiser to stop by Fat Ed’s Totally Not Stolen Cars? You go to the dealership, because you know Fat Ed is skeezy, and probably going to screw you over, while the dealership has a reputation to maintain. What if you buy a game? Do you pirate that mother like it ain’t even a crime and risk getting a copy that doesn’t work or is loaded down with viruses? Or do you get it from GOG, knowing that it’s going to be hassle free? Well, let’s say you buy it from GOG and it’s just plain unplayable, unfinished, unfathomably bad. Who is responsible, and who’s gonna fix it?
Well, the argument could be easily made that it’s your fault. And I’ll admit that being amongst the first 50 people to buy any product is usually a risk. The concept of ‘buyer beware’ is as old as the idea of trading some guy your best club for his cavewoman only to find out that it’s really a dude with a wolf pelt on his head. However, when we deal with larger distributors like Steam we are operating under the pretense that the company is trustworthy enough to not screw us. Now, it is worth noting that Steam, unlike most other digital distributors, has a return policy that is usually quite fair. In fact, sorry I’m ragging on you, Steam. But not all problems fall under that policy. And, more importantly, the money isn’t the real issue.
When I purchase a game from a major distributor or shipper, I want that game to function as promised. I do not want to watch Babylon 5 again. Well, I do, but that isn’t the point. The point is that Steam never bothered to warn me that this game was NOT ready for download. Hell, they may not have even known it wasn’t ready yet. Steam, as a vendor, has a responsibility to verify that each product it sells is, at the very least, functional. They have that responsibility not just as a means of protecting the customers, but as a means of protecting themselves as well. When my friend that isn’t me bought that faulty blow-up doll, he never went back to Battlefield Erotica , no matter how much he wanted to see the store clerk again. Why? Well, frankly he was worried that he’d wind up with another raw deal. And that’s what it boils down to; I’m not angry at Steam, but I have lost my confidence in them to deliver what I paid for.
In the end, is it really a lot to ask for vendors to at least download and play the game once themselves so I don’t end up with another Batman: Arkham City save game deleted fiasco.