Thursday, January 24, 2013

Opinion: How much responsibility do we expect from Steam? by Matthew W.A

Over the course of the Steam Winter Sale (also known as the death of wallets past present and future) I picked up The Devil May Cry bundle which included Devil May Cry 3 and 4. Now to be fair, I didn't do any research before hand, and Capcom has put out some pretty bad PC ports in the past (*cough* Resident Evil 4 *cough*), but I at least expected the games to be functional. Oh how wrong I was. Calling Devil May Cry 3 on PC a disaster of epic proportions wouldn't do it justice. Extremely limited resolution options (no wide screen options), no full screen mode, a mediocre frame rate on modern computers made worse when certain music played, no mouse control in menus, and completely broken
controller support. The game is literally unplayable, and it was released on Steam in 2006.




Now this of course got me thinking: how much responsibility to digital distributors like Steam have to
consumers? Games tend to be available on Steam long after they have left retail shelves, and Steam's
sale occasionally feature games that are fairly old. I didn't go out of my way to pick up the Devil May
Cry bundle, it was advertised as a flash deal. Now in the recent past, Steam has occasionally put up
warnings when a game has a lot of problems. The page for Dark Souls now has a warning that reads
“Notice: Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller for Windows (or equivalent) is strongly recommended.” because after the game came out on PC there was a minor controversy over the fact that the game was
basically unplayable without a controller. Even more recently, a game called The War Z was actually
removed from Steam after being released in a clearly unfinished state and being sold as a finished
product. The problem, is that these are not only recent examples, they are the only examples.

Steam has a pretty simple policy towards refunds: you only get one. Ever. There have been a few
exceptions to that policy (The War Z fiasco comes to mind), but in general that policy is pretty strict.
Steam has been around since late 2003, and it offers quite a few games that came out before then. The
issue is that some of those games don't work on modern computers, and once again, there is often no
warning provided on the store page, and Steam doesn't guarantee that those games will work on current
computers unlike gog.com which specializes in selling older titles that have been updated to work on
modern systems. Now obviously purchasing games that are broken via poor coding or incompatibilities
with modern systems can generally be avoided with some research, but Steam sales often lead to
impulse buys that can lead to disappointment. I currently have 84 games in my steam library, and at
least three of them are unplayable. Project: Snowblind has an erratic and unfixable crash on launch bug
on some of modern graphics cards (I emailed Eidos support and was told that I was SOL), and DMC3
and Dark Sector are just broken, nigh unplayable PC ports. What makes those issues troubling is that
the Steam Powered User subforums for each of those games are filled with threads complaining about
the very issues I just mention (except Project: Snowblind which has a total of eleven threads, all of
which are about bugs).

Now I understand that Steam offers several thousand games, and Valve does not have the times to
test every single one of them, but on the other hand, selling people a broken product is unethical, and
in some countries (such as England which has the Sale of Goods Act) illegal. The problem is, this
is only going to get worse as time goes on and the number of games incompatible with newer and
newer systems grows. While it is unfair to demand that Valve begin to test and retest old games for
compatibility, and PC ports for functionality, some changes in policy definitely need to happen in the
near future. Valve needs to either start giving refunds for broken games, or failing that, they at least
need to add a disclaimer to the pages for broken games if there are enough people complaining about
said games being broken. Steam doesn't have a responsibility to test or fix broken games, but they do
have a responsibility to make it right when people unwittingly buy them, or at the very least, warn their
users.

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