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Games For Windows Live vs. Dark Souls (GFWL Wins...)

Posted on Tuesday, September 18 @ 10:00:00 PST by Vince_Ingenito

"Service", noun:
1. An act of helpful activity; help; aid: to do someone a service
2. The supplying or supplier of utilities or commodities, as water, electricity or gas, required or demanded by the public.

Above, dear reader, is a definition of the word “service” from Now, the meaning of this word may seem readily apparent to most intelligent individuals, but it's become quite clear in recent years that the CEO's and decision-makers at major video game publishers could use a refresher. “Services” have become, for better or worse, linchpins of the business strategies employed by some of the largest and most influential players in the game from Microsoft and Sony to EA and Activision.

The age of the platform-exclusive gaming is gasping away its final breaths and many companies are convinced that ancillary services are the new way to attract and keep customers for life. Achievements. Video streaming. Social media everything. The elements surrounding the games you play have become the new front-line on which the big boys vie for supremacy, presumably to serve you better, and earn your loyalty and hard-earned cash.

And I wouldn't be writing this article if that were always the way it worked out, but it rarely is. More commonly, services are trojan horses, thinly veiled sales pitches for us to wash down with a thimbleful of features that should be considered mandatory in the 21st century of video games. And while almost every large scale publisher is guilty of it on some level, Microsoft has managed to don the cheapest of polyester suits while slinging around an obnoxiously large barrel of snake oil with the words “Games For Windows Live” stamped on the side.

There are plenty of good reasons to hate on GFWL (just Google “Games For Windows Live Sucks” if you ever need a way to kill an evening or two) and plenty of great games have been hamstrung by being linked to it. But for the short, short version, just read on to hear my tale of woe involving the recent PC release of Dark Souls, which more or less made me want to sharpen one end of my laptop and commit seppuku with it.

The first, and perhaps most frustrating bit about GFWL is that it even exists, I kid you not. It has no reason to. I wish it could just manifest into a person, so I could sit down and have a little Office Space-esque chat with it, which would go something like this:

Me: So, GFWL, what would you say... you do here?

GFWL: Well, look, I already told you. I deal with the goddamn patches so the customers don't have to. I have patch skills! I'm good at dealing with patches! Can't you understand that!? What the hell is wrong with you people!!!

In my company, GFWL would be subject to a lay-off, or as they would call it more appropriately in the UK, a redundancy. Because that's exactly what it is, a redundancy, something whose purpose is already fulfilled, and more efficiently by any number of other services, including the one you most likely got your copy of Dark Souls PC from: Steam.

Of course, by that logic, one might conclude that I'm not a fan of competition, that if one service suits my needs well enough, no one else should even show up to the party. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Competition is the grease of the well-oiled capitalist machineapply it liberally, I say. But GFWL didn't just show up to the party. It pulled a Kool-Aid Man through my living room wall, pointed to someone I did invite, and said “I'm with him! Oh yeah!!!”

Oh hell no, Mr. Kool-Aid Man. Hell no.

So before I even started my descent into the deliciously hopeless abyss that is Dark Souls, I was already a bit peeved. But hey, should be no sweat, right? I mean, I've had an Xbox Live account since the day the service went live in '02, and my primary email is Hotmail (keep your comments to yourself) so I'm no stranger to my Live ID. I'll just log right in and... what? Invalid password or Live ID? Probably just a typo. I'll just type it in nice and slow like and I'll be all set... huh? Again? Okay, okay, no big. I'll just play without signing into Live. I mean, it's not like Dark Souls even has voice chat or player invites, and I won't be seeing player invasions for a bit into the game anyway so let the dying commence!

Or you know, don't. You see, one of those special “features” that comes with the GFWL “service” is... drumroll please... the ability to save your game! Gee, MS, I sure am glad you forced this awesome service down my throat; otherwise, how would I have saved my game? I guess without your state-of-the-art save file encryption gnomes, I'll just have to enjoy all 40-100+ hours of my mentally draining RPG in a single Adderall-fueled bender. Thumbs up for modern medicine!

Realizing I didn't have quite enough cocaine to make this a reality, I decided to troubleshoot my problem. 4 forums, 3 password resets, 2 brand new accounts, and a double shot of Jack later... and I still couldn't get signed on. Finally realizing that there is no god up in the sky, I plugged in my gamepad and decided at least to start a game, even if it would be lost to the ether once I inevitably went back to playing SpaceChem. Good thing I made that call, or I wouldn't have known how badly borked the gamepad compatibility was.

From the Games for Windows website:

“Games for Windows titles that support controllers are compatible with the Microsoft XBOX 360 controller for Windows...”

Gotcha. So this is the part where I go buy an MS brand controller, because the one I bought from that no-name company, Steel Series, obviously isn't properly supported? Nope. This is the part where I bust out my mouse and gamepad. Granted, pressing keys and holding a controller with the same hand was a bit tricky at first guys, but within 10 minutes of working on it, I was comfy enough with the controls to hit Alt+F4 without using my right handwhich was useful because I couldn't seem to find a key to get me back to the main menu.

So, it's at this point that I start wondering: Who does this service serve? Because it isn't serving the legions of PC gamers who refuse to consider purchasing a game saddled with Games For Windows Live, and it certainly hasn't served me. We know it serves MS by incentivizing players to buy their hardware and forcing them to sign up for a service through which MS can sell them software. But what about the publisher? Why would Namco Bandai want to yoke their new golden goose with this Mickey Mouse nonsense?

The tinfoil hat answer is moolah. Namco Bandai never wanted to take the trouble to bring Dark Souls to the PC market in the first place because they didn't think the sales would justify the cost. If MS made them a deal to bring the game to GFWL, that may have lowered their net cost to a point where it made business sense to make the jump.

But if I'm being honest, I can't prove such a deal happened. Even if it didn't, there's another reason that fits just as nicely: paint-by-numbers porting. The GFWL framework essentially reduces the process of porting an XBOX 360 title to a glorified copy/pasta drill, perfect for lazy console to PC ports. How accurately does that describe Dark Souls? Well, take one look at the PC visuals and you tell me. Protip: To a tee.

I opened this piece with a refresher on what a service is, so I'm gonna close it by detailing what it isn't. A service is something we can choose to partake of, not something we're held up at gunpoint to try. A service is not some minor form of reparations offered in exchange for concessions made for the benefit of the service provider. Most importantly, “a service” is not a phrase that any reasonable consumer would use to describe Games For Windows Live. It's merely another broken, draconian form of Digital Rights Management, and a towering monument to the wave of anti-consumer practices that continue to plague the hobby we love.  
Tags:   Dark Souls, PC

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