Last year I bought DiRT3 for Windows DVD on sale. Based on its ratings, It seemed a good candidate to try out my Poor Man’s Xbox: An Xbox WiFi controller connected to a Windows laptop, hooked up to the TV.
Even though I had bought a DVD, it wanted me to register online with a Windows Live ID. Well, if I wanted to play a game online, there are plenty of options. Why would I buy a DVD? So every time I started the game, I would select some fake name, configure all my settings (controller, driving aids and so on). But because I had refused to sell my soul, the game wouldn’t save my settings locally.
After a few times I got fed up and decided to create an ID. How hard could it be, right? Right?
Let the Games Begin
It had read before on that gmail addresses can be used for Live. So I provided mine at the game startup. A few “Next” clicks later, it refused to recognize it. Then:
- Exited game
- Fired up web browser
- Went to Microsoft site
- Registered my gmail ID for the Live service. What fun, a verification email was sent.
- Opened gmail
- Clicked on verification mail. Read through cheesy welcome notice.
- How cool! Now I have a free Xbox Live gamertag. Which I can change. For free. Only once.
- Decided if my profile was going to be online, might as well use a gamertag that my friends would recognize. Isn’t that the whole point of social gaming?
- Changed gamertag. Now my Xbox Live page was in a state where the new gamertag appeared in some places, and the original was still retained in others (e.g. the logout option)
- Logged out, logged back in to make sure the change had taken effect (standard Microsoft workflow: If it acts weird, restart it)
- Still the same. OK, whatever. But wait… in doing all this experimentation I discovered “Privacy Settings”.
- Changed my privacy settings to sane ones. Hopefully they were mine, because they still referred to the original gamertag.
- Finished, closed browser
- Fired up game
You’d think that 14+ steps to register for playing a game would be enough. But no. Now that I had a valid XBOX Live ID, I could log in. And now that I had logged in, I needed the latest updates to the XBOX Live gaming system installed on my laptop. Someone had decided to reuse code for this: it would be installed as a Windows update! And guess what, after that I had to restart my laptop, too! Because apparently only selling your soul just doesn’t cut it these days.
But finally I was getting close. I had restarted laptop and game, logged in and voila! Since by registering online I had clearly indicated that I’m heavily into social gaming and all that, now I was being asked to supply my YouTube credentials so in-game video could be uploaded to my channel. Which doesn’t exist.
Past that , the game wasted some more seconds checking for Downloadable Content. Which I was least interested in, considering that I had barely even played the game yet. But, it still checks every time I start the game. The exact same check every time, which notifies me about the exact same shiny new packs available, which I’m exactly as disinterested in.
And here is the highlight of the whole experience: After going through the effort of registering online, I still have to re-configure my settings every time I start the game. Because apparently saving a few strings of text to a file requires something more that investing in a laptop, operating system, DVD and Internet connection. In the attempt to play this game, I spanned 2 types of storage media and 4 internet services, gave up my privacy and recreational time, and it still forces me to use factory settings. On the other hand, the graphics are a generation ahead, the menu has 3D text and the game makes the CPU generate unbelievable amounts of heat. Which is exactly how things were back in 1996.
1. User experience and usability are not just about product features. They are also about the experience of reaching the point where the product can be used. Any software that requires more than 10 steps and an hour of time is unusable.
2. In the year 2014, the only reason I should be forced to restart my computer is to prevent catastrophic meltdown. Not to install updates. What’s next, autonomous cars pulling over on the side of the highway and restarting because the manufacturer decided to push updates?
(EDIT: I wrote this as a joke but a reader pointed out that this is actually happening right now: Where’s my Knight Rider 2000?)
3. This whole experience stank of multiple individually proven and smooth solutions sloppily strung together to deliver working software. I can bet Codemasters and/or Microsoft were thinking they were being agile, leveraging reusable components and delivering in an impossible schedule. All the user stories were delivered, but did anybody step back and think of the user’s story?