Digital Download: An Anathema

If you’ve ever been to your local game shop chances are you’ve noticed the selection for PC games is, well, pretty much piss poor. And this is somewhat understandable. Consoles have been the focal point of many gaming companies for aeons now. The PC, despite the fact that it can offer a very rich gaming experience with far more flexibility (see Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which on PC can be modded with your favorite characters, albeit not “officially”…on console, you’re stuck with the original line-up), is just not the darling of the game world anymore.

So much so that I’m amazed any companies are still producing PC games, for all the slap-dash manner they seem to do PC releases, and the incredibly inferior way they distribute and support them.

As a primarily PC gamer, this is of course a source of constant disappointment and annoyance to me.

But no aspect of modern day PC gaming frustrates me more than the “wave of the future”, the digital download. Have you tried a digital download for a game, lately? I don’t just mean buying an indie game and downloading the executable from the source. And I don’t mean a torrent, I mean legally buying a game from a manufacturer or from a game store and using their newfangled digital download manager software to nab the game from their server (at a snail’s pace, typically).

I have more experience with this than I’d like. Call me old fashioned, but at least when I have the disc in my hand, half the work’s already been done for me. There’s no guarantee it’s going to work out of the box (I’m looking at you, Sims 3), but at least I don’t have to hold my breath for 8 hours while the game theoretically downloads to my machine. “Theoretically” because these downloaders really only work in theory.

Over the past month I’ve purchased and attempted to take for a spin games from three major companies using their download managers. The companies are pretty darn big, and more or less reputable. (In other words, these are companies that should know better than to screw around.) They were Amazon, EA Games, and Gamestop.

Amazon downloader: failed, because the downloaded game was then not recognized by EA’s Download Manager which was required for the game to execute.

EA Download Manager (aka EADM): failed, because it’s a piece of crap that’s guaranteed to spend more time crashing, freezing, refusing to find your games and making it impossible to launch games than actually doing anything remotely like it’s meant to do. This is a well-known fact.

Gamestop downloader (via Trymedia): failed, because the game download froze at 72% and then went to 404 file not found on Trymedia’s server. Still waiting for resolution on this one…for a game that cost $50 just to download digitally.

For those not doing the math, let me sum up the score for you. Digital downloaders for PC games have a 0% chance of working correctly, if the mechanisms from these 3 major companies are anything to go by.

I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’m a pretty smart chick. I have a college degree of the variety that required actually working hard and being fairly intelligent to achieve it. I’ve been gaming on console and computer since I was in kindergarten. (I’m in my thirties now.) I know my way around a computer. Why the hell can’t I ever get a PC game digital download to work?

The foremost answer to my question would be, I suppose, “if you’re so intelligent, then you should have figured out by now that you should be gaming on a console”. But I’m not quite happy with that response, because I own consoles, and I still prefer to game on my PC.

The only other answer I can deduce is that while digital downloads for PC games are clearly the way things are going to be done, possibly exclusively, from now on, the companies responsible for selling their products via this means don’t actually give a flip about the people buying and attempting to use their product.

Had I not gotten the runaround from Amazon (who just dumped me to EA Games), the runaround from EA Games (whose solution was only to reinstall EADM…repeatedly) and the runaround from Gamestop (whose solution was to funnel me to Trymedia who haven’t responded at all) then perhaps my conclusion would be brighter. But it’s not. And I don’t think I’m the only person on the planet to experience this sort of frustration with digital downloads for PC games.

I’m not feeling at all confident that things will improve as these companies switch to digital download-only formats for purchasing, installing and enjoying PC games in the future.

For now, I think I’ll give up on the whole digital download thing and insist upon having a copy of the game in hand, even if it means paying more and limits my selection. Maybe time will prove me wrong and these companies will improve their digital download process. It’s going to take a pretty drastic change, however, for me to have any faith in this method of delivery again.

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