Thursday, July 11, 2013

If this is the future, I'll stay in the past

Microsoft's been doing a sort of "fire sale" lately by slashing prices on digital games and content. I can only speculate on the motivation, but I wouldn't doubt it's probably a combination of two, maybe three things: (1) getting people to use up their Microsoft Points before they convert everyone to cash; (2) encouraging people to buy stuff digitally, to get people more comfortable with the idea while they continue to figure out how to get rid of the physical media; and maybe (3) to make people believe the narrative that an all-digital, no-used future will result in lower prices.

In any case, I have taken advantage of some of these. I have a decent balance of Microsoft Points gathered through searching on Bing, so I don't mind using some of my "free money" on these throwaway games (and by "throwaway", I mean that once I'm done with them, I might as well virtually throw them away, because I can't do anything else with them).

But one purchase in particular only served to highlight why an all-digital world still has its problems.

I purchased the game Command & Conquer Red Alert 3, on sale for the bargain price of $5/400 MSP. But when I tried to download it, it would get to the 10% mark and then fail with the disappointingly-terse message, "Can't download C&C Red Alert 3". I tried several times, on both Xboxes in my house (the main one everyone plays on, and the one with the defective DVD drive that I keep in the office as a media streamer and XBLA console), with the same result every time. I had purchased two other full games, plus downloaded a beta and re-downloaded another XBLA game (Happy Wars had an update that required deleting and re-downloading), all without error, but yet this one game still refused to download.

I checked the Xbox Support forums and added my experience to a post I found from way back in December '12 with the same problem. Then I took to Twitter to chat with @XboxSupport. They took me down the standard script of checking everything on my side: unplug the hard drive and try downloading to a USB stick, deleting and re-downloading my profile, clearing the hard drive cache, rebooting my networking equipment, connecting my console directly to the cable modem to bypass the rest of my network, sacrificing small rodents, and sprinkling holy water on the network cable. Their final suggestion was to try a different network.

Now, I don't know about you, but an internet connection isn't something I can just swap out at-will. On a daily basis, I'm on two different broadband networks: my home ISP, and my work. I don't imagine many places of business would look too kindly at an employee bringing a game console to work with them, and I haven't been with my current employer long enough to want to risk finding out. I could conceivably ask neighbors to borrow their network, though with the virtual monopoly the big ISPs tend to have, it's a good bet even if I found someone willing, they'd probably have the same ISP anyway. Either way, the thought of having to pull my console out of the entertainment center and unthread all the cables just so I can download a single game wasn't very appealing.

One suggestion that came up in the forums from another user was to tether the Xbox to a smartphone and use that. I suppose it's fortunate that: (1) we joined the smartphone generation in recent years, (2) and that we pay for tethering (so that my wife can use her tablet without having to buy it a dedicated cellular connection), (3) and that my wireless provider doesn't implement ridiculous bandwidth caps and overage charges, (4) and that I can get a strong enough signal in my house to actually use cellular internet (many people in my neck of the woods have such issues, and I usually end up connecting my phone to my Wi-Fi because the cell signal is pretty poor), (5) and that I was unable to repair the Xbox now in the office and had to buy a newer "slim" model for the family room, with its built-in Wi-Fi adapter; because I was actually in a position to try that. If any one of these conditions weren't met, I'd be out of luck.

It does, in fact, work; and all one has to do is resume the download to get from 10% to 11% complete, then disconnect and reconnect to one's broadband connection to finish the remaining 89%.

But it does raise a few questions. Is it not enough that I'm expected to have an internet connection to use digital content, but I should have two, just in case one for some reason isn't compatible with some piece of content? Also, shouldn't Microsoft be invested in making sure I get my content, regardless of what ISP I'm on, if I'm trying to give them my money? (In other words, why am I and others being asked to jump through these hoops to get what we paid for?) And, how easy would it be to get a refund if I was completely unable to get the content (despite the fact that their purchase page says "there are no refunds"), or would I just be out that money?

If this had happened with a physical disc, where the disc was damaged and unable to "deliver" the game bits to the console, I would just have to go to the store and let them swap it with a working one. (It's happened to me before, when my mail-order copy of Halo 3 got scratched up in transit.) For troubleshooting, maybe they'd try playing it on a second console, which they'd have right there in the store. I wouldn't expect to have to go through as many hoops to try and get a working copy in my home.

1 comment:

Yakko Warner said...

I got a message from someone over Xbox Live asking for help -- I guess they saw my forum post saying I got it to work tethering through my phone. I tried walking him through the process (he happened to have a friend's Android phone and was able to figure out how to connect to it), but it didn't work out for him. In fact, it was worse: it wouldn't even download that first 10% when he tried deleting the file and starting from scratch.
So, apparently, even having a cell phone as a backup network isn't enough.