I almost paid for Civilization 5, but Steam prevents me

Today, I *almost* bought Civilization 5. The temptation was strong…

…but they still won’t allow me to buy it. You go into a shop, and spend money, and they tell you you’re a pirate, that you’re a thief, and that unless you create a Steam account and connect the internet to your PC, you “won’t be allowed” to play the game you’ve just paid for.

Over Xmas, I think I’ll pirate it instead. Since they won’t let me buy it legitimately.

(for the record, *if* I pirate it, I will also go into a shop and buy the useless £50 box of plastic and DVD. I’ll do the morally right thing, despite their attempts to stop me)

For the apologists

I’ve often spoken in public about anti-piracy measures for games. My conclusion was to include online-only content that you needed to be authenticated for.

This is a single-player, offline game. There is literally no reason to make it “Steam required” – every offline player will get no benefit, and will be better off pirating it. This is (yet again) mindless stupidity from a games company (probably the publisher).

20 thoughts on “I almost paid for Civilization 5, but Steam prevents me

  1. Matthew Weigel

    Check your facts: Civilization is made by Firaxis, and published under Take Two’s 2K Games label. It is both a single-player and multi-player game, although the latter (if you try it) may be cause of more than one additional rant post.

  2. Atridas

    I payed it nad, I have to admit, I’ve been a Steam user for a long time and I’m sattified with it. You can play it off-line, and steam has never un-allowed me to play something for being off-line. You get the *useless* achievements and the *almost useless* steam cloud saved files.

    Althoug I can imagine your arguments against Steam, you don’t actually say them.

    Of curse you (and everyone) is free to do wathever you want, but I just don’t see any drawback in buying steam-games (well… $ to € to £ may be a great one, but that is not the actual topic).

  3. adam Post author

    @Matthew

    WordPress deleted my reply to your comment: summary: Thanks! And: Yes, I’m a total idiot for that mistake. I’ve bought every version of civ back to Civ1, no excuse for being so stupid.

    @Atridas

    I’m standing in a shop, with money in hand, and a box in hand. My options:

    1. swap box for money, get out laptop, start playing

    2. i. swap box for money
    ii. find an internet connection
    iii. buy a new credit card
    iv. create a fake email address for the spam that Steam will want to send me
    v. create a steam account, going through various form filling and other crap
    vi. delete the fake email account once it’s been “verified”
    vii. wait for the online auth process to take place
    viii. finally – if I’m lucky – I will be allowed to play the game

    NB: I have a copy of Photoshop, 100% legit, that I’d been using for many months, and which simply deleted itself one day because it decided to do a random authentication check with Adobe’s servers, and either they were down that day, or it was blocked by a firewall, or something else.

    Who knows? Photoshop now refuses to install on that computer.

    Sure, I know many people happy with Steam. Likewise, you don’t hear from people saying “Photoshop deleted itself and won’t allow me to re-install it” – but I know from 1st-hand experience that it happens. It even popped up a dialog to tell me it was an authentication failure.

    There is LITERALLY no value to me – or to the publisher – of me using Steam. The only value is to Valve, who get an extra customer, and an extra email address for future monetization.

  4. Alastair Pitts

    adam,

    What a ridiculous rant. Have you even used Steam recently?

    I’m not sure where you came up with the garbage for your second “option”.

    2.
    ii. “Find an internet connection” – How did you write this post if an internet connection is so hard to find? I find it absurd that you had no way to get you laptop on the internet.

    iii. “buy a new credit card” – I had a steam account long before I had a credit card. I doubt steam even has any credit card details of mine. You don’t need a credit card to create a Steam account

    iv. “fake email” – I receive NO emails from Steam, apart from to tell me of my purchases. No marketing material, no annoying reminders.

    v. “forms” – Right, because you haven’t filled in and signed up for other things on the internet before

    vii. “wait for online auth” – It’s seamless. You start Steam, log into steam (very quick you know), put in your game and install.

    viii. “play the game” – You know what, steam allows you to do this. Because steam just works. It’s the reason it’s so popular with companies is because their system works and it’s putting more money in developers hands.

    You only need to have Steam be online once, then you can play your games in offline mode (with no internet connection) to your hearts content.

    I’m not sure you could even pirate the game as the requirement of Steam makes it a lot harder to pirate, another win for publishers and developers.

    Poorly written rant.

    I’ve come to expect better.
    Alastair

  5. Atridas

    You get the achievements and multi-player. May not be enought to you, it is for me -I am a complecionist, I love to do “extra” stuff-.

    Said that, I want to be some day a game developer. And I whould want not to use DRM. But if I have to, better be Steam-like (I don’t remember receiving spam. If Steam finds no internet connection -once the game is validated- it starts in off-line mode and you can play no problem -I think it must be validated once every 30 days or something like that. I Never had to do it-) that the one from Ubisoft.

    I still think it is less work to install Steam that to search and find a “good” crack, but that is just my opinion. I bought steam versions of games just for theyr achievements, so I’m probably not the best example arround the world.

  6. adam Post author

    Finding a crack is a known quantity. The only selfishness I can expect is that the crack may have a virus deliberately embedded: I’d better do a virus check on anything I download. But this is something we all deal with every day anyway.

    On the other hand, we have a corporation with an unknown agenda forcing an unnecessary step upon users. It’s a non-trivial step involving “registration”. There is no registration needed for this game – so who is benefitting from this, and what are they getting out of it?

    I’ve worked at lots of games companies, and have often seen them publically declare “no spam” while deliberately spamming consumers. Apparently there are enough legal loopholes that it’s OK.

    And here it’s not even registration with the game’s developer, but with another corporation, one with no involvement in the product.

    If Steam is *not* taking control of anything, and *not* taking any personal details, they wouldn’t be involved – it wouldn’t have value to them. The fact that the value is hidden – and that it gives them the power to remotely disable the game – makes them at best a benevolent dictator who you’re hoping will never turn on you.

    At the end of the day, it’s an issue of trust. No corporation in the games world is run “for the loss of the shareholders, but the warm fuzzy feeling of consumers”. If you don’t know their motivations for making you jump through hoops, you’d best be suspicious. Because I wasn’t suspicious enough, I have had more than one PC destroyed by games copy-protection (on legitimately purchased titles) in the past. Good luck suing the publisher for a new PC!

    I have no objection to using Steam for digital purchases. But for retail purchases, where you are offered literally no guarantees that Steam is being “good”, and where it adds nothing honest and open, the implication (as per above) is that it might be adding various things hidden and dishonest, sooner or later; in that setup, I detest it.

  7. adam Post author

    @Alastair

    I don’t have a steam account, so *I DON’T KNOW* what is needed. The box merely contains a legal notice that “a steam account and active internet connection are required otherwise you will not be allowed to use this product” (or similar words – I didn’t buy it, so I can’t check).

    Steam gives the consumer a choice: our way (with no information), or don’t buy the box. You’ve been given a legal warning, so you can’t claim you didn’t know when you bought it.

    Standing in the retail store, I cannot check.

    It is extremely likely that a CC is required. It is likely that Flash or broken JS will be used somewhere (so that I won’t be able to register from an iPhone), and guaranteed that an internet connection is required.

  8. Poo Bear

    It won’t be long now before devs realise the only way to secure shop bought games is through online components people actually want. Civ is perfect for some online asynchronous one-world meta game and it wouldn’t hurt the dev to add game related news on startup, auto-update notification, achievements, leaderboards, free DLC, pay DLC, etc. All could be opt-in, with no need for Steam. Get the mix right and the pirate version (with none of that) starts to look poor value in comparison and nobody wants the crack anymore. Steam is fine, but they are using it because the devs are lazy and the problem is they are creating a potentially dangerous monopoly.

  9. adam Post author

    “Get the mix right and the pirate version (with none of that) starts to look poor value in comparison and nobody wants the crack anymore.”

    Exactly.

    But this game I want for all the offline features, and none of the online ones.

    It SHOULD HAVE BEEN a perfect game to pick up on a whim at retail.

    Instead, the developers/publisher have turned it into a retail nightmare, where “purchasing the box in store” does not actually get you the game. It’s not worth the effort of buying in store – you HAVE to go online anyway, so you would be better off buying it digitally.

    Fine. Shaft the retailers – they’ve long been greedy bastards – but as a consumer, do you have to shaft me at the same time?

  10. Atridas

    Valve won’t give you any spam e-mails because there is an authomatic “news pop up” when you run steam (on-line), so there is no need to send e-mails. I dont know if there is a way to deactivate that, because I don’t feel the need (I close it as soon as it opens if I’m not on the mood to read them).

    Other than that, yes, Steam is becoming a de facto monopoly of on-line shops. I remember when they announced Steam and everybody said it wasn’t going anywhere, well, they tooked a risk, now they have their proffit. Other than that, I imagine 2K told firaxis to use Steam, because 2K has had their catalog in Steam for a long time and they must be happy with that service. Probably they get a better share that with retail shops, and making people thinking “I don’t get anything from retail, I’d better buy it on-line” gives them more money, with is legit (we will, someday, miss our game boxes).

    But on the other hand, you are absolutelly right, Valve can close Steam someday and EVERYBODY will lose their games. It’s a risk, it’s there and someday I’ll do a backup of every game I bought (Steam not only lets you do that, but gives an option directly in its UI) so, just in case, I can download the crack and play it, or a legit crack just like blizzard did with their old games (thanks to that I could play my lost Starcraft 1 before SC2 came out :D).

    Well, on a second thought, if steam closes, I will just download a pirate version of the games I bought, so it’s not really gonna be a big loss (apart for my achievements).

  11. adam Post author

    I have huge respect for what Valve has managed with Steam, as a business, and in spite of the other publishers (who were somehow incapable of stopping Valve. I’ve seen the inner workings of some, and my understanding is that Valve succeeded because publishers had too much selfish internal politics and too much laziness by high-ranking individuals).

    …but I would still like to purchase goods at retail.

    Not always, but sometimes.

    And I resent going to retail, being offered a game, then getting slapped in the face and told “retail doesn’t exist any more (for this particular game). STFU, give us your money”.

  12. erik

    Or…

    1) Go to steampowered.com and sign up for a free account (no CC required to sign up).
    2) Install steam.
    3) Buy Civ 5 – CC/paypal/etc required for this part though.

    You can skip that whole “Going to the store” step altogether. I think you’re making the whole process entirely too complicated by involving a retail purchase in the first place!

    Seriously though…

    If Steam did *not* have an “Offline” mode, I might be more sympathetic to your complaints, but it does (as other comments have pointed out) have a way to play the game indefinitely without connecting to the internet.

    You need to do more research before writing off digital distribution/integration entirely. I certainly don’t think publishers should punish paying customers for the behavior of pirates, but I also believe they have a right to protect their intellectual property. Right now, I feel like Steam actually strikes a fairly reasonable compromise. Hell, Steam even allows you to play games on multiple computers at the same time. I’ve had my wife playing Civ5 “offline” on her laptop while I play online on my desktop.

  13. erik

    Additionally, I’d like to point out the irony of you ranting about giving out your email address while requiring one to comment on your blog. =P

  14. adam Post author

    @erik

    Sorry about the email crap – it’s low-fi anti-spam protection and the few times I’ve tried to find a “better” way with WordPress, the alternatives were all unsupported/dead projects that no longer worked, or were no less hassle – or didn’t work at all on some browsers (e.g. Disqus, which I otherwise rather like)

  15. adam Post author

    “t does (as other comments have pointed out) have a way to play the game indefinitely without connecting to the internet.”

    It SPECIFICALLY states on the box that it DOES NOT have this.

    Someone paid a lawyer to give them that writing to put on the box. Almost certainly, they first paid the lawyer to find out if the statement was legally required, and were told “yes”. In my experience, that’s how publisher marketing materials work, especially the small print: any words included are ONLY there because the publisher’s lawfirm said they were required.

    NB: the law-firm will have much more detailed access to the company’s business plans than any partner or public – they’re paid to protect the company as well as possible given whatever possibly illicit things the company is planning to do.

    I do not believe they loved lawyers so much ;) as to give them free money to craft + include an unnecessary statement – there is something behind that statement, but I don’t know what.

  16. adam Post author

    PS: sorry for being such a tinfoil-hat-wearing-paranoid. Direct personal experience of the people involved in such decisions, and their “Fuck em'” attitude, has given me oodles of self-protective paranoia.

    Too many times it comes down to: “Even if we get sued, will this cost us 7 figures USD, or 8? If it’s 7, I’m happy to take the risk, and we’ll bully them into a settlement. Only if it’s an 8-figure risk should we change the strategy to be non-evil”
    … OR …
    “if we get sued for this, will I still be working at the company? If it’ll take more than 18 motnhs for the lawsuit to come to court, I don’t care – I plan to have jumped to a different publisher. Someone else can deal with my shit”

  17. Andrew Crystall

    Atridas – Right. Spam in another medium. Relentless spam, even, with few controls over it, unlike my nice Bayesian filter on my email. Waits for updates. Games patching themselves to bugged versions (and hence becoming unplayable – 2 games which use Steam are in this state for me). Steam going down…

    Sigh.

    There’s a reason I prefer Impulse.

  18. Atridas

    Right, Steam updates automatically when you want to play, I always assumed this was a feautre, but it can cause problems, as the ones you said (such think never happened to me, that’s why I didn’t say any of that).

    In this case, it’s mostly the developers to blame, THEY released a patch wich does not work. But still, surelly Steam should provide a way to unpatch. But I have other priorities, the first one, they shouldn’t sell 50$ games at 50€ or 25£, because it’s just unfair.

    As for Impulse, I never used it, so I won’t say anything :D

  19. Akjosch

    Same deal with Fallout: New Vegas, by the way. Even worse, this game doesn’t even HAVE an on-line component, it just … requires Steam. And as such, is on my “no buy” list.

    Give me a GamersGate version any day. Same nice and quick on-line distribution deal as Steam, without any of the auto-updating, auto-connecting, resource-hogging crap running in the background. No affiliation with them, just a happy customer there.

  20. fs23

    Have a friend, unfortunately not a nerd. He bought the game. Very excited to play he tryed to install it immediately but had to call me for help with this steam thingy.
    His email was already in use, so we spend the whole day trying to retrieve his old steam account, without success. You know the drill….
    I downloaded the game with updates and all illegally in 1 hour, got the thing running w/o steam. So, he owns the game and still screw steam. BANG! Feels like payback from a user´s perspective, and it feels GOOOOD! >:)=

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