I'm no longer steamed

Since I recently upgraded and reformatted my system, I was trying to install a fresh copy of Half-Life 2 tonight. But I started running into a very troubling error. About halfway through the 5-CD install (I bought the game when it first came out before they had a DVD version available) one of the installation files kept generating an error. I don't know if it was just a flaky CD or something else, but I re-ran the install several times and still ran into the same issue. As a result, I was unable to install the game.

I was VERY frustrated. Here was a great game I'd paid good money for that I suddenly couldn't play just because there was apparently something wrong with one of the install CDs that I'd bought a few years ago. Fortunately, I now have to eat a little crow about a system I've complained about in the past.

Valve (the makers of the game) have an online platform for distribution, DRM and multiplayer management called Steam. My main source of contact with Steam in the past (and this was mostly a couple years ago) has been with its DRM functionality. Basically, to play any Valve game you had to first login through Steam and have them validate your copy before you're allowed to play. Back then it was extremely annoying as it did this every time, even for single-player games. There was also the issue of Valve forcing/pushing upgrades to Steam or your games, regardless of whether you wanted them or not. And if an update was scheduled or in progress you couldn't play the game. With servers that were often overloaded and the Steam software unstable on the user's end it made for a very frustrating experience and highlighted the potential weaknesses to this type of system.

But Valve has apparently got most of the bugs sorted out over the last couple years. In fact my confidence in the system improved enough that I actually bought a unique little game called The Ship through Steam last summer. The experience was flawless. But tonight Steam's paying its biggest dividends yet.

After my frustrating CD experience, I installed Steam (via their website) logged into my account and it showed a list of all "My games." Half-Life 2 was included on this list. So I simply highlighted it and clicked Install. It's now downloading a copy of the latest version of the game at over 525 KB/s. Granted, I'll have to wait about 1.5 hours for the 3+ GB download. But I could care less. I'm just thrilled that I still have access to my game.

I realize I'm well behind the curve on this when it comes to hardcore gamers who've been more openly embracing this style system for the last couple years. But I'm not a hardcore gamer and I liked the feeling of security of having a local, physical copy of my property (for what little good that did me in this instance.) There's still weaknesses to a centralized system like this. And there's certain types of data I'd still rather not have stored remotely on a prime, known target like that. But this experience also displays the potential strengths of this type of system when managed well.


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