Saturday, April 26, 2008

I'm not gaming, I'm updating drivers

Well, I decided that I needed to test my new PC gaming rig with a retail title in order to see what the current state of the industry is. I haven't played a retail PC game in just over a year, I think.

I don't think I've completed a PC game since Halflife 2.

So, I fired up Steam, and after retrieving my old user name and password, I decided to purchase the standalone PC version of Portal. I already completed the Xbox version (I love the Orange Box) but I know that there is a level editor and a lot of community generated content to mess around with, so I plunked down the $19.95.

I also briefly explored the community features -- which felt pretty uninviting given the competition out there. As I mention below, Steam definitely reduces the friction of playing PC games, but really only for power PC gamers who understand that they need things like "drivers" to play games. I'm going to spend a separate post reviewing the community features in terms of their accessibility to the much wider casual games market -- one that the folks at Valve should be exploiting because they could clearly dominate in that space.

Anyhow, back to Portal. Upon launch, I received a warning that informed me that I really, really (REALLY) should update my video driver. I could skip the warning, but it seemed clear that I should do it. Luckily they had a handy link (they already knew what my system profile was).

I clicked the link and was taken to an nVidia web page. It wasn't too badly laid out -- though, again, it did focus on the core user. The top part of the landing page was dedicated to folks who knew the specs of their video card. Interestingly, the selector was prepopulated to a card that was NOT my own (even though Steam could have transmitted this data to the website). I wonder how many folks would have just hit "search" and wound up installing the wrong driver?

Luckily, I stumbled upon the below part that was more of a one click solution. It installed some sort of app that automagically detected what I had and filtered me to the file I needed to download and install. A few minutes later (and after signing up for email updates) I restarted my machine and am good to go.

Ah, PC gaming. The experience is getting better, but man, the process is still so fragile. Imagine the family bringing a box home from Costco, hooking it up, and having their game not work at all due to... well... they have no idea. If they were hard core enough to know about Steam (or the Windows game optimizer) they would still be bogged down in the process for hours while trying to get their machine up to speed.

Yeah, consoles have upgrades. But you never have to do more than just press the A button and wait for a reboot. No thinking required (except, of course, for modders and cheaters who don't want to have their shenanigans ruined by the latest update).

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