Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Battlefield 3... I think I'll pass

I've been anticipating the release of Battlefield 3 (BF3) for months, planning to buy it within the first week of release. Not only did the wife make an exception and let me break my usual zero-dollar budget for games, but she even agreed to let me make some upgrades to my aging PC in preparation. I was stoked.

I vaguely remember playing Battlefield 1942 (just a little bit) back in the day, and not being too impressed. But I got hooked on the franchise with Battlefield 2 when a friend gave me an extra copy that came with his upgraded video card. I loved it so much I had to spring for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BF:BC2) when it came out earlier last year. I bought the Limited Edition DVD and played the heck out of it until other priorities got in the way, as they always seem to do. I still play a match now and then. It's a fun game.

Prior to BF:BC2, I can't tell you the last time I purchased a triple-A title for full price. On average I buy a couple games per month these days, typically spending just $3-$7 each. And that trend only started late last year. Before that, it had to have been close to a decade since I bought my last game. We're talking titles like the original Doom, Blood and Duke Nukem 3D. Yeah, it's been a while.

However, BF:BC2 set me back a whopping $60. How much this game, or any game, is worth is a matter for another discussion. Suffice it to say that I don't get to spend that kind of money on a video game very often. I don't count GameCube or Wii games we've bought for the kids, mainly because those are Christmas or birthday gifts, and have the force of law (read: wife's blessing) behind them. My whole point is that it's a big deal when I am allowed to do it, and I take the privilege seriously.

Which brings me to now, almost a full month since BF3's release, and sadly, I still don't have it. I'm rather surprised myself, considering that I have permission, I've spent time and money upgrading my PC, and I've been drooling over the trailers and gameplay videos like everybody else. There are probably several reasons I haven't pulled the trigger though. The first that comes to mind is the shenanigans of EA not putting BF3 on Steam. I'm no lover of Steam, believe me, but instead it requires... Origin?

Origin is a Steam wannabe. At least Steam is a rock-solid platform that has been around for years. It's extremely popular and I have about a dozen games in my Steam library, so I tolerate it. The last thing I want is a newcomer which has nothing to offer me, BF3 aside, except all the things I don't like about Steam in the first place. I know EA is no newcomer, but Origin as a platform client is. If I was to put up with any forced client, I would, and do, choose Steam.

Next, playing BF:BC2 I always felt that there were not enough maps. This leads me (and others I'm sure) to the uneasy feeling that game publishers hold back content with the intention of charging later for said content as DLC. I think more work needs to be done by the gaming industry as a whole to find a better balance between making a game that feels complete before the DLC rolls out, then finding the right price for that DLC. I can't imagine spending $60 for BF3 then shelling out another $15 for a map or two that I'll probably end up feeling should have been included in the first place. It's kind of cool though, that if you bought the game straight away you got the DLC (Karkand) for free/included. That is somewhat of a bonus for the guinea pigs that are wrapping up EA's beta testing right after release ;)

That's another problem: there are myriad reports of game glitches and crashes, and that the new outside-the-game server browser is clunky and just dumb. Mostly, I'm scared to subject myself to a frustrating experience I'm almost promised to have if I buy sooner rather than later. Nothing I've heard about the state of affairs leaves me confident that the current experience is worth top dollar. And I'm easily annoyed when it comes to that kind of stuff.

I think about the strange inverse relationship of new games to their hefty price tags. When games are first released, they are their buggiest, crappiest versions of their existence, and the cost is the absolute most it will ever be. Those who wait to purchase benefit from patches and price-drops. Sounds like a win:win to me. Granted, I will miss the opportunity to play the game now, but for me it's better than a fair trade, it's ideal.

Last week I picked up The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion GoTY Deluxe on Steam for a paltry $6.25. So long as my PC is up to the task, I can expect the game to run well, as it's beyond fully patched and has a mature mod landscape. Not something I could have said if I purchased when it was first released. Good things come to those who wait.

The last item that comes to mind for not already grabbing BF3 is that in my trepidation, my attention has been drawn to another title. No, not Modern Warfare 3. Although I think the MW games are sometimes pretty to look at, I never cared for their multiplayer experience (too deathmatchy), much preferring the Battlefield experience instead. If my purchase of Oblivion last week didn't tip you off, the distraction I refer to is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I've never been a big RPG guy, I like first-person shooters, plain and simple. But Skyrim looks so incredible, I'm trying to change my mind. I've been trying to cut my teeth on RPG gameplay by starting The Elder Scrolls series from the beginning, with Arena. It's somewhat harsh on the eyes, but I can put up with that if the game is fun. I've recently played Fallout 3, and have been collecting other classic RPG titles from GOG.com. I've always found RPGs intriguing but I think I lack the patience and the frame of mind required to complete one.

Now I've heard some grumblings about Skyrim as well, such as that it's a terrible console port, is only a DirectX9 game at heart and is a bit buggy to boot. The DX9 thing doesn't really scare me off, even though I've upgraded recently, I'm still at least a couple years behind the curve on hardware. I've got the cash to drop on a big title, but clearly I'm willing to wait to see how Bethesda addresses the issues before I make up my mind.

If BF3 doesn't pan out for me, and it's looking more and more like it won't, I'll just save my $60 in the meantime, and keep plugging away at The Elder Scrolls series. I'm sure I'll end up with Skyrim someday, probably next year, hopefully for about $5, with all the DLC included and patched to perfection. I can't wait.

LATE UPDATE 2012-02-26:
I've since picked up both BF3 and Skyrim. Hardly play either. My heart, mind and soul have been captured by this phenomenon that is Minecraft. Both myself and my two sons are pretty heavily addicted to this block-building game. It's pretty far outside my usual gaming budget, and my 12-year old paid for his own copy, but it's also quite worth it. I can't imagine there are too many gamers out there that don't already know all about it, but it's extremely cool.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Get Mango for Windows Phone 7 Now!

I've been clamoring for the Mango update for my Windows Phone 7 ever since hearing it's supposed to roll out this Fall. Well, Fall is here, so where's my Mango?! I religiously check Settings > Phone Update every day, but it always says "no update available." I figured, with my luck, I'll probably get it last. For the record, I have an HTC HD7 on T-Mobile.

I rarely use the Zune software, mainly because I don't have much need to sync data between my phone and my PC. I'm just not the kind of guy... at least not yet. But tonight, on a whim, I decided to plug in and let the two commingle, just for grins. I'm glad I did. Zune was like, "what the heck have you been doing? An update is available, dude!" (paraphrased). I was psyched, naturally, but also dismayed that I wasn't notified "over the air" as I expected to be. How long have I been waiting to pluck the Mango that was there for the plucking? *sigh*

Before the phone update would start, it required that I update the Zune software. I don't know what version I was on, but I now have Zune version 4.8.2345.0. With that out of the way, I initiated the phone update.

The phone restarted a couple of times, made a backup, downloaded an update, installed the update, downloaded another update, installed that too, restarted a couple more times, then it was finally done. I'd estimate the whole process took 45-60 minutes, with the longest stretch by far being the second update.

To my relief, the update seems to have worked fine on the first try. I can't wait to mess with it, I almost feel like I'm getting a new phone. Overall I really like the WP7 platform, but I'd sure like to see some of my minor annoyances addressed. However, I'm optimistic.

If, like me, you're anxious to get the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update, my advice is this: don't wait for your phone to notify you. Connect your Windows Phone to your PC and start Zune immediately. You might be glad you did!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Installing Dell 1700 from print server on Windows 7 64-bit

I've had my Dell Laser 1700 for years now, and I still love it. My only regret is that I didn't get the 1700n, the "n" denoting a network model. So, instead I have mine set up on Windows Server 2003 via USB, shared with my home network. If you're reading this, you either have no life, or you've had a problem getting the driver for the Dell 1700 to install on Windows Vista or 7, 32-bit or 64-bit, or all of the above like me.

Things were fine and dandy when I had XP on everything. But my old nemesis, progress, has marched on and brought forth Windows Vista, thankfully followed by Windows 7. However, setting up my Dell 1700 printer remains tricky for me on these newer operating systems, every time I find myself doing it. I've been tripped up first by 32-bit Vista, then 7, and again now that I'm running 64-bit 7 on multiple systems. (Don't even ask how many computers I have, ok?)

Aside from my relief that a compatible driver even exists this far out from when the Dell 1700 was initially released, I never seem to be able to simply "connect" to the shared printer on the server, and usually have to resort to figuring it out over and over, never quite remembering what I did last time to get it working. That gets old.

This time, I decided to document my process. What a novel idea, right?! Once I did so, I realized that it's not all that difficult after all. Unless, that is, I'm otherwise missing something :) I believe that in general I've had much better luck when I'm able to use the CD-ROM which came with the printer, but I can't always find it. And in this day and age, I think you should be able to get everything you need from the web. Besides, I'm convinced that most people facing this issue don't even have the CD-ROM as an option. Not to mention that I suspect the CD-ROM has 32-bit drivers, but likely not 64-bit.

Anyway, here's what I did. Your mileage may obviously vary, and you might not have the same configuration that I have, but I hope this information is helpful to somebody somewhere, if not to my future self, assuming I have my Dell 1700 for years to come, as I hope is the case. I also hope Windows 8 smiles at me, when I cross that bridge.

Note: This driver was apparently designed for Vista, and not updated since, so some strangeness isn't out of the question for Windows 7, as you may notice in step 6 below.

  1. Download the driver package R147091.EXE from the Dell website. Obtain it from another location at your own risk. This driver is compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit Vista and 7.
  2. After you download it some place safe (keep it in case you need it again), open/run it and let it extract. The default extract path is 'C:\Dell\Printers', or at least it was for me. If you are prompted by UAC, obviously click YES to continue.
  3. Once extraction is complete, go to that folder and open/run SETUP.EXE. There should also be five folders and an INI file there along with it. Again, if prompted by UAC, click YES to continue.
  4. The installation wizard should now be open.
  5. Click "Network Installation - Install the printer for use on a network"
  6. Choose the "Dell Laser Printer 1700" in the drop down. If the drop down is empty, cancel out of the setup, hopefully prompting Windows 7 to re-initiate the setup using "recommended settings" (a.k.a. compatibility mode). If it doesn't, then apply compatibility settings yourself (set to Vista), and run SETUP again. If this happens start again at step 1.
  7. Choose "Local Installation - Install printer on this computer"
  8. Click NEXT
  9. Click the "Add Printer" button
  10. Choose "UNC" for "Port Type"
  11. Type the UNC path to the printer in the "Network Path" field. Alternatively, you may click the "Printer Path" button and browse to the printer, but that did not work for me. It did not "see" the print server in my case. Hopefully you know what a UNC path is, and can figure out what yours is ;)
  12. Click NEXT
  13. Uncheck "Share this printer with other computers", if it's checked
  14. If desired, change the Printer Name, and check or uncheck "Set this printer as default"
  15. Click NEXT
  16. Click INSTALL. I was not able to deselect (uncheck) the Dell Toner Management System, it was grayed out, so in it went
If you do happen to have the Dell Laser 1700n (network model) set up on a print server, I would expect this procedure to work the same for you, assuming you are having any trouble getting it to work otherwise. I doubt it matters if the printer is connected via USB or TCP/IP, what matters is that you're connecting to a shared printer over the network.

After this, my Dell 1700 was present in the Printers and Faxes section of the Devices and Printers Control Panel (boy, that's a mouthful), and the printer worked fine. I hope yours does too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dell, you're killing me!

I discovered last night that the keyboard, in my fairly new Dell laptop, isn't installed properly. I'm going to have to disassemble it to fix. Why me?

I've had numerous issues with the Dell XPS 15 (L502x) since I got it about a month and a half ago. Up to now, it's mostly been that I get app crashes when I come out of hibernate or sleep. Sometimes it's Outlook, but more often it's some behind-the-scenes Windows components, like PC Doctor.

I've run the recovery, but that hasn't helped. I also obtained the Windows OS disc from Dell (once again, they're not shipping units with the discs), but I've also had problems during a clean install, such as the system freezing at different points, including the BIOS splash. I really started to feel like I have a hardware problem, probably RAM. Luckily, the app crashes aren't catastrophic (yet). I suppose I'll keep my fingers crossed that things don't get worse.

But this keyboard thing is really irritating. I noticed since day 1 that the keyboard had some play to it (flexible/spongy). I saw this criticism in some reviews, but figured I'd mainly use an external keyboard with it at home anyway. I recently got a monitor stand to elevate the laptop, which gave me a viewing angle on the keyboard that allowed me to see it was raised up on the left side. After looking closely at it, I can see that there is a retaining tab that the keyboard should be under, but instead it's above it on that side. I was so frustrated by this that my inclination was to force it down, but I kept my composure and instead looked up the manual online for instructions on fixing it proper.

This is just the latest disappointment I've had with Dell. The absolute worst experience was two years ago when I was forced to buy a video card upgrade to support dual monitors on a computer I bought through the Dell website for work, only to find out that the card didn't support dual monitors at all. Repeated calls to Dell accomplished nothing but headaches, and they ultimately ripped me off by not providing a refund after I sent the useless video card back to them, at their request.

I've long planned to blog about that, and may someday in a separate post. It was truly sad, and I'll never feel the same about Dell again. I boycotted them for awhile, and I will still look to other brands before I shop Dell. The only reason I came back at all was that I like Dell products and their technical aspects, but their customer service is atrocious, I mean really despicable.

That brings me to why I don't just send my new laptop back to Dell, with all the problems I've been having, as my wife tells me I should do. To be honest, I'm truly afraid of what I may be subjected to by Dell support personnel. I think about the only thing that would really force me to deal with that is if I end up convinced I have a motherboard problem, or something I absolutely can't fix on my own, or without significant expense. I only hope that if I'm going to reach that point, that it comes before my 1 year warranty is expired.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Direct2Drive: More Nails for the Coffin

I feel like I've been on a Direct2Drive (D2D) bashing binge the past few months. I don't mean to be, but as a customer, I'm in a position to be critical of this service I once felt very differently about. Of course, D2D is obliging by continuing to offer me reasons to be dissatisfied. In this latest episode, I have two irritations to mention. One involves inconsistent pricing on their site, the other is in regards to their poor excuse for a price match policy.

Last night I was checking to see if they had any deals running, something I've been doing more often lately, and I saw they had Mass Effect listed in their "Top 10" section of the home page for $7.95. In the past couple of weeks, I had missed an opportunity to pick it up for around $5, I think also on D2D, but I can't remember for sure. But seeing it for only a couple bucks more than that, I figured I'd pull the trigger and pick it up. I clicked the link to take me to the product page but the price listed there was $19.99! I refreshed both pages to see if a caching issue was amiss, but that didn't clear up the disparity. It was listed in two places for two wildly different prices.

I admit, I didn't proceed to add the game to my cart to find out which was the "real" price. To be honest, I was so blown away, that didn't occur to me. I speculate that the price on the product page is what would have probably carried through, that makes more sense to me. I was disappointed, not only because I wasn't going to be able to grab Mass Effect for under $8, but perhaps more so that such a sloppy pricing error could happen at all. I kind of figured it was par for the course, and I'd just as soon forget about it. But then I had another issue with D2D today that made me want to mention both.

I recently discovered Deals4Downloads.com (D4D), a site that aggregates sale listings for digitally distributed PC games. This has become my first (or sometimes second) stop now every time I feel like dropping a Lincoln on a new game. I don't know how they populate their list, I haven't thought that hard about it. It doesn't seem to be run by user submission, but, whatever. Either way, it's super convenient. You can sort the listings by price, popularity, age, or how much you would save off the regular price. It also makes it easy to compare the prices between online retailers. I like it.

On my perusal of D4D today I saw STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl for $4.99 on Impulse, which is GameStop's digital distribution store. A few months ago I bought STALKER: Clear Sky for probably about that much from D2D. I haven't played it much, but at the rate I've been buying games this year I don't suspect my primary objective is to play them all that much. It's more like I just want to have them around so if I get a hair to play something, I have a nice selection to choose from.

Anyway, Shadow of Chernobyl is the first in the STALKER series, so I figured I'd add it to my collection. But I've not purchased from Impulse before, and I know they require an Impulse client software to be installed to download games. I'm not a fan of this approach. I put up with Steam's platform only because it's been around so long, and I was forced to start using it years ago during my Counter-Strike addiction. I've recently made my first purchase from Green Man Gaming, and they too require a download client. At least with D2D the client has always been optional; I've never used it.

I had a brainstorm, remembering that D2D offers a price match for (very few) selected online retailers, GameStop being one of them. I thought I'd try to take advantage of this, opting to make my purchase with D2D, keeping more of my games under one roof, and avoiding the Impulse download client. It seemed like a win, win, win! Ha-ha, not. D2D's version of price matching isn't really a price match at all. I was hoping to be able to purchase STALKER for $4.99, but D2D would still require that I purchase it for the full price of $19.99, then they would issue me with store credit in the amount of the difference. So I could buy the game for full price (again, no matching here!) and then be forced to make additional purchases from D2D if I wanted to realize the credit.

Sure, there's value in that proposition, but it's not a price match. Not really. The policy is heavily tilted in D2D's favor, and doesn't leave much for me to be pleased with. I understand it's a business, and that they are trying to force encourage me to make future purchases with them. But my understanding of this doesn't keep me from wondering why they can't just sell me the game at the matched price, as a "price match" might suggest. It's not a technological barrier. It's purely a matter of principal, and in this case, policy. Once again, policy decisions at Direct2Drive keep them from putting the customer first.

Also, I don't need to be encouraged to make future purchases. On average I buy about two games per month from D2D. Not only should this make it obvious that I'll likely buy again in the future, but it also makes me a pretty loyal customer that deserves a proper price match when I'm looking for one. I realize that one could argue that since I do foresee making future purchases, that the store credit will be useful and that I should not complain. However, I disagree. In addition to my opinion about what constitutes a proper price match, I also have a budget, albeit self-imposed, which would be exceeded by about 100% if I were to drop $20 on the game.

I will typically only spend in the neighborhood of $5 on a game, once or twice a month. This budget, somewhere around $10 per month, keeps me under the radar with my wife, who would not approve if I spent a quick $20 on a game for myself, let alone one that I probably won't play anytime soon (if ever). It's not that she won't know about the purchases, she manages our money, so she sees all. But by keeping the transactions low, I avoid incurring her wrath, which is something I desperately want to avoid ;)

I submitted a ticket to D2D support, which is the way to go about getting a price match. I had to create a new "support" account. Apparently support cannot be tied to my primary D2D account. I suspect this is due to the support site being provided by a 3rd party, but yeah, that's lame too. Whatever. I was pleased to receive a rapid response, but less than pleased with the response itself. It was explained to me that it did "not qualify" for the price match. My first reaction was "WTF do you mean it doesn't qualify?" But I soon realized this was merely a poor choice of words on their part. It turns out I have to actually purchase the game first, and because I didn't, they couldn't do anything.

But wait, how can they match the price on a game I already purchased? That doesn't make any sense. Maybe they will issue a refund. Kind of like if I purchased the game not knowing it could be had for less money somewhere else, then after bringing it to their attention, they refund the difference, right? Wrong. As I've already stated, it's not possible to buy the game at the lower price from D2D. You buy it for full price. Then you can get a discount on your next game. Um, no thanks.

I went ahead and purchased the game from Impulse for $4.99. It's my first purchase from them. Now that the ice is broken, it probably won't be the last. D2D lost this sale, and now potentially others. The transaction was pretty painless. They accept PayPal (so does D2D). Now that I've downloaded Impulse, I see that it bears strong resemblance to Steam. Oh well. Hello new friend.

I feel like I should say something positive about D2D. Here goes. No download client required. They do run some pretty sweet deals. I suppose they have to with all the fierce competition that's cropped up recently in the digital distribution space. I just saw Fallout New Vegas 70% off at $15, as part of their "31 Days of Deals" promo. They do offer some titles DRM free, although not enough for my taste, but I can't imagine this is entirely their fault. They keep track of your purchases and you can re-download them as many times as needed (or so they say). I don't know if this translates into unlimited activations on DRM-protected titles. I might find out someday.

A couple of admissions on my part. Whatever this deal that D2D has is, if they didn't call it a "price match", I'm not sure what they should call it instead. And the terms are spelled out in a mostly clear manner on their site. It may not be 100% crystal clear, but it doesn't leave a ton of room for misunderstanding. But I have to say, the lure of "price match" does leave something to be desired. Rather than trying to find an appropriate name for the policy, I suggest they just change it to be a true price match and sell the games at the same price they are advertised for at other retailers on their "authorized" list. Give customers something to cheer about.

UPDATE 2011-09-06:
Watching prices for digital download games fluctuate at an insane pace for months now, it occurs to me that it can't be easy to keep up with for an online retailer that might try to offer a true price match policy. I think it might be better to simply price match against other retailers regular advertised prices, and not sale prices. However, Direct2Drive's price match policy doesn't even lend itself to this more conservative approach. I just spent some more time looking over their policy and I can't really be sure if that's the way they already have it structured. They do include the following statement:
Offer not valid on coupons, rebates, promotional offerings, percent-off advertisements or membership pricing for other sites.
This could very well mean exactly what I'm suggesting anyway. If that's the case, it would be a real bummer. Given the aforementioned price fluctuations, it seems that most any game is always on sale at a reduced price somewhere, thus removing what few teeth D2D's price match policy may have left. Since I've never made it all the way through that process myself, this is pure conjecture.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

GameFly acquires Direct2Drive

I have just learned that GameFly, a mail-order game rental service, has acquired D2D (see the press release). This apparently took place near the end of last month. I don't know if this has anything to do with the changes D2D has been undergoing, but I suspect it might, especially as of late.

If I thought getting too big was a bad influence on D2D before, I wonder what will happen now. GameFly will certainly be in a stronger position, being able to offer both physical media and digital downloads, assuming they will fully integrate the two services. D2D had already begun offering some of their downloads as rentals. But I can't help but feel that this deal benefits GameFly more so than D2D.

I never used GameFly, so I cannot attest to that service, but I still feel strongly that D2D needs to re-focus on customer support. D2D now has something called "Agent Striker," a virtual support representative. It looks to amount to little more than an interactive FAQ. There's no live person behind it, rather it is more like a keyword search tied to their limited support documents. I don't think it's a step in the right direction. It just feels gimmicky.

Since my original post, I've purchased two games on D2D, Just Cause 2 (with DRM) and Red Faction (without), for $5 and $2.50, respectively. Clearly, both were on sale. So, I obviously haven't given up on D2D. They were once my favorite game download store. I would just like to seem them return to their former glory. Here's to hoping GameFly adds value to the equation.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Direct2Drive Sucks

Direct2Drive continues to go downhill. Having been a D2D customer for about 2 years, I've sensed a not-so-steady decline in their coolness factor. I think they've become too "big", now obviously very pwned by IGN. Perhaps that affiliation has always been present, but over time it's become more apparent and has really transformed the way D2D "feels." I speak for myself, of course.

Not long after I started up with D2D, I settled into a pattern of buying about one game a month, beginning with Supreme Commander Gold for a mere $5. Being a forever fan of Total Annihilation, I'd been drooling over SupCom since I'd first heard of it. Also being a cheapskate, it was just the opportunity I needed to dip my toes in the world of game digital distribution for the first time. It was probably a case of first love, but I was hooked. Prior to this, and the rare exception of Battlefield: Bad Company 2, it had probably been at least a decade since my last self-serving PC game purchase (I buy console games for my kids semi-regularly). I was a new customer, in many ways.

Anyway, over time I've discovered other digital distribution game outlets, most importantly Good Old Games, and of course the 800-lb gorilla, Steam. Apparently, there are several others, most of which I have no immediate plans to try out. The good news is, there are options. More good news is that it would seem that digital distribution is here to stay.

The big draw of GOG is that they offer classic (older) games, configured to work on modern versions of Windows (often with a little help from DOSBox), bargain bin prices, and perhaps best of all, completely DRM free! Which reminds me of the first reason I'm not down with D2D anymore.

Now that I'm getting very used to buying my games without DRM, I'm extremely unlikely to buy games that have it. Most of D2D's catalog is saddled with DRM, even a bunch of their indy games! I still have games I bought as much as 15 years ago: Doom, Red Alert, Diablo, etc. The last thing I want to look forward to is blowing the dust off a trusty old friend to find out that the DRM server I need to connect to, just to play my game, has gone the way of the dodo bird. Not to mention simple outages of either the DRM server or my own Internet connection. Maybe that will never happen, but with DRM-free games, I know it will never happen.

Price, on the other hand, is an all-powerful force at work in my buying decisions. Since I rarely buy games, I have virtually no budget for doing so. Unless I want to sleep on the couch (inside joke), my game purchases have to be at or below what I might pay for lunch on any given day. I get nervous even having to explain to my wife that a $3 purchase was for a game. If I try spending too much on such useless things, I'd really be in for it.

D2D prices are, in most cases, no longer worth the DRM headaches the future promises. I just don't see the kind of sales on attractive titles that I used to. Maybe this is, in part, due to the proliferation of indy games, dominating the low-cost end of the spectrum. Or maybe it's the mother ship IGN exerting its influence, which wouldn't surprise me a bit. Maybe it's both, or something else entirely. Since I don't buy all that many games, I wouldn't be inclined to think it's because I'm running out of high-caliber titles to choose from.

I still look periodically at what D2D has "on sale", especially reacting to their promo emails. Once in awhile they still have what I think is a great deal (not usually promo related). I think my last purchase with them was Dirt 2, which I picked up for about $5. Yes, it had DRM, but at that price I made an exception. I tend to think of DRM as a sort of tax, a fairly steep one at that. So the base price + DRM tax has to be right, or I won't buy.

The latest thing that turns me off of D2D is that I recently realized they've done away with community game reviews. This I don't understand, and I really don't appreciate. Granted, the reviews were not of the highest quality, but I found them useful. I can only surmise that the D2D staff felt the reviews were negatively impacting sales, as the reviews were often riddled with complaints that, in one way or another, had to do with D2D customer service. My suggestion would be to take that criticism constructively, D2D, rather than silencing the dissenters. It reminds me of juvenile server ops who indiscriminately ban people for having their own thoughts.

All in all, I have to thank D2D for introducing me to the business model, but I think they're going in the wrong direction, and could use a new strategy. First, I recommend putting the focus back on customers. Embrace DRM-free, and push publishers to get on board. Keep prices realistic, instead of artificially inflated just so you can offer something for a few dollars off and still be priced too high. Get rid of the price guarantee, it's foolish. You only price-match three other stores, only one of which anyone shops at (and you're probably in bed with the other two). Having the lowest price is your job, which should be darn easy in this day and age, if you are serious about it. You're inadvertently telling your customers to shop around. Once I'm in someone else's store, you're less likely to see me back. Why would you want to promote that? Bring back game reviews, and when they are critical of D2D, check yourself. Redesign your site so I don't have to whitelist a dozen different domains for basic site navigation to work properly (exaggerating, slightly). List the release date of games in your catalog. How old a game is happens to be important to some of us. Be more specific about the DRM included. The vague "3rd Party Download Required" doesn't cut it. I want to know whose DRM it is, and how it behaves. Most of all, improve your support offerings so your customers at least think you care about them.

Hey, I still have my D2D account. You still have time to woo me back, D2D.

Steam... I'm coming for you next.