On Digital Distribution

I hated Steam. Note the tense – I used to hate Steam, and I used to be a pirate.

I’ll explain.

Back when Half-Life 2 came out, I lived with my parents. I was still at school, and we lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, in rural Wales.

It was a 4o minute bus journey to school in the mornings. (It could be worse – the fact that I got a bus at all was amazing).

We lived in a ADSL black spot. Inititally, there was a distance cap on broadband – if you lived too far from the telephone exchange, you couldnt get it. I think the max was two miles. We lived around seven miles from the exchange.

The next problem was the exchange itself – it was the only one of it’s kind in the country. Back in the eighties, or thereabouts, BT bought a single exchange from some American telephony company, to try out.

For whatever reason, they put it in rural Wales, where traffic low, and many houses didn’t even bother with a phone – they’d trek a mile or two to a phone box.

This thing, this obsolete and foreign monstrosity, was not compatible with DSL. The local loop could not be un-bundled, for reasons that I was never clear on.

Finally, we had a DAC on our line. A DAC was (is? I seriously doubt there are any still around) a money saving device for BT. If BT couldn’t be arsed to run a new line to a new house, or an old house that was only just being connected up, they’d but a digital to analogue converter on the line, effectively turning it into two lines.

This meant two things.

  1. We could only get half speed dial up internet. 26.4 kb/s. That was all we got. Browsing the internet became an exercise in patience.
  2. It made ADSL impossible. BT would have to install a new line.

Now that I’ve set the stage, I’ll explain my early experiences with Steam.

Steam, and biscuits.

I’d been waiting for Half-Life 2 since it was featured in PC Gamer, around two years previosly.

I’d built a PC from scratch, solely for this game. ( I had 1 GB ram. WOW! ).

I’d preorded the special edition, which came in a biscuit tin and had a t-shirt with it.

Of course, I already knew about Steam, and I knew I’d never be able to download the game from there. I’d assumed that buying the boxed copy meant that I could just activate it on Steam, then I’d be on my merry way.

Yeah. Right.

I didn’t quiet get the game on release. I think I got it a day later, or something.

There had already been a minor patch, a measly 4 meg or something. Damned if I can remember. The point was, that after steam had finished unlocking the game, it wanted to download this patch.

I’m sure you remember the earliest days of steam. They had server outages, weird connection bugs, and the awesome “This game cannot be started”.

All of these problems were multiplied my awful internet. Eventually, what I did was pack up my PC, and persuade my Dad to cart me and the computer down to a friends house, who had ADSL.

The cycle went like this:

  1.  Go to friends house
  2. Download HL2 updates.
  3. Return home.
  4. Start steam, without dialing the internet.
  5. Get “Steam could not be started in offline mode” error.
  6. Go online, just to let it connect.
  7. Find out there has been an update between me leaving my friend’s and getting home.
  8. Goto 1.

Of course, it wasn’t this bad. It just seems that way. Steam’s offline mode was and is a bit naff – even if you’d tried to force offline mode, it still might refuse.

Eventually, I gave in. I started to browse the depths of some unsavoury forums, to try and find a no-cd type fix, that would cut out steam entirely.

When I found one, it was glorious. I could enjoy my game in peace, and none of this idiotic always on DRM to get in my way. I thought I’d never use Steam again – after all, it only had one game I cared about, and I’d cracked that.


Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *