Valve’s Steam software is one of the few programs that allows you to download games online and play right on your computer. Downloading to play with unlimited redownloads makes perfect sense. Why kill trees and make paper boxes with plastic discs you’re just going to lose next time you move anyhow? Downloading is the only acceptable distribution model for bytes in the 21st century. Unfortunately, Valve’s Steam software sucks.
I’m not even talking about the customer hostile DRM or the constant calling home annoyance. No, it’s the program’s basic functionality I have got a problem with. Today I booted up Windows for the first time in months to try to get an hour of Fallout 3 before going to bed, something well deserved after a long work day. Alas, it was not to be. Without asking me Steam began downloading an enormous update for Fallout the moment I started the computer.
I checked online and found out that there were no updates to Fallout 3 I needed. The most recent update did fix a few bugs, but nothing critical enough that it couldn’t wait until next time I played.
So naturally I right clicked the update in Steam and selected “Pause update”. That didn’t seem to work too well – Steam showed me a permanent “Download stopping…” indicator while in the background it continued to download the update anyhow.
I clicked “Launch Game”. Got a popup saying the game will be ready to play in “approximately 40 minutes”. Apparently Steam didn’t get the message when I paused the update. Okay, so I thought I would be a little more clear. I right clicked the game and selected “Properties” and then turned off automatic updates for the game. That froze the software. I killed it and restarted it. The setting had saved when I checked in properties again but the download continued anyhow.
So in my infinite patience I went into “Offline” mode. Surely it would give up on the idea of downloading updates if it wasn’t even online. I restarted. Tried to launch the game and it told me the game couldn’t be run.
I opened up the Steam folder and deleted a random “AppUpdateStats” file. No dice. Steam still refused to start the game.
At the end of the day all I got to do was to write an angry blog posting instead of getting to play even a minute – the update still isn’t done – because of an update I don’t even want and ultimately because Valve has managed to create the first downloader program in history without a working cancel button.
As a user I have to say it’s enormously frustrating when a computer program does not do what I tell it to. As a software developer I have to say I’m disappointed that a program that could have been such a natural success and fit right into the 21st century is being developed with so little common sense. How hard is it to write a downloader?