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Won’t Get Fooled Again or Why I Haven’t Yet Played GTA IV

Posted in addiction, Consoles, PC Gaming, Rants with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Kit

I still haven’t played it. I know! I know!

There’s a series of good reasons, and they all amount to an object lesson in why proprietary software sucks and how you can be royally screwed over if a company releases a busted product when there is no community available to provide a fix.

I’ve opined on this topic a few times, and I’m aware of the hypocrisy: I’m obviously touting software freedom while supporting game companies who make the most proprietary of proprietary software (not only can you not see the source code… but you can only run it on one device made by one company).

But consoles are still simply the best way to play games, and I love games so much that I’ve traditionally made a convenient (I know! I know!) exception for them.

Here’s the story.

Probably you’ve all heard of this little game called GTA IV. The one with all the cop killing and prostitutes. The one that makes teenagers shoot up their Social Studies classroom with dad’s unsecured handgun.

Well, I’m a big fan. I think it’s smart (for a game), provides a great example of satire and anti-genre (for a game), and it doesn’t hurt that it isn’t above a bit of cute self-mockery here and there. It’s also fun as hell.

I am aware that it occupies a moral gray area, and I’m fine with that. Moral qualms are not the reason I’ve not yet played this game.

Not owning the game is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I actually bought it the day after it was released. For those of you keeping track… that was last April. As I type this, it is sitting on top of my entertainment center.

Not owning the correct platform is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I was a PS3 early adopter… in part because I was excited to hear that it supported Linux out-of-the-box. But mostly (and here is the delicious filling of the irony sandwich) — I just wanted to be sure I had a system that could play GTA IV.

That’s right, I bought the most expensive game machine on the market mostly because I like GTA that much.

I was undaunted when I heard they were giving “downloadable content” to XBox owners, despite GTA’s longstanding association with PlayStation. Whatever – I’ve always liked the PlayStation brand, and I figured the PS3 would be a quality product. I never much cared for those in-between releases (like “Liberty City Stories“) anyway, and I figured downloadable content would probably be just more of the same.

About a week before the GTA release date, my PS3 broke. It just powered itself off one day and wouldn’t turn back on. Not even to eject the Seinfeld dvd that I was watching when it died.

I dutifully called the support number on the back of the machine. Talked to several very polite and helpful people (Sony support is pretty good). Learned that my machine was (of course) out of warranty, and that it would cost some money to repair it. Ok, fine. Learned that it will take up to three weeks to repair the machine.


The meaning of this was obvious: I would not be able to play GTA while all of my friends were playing it. I was going to miss out on all the stories about the various discoveries, stupid vehicular tricks and trash talk that goes with a new GTA release. I was never going to feel the pride at being the first person in my acquaintance to find something awesome in this game.

Oh well. It’s just a game. So I paid the money and shipped the system off in the nice box they sent me.

GTA’s release date came and went. I had the cash, so I bought the copy the day after. Just so I could maybe regain some lost time when my machine came back.

I was so excited when it finally returned. They even threw in a new controller! My Seinfeld DVD was in a nice jewel case, unharmed! I unboxed the whole thing, set it up, got all the system updates from the internet. And then I plugged GTA in, breathlessly waiting through the (long) install.

And then I played the game! I lied earlier when I said I haven’t played GTA IV. I have. For five minutes. I played through the intro mission. Just when was taking Niko out to explore… the whole thing locked up. Niko was frozen in mid stride and a bunch of weird angular graphic shit was all over the screen.

I began to feel a tiny bit sorry for myself.

But no need to panic… I just hit reset. Glitches are not uncommon in the current generation of games. Maybe it’ll work after a reset. And it did. For another five minutes.

The small, spoiled adolescent that lives inside my chest began to make himself heard.

Like all sensible people, I got on the internet to look for answers. I poked around on various message boards, and noticed that a respectable number of people on the Official PlayStation boards were reporting the exact same thing. All these people owned PS3s that were about the same age as mine (i.e. the early release ones).

The bad news: No fix (or even acknowledgment of the problem) was yet forthcoming from either Sony or Rockstar Games (the GTA people). My problem was that new. People online were angry — like bees.

Eventually, after a few days, Sony figured out that something was actually broken and published a lame little checklist of things to try to get the game to work. None of them worked. The word began to spread:

“Call Sony, they are replacing machines for free… even if they are out of warranty.”

If you are still reading, I hope this hits home. I had, not three weeks ago, PAID Sony to repair my broken PS3. And now, here they were, replacing them for free because they had obviously shipped machines with some kinda problem. The initial repair had cost me $150. If the machine had held on for another week or two I would’ve gotten a free repair.

The teenager that lives in my chest was locked in his room with black eyeliner on, listening to The Cure and crying with his face in a pillow.

So I dutifully called Sony support again. Once again, they were very polite and very helpful. I described my problem, told them I’d tried all their fixes and that GTA simply wouldn’t play on my machine for more than 5 minutes at a stretch. They said they’d repair it for free… and sent me out another box. No, they would not be able to refund the previous repair costs since they were unrelated to the GTA bug.

After another 3 weeks, I had my PS3 again.

Feeling pretty ambivalent about it, I stuck my GTA disc in. And it worked. I played for about thirty minutes. Enough to satisfy myself that the crashing was over. Then I put it away.

I’ve since played some older games, replayed some favorites, but I haven’t touched GTA IV again. I don’t know why. The thrill is gone somehow.

I’m not wowed by the innovative gameplay, or the graphics. Not because they aren’t great… but because they are just dismal reminders of how much shit that machine put me through and how much of a sucker I am for putting up with all of it.

The thing is, I know Sony didn’t cheat me. I know Rockstar didn’t cheat me. This is just what happens when a piece of highly coveted software gets tied to one specific platform. When that platform dies, or has trouble, you have no recourse.

I still like my PS3. Sony support was fast and courteous. The problem is that the entire business model is designed to leave the consumer helpless. When one of my home computers breaks — I can fix it myself. Usually pretty cheaply. You can’t do that with a Playstation (or an XBox or a Wii). Even if you aren’t afraid of breaking the warranty, most of the parts inside them aren’t off the shelf components.

When software on my Linux desktop has a bug, it is usually quickly addressed and repaired by the massive community of people out there who care about it. If I was smarter, I could even participate in this process (I have, to a very limited degree). Hell, if I want the software on my desktop to do something that it doesn’t currently do – there’s a good chance that I can actually email the person that wrote it and ask them to add it. And even if they can’t or won’t, there’s a good chance they’ll at least write me back.

Try getting that kind of attention from any company who produces mass market software.

I may not be able to get away from proprietary games… but the PS3 will be the last dedicated game console I purchase, so help me. I may miss out on some console exclusives, but I’m not going to be suckered by the system again. No game is worth that.