Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's Wrong with Games For Windows Live

Problems: Could not log into Bioshock 2 Live Profile, could not update Bioshock 2 or Games For Windows Live, could not install games via Games For Windows Live.

Error Codes: Error Code 80080005 from Windows Update, Error Code 80131501 from Games For Windows Live Client, Error Code 2203 from Games For Windows Live Client.

Fixes: Checked/changed permissions on and took ownership of Windows profile Temp folder, Games For Windows Live folders, and C:\Windows\Installer hidden folder.

The real downside about PC games is the whole PC aspect of them. If you would’ve been keeping an eye on my brand new twitter feed, you’d know that I had some serious issues trying to play more Bioshock 2 over the weekend. So instead of a MAG review this week, which got a new patch and I want to put some more time into, I think I’m going to outline what I experienced, what I did to try and research the problem, and how I ultimately got things resolved.  For reference, I'm running Windows 7.

Games For Windows Live is a broken system in that it is integrated too deeply into the Windows operating system. As a result, my entire weekend was shot in terms of getting any decent gaming time in. My first indication that there was a problem was that loading Bioshock 2 as I normally did left me at the GFWL login popup indefinitely. I assumed that the problem was with the Live service or a broken download released by Microsoft and neither of which is unheard of. Boy did I assume wrong.

There was an update for the GFWL client in Windows Update that wouldn’t install, with an error message that there was probably something wrong with the package and to try again later. I let that one slide for about a day with no mention of a problem in the news circuit, twitter, and only isolated instances on the official and Steam forums for Bioshock 2. Afterwards it became apparent that something more was at work. User Dougamer on the Valve forum suggested launching Bioshock 2 outside of the Steam client, which I tried to interesting results.

First, Bioshock 2 loaded up fine and my Live profile defaulted to being offline. Signing in was possible and prompted me to download a title update, and then restart the game. Things were not working out my way though. The Bioshock 2 patch installer started up, but then I got error code 80080005.

My next step was to uninstall the GFWL client and install the latest version. I was almost surprised when it worked. I initiated downloads of Tinker and Batman Arkham Asylum which were then reported as being unavailable and I was instructed to try again later. After some googling I found another possible solution in other forum threads that referenced the same error code but for different aspects of Windows. The advice given consisted of there being a permissions conflict, conducting “startup repair,” and running Window’s virus scanning service. At this point, I was genuinely concerned about the health of my system that is normally in perfect health, so I did both of the latter actions.

As I had expected, there were no viruses afflicting my Windows Update abilities or anything to that end. As Microsoft programs utilize the “temp” folder, I reset the permissions on it and also just took ownership of the folder which was time consuming as everything under it was also included. The temp folder permissions/ownership fix actually allowed me to commence downloads of both Batman and Tinker though! Imagine my severe discontent when neither would install and gave me a new error code, 80131501. Since the permissions trick actually made headway, I checked the folders that GFWL used and applied the same trick to each of them. This allowed the installation to continue to a point where I actually got a reference to a useful log of what the next hang-up was and error code 2203.

“C:\Windows\Installer,” a hidden folder, needed to have the permissions fixed in the same way as everything else. When this folder was updated, both games installed correctly, and Bioshock 2 was able to update with no further issue. This whole saga probably took up close to twelve hours of my weekend, including complete system virus scans, which I will never get back. This is probably more hands-on time than I have spent with similar content-distribution systems like Steam and Impulse in the entire lifetime of those services. Similarly, I have never had a problem applying a patch to a game through Steam until this instance with Bioshock 2.

The only logical conclusion I can draw is that another Windows update, completely unrelated to GFWL/Bioshock 2, somehow messed up my permissions settings on select folders and subsequently broke a process that worked without incident up until then. Games For Windows Live is already an abstract and ambiguous enough platform without actual, invisible tendrils penetrating any Windows OS. Aside from sharing resources, I can’t fathom any reason why GFWL isn’t standalone in the sense that Steam is, and with no real benefits or advantages aside from smaller file sizes, the integration of GFWL into the operating system seems like nothing but a big headache when incidents like I experienced with Bioshock 2 are the end-result, especially with error codes that are shared across both the GFWL platform and the OS and cause unnecessary confusion as a result.

Additionally, the error codes are just too unclear and the Windows support too sparse to be of any real use in expedient problem solving. If installers and whatnot are not going to function out of the box, they should give a reason why and provide helpful information right off the bat and let the user get to playing games as soon as possible and having fun instead of a negative experience.

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