Too Many PC Games Are A Pain To Get Running

Too Many PC Games Are A Pain To Get Running

When setting up a new PC, it’s fun to go back and play older games and see how much better they run on your new hardware. Just install them and fire them up. Easy, right? If only.

Over the past week, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get some of my Steam games to run at all. It hasn’t been as easy as it should be. Several of the older games that I’ve re-installed have required some sort of outside software, DRM, or online activation, and enough of those outside programs are running weirdly that I’m once again reminded of how precarious PC gaming can feel. Do I even own these games? Will I be able to play them in five years’ time? How about ten?

It started when I fired up Max Payne 3. I really like that game, and love how sharp it looks on a high-res monitor running at a high frame-rate. I re-downloaded it from Steam and set about playing it, only to find myself stymied.

To play Max Payne 3, you must first create and log in to a free “social club” account through the game’s developer, Rockstar. I had forgotten that this was necessary, but it is — if you try to skip logging in you’ll never get past the game’s first menu screen.

I went ahead and looked up the login to my Rockstar Social Club account (I never use it and had of course forgotten which email address I used, what my password was, etc.), then logged in. I got this dialogue box:

Too Many PC Games Are A Pain To Get Running

Permanent? OK, I guess I better make sure I’ve got all the account information correct, or this is going to be even more of a headache. I went to the Social Club website, logged into my account and checked it. Looked right to me. I hit “OK” and got an error message: Could not link to social club account, please try later. Of course, I couldn’t play the game until I linked my Social Club account with Steam, so I kept trying, to no avail.

I restarted the game and tried again, and this time the link went through. Sweet! I played some Max Payne 3. Then I quit to play something else. I came back to Max Payne 3 a couple of hours later, only to find the same pop-up:

Too Many PC Games Are A Pain To Get Running

Only this time, I wasn’t able to click “OK” and get the game to re-link my accounts. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t go through. I kept loading, quitting, loading, quitting… nothing worked. I went to my Social Club page on Rockstar’s site and didn’t see my Steam account among the linked accounts, nor did I see an option to link the accounts from that end.

I looked at the game’s Steam community page, where numerous players were having the same problem.

Too Many PC Games Are A Pain To Get Running

I tried a number of suggested fixes, from deleting files from the game’s directory and rebuilding it to amending my PC’s firewall to block the game from accessing the internet. Nothing worked, until I finally just deleted the Social Club folder from my PC and started again. For a while I thought I’d have to do that every time I wanted to play, though eventually I figured out that if I told the Social Club popup not to remember me, I could log in fresh each time, link the account each time, and play the game each time.

So, I’m now able to play Max Payne 3 on my PC. (It’s still a pretty sweet game, too. Hooray!) But man alive, it was far too difficult to make that happen, and each time I have to re-login to the Social Club to play a new game, I’m a little bit more annoyed. I spent about an hour trawling the Steam forums, trying various fixes, deleting and re-downloading files, and generally staring at my screen in disbelief as I tried to make a game that I’ve owned for more than two years simply run.

Required external authenticators like the Rockstar Social Club are nothing new to PC gamers. We’ve been dealing with this stuff for ages now — Steam may offer its own digital rights management (DRM) software, but that’s not enough for plenty of larger video game publishers. Ubisoft games bought on Steam still need to be activated through the external Uplay service, while some EA games go through EA’s Origin service while others are no longer available on Steam at all. And of course there’s Microsoft’s increasingly woebegone Games for Windows Live service, which often includes SecuROM DRM and requires both logging into a GFWL account and entering a second code outside of Steam in order to start the game at all.

The Max Payne 3 situation I ran into the other day highlights a particular problem with PC DRM: Steam probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but what happens when these external protocols stop working? Max Payne 3 came out in 2012, qualifying it as “old” in the now-now-now world of video games. It sells for a huge discount online, and its multiplayer servers are largely barren. Rockstar has moved on to greener, much more profitable pastures, and it doesn’t seem as though anyone is at the helm any longer.

But jeez, Max Payne 3 is still a fun game! Must we acquiesce to the fact that eventually, it may just stop working on PC entirely?

I had a similar problem installing Games for Windows Live-enabled games like Batman: Arkham City and Bulletstorm. Starting Bulletstorm on Steam was a hassle that involved logging into a GFWL account, trying to remember my login information, waiting as it downloaded an update to my PC, and finally getting through to the main menu.

Too Many PC Games Are A Pain To Get Running

Arkham City has it both better and worse — publisher Warner Bros. removed the GFWL requirement from the Game of the Year version of Arkham City, but not from the regular vanilla edition. They gave everyone with the vanilla version a free upgrade to the GOTY edition, but that didn’t stop me from finding the regular version in my Steam library, installing it, and then finding myself unable to authenticate it without searching the Steam forums, finding the solution, and re-downloading the GOTY version before I could play.

Meanwhile, the fate of Games for Windows Live remains uncertain. Several outlets had previously reported that Microsoft would likely be shutting the service down next Tuesday, July 1st, but according to a statement Microsoft sent to Game Informer a couple days ago, those reports may have been premature:

We are continuing to support the Games for Windows Live service. As previously announced, as part of the retirement of Microsoft Points the PC marketplace was closed. Although customers are unable to purchase new games from the marketplace or receive title updates, they can continue to enjoy previously purchased content by downloading them through the Games for Windows Live client as usual. We remain committed to investing in PC gaming in the years ahead, and look forward to sharing more in the future.

I dislike Games for Windows Live as much as the next person, but in a way, it’s almost a relief to read that. (How perverse!) At least that means games tethered to GFWL will still work, and I’ll be able to play Bulletstorm in July.

All the same, this nonsense is inexcusable: If companies are going to insist that we jump through their code-copying, account-creating, social networking hoops in order to play their games, they need to make sure everything works properly. It’s the least we should expect.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about PC gamers, it’s that where there’s a will, there’s a way. If a game’s publisher goes under and leaves a game floating, attached to ruinous and non-functional DRM, someone somewhere will figure out a workaround. All the same, it’s hard not to wish that the people who make these games would take responsibility for keeping them running properly, to treat their creations as just that: Creations, designed to stand the test of time. It should not be this difficult to get modern video games running on a modern PC. Work with us here, publishers. Get your shit together.


  • Been happening since the dawn of PC gaming.

    I also see GTAV having it’s issues too. Rockystarts PC porting history isn’t that great

    • The old trilogy worked OK, so I’m hoping the port will be closer to their quality rather than IV

    • No up untill steam games were there own executable that ran on its own.
      some games used gamespy for mp servers but that was only for certain anti cheat servers and not the regular.

      also the console versions of the game use origin, uplay etc now too so its a moot argument of platform and more an issue with gaming in general now.

      • The UPlay on consoles isn’t quite the same though: the games are using the platform’s DRM, and will usually run fine completely offline. The UPlay or Origin or Steam support is just the social aspects of those networks rather than the DRM.

  • They shouldn’t put this pointless DRM on in the first place, Every game mentioned in the article has had its DRM fully removed since day one and the only people getting screwed are the ones who bought the game.

    • Have you seen the latest Jimquisition about Ubisoft? He talks about their DRM being completely effective against piracy (according to Ubisoft) whilst still having their games pirated by 95% of players on PC (according to Ubisoft). It’s ridiculous.

  • This makes me so angry just reading it ( Had the exact same issue trying to play GTA IV ).. How can this be legal! I still can’t even play Watch Dogs.. I’ve paid for something that doesn’t work as intended or advertised yet I have no rights what so ever to do anything about it!

    Why does PC gaming need to be this way!!!

  • I’m no fan of DRM but I’ve never had an issue with things like GFWL or Social Club, etc, etc.

    • GFWL doesn’t work at all for me. It just keeps getting error messages and connects to the online troubleshooting database to tell me I’m not connected to the internet. Can’t even get to a log in screen.

      • I had a nightmare of a time getting GFWL working… Eventually worked out that I had to manually download the latest version, install that and then I could login.

      • Download the installer and reinstall, most people have issues because they don’t have windows live sign-in assistant installed.

      • I had a nightmare of a time getting GWFL working for Fable 3 (which I just noticed is no longer on Steam at all). It kept telling me there was no connection, I ended up having to get a new modem that supported UPnP.

    • GFWL was shut down as of this month, and many games still require it to save your game. drm screws everyone in the longterm.

    • I think i must be the only person in the world who liked GFWL… but i do love getting achievement points so yeah…

  • Take a look at Gamespy servers, the fans have done most of the work to try to keep some of the titles working. But the usual response from the publishers (like EA) was we don’t care about old IP when we got new shiney stuff like Watch Dogs coming out next month… which also goes through an online DRM (they cant guarantee).

    The part I like about Steam is they try to keep the catalogue working… which is a lot more than anyone else tries to do. Publishers don’t care if they break it, cause they can always sell you it back later as a sequel, remake, compilation, GOTY.

    Ubisofts comments earlier this week about them not worrying about DRM, and focusing on delivering services made me laugh… cause those services would be going through their DRM Uplay *facepalm*.

    A sizeable number of games installs on Steam, have a seperate DRM or Online Service attached to them. Worse part is if I stop playing a game and then start it up again I get a huge update for the DRM client, and then find out the game hasn’t updated since I played it 3 months ago 🙁

    Many of the MMOs on Steam, now open a company launcher/client… before opening the game launcher/patcher… before starting the game 🙁 (Star Trek Online, Defy, Rift)

  • I dont wanna be ‘that’ guy, but this is the main reason I shy away from PC game and stick to consoles

    PC games might have the better resolution, or the better frame rates and mods etc – but now with the PS4 its just stick a disc in and away you go (patches download in background unlike PS3, and game installs are improved that they only take a few moments until you can play the game while it continues to install)

    I get the ‘appeal’ of PC gaming, but not the headaches

    • I don’t want to be ‘that’ guy, but most PC games are easy to get going and you are missing out by avoiding them. Most PC games have virtually no headaches to deal with, and you get all the advantages you listed, plus they’re cheaper, plus they’ll run across different hardware that you might own.

      • I bought a copy of Typing of The Dead from Steam. There was no indiciation on Steam that my PC was would run it at 8 frames per second at the lowest possible resolution. None at all. My PC isnt that old – and is certainly a lot lot lot better spec’d than a Wii or PS3 (where the original version of the game first started) that run the same smoothly. For all steam does right, isnt a simple button that scans your system specs to let you know if you can run the game too much to ask for? I am not super obsessed with PC specs (not everyone is surprisingly) so I wouldnt know off the top of my head if I had the hardware I needed to run it. I certainly wasnt going to spend a few hundred to get the PC to a state good enough to run a $10 game.

        • Then perhaps you could have taken a few minutes to find out how to look up your specs and compare them to the required system specs? It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out how good your PC is. The only remotely complicated part is the GPU. And once you’ve figured it out the one time you don’t have to spend time on it again.

          Console specs should not be paid attention to because games are optimised to a ridiculous extent to get them running smoothly. A PC with PS3 specs wouldn’t be able to run any new games at all, and probably few old games.

          You spent ten bucks before figuring out if your PC (that sounds quite old to be honest, if it can’t run a game like that) could run the game you’re buying? It’s really less of a “headache” and more a matter of using your brain for more than thirty seconds. It really is your own fault for not considering that your PC might not be powerful enough.

          As for your “scan for my specs” idea, why would you want that? Programs that have done that in the past have generally not worked very well and don’t give accurate measures of performance. It’s much easier to just Google the information you need.

          • Its called a positive User Experience – maybe my view of that is clouded since my day job revolves around improving the user experience, so it grates me when there is a obvious glaring user expierence that can be fixed, yet its overlooked

            But yes, I actually agree with what you’ve said. I should know how to find out what my PC specs are, truth is my PC is used for internet and video content – it does the job when it comes to the video work I do so I made a terrible assumption it would be able to run a $10, 5 year old game (game engine wise, content wise it was a new game).

          • Just because you foolishly tried to play a game on a computer that’s not built for gaming (build your own!) doesn’t mean PC gaming is flawed. Console gaming may be more convenient, but the pros just massively outweigh the cons. The base system may be more expensive, but it is also ridiculously versatile and is capable of pretty much any practical computing task besides gaming.

          • Yep, GP is really complaining about the equivalent of buying an Xbox game and then complaining that it doesn’t run on a PS4.

    • You mean the same console market that can sell you the same game multiple times over a decade cause you have a new system… but want to play old games cause they don’t offer reverse compatibility.

      How many people have bought the same copy of Super Mario Bros over and over and over again on the Nintendo systems (console, Gameboy, virtual) over the last 20 years.

    • These publisher specific clients are super annoying but, to be fair, the PS4 won’t play Max Payne 3 at all. Honestly though – its pretty rare to have headaches (and its usually only if your playing before the first patch, or a really old title that doesn’t support newer OS’s).

    • At least it’s theoretically possible to run old games on a modern PC. Try putting a copy of Halo in your Xbox One. We’ll wait.

      Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But seriously, consoles don’t exactly have the high ground here, when it comes to backwards compatibility.

    • Yeah but you need to log into Uplay, Rockstar, Origin etc to use online features on the console versions too so really its same problem without the benefits from PC.

      • From experience with UPlay (Watch Dogs) and Rockstar Social Club (Starting with GTA IV) all those console versions of the clients have ever asked me was to confirm my PSN user ID – the client then created the account and sent an email to my PSN ID’s email account. Literally one click on both instances where I just had to confirm I would want to use them

        As long as I keep the same PSN ID, Social Club always detects who I am, doesnt ask me to log in and doesnt lose my log in or stats the next time I play (as is evident when I used the actual website of RockStar Social Club and noticed it had linked Red Dead, GTA IV, GTA V and LA Noire user statistics and data, all without me having to do anything other than clicking a confirm button the first time those games loaded)

        To me, seems like the consoles offer a better experience using those clients

        • Because like everything these days, the games and the clients are designed for a console experience.
          Most of the crap we have to put up with on PC is because of the “design for console” mentality.

          • That and to get gta 5 working I had to go on the website to set things up due to issues with rockstars servers but hey console simple right…

  • I picked up Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition in the steam sales, and subsequently spent an hour trying to get GFWL to work before I even got into the game. Pain in the ASS. This happens way too regularly, and is pretty much inexcusable. Clients like these, if they need to exist at all, should at the very least be one-click things, and then you never have to deal with them again.

    • Yer i spent 5 mins trying to get it work, got frustrated so i downloaded the cracked executable, took 1min to get working. Havn’t had an issue at all since and it was 100x easier than trying to fix or install GFWL.

  • GFWL is an absolute worthless piece of laggy junk.
    Rockstar “Social Club” is a patronizing turd of DRM masqurading as “social media”
    Uplay makes starting up a game take a ridiculous amount of time as it “updates” for no reason and gives zero benefit to the user.

    What’s worse is all these are games you get within Steam. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t Steam concieved as DRM? Are these games, when played on Steam basically suffering from DRMception? *BRRRRRRRAAAAAWWWWRWRRRMRMRMMRMRMMMMM*

    • Yes, Steam is primarily DRM, despite what Steam zealots will tell you. It’s just DRM that is smart enough to at least try not to actively piss you off.

      • I prefer games like Crusader Kings where it is downloaded via steam but if I feel like it I can just browse to the directory and play the game without being online or even having steam running.

  • At least the Valve games don’t have you dealing with all of this crap – you just download and play. Not download, wait, download patch, wait, sign into uPlay/Origin/GFWL, wait, enter the product key, wait, get the invalid key message, recheck the key. realize you mistook an O for a 0, correct your mistake, wait, launch the game, wait, register for/link an arbitrary account so you can play online, wait, exit the game, open your email account, click on the link in the confirmation email, wait, relaunch the game, reenter the arbitrary account password, wait, finally play the game

    • Are you kidding? Steam updates itself almost every time I launch it, and in many cases it is the extra layer of annoyingness that prevents me from just playing immediately.

      • One layer that adds a decent actively used social networking service and provides cheap games is better than 5 that don’t!

      • as someone with 100s of games on their steam account I don’t see this as a disadvantage. no one wants to play a buggy outdated game and I would much rather it auto patch it while i’m sleeping or at work.

  • Article is highly exaggerated – 90% of PC games you download, install, play with no problems of any kind.

      • I just got a new joystick/HOTAS.

        In the space of 2 hours on the weekend I was able to get the following running fine under Windows 7 64 bit:

        – Comanche Hokum
        – Falcon 4
        – IL2 1946
        – Freespace 2
        – DCS World
        – Rise of Flight

        That’s a pretty wide sample of eras and DRM-levels – all worked fine.

        The author has picked a nightmare sub-genre, basically, games involving Rockstar + GFWL, and tried to generalise from it.

    • Patrick, people can love PC and still be critical of it. Calm down, no one is baggin out your beloved, just discussing her baggage.

  • Getting old games that were designed to run on Windows 95 or 98 to run on modern hardware can be especially frustrating. Some games can’t handle the high speeds of modern hardware and you actually need to use third party applications that slow your system down in order to play them.

    • DOSBox generally does the trick, although it’s a pain trying to remember the old command lines…

      • I didn’t say playing DOS games :). DOS games are fine, DOSBox generally does a good job running them. DOSBox however can not be used to run Win95/98 games.

    • Point-and-Click Adventure Games with timers on certain parts are a bit LoL on new hardware. A “timed” section? You mean “timer runs to 0 instantly” section! 😛

      At least those apps which slow down your system are pretty easy to get a hold of and use.

      • The original descent is hell on modern hardware with how homing missiles were coded. Good luck dodging them. Youll need it

    • I’m not really sure how this is an issue? It’s like complaining that no one sells leaded petrol for your 1960s car anymore.
      It’s not like you can put in a PS1 disc into a PS4. At least on PC there is some chance of getting it working.
      I had the same issue trying to replay Commandos. I doubt any game made today will run properly in another 15 years time.

  • Dicking around with some DRM sucks, but at the end of the day my games look great, console commands and MODS.

  • yes DRM is annoying but I think a fair price to pay for an awesome platform to game on, 90% of games work perfectly without problems but people always seem to want to point out the 10% that don’t.

  • GFWL while a PITA worked fine for me…

    I just hate that you have all these different systems just to play a game….Steam, uPlay (ugh!), GFWL (if it doesn’t die on July 1), Origin (let’s not start there) etc….

    gone are the good ol’ days where you just pop a disk in (or mulitple disks) and play away…guess it’s the price to pay for digital distribution (and piracy for that matter as well)

  • As a PC gamer, I don’t really have any many earth shattering problems. I think some people are a bit more intimidated and cautious.

    The only annoying things are these things of buying a game in steam. Having it open in U-play. These pointless layers.

    I recently went to replay Crysis. From an old install it’s linked to my origin account. I just clicked download and install from their. As it was easier than finding the original disk and I have a beefy net connection. I can play the game fine, but go to load up some mods and bam, I get an error, ‘ssleay32.dll is missing.’ Apparently this is a common problem across a lot of games on Origin. Yet no fix, they don’t care, origin breaks the games. The solution. Uninstall the game from origin. Then re-install from the original disc.

  • I have a bunch of recent games on Steam that won’t even run on my PC. It’s ridiculous. Prime example is: A Testament to Sherlock Holmes; I tried to play it a few weeks ago and it would crash right after the first cut-scene, and I couldn’t find any way to fix it on Google. I paid for a game I can’t even play. I saw a bunch of Steam forum posts complaining about similar issues, yet the devs haven’t patched it yet. This is unacceptable, in my opinion.

  • I had a similar issue with Sims3 & content packs which I had bought. After 2 weeks of support emails and forum posts I just downloaded a cracked copy and played that instead.

  • It’s funny, because the article is really mentioning problems spawned by poorly implemented features. I must say I’ve never had many dramas with the mentioned programs, but still – I don’t know if the stated problems at specifically a ‘PC’ issue. You have to log into Rockstar’s social club on console, and it can have connection issues too.

    Devs need to change their mindset about piracy and DRM, the only person they hurt are the paying customers. If you have a good game, with online features that entice players to connect (and in the background check validation) then that will lower piracy – they need to have faith in their product. The problem is, most games being released are below par, or money grabs. Piracy will be something that will always exist unfortunately – and although not as common, it occurs on console too. Be more innovative with how you incorporate online features.

    I’d choose PC gaming over consoles any day of the week, due to the flexibility and freedom. I am fortunate to have all platforms, but it seems, just when PC gaming makes strides to become more mainstream, it is dragged back down by utterly stupid decisions made by devs/publishers.


  • Another annoying thing about Max Payne 3 (I loved it too, as well as Max Payne and Max Payne 2) is that it doesn’t use Steam Cloud save game features, unlike most other games.

  • ‘Too many PC Games are a pain’ – Talks about 2 at length, one partially (and even that was a minor gripe), and generalises from there.

    Not saying I totally disagree with you, just saying this headline reeks of clickbait.

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