It's been a busy week for the Microsoft Store. With the Sea of Thieves closed beta and the subsequent beta for the Age of Empires remaster, gamers have been rediscovering Microsoft's answer to Steam.
But to put it kindly: if the Microsoft Store is the answer, I don't want to know what the question is.
The Microsoft Store has been kicking around as an alternative to marketplaces like Steam and GOG for a little while, but it's never particularly popular. Coupled with concerns over Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform ecosystem, and the fact that the storefront is lacking several features available on competitors, it's always been a thorn in the OS giant's side whenever they talk about PC gaming.
How can Microsoft claim they're taking PC gaming seriously when the Microsoft Store is so deficient, the argument goes.
But this week was a good chance to see what's changed. And for a company whose bread and butter is software development, I figured: surely the experience has improved.
The first cab off the rank: Sea of Thieves. The closed beta ran for most of this week, and given that the collective pirates of Kotaku/Gizmodo/Lifehacker wanted to go raiding, that involved a trip to the Microsoft Store.
Redeeming a code was pretty straightforward, as it should be. Two clicks and you're presented with a box that you can copy-paste a code into. A few seconds later and there's a confirmation message. Fantastic.
However, things got a little more complicated.
This is the listing for Sea of Thieves on the Microsoft Store.
This is not what comes up when you search for Sea of Thieves initially, however. It's a link from another Sea of Thieves listing, which shows that purchasing Sea of Thieves, unsurprisingly, grants you Sea of Thieves.
This is also Sea of Thieves.
This is not, however, the Sea of Thieves closed beta. That's another page, which doesn't appear on either of the two Sea of Thieves listings even though I'd just added the beta code to my account.
So I went to my library. Maybe Sea of Thieves would be there.
It was not.
At this stage, I'd spent a couple of minutes just hunting for the beta. I wanted to download the game overnight, as I couldn't remember how large the download was and didn't want to chew up my internet connection during peak hour.
But I was still looking for the beta. Fine, I thought. I'll type "Sea of Thieves closed beta" into the search bar. And lo and behold, the treasure appeared.
See the three small dots next to "Install"? If you click on that, you get a single option which takes you to the Game Hub. That opens the Xbox App.
There is no link on the Microsoft Store from Sea of Thieves listing to the game's own beta. Even the description on the official listing says "access to the Closed Beta now granted via the Xbox Insider Hub for new pre-order customers".
And for whatever reason, the Sea of Thieves beta doesn't appear in my game library (so I can't install it from there). Even though the Age of Empires closed beta does.
This seems unnecessarily complicated.
The problems didn't stop there, though.
Having downloaded Sea of Thieves, the next objective was to make sure it was playable on Tegan's computer. We'd both redeemed codes to our respective accounts, and I'd confirmed via the Windows Store that it was a) downloaded on one PC and b) eligible for download on the other.
But nobody wants to download 13+ gigabytes on ADSL2 if they don't have to. So I did what any other PC gamer would try and do: copy the install folder over the network.
After all, both accounts had the game in their library. Everything should be fine.
Except there was one problem: where was the folder?
When the Microsoft Store asks to install a game, it gives you a choice of what hard drive you'd like to install the game to. Not which folder, just the hard drive. That's an improvement from last year - the store used to automatically install all games to the system drive, and then you'd have to move it to another drive through Apps and Programs in the Windows 10 Control Panel.
But still, it's not very helpful. So I sorted all files on the requisite drive by the most recent date modified, and found the Sea of Thieves files in three separate folders: WUDownloadCache, WpSystem and WindowsApps.
Weird, not great for cataloguing, but whatever. The files are there. I'll just copy them across the network.
Despite being the administrator for both PCs - my account was on both - I couldn't access the folder. Worse, I didn't even have permission to peek inside.
I can fossick around the Windows folder all I want, but the Sea of Thieves beta is apparently off limits. A game about getting shitfaced, plundering booty and smashing skeletons to pieces.
Undeterred, I tried to brute force my way in. The permissions revealed that TrustedInstaller was the owner of the Sea of Thieves files, which is part of the Windows Resource Protection framework. It's a security measure, put simply, and it's been around since the Windows Vista days.
But I didn't want to spend another three to four hours downloading, so I overrode the original owner and gave my account the necessary permissions.
So I could copy the files from one PC to another now, right?
Well ... no.
I tried to reason it out in my head. Open security permissions. Make all administrators on the PC the owner of the Sea of Thieves folder. Grant all administrators full control over the folder and its contents. Replace the child object permissions with inheritable ones from the new owner. Apply. Reopen folder. Copy paste over network.
Nope. Still didn't work.
I check the permissions. It says administrators have full control. But I can't copy the files from one PC to another. Hell, I can't even copy the individual fonts to another drive.
"Why is this so hard," Tegan exclaimed.
Good question, Microsoft. We set her PC to download Sea of Thieves, and did something else for the rest of the night.
Image: Age of Empires Definitive Edition / Microsoft
Later in the week I got an email. It was a key for the Age of Empires closed beta. Awesome! I'd been waiting months for this, and was keen to see how the multiplayer element held up.
So I started downloading the cache. It almost fully downloaded, with approximately 10% to go, before I paused the download. Tegan and I wanted to play something, so I figured we'd do that and I'd finish the download off later.
When it came time to resuming the download - as you do with literally any digital service or console - I got this joyous little prompt:
Oh you giant asshole pic.twitter.com/EwbrgCsb7W
— Alex Walker (@dippizuka) January 31, 2018
With 10% remaining, Age of Empires refused to resume. The only options was to restart the Microsoft Store and try resuming it again, or cancelling the download and getting the cache entirely from scratch.
No, I thought. Fuck that. This is 2018. I shouldn't have to redownload something from the start because the Microsoft Store can't handle a simple feature that GetRight managed capably 21 years ago.
I tried the logical solutions: restarting the PC. Nope. Disabling anti-virus software. Nope. Disabling everything imaginable in Windows Firewall and Windows Defender. Nope.
A quick search on Google revealed some other suggestions, like refreshing my PC. I later found something more helpful, a program called WSReset that's designed to clear the Windows Store cache and correct any errors with downloading Windows Store apps.
There's no tooltip telling you this in the Windows Store, in case things go wrong. There's a separate Help application for that. Which just takes your query and turns it into a search term. For Bing.
I just want to play a damn beta.