The woes of online shopping (now I know why I pirate things instead of buying them)

This is a rant about the Internet (also infoes about the games I’ve been playing). My apologies for those of you who want to hear more about tropical sunsets and muay tai and puppies. Stay tuned!

Okey, sho, we’re on a little island in Thailand, and can’t exactly run out to the EB to buy whatever new PC game just game out. Or music CD, or book for that matter, because the newest western stuff on Koh Phangan is 2-3 years out of date. But we’ve got a decent net connection and a credit card, so why not buy these things online? Because of bullshit is why. I’ve tried to buy, maybe, a dozen things in the last six months. I’ve been fully successful: zero times. This kind of track record can be no coincidence; the Internet is obviously trying to tell me something. Some of the highlights:

  1. Space Rangers 2. This game is awesome! I did manage to buy it online from, but the 1.2gb download took three days and I had to restart from a second location after they killed the first link. It was so glacially slow that I got fed up and torrented a lighter (no movies) version to play while I waited. I tried to buy a second copy (only $20!) for Colin a week later but their system wouldn’t let me because I’d paid for it once already. Turns out I could use the install code repeatedly so.. okay.
  2. Stephen King Dark Tower ebook. I bought this from, and cannot believe how many steps their registration/purchase process took. Nearly half an hour of clicking for a friggin text file. Except, of course, they didn’t have anything as simple as .txt or .html for download. Only proprietary reader formats, and nothing that would play on the DS browser (my ebook reader of choice). So I torrented a text version; started the download when I started the purchase process and had the file on my hdd ten minutes in. I feel better about paying for it… but I don’t think the message is getting across to online stores: stealing is way easier than buying from you.
  3. Kana ~ Little Sister from JAST USA / J-List. An H dating sim with a supposedly beautiful story, rich characters and incest to boot. By now I’d started to get sick of having to supply a “billing address” for all these online purchases. I’ve been giving out my parents’ address for important things, but I wasn’t going to saddle them with Japanese porn junkmail. I figured I’d put my Thai address down rather than make something up. Why not? I think it’s kind of cool when digital purchases have no boundaries.

    So, I’m buying the game for direct download. They wait until after they’ve got my credit card to tell me it will take 24 hours (more on weekends) for them to process the order and email me the download link. Well damn, it’s a Friday. I wait until Tuesday to send them a “hello – sup guys?”. I hear back that “because of the number of chargebacks we’ve received from Thailand, we are unable to process the order via credit card”, and I should pay by money order or mail usd cash instead. But – but – I could have lied and said I lived anywhere! And I could have torrented the damn game if I didn’t want to pay for it (guess what I’m doing now). I was also surprised to hear Thailand singled out as a land of liars and credit card theives. I struggled to find a word for their behavior… racist? Nationalist?

  4. Silverfall demo. I know this game is probably going to suck, but I had such a hankering for an epic, high-fantasy RPG. After mooning about MMORPGs and our laggy satellite connection I decided to download the Silverfal demo. Well holy jeez; the first two sites wouldn’t work with my download manager, and the third one was going to take a week. I found a torrent for the demo that was easily five times as fast… until the game came out the next day, then all the seeds disappeared in favour of the full version. The full, 7gb version. I’ve been torrenting it for over a week now (65%!), probably more out of determination than desire to play it.
  5. Superstar (an indie game). This buggy but beautiful shareware game was only released online, but the developers (Daisy Chain) have recently disappeared so you can’t buy it at all, anywhere. It’s a princessmaker-esque sim game. If you’re insterested, ask me about the demo.
  6. Simisle from Home of the Underdogs. An old Maxis game I never played, now abandonware. Made me want to play Tropico instead, which in retrospect must have been heavily inspired by Simisle. So HOTU has some crazy setup to prevent offsite linking or downloding two files at once, and as a side effect this fucks up download managers. To make Getright work, I had to fiddle around with advanced settings to get it to spoof the referring page. Without Getright, the chances of Firefox successfully downloading a 60mb file here are about 1 in… 1000. Why can’t Firefox resume after a lost connection???
  7. Paypal donation to Etymology, online – yeah! I tried to “sponsor a word” which is their cute way of accepting donations. But either Paypal has changed their policies, or their ass-backwards, rat-maze of a GUI defeated me once again. WTF is wrong with Paypal – do they hate the end user that much? I went to donate money the usual way, and was told I couldn’t do that until my account was verified, which was done by giving Paypal access to my chequing account. They’ve been happy with my credit card for years; why the sudden change? The “verification” process took three days and involved me checking my bank records to see how many cents they’d temporarily deposited. I sent a bitter rundown of my experience to their customer service. I never got a reply, but did get a survey regarding the quality of their customer service response. All zeroes for you dingbats!

    But seriously, Paypal provides an invaluable service to the web; it’d be nice if more online stores used it. I just wish Paypal woulds stop sitting on its monopoly and start improving things for us users instead of making them worse.

  8. Enya album – Amarantine. Hey: I like Enya! Or I did at some point in the past, and was feeling nostalgic so I looked her up. Now surely someone can help me with this: where can I buy an MP3 (or similar non-bullshit format) version of her new album online? I found two places: one had a scheme where you have to fill your account in minimum chunks of $20. The other rejected my credit card (they gave no reason) after a tedious registration and checkout process. Both places only wanted $1.09 usd for the whole album, but I thought iTunes was charging that much per song, so were these sites even legit?
  9. Dino Island (the game; not to be confused with the stupid dancing dinosaur screensaver). I’m on a creature sim kick; can’t wait for Spore. This one’s a cartoony looking 2002 simpark/evolution game. The CD version is going for $6 on amazon, but nobody has it for direct download. Can’t even find a torrent for it; not that that’s surprising. Ah well, when we’re back in Canada I’ll probably grab it and two other games in some ten dollar London Drugs gamepack.

I guess my best experience has been with Direct2Drive. I’m looking through their catalogue of games now, anticipating that I’ll want to play something in about a week, so I should start the download process now. At least they work with GetRight and don’t make me install their own malware-infused download manager like some other places. Their selection is small, but I may keep using them when we get back to Canada. I’m sick to death of EB and DVDs and game boxes. Unless it comes with a cloth worldmap or tech chart poster or something, what’s the point?

The point is, when you walk into a Wallmart to buy a game they don’t demand your name, email, dob, address, daytime phone, preferred password (at least one capitol letter and one number, please), pet’s name, and then make you wait ten minutes and check your email to verify that they can send you spam later (did you remember to uncheck that box?), then you have to go back and find the game again, then give them your credit card number, type, expiry, three digit code, verified by visa password, bank name, bank’s phone number (wtf?), hit okay half a dozen times between minute-long https delays, wait another ten minutes to receive the download link and install code, then spend three days downloading the 1gb file on your 256kbps connection.

The industry still has a ways to go.

[edit]: OH MY GOD go read Weasel’s comments re: EA’s “EA Link” online game delivery. If that is the future standard of online commerce, I’m just going back to playing Minesweeper, Solitaire, or whatever else came preinstalled on my machine.


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