As you may know, I am a big fan of Valve's Steam service. I buy nearly all of my games there, and I think Valve has done amazing things for the PC platform by making Steam as good as it is. But I do have a little story to tell.
Last night, two friends came to my house to play some Borderlands co-op, something we'd all been hoping to do for a while, though finding the time has been difficult. Before they arrived, I set up three systems with the latest version of Borderlands and all of the necessary hardware and drivers, so we'd be ready to go. All three of us own copies of the game via Steam, so we had no worries about the logistics of playing a LAN game together.
Trouble is, one of the guys owns not just Borderlands, but two of the downloadable add-ons available for the game, which I do not own. When he logged in to Steam, the client immediately began downloading his two DLC packs, which are multiple gigabytes each. Once that process had started—which we were powerless to stop—Borderlands became unavailable to run on that computer. Not only that, but Steam was streaming down the data at a pretty leisurely pace. My cable service is as fast as 15Mbps, and I sometimes see downloads at around 2 MB/s. Not last night, though—the Steam update was running at roughly a fifth of that speed or less. The download was going to take upwards of two hours, according to the Steam client.
We tried stopping the download and copying the latest file set for the game, without DLC, from another computer and then setting Steam not to update the files for Borderlands automatically. Of course, if you know Steam, you'll know what happened next: it still downloaded the DLC packs immediately, as soon as my friend logged in.
So here we were: three guys who own fully legit copies of this game, fairly tech-savvy types, who were totally powerless to play a LAN game in the time we'd set aside for it. In the end, Andy, who owned the two DLC packs, wound up sitting there watching two of us play co-op while his DLC packs slowly updated. Just as it was time for him to go home, the download finished. Totally useless.
Valve, you know I love you, man. Really, I do. But this is weak. We need better control over what's happening on our PCs. Don't give us the option to disable updates in Steam and proceed to ignore it entirely. You're ruining the game for your best customers, which is something that should never happen.