Bring It To Barack?

We got this email recently:

I am asking for your help to make a, for many, huge issue with the 8-series Geforce cards more well known and public.

Details can be found on the official nVidia forums:

In short, certain older games, most notably Unreal Tournament 2004 and many other UE2 powered games, suffer from severe stuttering issues making them unplayable on the latest and greatest in gaming graphic performance. For us affected by this the only real solution so far has been to either reinstall our old GF 7 cards or ebaying our GF8’s and getting ATI cards instead.

nVidia has acknowledged that they are aware of the problem and are working on fixing it, but the issue has been with us for well over a year, since the 8 series first came out, yet nVidia keep pumping out special tweaked driver versions for every new game that hits the shelves, but fail to fix this age old problem, even tho UT2004 display the “nVidia, the way it’s meant to be played” logo.

We have tried everything else we can think of, emailing nVidia en masse only resulted in standard canned responses for most of us.

I’m hoping for a short mention on your site to somehow attract more attention to this problem. Not sure what else to do really. This is to us a clear example of a total lack of support for their customers by nVidia.

Let me add a few items. This is an XP-only issue; the games in question now work OK in Vista.

nVidia has made some efforts to address the problem. Initially, the “fixes” were really insults added to injury, fixes that boiled down to “turn off features and/or chunks of hardware support.”

Most recently, a recent revision of the nForce drivers (171.17) has been reported to reduce the stuttering problem.

The responses by nVidia on this issue have been less than confidence-building. Here’s two recent examples:

“Thank you for your email. NVIDIA is aware of this issue and although we have made fixes to our drivers, the improvement has been minimal. . . . We are still looking into ways to resolve this issue however this will require more time to resolve. The Unreal Tournament 2004 engine is not very well optimized for the architecture in the Geforce 8800GTX/GTS GPU and this leads to the low performance in this game. Although we will not have a fix in the nearby future, we can assure you our engineers are working on this and should offer better compatibility through a future driver sometime in the future.”

“Thank you for reporting this issue. We are aware of the issue and that it is indeed specific to XP since Vista handles shader compilation differently. It is a complex issue and we are working diligently to alleviate the instances of stuttering in certain maps, but we do not yet have an ETA yet for a complete fix.”

These responses at first glance may seem pretty forthright and honest, but keep in mind that people have been having this problem for over a year, and these responses are only a few days old.

What To Do?

Obviously, anyone who is interested in these games and thinking about buying a GeForce 8 series card should stop thinking about buying a GeForce 8 series card and share your feelings and reasons with nVidia on why you won’t share your wallet with them.

Just as obviously, that does nothing for the people who have already shared their revenues. What should they do?

One thing they shouldn’t do is “solve” the problem with the typical “I’ll never buy from them again.” Not because it might be offensive, but because it’s ineffective.

First, it smacks of a temper tantrum, and temper tantrums don’t usually last. If you’re in the market for a video card a year or two from now and nVidia has the better product, how eternal is your pledge likely to be? What happens if you buy an ATI/AMD card, and they do something that displeases you as much? What are you going to use then? Intel integrated? Matrox? Etch-A-Sketch?

Second, it doesn’t hurt the company in any recognizable way. From the standpoint of the company, you’re a non-person threatening them with a non-event. If the company doesn’t know in any meaningful way that you bought the card, how can you expect them to know or care that you didn’t?

You know, you could make a pretty good comedy based on how delusional many people are when it comes to their importance to X company. They seem to think that once they say, “I will not buy from this company any more,” the multibillion, multinational corporation goes into instant Red Alert, and top execs go into emergency meetings saying, “Holy Feces!!! Joe Blow isn’t going to buy from us anymore!!!!”

The only way the typical big hardware company will notice is if a big percentage of their customers do the same thing.

Besides, when you really look at it, it is a kind of wimpy response. If a loved one got very sick, and you found out that was due to overaged food used in a restaurant meal, would your only response be, “I’m not eating there any more?”

No, you’d sue if push came to shove, and while a video card isn’t your mother, I think that’s the best, if hardly good solution here. A class-action lawsuit is painful, immediate and recogniable. Unlike not putting more money into a company’s pockets sometime, maybe, in the future, it takes resources from the company right away, if only to defend the suit.

Yes, there have been class-action suits before, and they’ve yielded the lawyers more than the plaintiffs, so it is an act of revenge more than restitution.

The core problem is that there are no consumer law standards under which a producer of technical products that do not meet realistic standards can be held liable for their failure.

If you bought a new car that began to stutter and stop when you hit highway speeds, that would hardly be considered acceptable, since it’s a reasonable expectation that a car should be able to drive at highway speeds.

If a car doesn’t meet that standards, and efforts to repair the problem fail, the owner of the car shouldn’t be told, “Well, we tried. Maybe some day somebody will figure this out.”

If many, most members of this car model had the same problem, you can rest assured the auto manufacturer wouldn’t get away with, “This is a hard problem, we’re working on it.” There would be a product recall, and you wouldn’t have to sue to get it.

If you read nVidia’s own responses to the issue, you get the impression nVidia can’t figure out a solution to the problem because there’s some core incompatibility between this game engine and the G8s, but doesn’t want to admit it because then they might have to (gasp) give people their money back. That would cost them a lot more than ticking some current owners off, so better to string this out and let the problem fizzle out.

If it’s good for cars, why not for items like video cards?

Bring It To Barack?

This website attracts an international audience, but I would bet that very few reading this haven’t heard something about Barack Obama’s quest for the U.S. Presidency.

In a sentence, the core concept of his campaign is “The way we do things today isn’t the way we have to do things tomorrow.”

Now one may agree or disagree whether his different approach would yield better results, but it’s neither a new nor startling revelation that those who make products ought to be held to certain standards.

Nor is it shocking that if makers of a certain product don’t meet these standards, and won’t enforce their standards on their own, that government establish and enforce those standards.

Of course, this is considered a horrible, horrible idea by those people (and allies) who would then be held accountable to those standards.

Such people would generate a ton of boilerplate babble, but what it would boil down to is, “How dare you make us just as accountable as everyone else for our products!”

Sorry, but when private companies don’t do something vaguely approaching the right thing, government eventually steps in to protect the public interest. Sometimes, it takes a long, long time, but yes, we can.

You wouldn’t need a Department of Video Cards to create gigabytes of regulations, a few ground rules would get the job done. Simply providing for a full refund in cases where a product doesn’t do what was promised or reasonably expected would cover much of the bill. Having a reasonable standard for certain types of support (i.e., no “we don’t feel like writing a Vista driver for our eighteen-month old product.”) would cover most of the rest.

Would it cost extra money? Of course it would, but the costs would be greatest only for the shoddiest producers. But then, doesn’t it cost customers a lot of money if they spend a lot of money buying your high-end products only to find it can’t properly play some fairly common, popular games? Doesn’t it costs money for consumers to have to junk a perfectly good printer or other device just because you don’t feel like writing a Vista driver for it?

The implication that Barack Obama ought to add this to his “to do” list is half-joking, but only half. If companies don’t do the right thing, and consumers can’t depend on those companies doing the right thing as a right, not as something you beg for, government will start setting the ground rules.

The U.S. Presidential election has been and will continue to be a wild and unpredictable affair, but it’s safe to say that come 2009 and thereafter, two of the three remaining candidates would hardly be against the idea, and I’m not too sure about the third.


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