Sins of a Solar Empire’s UI Designer

As a long time web user it really bugs me when games have really poor user interface design and architecture. It’s one thing when it’s in-game, with all the engine and graphical and game data considerations, but when the menu interface is broken and/or archaic it’s downright annoying. Sins of a Solar Empire is one such title. I like the game — played a three-plus hour battle online yesterday — but my experience, on the whole, is lukewarm because of an irritating registration process.

But before I get to registration I’m going to backtrack to the installation process: it didn’t work. Every time I would try I would get an error on the progress bar. It was a pop-up alert box that told me, in very informative terms, “Error” and nothing else. The message was blank, the font was messed up and the OK button closed the entire installer. Thanks Stardock!

A quick search revealed the problem: I had the audacity to have the demo installed. Removing that fixed everything and, after a brief installation, I was ready to play, once again cursing at the dreaded PC-Gamer experience (and dreading the future of consoles.) But before I could play I wanted to set up my Iron Clad Online account.

  1. I load the game and see the splash screen. There is an “update serial” button. I click it and a text input prompt comes up. I type the 30 character CD-key. Error.
  2. Apparently I missed a character. No big deal. I hit the “update serial” button again. I expected to have what I entered still there so that I can easily fix the typo. It wasn’t. I type the 30 character CD-key. It goes through but there’s no confirmation. I don’t know if it worked.
  3. I start the game and skip the opening cinematics. I get to the main menu and hit the “multiplayer – iron clad online” button. I am greeted with a login screen.
  4. I hit the “Create Account” button and get a standard username, password, retype password, CD-key form. I type the 30 character CD-key. Error
  5. After I typed everything out, the game tells me that I have the wrong version of Iron Clad Online. I quit out and hit the update button. It takes me to the Sins of a Solar Empire web page and a login screen. You need to have an account to download updates.
  6. I go to create an account, type in a username, password, my email address. I type the 30 character CD-key. I hit submit and wait for my confirmation email. It doesn’t come.
  7. Ten minutes later I have the email and my account is confirmed. I download the update, run it, restart the game and go to create an account again. I type the 30 character CD-key. Error.
  8. It tells me that my username is already in use. I assume that the registration from the first time went through so I go to login and type my username and password. Invalid. Retype my password. Invalid. I try every combination I thought I signed up with. Invalid. Maybe it didn’t go through the first time and maybe someone else has that username.
  9. I go through the registration again, this time with a different username. I type the 30 character CD-key. Error. CD-Key already in use.
  10. So I’m registered but I don’t know what my username/password combination is. I’d like to reset the password or get a reminder, but no such option exists.
  11. I go online and find a support email address. I email them. An hour later I get a message asking me for my CD-key and the username I signed up with. I type the 30 character CD-key. Hit send.
  12. 17 hours later, Josie sends me an email with my username and password. In plain text. Apparently, from typing in my CD-Key so often I inadvertently left the caps lock on. My login finally works.

The process speaks for itself.

RegisterNot great.

What concerns me the most is that, in the end, this whole ordeal has revealed that Iron Clad stores user’s password in a human retrievable and readable format. This, obviously, worries me about security. It stresses the point that you should never use the same password for multiple web services. Moreover, the fact that a user can’t manually reset or retrieve their own password, without having to wait for some tech support person to send it to them in plain text through email, shows a serious oversight in UI design. This is functionality that is standard on the most basic of websites made by the most amateur of web developers. I’d expect similar functionality from a company that can put together epic, real-time battles involving hundreds of ships in a full 3D environment. Those are awesome. The interface is not.

Sins of a Solar Empire battleGreat
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