When "Myst" debuted in 1993, it introduced millions of uninitiated PC owners to the world of computer games with its breathtaking graphics and easy-to-play sensibility.
But the latest version of the game--"Myst III: Exile"--is garnering public attention for entirely different reasons: Complaints over technical glitches have jammed online chat boards, forcing the game's publisher to issue a round of fixes and offer to replace one of the game's four discs.
The problems with "Exile" come at a time when the video game industry is struggling to attract a more mainstream audience with games that are easy and fun to play. "Exile" was supposed to recreate the magic of the original game, drawing in new consumers and demystifying the geeky world of computer games.
"Myst" and its first sequel, "Riven," sold a combined total of 9.5 million copies--making it one of the best-selling game franchises of all time. And in the week after it was released on May 8, "Exile" was the best-selling PC game in the country.
"Why can't they just release a game that works?" asked George Jones, editor in chief of the Ziff-Davis Game Group, a publisher of game magazines. "You end up giving mainstream gamers a bad experience, so they may not buy as many games in the future. It hurts the industry in the long run."
A spokeswoman for the game's publisher, Paris-based Ubi Soft Entertainment, said the company is aware of the problems. It's unclear, though, just how widespread the glitches are. Ubi Soft on Thursday offered three figures. Early in the day, the company said 4% of the 500,000 copies shipped to stores worldwide were affected by bugs. That figure changed over the course of the day, first to 10% and then down to 1%.
"Soon after the game's release, we discovered that a small percentage of our customers were experiencing problems with the initial release," the company said in a statement. "The minute we discovered this, we contacted our retail partners to let them know we were working on a solution."
Much of the difficulty involves installing the game, which takes up a hefty 2.1 gigabytes of hard disk space. Online bulletin boards are full of messages from irate users complaining about a range of issues--incompatible graphics cards, cryptic error messages and system crashes.
Jan Andrea Heirtzler, a Web designer from Dover, N.H., spent more than three hours trying to install the game on her 450-megahertz Intel Celeron-based computer before she and her husband gave up.
"I was really excited to get this game," Heirtzler said. "But when we tried to play the game, up pops this error message."
Ironically, the makers of "Exile" have tried to make the game accessible to "newbies" by not requiring a sophisticated computer to play the game.
Like most buyers of software, Heirtzler can't get a refund for software that has been opened. At best, buyers can exchange their software for another copy. Many stores, including Best Buy and Circuit City, are steering consumers to Ubi Soft's Web site to download fixes.