So there we were, sitting around with one scene to go and wondering what feeble bits of news out there might possibly pass for drama during this interholiday pre-Expo lull, when the phone rang. Turns out that the kid of one of our cousins back in the Midwest received a copy of Care Bears Care-a-lot Jamboree (we swear we're not making this up) as a Christmas gift, and it was causing something of a problem in the installation department. Did we perhaps have a few minutes to help our cousin figure out what was wrong?
We said "hey, sure," because said cousin isn't the most technically-inclined person around and we are naturally helpful people who are already lobbying for inclusion on Santa's "Nice" list for next year. (We don't take chances when it comes to free loot.) The problem was that, whether she inserted the CD-ROM in her original Blueberry iBook running Mac OS 8.6 or her Snow G3 iMac running Jaguar, she wasn't seeing any obvious "Click Here To Install" sort of thingy that software developers are usually so careful to make obvious, particularly in consumer software like this. She read off a few filenames from the twenty-seven in front of her: carebearcd.ico, SETUP.INS, uninst.dll. "Those are Windows files," we explained to her. "Try not to look directly at them. Is there maybe a folder that says 'Macintosh' or something like that?"
No, there was nothing of the sort, we were told-- at which point we asked her to read us the system requirements from the box, because we had a sneaking suspicion that she'd been given a Windows-only piece of software. But no: Win/Mac CD-ROM, the box proclaimed, with Mac requirements that both her systems comfortably met. So what was the deal, we wondered? Had the disc mounted as two volumes? Had she opened the Windows one by mistake? No, there was only one icon on the Desktop. Could she open the file "readme.txt"? Yes, she could, but its contents consisted of the words "Care Bears README:" and then a blinking cursor. Ahhh, yes... software documentation at its finest.
When in doubt, we figured, read the manual. What did the instructions say? She informed us that the only installation instructions began with "1. Click on 'Start.'" There was no Mac installation procedure to be found. After a brief search on the 'net, we eventually found these installation instructions on the ValuSoft support site (and with a name like "ValuSoft" you just know it's going to be good stuff). The Mac directions, which were inexplicably omitted from the package, tell you to "double click on Care Bear Installer and follow the on-screen directions." Our cousin insisted that there was no "Care Bear Installer," but there was a "CareBearInstaller" and a "CareBearInstaller.rsrc," both with generic icons, and when double-clicked they just pulled up Mac OS X's "The application that created this file could not be found" dialog. Now what?
Okay, we admit it-- at this point we figured she just had to be missing something obvious. We talked her through taking a screen shot of the CD-ROM contents and emailing it to us, and lo and behold, she was right: "Care Bear Installer" was nowhere to be found. Time to contact tech support.
Of course, this being "ValuSoft," no phone number for tech support was given; there was a web site, a mailing address, and an email address. The web site was singularly unhelpful, with the "Installation and troubleshooting" section providing nothing more than installation instructions that referred to a nonexistent installer. (Tellingly, the "Support Request" page for Care Bears has a menu for "Operating System" that lists ten versions of Windows... and "Other." All of the tip links, like "How to find out how much RAM your computer has," contain Windows-only instructions. You get the picture.) From the mailing address we were able to find a phone number via Switchboard. Our cousin took the number and said she's call us back after she'd yelled at them a little.
The phone rang again barely five minutes later; "they knew exactly what I was talking about," our cousin said. It seems that someone goofed just a smidge and ValuSoft shipped out several thousand CD-ROMs in boxes that said "Win/Mac" but with no actual Mac software inside. The Mac version of the game exists; it just hadn't been included on the first pressing of the CD-ROM. Whoopsie. By the time they'd discovered that teensy error, ValuSoft executives evidently decided that a recall would be too expensive, especially since only a few of those lame Mac users would ever even notice the problem. Instead they just left a bunch of Windows-only software out there in boxes advertising Mac compatibility, and figured they'd ship replacement disks to anyone who complained.
The only problem with that strategy is that it's obnoxious to the extreme, especially since the company didn't even provide a tech support phone number, let alone a toll-free one. ValuSoft's Mac customers are expected to click around in frustration and call relatives who produce Apple-themed 'net-based soap operas a thousand miles away before finally consulting the Care Bears support page (assuming they all have Internet access, of course), which, amazingly, makes absolutely no mention of this problem anywhere that we can see. We can at least understand the business decision not to spend money on a recall (even though we may not like it)-- but what's the rationale behind not even putting a link on the support page that says "Mac Users with Install Problems: Click Here Because We're Royal Boneheads And You Need A New Disc"?
Anyway, our cousin's replacement disc is (allegedly) in the mail, but only because she called a number that ValuSoft never gave her in the first place. Had she tried to contact tech support through the web form, her kid would be waiting even longer; "answers are usually received within 2 - 3 business days." With "Mac-friendly" developers like these, who needs a sharp stick in the eye? So, a word to the wise: the Care Bears may Care-a-lot, but ValuSoft clearly doesn't.
But at least it gave us something to write about.