Last week, the fifth title in the SimCity franchise came out. Millions bought it. Thousands have actually managed to play it, thanks to a disastrously ugly launch. Because the launch has been such a sh*tshow that chatter about it has started to crossover into the mainstream from the world of gaming, here’s a primer as to what’s going on.
So, wait, that game I played constantly in high school has a sequel?
Yup. It’s programmed by the same company too, Maxis, although they’re a wholly owned subsidiary of Electronic Arts.
OK, so what happened?
Essentially, SimCity sold a lot of copies last week. But Maxis and EA vastly underestimated the overall server load, meaning that lots of people who bought a $60 game have been completely unable to play it for a week now.
That… sounds bad.
It gets worse: EA operates a digital game sales platform called Origin, and Origin doesn’t offer refunds for players who purchased the game digitally. If that weren’t bad enough, a player revolt has been brewing for months over the game’s anti-piracy measures, which require you to always be connected to the Internet while playing the game.
Wait, so if your internet goes out…?
…The game stops working, got it in one. And Origin isn’t terribly popular with gamers either, just for that extra sauce on this particular rancid goose.
Is being online strictly necessary to the game?
Sort of. The overall idea is that you don’t just build a city, but connect to and constantly interact with other cities built by your friends. So you send little tourists back and forth, share resources, use roads for shipping, stuff like that. The idea is that your SimCities become a SimNation.
Give me some examples of what a mess this has become.
- Maxis head Lucy Bradshaw got a nice slow roasting on Twitter and publicly apologized for the game’s failure.
- EA temporarily stopped marketing the game.
- A Kickstarter was founded to make a knock-off of the game without DRM.
- EA had to offer a free game to everybody who bought it to mollify angry gamers.
- Oh, and EA managed to offend the entire nation of South Korea into the bargain.
Wow. Rough week.
To say the least, and considering a class-action lawsuit is all but inevitable, EA’s woes aren’t over yet.
How much of this is the fault of the anti-piracy measures?
At a guess, without poking into the code, I’d say a lot of it. There’s nothing in the game’s features that sounds anything like something you have to always been connected to the Internet. You’re not going on raids, you’re just sharing numbers back and forth, essentially. Furthermore, a lot of this simply has to be going on while players aren’t logged in; for the game to require large groups of people to be online, all the time, is at best unreasonable.
No, the main reason you have to be connected to a server is for those anti-piracy measures to be working. EA, of course, is not about to shut those measures off just to see if that’s a problem, but one suspects the server load would drop like a rock.
Is there an end in sight?
Sure. Game crashes are down 92% according to EA, although they haven’t licked all the problems yet, and enough people gave up in disgust that the server load dropped.
Of course, that last is part of the problem. Realistically, this never should have happened, and going forward, EA and Maxis are going to have to fight the idea that the game is fundamentally broken. What should have been a huge launch for a massive anticipated game in a beloved franchise has become an unmitigated disaster.
Oh, I almost forgot: Is the game any good?
Yeah, great, actually. And that’s the saddest part of all.
Has Hitler weighed in on this?
Well of course he has!