SimCity: How Not to Launch a Game

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably heard of Electronic Arts’ disastrous launch of the latest SimCity. It was designed to play for only about 20 minutes offline before closing down. Since cities are saved on servers, not locally, you don’t get to play if the server happens to be too busy for you. Tough luck.

Simcity Connection Failure

Unfortunately for EA, it underestimated the number of people who bought SimCity when the game launched. Kotaku says 700,000 cities were created in the first 24 hours, and the servers were overwhelmed. That left many players struggling to connect for up to three days. Reviews on MetaCritic and Amazon by customers have been about the lowest possible. Reviewers gave the game a Metascore of 67. Users gave it a score of just 1.7.

So what went wrong? Apart from a chronic lack of server capacity, players generally believe that the “always connected” necessity is just Digital Rights Management designed to stop piracy. EA may deny it, which they do, but that doesn’t negate the effect: You only get to play unconnected for 19 minutes before you’re at the mercy of the servers.

In theory, DRM limits or prevents play by those who aren’t authorized. In practice, DRM systems often penalize legitimate gamers while those who obtain illegal DRM-free versions play without any issues. Anti-DRM campaigners call it “crippleware” or “defective by design.”

It’s still too early to decide how big a disaster this is for EA. They may well be able to get past it, as they did with Diablo 3, which launched with the same issues last year. With so many browser games and MMOs around, many players are used to competing online, so for them it’s not such a big deal. The losers are those who like to play offline or while traveling without an Internet connection.

It’s particularly irksome that SimCity was originally a single-player game. In the past, EA’s justification that it needs to be played online was never an issue in the past. Maybe it’s time for us to boycott games that don’t allow offline play. If publishers have their way, all games will probably end up being played online.

Playing online can enhance game play but it should be optional, not mandatory. After all, why exactly do we have to be online for a single-player game?

Other Ramifications of Online Play

If we fast forward to 2018, will the SimCity servers still be running? Based on EA’s own information about other games, the answer is probably not. You’ll still be able to play SimCity 4000 or earlier titles that don’t require a server, but this incarnation of SimCity will be gone — and left unplayable. For that and that alone, I won’t be buying it, even though I much wanted to. I may still be playing Civitas, the cross-platform city-building game that’s currently raising funds on Kickstarter. Of course, I’ll only get to play if it reaches its early-April goal of $250,000.

Older titles that run on less-powerful hardware can still offer compelling play. I love to play through games like Quake II and the Serious Sam games, though I’ve completed both many times. I want to buy games that I can replay in the future, and not be left with nothing but a memory because the servers are gone.

3 Responses to “SimCity: How Not to Launch a Game”

  1. I guess I’m living in a cave since I didn’t hear about this. However, this brings up the main concern I have about all of these things, not just games. When you get a device that cannot be used under some circumstances, is it worth it. In the case of games like this, if you get enough play out of it for the next five years, it may be since new games will come along and take their place. However, if you go back to play in 5 years and the servers are gone, it’ll definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth and affect the company’s reputation (not that they ever seem to care what happens 5 years from now!)
    Aside from this, I’ve seen these issues before. It used to be that you would buy software and get to run it (and people copied them for their friend to use and the company “lost sales”). Then they added access keys that got included in the package (and copies were made and they “lost sales”). Then they made it so you had to call in for an access code (and copies were made and they “lost sales”). At this point, there was a problem because many of those companies went out of business and if you needed to re-install, you were SOL. The next iteration was that you had to register online and the code would be sent to your computer (and people hacked it and they “lost sales”.) The latest seems to be that you have to be always-connected to access the software.
    As you said, solo-play should NOT REQUIRE a connection. Likewise, any kind of cloud computing that is not intended as interactive (like most of the MS Office products) should NOT REQUIRE a connection.
    However, the industry seems to be going with the “gotta connect to play” subscription model. I’m not happy about it and won’t be participating in most of it. If I need productivity in my devices, I expect to have it whenever I need it, not whenever the industry lets me talk to them to see if they want to let me play today. Thanks Big Brother.