The launch of SimCity has been problematic for EA. The game’s DRM servers are overloaded, and with EA waiting to add new servers, players are being advised to either try new servers or wait a half hour for another spot in line. Of course, the one thing that EA is holding fast and true to: they’re not issuing refunds. By the way, all of these online issues are for a single player game.
If this sounds familiar, it should be: another ostensibly single player game, Diablo III, launched last year. Just like with SimCity now, Diablo III had some major issues at launch, all revolving around – surprise – DRM server load issues for a game that should never need a perpetual connection in order to play it. Of course, when one considers why a perpetual connection was added – Diablo’s real world auction, SimCity’s slew of coming microtransactions, and something something pirates – it’s easy to see why they were shoehorned in, despite the fact that they add literally nothing advantageous for consumers, and in fact actively hurt them in many cases.
So we have two games, hotly anticipated properties, having terrible launches for predictable reasons. Gamers are complaining up a storm. One can say they’re justified. I, however, take a different tack: not only are people who complain not justified, but they deserve every bit of pain they get.
Here’s what Joshua Moore wrote when it was announced in 2011 that Diablo III would not have an offline mode:
I’m not going to mince words here — the exclusion of an offline mode is fucking asinine. Their reasoning holds little substance at best. I will fully admit they are correct that it is impossible to allow the transfer of offline characters to online gameplay; it’s impossible to verify without being connected to an authentication server while the character is being leveled. However, this does not mean offline should be ditched entirely! I don’t care if I can’t transfer my character; I still want to be able to play the game offline, and I don’t appreciate Blizzard making that decision for me.
Despite knowing what they were getting into from a DRM perspective (gamers had been complaining about Ubisoft’s persistent online authentication system for some time already), and despite knowing that online servers almost always have issues at launch due to the stresses of player demand, people bought the game at launch. At the time, I said it was understandable to not be able to anticipate such a deluge of people, but at the same time, it was foolish for people to buy into such a program on the first day.
Now, I’m even less receptive to the idea. People had hindsight in their corner this time, knowing that the Diablo launch was garbage. They also knew that they had the restrictive DRM on top of other restrictive DRM (Origin). And they knew that EA has a habit of sloppy launches when it comes to online play, owing back to sports games that already have established and tested infrastructures, something SimCity didn’t have the advantage of. In fact, let’s look at a list of the pros and cons of purchasing SimCity:
* Always-on DRM for a game that has never required a social element.
* Cloud saves that can’t be transferred or altered.
* Microtransactions out the wazoo.
* Initial demand for server space would far outstrip supply, just like with Diablo III.
* EA as a company has a bad habit of closing down online servers for games that are no longer convenient to them. Doing so here could render the entire game unplayable.1
* It’s SimCity
* It’s pretty
Despite knowing everything I listed above, all of which simply came off the top of my head, people still queued for the game, gleefully spending $60 for what was largely an unknown quantity. Now, they have the nerve to be shocked that they can’t play the game because – surprise! – EA wasn’t prepared?
Don’t say you weren’t warned, people.
Ultimately, the only thing that will stop EA, Activision-Blizzard, Ubisoft, and other companies who continue to turn the screws to their customers is if their bottom line suffers. But Diablo III sold 12 million copies as of the end of 2012. Activision didn’t care how many people bitched on their forums; they were too busy swimming in money. The same thing will happen here; initial sales of SimCity are expected to be extraordinary, and while things will taper off now due to the bad PR and Amazon pulling the digital version, they will pick back up once these issues are mitigated and gamers forget they ever happened, proving once again that gamers – never ones for impulse control – are just mouth-breathing cash registers with easy access. Electronic Arts does not care how many people complain in comment threads, how many one star reviews they get on Amazon, or how many 1s they get in Metacritic’s user reviews. They literally only care about the money they bring in, and until that dries up, they will continue to do what works, because gamers are telling them that they will buy it, sight unseen.
At this point, there is enough data on how these games work – the DRM schemes2, the early adoption issues, the complete and total lack of customer support by EA3, and everything else that now comes with our $60 purchases – to make it so that we know damn well what we’re getting into. Still, people decide to buy early anyway. Fools and their money are easily parted, and the people who bought SimCity before launch are fools. I’m beyond just shaking my head at their misfortune; I hope these problems persist. I am smiling because people are angry. I hope that the fools who bought this game are unable to play it for weeks, even months. I hope they lose their saves. I hope this experience perpetuates and ruins the game. I hope children who received it as a gift cry.. I hope this turns out to be the worst $60 they spend all year, because then, and ONLY then, will we train these Lemmings into actually showing a modicum of restraint, and maybe, just maybe, we can do enough damage to these companies to make them pull back and start treating their paying customers with a little dignity and respect.
1 – Meanwhile, I can still play SimCity 4 right now if I want to.
2 – By the way, anyone remember the DRM kerfluffle that revolved around Spore? Didn’t think so; gamers were full of sound and fury, but after impressive sales figures, all of it signified nothing.
3 – This is unverified, but if it’s true, holy shit.