SimCity: The Backlash
from the still-plenty-of-'online-only'-hate-available! dept
It’s not as if EA couldn’t have seen this coming. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with SimCity’s launch has gone wrong. But EA was warned. A Reddit AMA with the SimCity developers made it perfectly clear how unhappy people were with the online-only requirements. SimCity’s closed beta had its own issues, mainly server access (not enough of it).
But EA didn’t seem too concerned and went ahead with the launch. Shortly thereafter, everything fell apart. The servers couldn’t handle the demand, something which would have been less damaging if there had been any sort of offline option. Much of the processing is handled server-side (along with storage of all saved games) and if customers couldn’t find a free slot on a server then they just didn’t get to enjoy their $60 purchase.
The backlash was immediate. And immense. Polygon (the Verge’s gaming site) lowered its original 9.5 rating to 8.0 because of the online issues. Giant Bomb gave it a rather low 3 out of 5, largely due to the fact that EA made a single player game multiplayer-only to justify its online-only DRM/”social” features. Reviewer Jonathan Cresswell handed in quite possibly the most succinct (but most telling) review of all.
Elsewhere, paying customers have expressed their displeasure. Metacritic’s critic score sits at 82. The user score? 1.8. Things are nearly as bad at Amazon, where SimCity currently holds a 1.5 star rating. (The digital version is faring even worse – 1.0.) In a rather unprecedented move, Amazon has pulled the PC Download version completely, citing EA’s server issues. When will it be back? Amazon says: “We don’t know when or if this item will be available again.”
Other game retailers have pounced on the opportunity provided by EA’s colossal blunder. GOG tweaked EA with a tweet pointing out that DRM-free SimCity 2000 doesn’t require an internet connection (and is only $5.99), resulting in a sales bump that has sent SimCity 2000 to #3 on the “Top Sellers” chart. Another Redditor suggested Steam follow suit and kick off an “offline-capable city sim sale,” featuring non-online-only city sims with new deals arriving each day “until SimCity is playable.”
EA, for its part, is working hard to add capacity, but much of the effort seems a bit too late. The damage has already been done, and EA has destroyed a lot of gamer goodwill, something it really doesn’t have in excess. As part of the effort to extinguish these self-inflicted fires, EA is now shutting off “non-essential features” to ease the server load. One of the first to go is “cheetah speed,” the fastest simulation setting. This may do exactly what EA hopes it does (free up servers), but it is going to piss off even more customers, as Kyle Orland at Ars Technica points out.
Presumably this is to give the servers more time to process the thousands of simultaneous city simulations that are all feeding into its global and regional networks. In any case, this is a core piece of the gameplay that’s now being hampered by EA’s continuing server problems; in my 16 or so hours playing the game, I’d estimate 15 or so have been spent running at Cheetah. Slowing things down, even temporarily, is likely to impact a whole lot of players negatively.
Whether or not this backlash/implosion will hurt EA in the long run remains to be seen. It has made no secret of the fact that it wants all of its games to eventually have some sort of “online component,” if for no other reason than to (slightly) impede piracy and eliminate second-hand game sales. The odds are that EA will continue to push the online requirement, passing the costs of any outages along to the customers in the form of useless purchases and higher game prices.
Some gamers are attempting to push back. A petition has been started at change.org requesting EA remove “online only” requirements from SimCity (most likely impossible, but…) and future games. It’s well on its way to hitting 25,000 signatures in less than 24 hours (and should be well past that by the time this hits the front page), which should give EA some idea how many people are displeased with the SimCity debacle.
It’s not completely unheard of for AAA developers to reverse course on onerous DRM (Ubisoft, for one), but EA didn’t become one of the most hated companies in America by catering to the whims of its customers. If nothing else, gamers can take heart in the fact that other developers will view this as a cautionary tale, rather than a blueprint for success.