EA Shuts Down Social Media Games Without Refunding Money

from the lessons-about-always-online dept

Fresh off their victorious repeat of “Worst Company In America” Consumerist award, which the company brass explained away by reminding us how killer-awesome they are, Electronic Arts is now taking steps to mend the wounds with their customers. And by mending the wounds I mean taking down more games on social media sites in which those customers have spent real-world money for in-game currency, without any promise for refunds. So it’s less mending wounds and a little more tossing salt on them, I suppose. Per EA’s blog:

Today we are informing players of the difficult decision to retire some of our Facebook games: The Sims Social, SimCity Social and Pet Society. For players who have enjoyed our games, we will be making a special offer to introduce you to a PopCap game. You’re a valued fan and we want to make sure you get a smooth transition to PopCap. More details about that offer will appear in-game soon.

Yup, those of you who bought currency for game X can either enjoy an offer for game Y, or else you can always have fun by pounding a bunch of sand. Now, it is true that game shutdowns were always a possibility, and perhaps even an inevitability, when it came to social media gaming, but there’s a better response to be had from EA than offering store credit on games that the customer may not want at all, especially for a company in such dire need of even a dash of good PR. Still, there’s a larger lesson to be learned here, and that lesson is you should run screaming from always-online requirements with every opportunity to do so. Per the original PC World article:

If you have no interest in Facebook gaming, these closures may not seem so tragic. But keep in mind that the push toward online-only games doesn’t stop with Facebook or with massive multiplayer games that have always been susceptible to shutdowns. EA’s SimCity requires a server connection, which has caused all sorts of problems with the game’s launch. The same was true for Activision’s Diablo III. What happens when the publishers of these games don’t feel like keeping them up and running anymore?

What happens? Let me refer you to the aforementioned pounding of sand. There are some types of games where this is more understandable than others. Games that rely primarily on social constructs and multiplayer come with an understanding that they can’t go on in perpetuity. But when the primary game mechanic is not social and the company still requires a connection? Well, that’s just holding you and your money hostage, friends. And with the rumors of always-online console requirements, gamers need to be aware that it might not be a game their purchasing with their hard-earned money. They may only be buying borrowed time.

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Comments on “EA Shuts Down Social Media Games Without Refunding Money”

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65 Comments
Rikuo (profile) says:

This is already true of Playstation Network Plus (PSN+). If you pay for a subscription to it, they offer you a bunch of games for a reduced price or even for free. However, should you decide to let your subscription lapse, or they turn off the servers (or at the least turn off the ones that communicate with PS3 consoles to free up resources for the PS4), you lose access to those games. Those games will be sitting on your console’s hard drive, but according to the DRM, they are held hostage unless you constantly give Sony money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This isn’t entirely true. If I take my PS3 with tons of games that I got “for free” for subscribing to PS+ and I unplug the network connection… I can still play all those games. If my subscription lapses, yes, I lose access to them after that time, but that is a different issue.

I hope a big company like Sony would have the grace that if they eventually cancel PS+ that the games we have unlocked would just become permanently unlocked, but really, even if they don’t, I will have had them and played them into the ground already, so I, personally, would be okay with that, but I can see others having issues with that.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Mike had an article a few weeks ago about a website that sold access to Japanese manga that if not now, is in the process of shutting down, and thus, its customers would lose everything they had paid for. Even as the site’s front page carried this going out of business message, it was still selling access at full price.
Here it is.
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130317/16534822353/drm-strikes-again-digital-comics-distributor-jmanga-closing-down-deleting-everyones-purchases.shtml

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You don’t buy games through the PS Plus account, you rent them for the duration of your subscription. You have the choice between a 90 day and 1 year subscription, for which you pay the money for as many renewals as you wish/are able to have before the scheme is finally shuttered.

If Sony decided to give mere hours or days notice before shutdown, they’d be in violation of contract and would hopefully be subjected to a class action suit for said violation.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Really? I’d fully expect Sony to have something like “Be online at least once a month to re-authenticate” DRM. After all, what happens if my console is online on Jan 1, I purchase a year’s subscription, the console is then offline for two years? Wouldn’t the DRM auto-lock the games after the 1st year has passed? And please clarify how losing access after the subscription lapses is a different issue? It means then that the games were never free.
I can understand paying for a premium membership to anything (doesn’t have to be video-games) and then being told that these extras I’m getting are “free”, and then that’s it, I can keep them…but it is not free when you then tell me that according to the system you have designed, I have to keep paying for the membership from now until the end of time in order to play the “free” games. At that point, it’s outright extortion.
After all, there’s plenty of people, myself included, who love playing games we bought ten or twenty years ago. Imagine firing up the PS3 twenty years from now, you find that Fun Great Game X is still on the hard drive, but once it connects to your Wi-fi network, it basically bitch slaps you because your PS3 online subscription has lapsed.

Mikael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Any time you get a game via PS+ there is a disclaimer that states you are getting the game for free / at a reduced cost so long as your subscription is valid. The games have a date stamped on them that you can see by looking at the game information from the XMB. If your subscription lapses the only way to play the games acquired via PS+ is to either pay for the full price of the game if it was free, pay the difference in price if it was discounted, or renew the subscription. If you renew after it expires then some of the games require you do download the unlock file again.

This is so people don’t just get a month of PS+, get a lot of free games, and then not renew thinking they can just keep all the freebies. Even if they cancel the service later on (which is doubtful since its a key service for the PS4) if I REALLY want the titles I’ve downloaded I will just pay for it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Totally different situations. The PS Plus subscription is an annual subscription, the terms are clearly laid out up front, and it is not necessary to have one to use the console. If you choose to pay for the subscription, you’ve agreed to those terms, and there’s not a realistic issue unless Sony decided to cancel the subs without refund before the agreed expiry date. You’ve agreed to rent the games, not buy them. Don’t agree to those terms? Don’t pay for the PS Plus account.

In this case, EA have gladly accepted payment for virtual material, right up to the moment of the game’s cancellation being announced, and they were accepting both payment and new sign ups without notifying the customers that their paid-for virtual property would soon be unavailable.

Whatever you think of the nature of such a service, they are not even remotely comparable situations.

Ninja (profile) says:

I’m already looking for alternatives. I recently spent healthy $80 on a few boardgames. Boardgames that I was able to examine the game mechanics and evaluate their potential for hours of fun. DRM-free.

There are also good PC games that don’t require any server (or you can build your own server for your friends to play with you) and don’t have any DRM. They are becoming more and more common as people screwed by the bigger names decide to stick to these alternative solutions. And there’s always the competition from older games that will require at most a key. It’s an incredibly fun experience to go through the plethora of abandonware out there.

See, we are doing great without you. You should fear that =)

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

and the cool thing about those MUD’s is that they tend to be public domain, so you can easily start your own if you want. And since Telnet uses so little bandwidth, you could host it on just about anything.

I hosted a MOO for a while, just for fun. We were going to create a graphical overlay client for it, but I never quite finished it. I keep thinking about going back and doing that…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Those MUD’s could still close tomorrow, potentially without warning or compensation.

True, although I’m not sure why you mention compensation since nobody paid money to play MUDs.

These shutdowns should serve as a warning to people. Online gaming is risky, and if you’re going to actually pay money to do it, you should do so knowing that you may end up with nothing in return for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Okay I’m tired and an idiot, so a quick footnote. I understand mentioning compensation on your MUD was irrelevant, but the point I’m trying to make remains. Whats being suggested here is that people should feel a right to compensation for investing in a service that is closing down, when arguably, if they invested so much time in it, they received significant enjoyment from the service. This is I think one of the reasons its a little dangerous the marketplace Blizzard has going in D3. When you don’t want to run the game anymore, its a LOT harder to convince people of that when they have ‘property’ in the game.

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

And my point is that when the platform is either open, or the game uses P2P servers, it’s literally impossible to permanently shut down the game, since anyone can start their own server.

True, you might be starting at square one again, but the game itself will never go away (at least until every person who has a copy of it finally loses their copies.)

It’s a pity that more MMO platforms don’t have some sort of EOL plan that allows the platform to be opened up to the public after the game is no longer profitable. After all, if it’s no longer profitable, then what’s the point in not releasing it to the public?

In fact, I’ve seen companies like Id and Apogee do just that: open source their game engines after a few years. It has allowed people to do some pretty cool things with those older games, stuff that would have been impossible under the traditional closed-source model.

I think the difference here is that games like Doom were created by gamers, where games like Sims Social are created by business people.

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Common MMO problem...

This is going to become a bigger and bigger issue for MMO’s… and there’s always a simple solution: let players host their own shards.

Players have reverse engineered Ultima Online, for example, and even when UO is finally shuttered, you’ll still be able to play it. The same goes for the non-game Second Life; there are free servers that can interact with the official SL client, or you can go a step further and use one of the open-source third party SL clients.

When a company un-publishes a game in this manner, I wonder if they shouldn’t have some obligation to make the server available for users to set up player-run shards.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Common MMO problem...

“When a company un-publishes a game in this manner, I wonder if they shouldn’t have some obligation to make the server available for users to set up player-run shards.”

Not just MMO’s. In a sane world, companies would be legally obliged to develop cracks for their DRM-laden software. Therefore, when their software falls out of copyright, people don’t need to go to the effort of searching for the cracks all over the place to use the software. However that’s sadly not true. EA and others don’t care about people a hundred and fifty years from now who will be unable to play their games freely without having to write cracks.

JackSombra (profile) says:

Re: Common MMO problem...

EA does not ‘let’ players host their own shards, players just do it with a hacked code base and if any player run shard gets to big (or starts charging) EA quickly shut it down (they don’t bother with smaller ones as to much effort is required)

Plus that ignores a major issue with persistant MMO’s, it’s all about time/effort invested. Starting afresh and losing what can be many years worth of investment is not most people’s cup of tea, might as well get a new game instead

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Addding unnecessary online connections is silly

Well said. When I sign up for a game that is inherently online and must be for a core game component(Magic: The Gathering Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic) I understand that it depends both on company and the community and that doesn’t bother me.

But I detest the idea of adding an online requirement to a single player game. I wanted to buy the new Sim City for my son, but then I found out about the online only component. My son is 7, has one of my previous computers that I fixed for him, and does not have internet access on his computer. So, I bought him Sim City 2000 from GOG instead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Addding unnecessary online connections is silly

If your son is anything like I was at that age, I wish him all the best in the game. It was around that age I started playing Sim City for the SNES I think… then Sim City 2000 for the Playstation. Once I got a computer, well, I’ve owned every actual Sim City installment. Heck I even had Sim Copter and Streets of Sim City!

I heard about Sim City Social and got excited, thinking finally there’d be one of those stupid facebook games I might actually like. Then it turned out to be a joke. Then Sim City 5 was announced and I thought ‘Ooh! I wonder what they’ll add to this one!’ only to learn the game has been dialed back, shrunken, broken and run through the blender so people can sort of but not really play together online… with no single player capability.

Still, I have a stable internet connection. Surely the game can’t be all bad… followed by the launch debacle, stupid monkey ignorance from EA, and then the reviews started coming out. Smaller cities required to specialize and synergize with surrounding cities inability to custom start terrain, and stories of cities almost needing to integrate to really be effective, things like highway connections being static and pre-set, and of course most of the city interaction is a relative joke too, since for all that ‘Server Side Calculation’, the cities don’t actually do anything unless someone is in them…

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_med6veIenp1rqt0kqo1_500.jpg

Manok says:

Today we are informing people of the difficult decision to retire some of our Euro members: Greece, Cyprus and Spain. For inhabitants who have enjoyed our currency, we will be making a special offer to introduce you to again Drachmes and Pesos. You?re a valued European, and we want to make sure you get a smooth transition to your new old currency. More details about that ‘offer’ will appear on your bank statement soon.

Anonymous Coward says:

SimCity Social is one of their newer games too. I liked it at first but they made some changes that made it impossible to expand without tearing down your city. They kept adding more and more friend spam required things too. Bottom line every Facebook game is in “beta” and could be shut down any time. Be wary if you are going to spend any real money on these games.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A couple weeks ago, I booted up Playstation Home on the PS3. Despite the fact the PS4 is only a few months away now, the Home software is still labelled beta. How long will it be until Sony, who are in deep financial straits, turn off the servers for Home, to save money and resources to concentrate fully on PS4 online features? What about customers who have spent money on Home avatar clothing and other stuff?

totalz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I can assure u $ony will not invest enough for whatever it says it will happen with PS4. If u look at PSN now, and compare the avg. download speed between game update and the actual game u purchase on PSN store, u can see that they spend just enough for the servers (hardware, network) hosting the updates, but the ones hosting actual game for downloading are just lame-ass…

Anonymous Coward says:

it would have been a bit reasonable also if some notice had been given too (i didn’t see any mention of that).

the only people to blame for the on line gaming fiasco are the players themselves. if, when this all started to rear it’s ugly head, the players had said ‘we’re not doing it’, how long do you think it would have carried on for? without people buying and playing the games, the companies can do whatever they like, they will fail! but that didn’t happen. people fell over themselves to do what the console and game makers told them to do and now they are suffering. no sympathy from me! had people turned round and told Sony ‘if you dont reinstate ‘the other O/S option’ we’re not using you or your stuff any more, do you think they would have done what they were told? of course they would, unless they wanted to sign their own ‘death warrant’ as a game console maker and game supplier. Sony got away with it and now they’re all doing it! add in the ‘you cant sue us’ clause as well and these companies have gotten you all well and truly by the bollocks and serves you all right!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem with that is how different individual people are. While an unacceptable business practice, the backlash from the ‘other O/S’ removal was still limited, initially and primarily, by those impacted rather than the entire consumer base. Anyone who didn’t use it couldn’t have cared less that it happend.

One of the biggest problems with a truely ‘democratic’ system, is it requires either everyone to want the same things, or for those who want something different to go without.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sorry, but this is a rare situation that I have no issues with it.

That is one of the risks of a F2P social game on Facebook, it can shut down when the company no longer considers it profitable. These games are predelicted on having massive amounts of friends, sharing updates and getting free stuff for it.

They were not intended for single player unless you wanted to drop lots of money on it.

So the idea of it closing down doesn’t surprise me, if you paid lots of money, that’s a risk you took for your own enjoyment, and with the knowledge it wouldn’t last forever.

There was no contract saying they would offer returns, there was no acknowledgement of how long the game would go for, or anything else.

Now offering refunds to people who continued to buy *after this announcement* or even within X months of the game, or offering store credit, those are all legitimate solutions. It’s up to the user to stay informed and decide whether or not to spend money on it. The credit could perhaps be offered in better ways than other popcap games of course.

Wolfy says:

I saw this crap coming down the pike when companies started making “console only” games (I guess the companies think they’re tougher to copy, or something). Then games started appearing that one can only played while online… I’m the type that cranks up a game when my internet service goes out due to weather. Needless to say, these online requirements are extremely undesirable to me, and I refuse to buy any of them. Luckily, some games that say “internet connection required”, but are still installable and playable when not connected. I experiment with a buddies’ game CD’s to find which are which.

Anonymous Coward says:

While I understand where you are coming from, I respectfully disagree. I don’t believe someone should enter into micro-transaction gaming without understanding that the nature of micro-transaction gaming is, compared to standalone gaming , fleeting.

In the case of MMO’s I agree with your point that servers should be made freely accessable for individuals to host after the games lifespan has ended… Social games like this differ.

Because the game utilizes micro-transactions, to rehost the game, you would have to Set up a micro-transaction store Reinvent the games micro-transaction system to work on a free platform or Abandon entirely the concept of the online store and run a gimped social game. Why should any random person be able to profit from the social game developers abandoned product by re-opening a micro-transaction store?

….

Actually.. if the parent company is no longer interested in the work, why SHOULDN’T anybody be able to capitalize on the vacant market….

Okay so that is a reasonable solution, opening the game up for people to host freely now that the parent company has abandoned it… but I still disagree that individuals should receive a refund for micro-transaction purchases just because the game shut down. To me, that sounds akin to a player expecting their subscription fee to be reimbursed because a game shut down.

At BEST, I could see a reasonable argument to be made for refunding unspent premium currency… but those players gained the value they paid for. Whatever benefit that currency allowed them at the time they used it was what they were paying for. In the case of premium items, they had the premium item for the lifespan of the game, which is no more or less than they were promised.

Rick Smith (profile) says:

If we are talking only of a purchased in-game currency, then it should be viewed the same as a gift-card from a store.

In the case of gift cards, the only way you would completely lose all value is if the company/store in question filed for bankruptcy.

EA has, and should continue to have, the ability to shutdown any of their services they choose, but, they should also have to cover the purchased (unused) currency either as a refund, allowing it to be transferred to another of their products, or even as credit to purchasing another game.

I guarantee if a retailer like Target suddenly decided to stop accepting their store gift cards and they were not in process of bankruptcy or closing their business, that they would have to come up with away for customers to receive an equivalent amount of the cards value. Failure to do that would likely have every single state Attorney General’s office filing a case against them.

This is a primary example of where the physical and digital worlds can, and should be handled in the exact same manor.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Movies

I can’t believe the MPAA hasn’t jumped on this bandwagon. They seem to be in just as much of a hurry to alienate and enrage their paying customers as the videogame folks are, so it’s amazing me to me that we haven’t seen any DVDs or Blu-Ray movies with an ‘always-on’ server authentication requirement before the movie will play.

What? Your disc player isn’t hooked up to the internet? Oh, well, here’s some sand…

tomxp411 (profile) says:

Here’s the WP page about DIVX.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIVX

To put it simply, DIVX was a DVD rental system were you got to keep the disc: you bought a movie for a low price, took it home and watched it, and the once the rental period expired, the disc was useless.

You could, if you wanted, pay to watch the disc again later, you could unlock it for permanent use, or you could throw it away.

The catch was that DIVX movies required a special DIVX DVD player, and people weren’t interested in buying new DVD players just to rent videos. It also didn’t help that DIVX discs were still more expensive than what Blockbuster and Hollywood were charging for rentals.

Anonymous Cowherd says:

Games that rely primarily on social constructs and multiplayer come with an understanding that they can’t go on in perpetuity.

Only over tacit resignation to the unfortunate fact that the companies involved would rather toss the server software and source code in a chipper-shredder than release it to the community.

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