Failures

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
ama, drm, simcity

Companies:
ea, reddit



SimCity Developers' Reddit AMA Swiftly Turns Into WTF With The Online-Only DRM?

from the unsurprisingly-unpopular dept

The developers of the latest SimCity learned a valuable lesson Friday during a Reddit AMA, one that will hopefully be passed on to other developers: people -- you know, the downstream consumers you're hoping will purchase your software? They hatehatehatehatehatehatehateHATE DRM.

EA, the publisher of SimCity, has seen fit to up the annoyance factor on legally purchased copies of the game by requiring an internet connection to play the latest title in the series, even in single player mode, and funneling the users through its horrendous Origin "service." Not only that, but players' games are saved online, so if you lose the connection, not only will you be prevented from playing your purchased game, but you'll be back at whatever point you were at when your service died.

The top voted question/comment digs right into the heart of the DRM issue:
What will happen to the game if I am playing and lose my internet connection - will the game still be playable and update the servers when my internet connection resumes or will it pause and wait for the connection?

As I have unreliable internet at times if I were to lose a connection and play for a while longer (assuming I would be able to continue to play) would my changes be saved locally in case my internet connection does not come back up before I need to stop playing (and then be uploaded when I next start the game).

I love what the game is looking like and look forward to the multi-player region games, but as you can tell I am concerned about what happens if my internet connection decides to drop for a few hours.
The first answer back, from Kip Katsarelis (Senior Producer) was far from comforting:
Sorry, I replied to it below. Not avoiding. Here was the reply...

"I actually just ran over to our online engineering team to get the latest info. We do handle "short" internet outages gracefully. Meaning, if your internet goes out while you're logged in and playing the game, we can can recover gracefully. You shouldn't notice a thing. "Short" is still being defined."
At least Katsarelis somewhat acknowledges that the term "short" is woefully undefined. And whether or not players "notice a thing" isn't really the sort of issue that should be getting sorted during an informal Q&A. While that answer was less than satisfactory, Kip's followup was downright laughable.
We will allow you to play for as long as we can preserve your game state. This will most likely be minutes.
The response to that bit of "online imagineering" was full of win, however.
My computer happens to have a hard drive that's suitable for preserving game state. Should I consider buying your game, or is it crippled to online-only?
It's not as though the "paying customers hate DRM" is a new development. It has been this way for years and paying customers have expressed their displeasure with being handed crippled software in exchange for perfectly functioning money, while those who have acquired the same software for free use the software much in the manner you would expect the paying customer to be able to: on his or her own terms, online connection or no. It's gotten bad enough that even EA's own employees are annoyed with DRM "solutions."

A helpful Redditor compiled all the anti-DRM comments from the AMA into an easy-to-read, linked, multi-author screed on the unpopularity of online-connection-required DRM. Perhaps SimCity's devs can run this up the chain to EA in the small hope that a list of disgruntled potential customers might persuade the publisher to drop the online/Origin requirement before SimCity's release in March. It's highly doubtful this will work, as EA's president has stated that all EA games will include "online applications and digital services." If one was optimistic and a bit naive, it almost sounds like EA wants a connected community that expands the fanbase through social media. If one is firmly grounded in reality, however, it's just another way to say "all games will include some form of online-only component DRM."

So, very possibly, no lessons will be learned. People will go and pirate themselves a working version of SimCity, which will lead EA to believe that EVEN MORE DRM is required for the next iteration, which will piss off the next set of gamers, leading to more cracked, functional versions downloaded, and so on, until either a.) all piracy is eradicated (thru some sort of black magic[k] ceremony involving Chris Dodd, Cary Sherman, the remaining members of the BSA and the exhumed corpse of Sonny Bono) or b.) EA (and companies like it) stop dumping crippled software on customers in hopes of making absolutely no discernible dent in piracy levels.

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  1. identicon
    PlayNicely, 18 Dec 2012 @ 3:17am

    Re: Re: Re:

    This. I suspected them of masking a DRM scheme behind gameplay mechanics ever since i saw the first SimCity-5-Video that mentioned "social features".

    But not only does it mask DRM, it also masks the DLC-milking that is behind "region play": They deliberately clamp down on moddability to make you pay for very cheap-to-make new "exciting" regions and core game features (subways, larger cities).

    All i ever looked for in a sim city game were these:

    1) Rebuild my hometown.
    2) Rebuild and modify an existing town.
    3) Build my dreamtown (including finding clever solutions for highway intersections and difficult terrain, etc.).

    Last and very much least:

    4) Play an economic simulator and show off my achievements online.

    Neither of the first 3 requires "social play" and all of them require a decent map editor and large cities.

    All the features seem to be driven by marketing considerations, as if they are geared to show up in "teaser trailers" and "previews". Look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SimCity_%282013_video_game%29 The game already won numerous awards and the praise of various "magazines" - almost half a year before release. It's all part of the marketing machine - and sadly it works.

    It shows that the people in charge do not care about making the best game they can, but the best cashcow they can get away with.

    Already i am reading apologetic pieces about how a missing region editor somehow "adds value" by letting them release "high quality DLC regions" that are absolutely going to be worth 2$ per region or whatever it's going to be. Already i am hearing excuses how DRM-server-failures are no big deal and how i should go for a walk instead of complaining about it.

    Unfortunately the kids will buy it - they don't know how good their game could be (like in the old days when every game could be modded and none required always-online) and how not boycotting the worst offenders in the DRM- and DLC-milking-business is going to make it worse in the future.

    So the game is doomed to be a shallow yet commercially successful reminder that our favorite franchises will never reach their full potential - mostly because gaming has become a mainstream activity and the publishers don't have to rely on the enthusiasts anymore.

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