Redditor Points Out The Flaws In SimCity's Online-Only DRM, Gets Banned By EA For His Troubles [UPDATED]

from the well,-that's-ONE-way-to-handle-a-legitimate-complaint dept


According to EA's representatives, this ban was the unfortunate result of a gitch in their system which banned several members who had opted out of receiving email from EA. Full response posted below:
Hi Puppier,
I made a post in reply on both imgur and your reddit post, but I just wanted you to know that we've lifted your ban on AHQ. As you know, the system is sending out a lot of emails and it looks like you opted out of receiving mails from us, which for some reason is banning users. There's a few posts on it, for example here It's not the biggest thread, but it's the first I could get to.

The team is working to fix the bug, but in the interim I actually have one member sitting scanning our logs for anyone that opts out, so we can unban them as quickly as possible.

Apologies again - as you mentioned. There's a lot of similar feedback to yours that hasn't been removed from the forums and the authors banned.

Feel free to give me a shout with any other feedback you have. I'll personally make sure it gets to the right people to make up for the annoyance.


Electronic Arts makes some very popular games and some very respected games, but for the past few years, it's been finding itself at the top of Consumerist's annual "Worst Company in America" list. And for good reason.

A few weeks back, we discussed EA's upcoming SimCity game, which is going to be crippled by an always-on DRM scheme masquerading as online multiplayer. Some unsuspecting SimCity developers fired up an AMA (Ask Me Anything), only to find themselves trying in vain to defend a system that maintains your save state online, rather than locally. In addition to "stopping" piracy, this "feature" helps "extend gameplay" by forcing you to redo your moves should sunspots or whatever occur. The Redditors, needless to say, ate them alive and sent their remains back with a message for their bosses: drop the DRM or you won't be seeing our money.

EA, of course, cares not for little things like angry potential customers or, for that matter, being a company people trust and respect. For every step forward, it has taken giant leaps backwards. Just recently, it held a closed beta to do some last-minute bug testing on the new SimCity. All well and good, except that it threatened to ban users from all EA games should they fail to report a bug.
“It is understood and agreed that, as part of your participation in the Beta Program, it is your responsibility to report all known bugs, abuse of ‘bugs’, ‘undocumented features’ or other defects and problems related to the Game and Beta Software to EA as soon as they are found (‘Bugs’). If you know about a Bug or have heard about a Bug and fail to report the Bug to EA, we reserve the right to treat you no differently from someone who abuses the Bug. You acknowledge that EA reserve the right to lock anyone caught abusing a Bug out of all EA products.”
This went over about as well as any banhammer reliant on proving a negative -- the uproar began moments thereafter, leading EA to walk back this threat within 24 hours. EA released this incredulous, self-serving statement that basically said it was shocked (shocked!) that anyone would suggest it would perma-ban its potential customers.
“We have never taken away access to a player’s games for not reporting a bug, and quite simply it’s not something we would ever do… The clause in the EA Beta Agreement for the SimCity beta was intended to prohibit players from using known exploits to their advantage. However, the language as included is too broad. We are now updating the Beta Agreement to remove this point.”
Uh-huh. Nothing you would ever do now that you've been caught.

But EA's not done wielding the banhammer, as one Redditor attempting to login to the beta discovered over the weekend. After waiting over three hours for the software to authenticate, he posted a very valid, very tame and very constructive bit of criticism to their forums. (Original post via Google cache here.)
Back during the Steam Summer Sale, Ubisoft's always-online DRM servers encounter countless errors the inhibited people from playing the game (Story). This is one of several issues game publishers have suffered after having always-online DRM (other than the general player irritation). Although it is annoying that we have to have multiplayer and be online for a single-player game, technical issues also arise, because servers will, inevitably go down at some point.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind being always online if it weren't for all the technical complications, I have purchased the game and as long as I can play it, I'm good. But that is not the case. Instead we wait through countless errors and server delays in order to play the game. If these kind of issues exist during a closed beta, imagine the delays during the actual launch and the days after. Blizzard suffered the same fate after the launch of a Diablo 3 patch (Story).

The repercussions of this? Bad ratings. Although Diablo 3 received generally favorable critic scores, the players rated it at only 3.8/10 (Source). Although you will of course, have buyers, there is always someone dedicated enough to play a game, no matter the costs, bad ratings will turn away even the most dedicated players. And if the issues seen in the closed Beta servers (I've been waiting 45 minutes to log in already and others have been waiting much longer) remain during the official launch, the ratings will undoubtedly suffer. Although I have always been a huge SimCity fan, I am beginning to question whether I will buy this game, and as a result these ratings will decide whether myself and many others will spend our money on SimCity.

As I said, I would be able to tolerate SimCity's always-online DRM if it worked. But from the way it looks right now, it doesn't. If you are not willing to pour enough money into getting large amounts of log in and authentication servers, please remove the always online or add a way for us to play offline in only-offline cities. Other wise, you will turn away large groups of buyers and also large amounts of money.

Although you are trying to prevent piracy, which is something I am firmly am against (piracy), you have caught normal and legal players in the crossfire. The easiest (and best) way to prevent piracy is make a better game. If you make the game accessible and easier to play, you will attract more people into purchasing it. If you don't, you will turn away players and give people "reasons" to pirate your games. I am willing to spend money on SimCity if it is good, many others feel the same way. Don't ruin our dedication by putting us in the crossfire of your "war on piracy".

If you get your authentications servers not simply adequate, but also above and beyond what is necessary, more and more players will buy and enjoy your game. However you must also weigh the benefits. Even if you make a small amount of extra money by instituting an always-online policy, you will have to keep spending money to keep these authentication servers up. This may, in the long run, negate the amount of money you gained from the policy. So make sure you are ready to have servers and keep servers, otherwise you will be in for a lot of trouble.

Thank you,
To most people, this would seem like a valid complaint that makes several good points. One, sacrificing your customer base on the altar of piracy prevention seldom makes sense, especially considering the pirated version will be free of all the issues plaguing the paying players. Two, if you can't balance server loads on a closed beta, how on earth are you planning to handle launch day? Considering SimCity will be online only, you'd think EA would have its server issues at a minimum. Paying customers aren't going to be very happy with a $50-60 piece of software that does nothing more than attempt to authenticate for hours on end. All in all, a thoughtful post that highlights what exactly is wrong with the DRM EA has built into the software.

Here's EA's reply. No email. No answer in the forums. Just this.

(In case you can't read the fine print, it says "We're sorry, but you have been banned from using this site.")

If EA's wondering how it could have outmaneuvered Bank of America in a race to the bottom, reputation-wise, it needs look no further than this. When an entertainment company is chosen by 64% of 250,000 voters as being worse than an entity that doubled its customers' interest rates for no apparent reason and allegedly cost taxpayers more than $1 billion when it sold toxic mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, there's a serious flaw in that company's relationship with its customers.

Callous actions like this only serve to further cement EA's reputation as one of the worst companies in America. Legitimate complaints should never result in banning. Even if EA isn't interested in hearing the downside of its "always-on" DRM, it should at least have the broad shoulders to take the criticism without behaving like thin-skinned thug.

Filed Under: bans, beta, criticism, drm, reviews, simcity, video games
Companies: ea

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  1. icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), 31 Jan 2013 @ 2:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I think you're right, Alpha actually means internal testing, Beta means external testing (closed or open). Generally you "feature freeze" before Beta (since you can't just go back and test internally all the new stuff you're added while people outside are testing a version that's going to be obsolete). But in neither case it's considered "ready to ship", just that it cleared that stage of testing. Granted, nowadays everything that ships is probably in alpha or beta quality anyways :P

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