Oh, EA. I would imagine that there are more than a few execs and PR people who are hoping their employer is siphoning off a bit of its $5 billion market cap and putting it towards time machine R&D. With this post-facto mulligan tearing a new hole in the spacetime continuum, EA should be able to do a proper game launch and collect some accolades along with a ton of non-refundable cash. (Obviously, the time machine has yet to be built because this post still exists. Mind blown?)
, which makes the Diablo 3 launch look positively competent and issue-free by comparison, has seen the company receive even more criticism than it's accustomed to. Not only have a variety of game reviewers delivered less than flattering reviews, but now public figures like Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe (an avid gamer) are stepping up to pile another helping of derision onto EA's overloaded plate
. (Note: all redacted swearing courtesy of Business Insider.)
Don’t get me wrong, the game itself is great. When it works, that is. And oh boy, does it hate working.
At the time of writing this piece, SimCity 5 has been active for almost 62 hours. Of those 62 hours, I’ve been able to log in for around ten. Of those ten, four consisted of massive latency issues and corrupted games, so (quick calculation here), I’ve had access to the actual game for maybe 10 percent of the time I’ve had it. EA’s servers are, to put it bluntly, utterly bug[redacted], and there’s no option to play the game offline.
We're going to do a little math here, because there's more interesting math on the way. Who in their right mind would purchase an item that worked roughly 16% of the time, fresh out of the box, especially if the product didn't even perform at 100% capacity when it actually got going? Thousands of people, many of them not
in the NFL, paid for a product with a mere 1 in 10 chance
of working as advertised and only a 16% chance
of doing anything at all. Understandably, Kluwe and thousands of others are irate.
Making matters worse is the insistence that the "always on" connection is required because so much processing is being handled on EA's servers. Kluwe's experience seems to indicate that EA isn't being completely honest about this in order to justify its online-only requirement.
The fact that EA requires an “always on” connection is ostensibly because so many operations are taking place server side that your computer won’t be able to handle it (which is a blatant falsehood, since when I was streaming the other night, the only times I DIDN’T have latency was when I was disconnected from their servers and my computer had to run all the game operations), but in reality it’s to try to combat piracy.
Now, we have heard from the developers themselves
that EA servers do host (and very often, corrupt
) players' saved games, making a mockery of such modern inventions like hard drives. But the insistence that a large amount of processing happens server-side has been met with incredulously raised eyebrows
, including Kluwe's own. Even if true, the main reason for the server-side processing is to keep client machines from containing enough code to go rogue and starting their own brisk trade at The Pirate Bay.
So, EA's simply protecting itself from the piracy threat by crippling the paying customer's experience. The ultimate aim is to make more money. But EA's anti-piracy calculations apparently never factored in negative reviews and word-of-mouth, both of which can have a deleterious effect on game sales.
Sadly, EA seems to have failed to do some very simple math. Let’s look at an example. We’ll assume that for an amazingly successful game like SimCity, about 20,000 people will end up pirating it (those who have the technical knowhow and Internet savvy to find a working crack). I have 160,000 Twitter followers, of whom around 50,000 follow me for gaming. I just told those 50,000 people NOT to buy SimCity because EA cannot handle its s***, and the game is unplayable. We’ll say half those people listen to me and haven’t bought the game already. Soooo, carrying the pi, we see that EA is already out 5,000 more sales than if they had just created a normal, single player offline capable game with multiplayer components.
Many members of various industries have wrangled numbers in order to equate a pirated copy to a lost sale while failing to realize that a bad review can ALSO equal a lost sale. Because of this faulty extrapolation, the assumption generally becomes "more DRM/enforcement = good." EA is finding out, firsthand, that this just simply isn't true.
Even if Kluwe's back-of-the-internet calculations are completely wrong, EA is still leaking sales. Many have demanded refunds from Amazon (and received them), and many more are lining up at Origin to get their money back. EA is taking a hard line on refunding digital sales, which is only going to hurt it in the long run. It might be able to push back here in the US, but overseas (the market it's currently
launching in) generally has stronger consumer protections, which makes its no-refund-on-digital-sales policy null and void.
In addition, more than 1,000 negative reviews are doing even reputational damage at Amazon, which has decided to stop handing out refunds, not by screwing customers, but by pulling the digital version from its shelves.
Beyond the bad math, the inadequate customer service, the decision to make the game even worse until the servers can keep up with the demand, is EA's refusal to allow customers to own the product they purchased. By keeping enough of the code running only
on its servers, no SimCity purchaser can ever claim they own
the game. All they own is a key to the door. EA still owns the house. And once EA decides the house is no longer worth living in, 5 or 10 years down the road, even the key will be worthless.