A few months ago, the SimCity devs stopped by Reddit for an AMA and found themselves fielding several questions about EA's plans to release the game with an "always online" requirement. Requiring an internet connection to play a game, even in single-player mode, has been utilized by more than one company, often with disastrous results. Still, game companies continue to craft software with this requirement, mostly for anti-piracy reasons, although they often play up the "social" aspects as a sort of (completely transparent) smokescreen.
As was pointed out by several Redditors during the AMA, the online requirement was ridiculous and seriously inhibited playability. For one, no one's internet connection is perfectly reliable. Secondly, SimCity was going further than most games, allowing only server-side saves, meaning that players could easily lose progress if their connections dropped.
Six weeks later, a different Redditor signed up for SimCity's closed beta. Even in this limited release, servers were swamped and EA's infrastructure couldn't handle the traffic, something that didn't bode well for the massive amount of players looking forward to playing the full version when it finally launched. The Redditor pointed this out to EA in a lengthy, well-worded forum post that cited previous issues with other online-only game launches that had gone horribly.
This brings us up to date and, now, SimCity has finally been released. One eager SimCity fan (and Redditor), who pre-ordered the game. thought he'd put a little playtime in before bed, and ran head on into this dialog box:
So, the reality is even worse than previously indicated. Not only are your saved games server-side only and an internet connection required to simply fire up the game, but every
game is "multiplayer," whether you're interested in playing socially or not, and every
game requires an open server slot.
As the Redditor points out, this simply isn't an acceptable situation:
I figured from everything I'd read that the always-on part of the game simply required an internet connection, not a slot on a server like I'm about to PvP or something. I'd be more understanding if I could just play my private region by myself like I intended.
While many people were aware of the online-only requirement, this aspect of the game seems to have been completely underplayed. Why should a paying customer be forced to wait in line for an open server slot? This is a much more onerous requirement than simply requiring an online connection to verify software authenticity. Sure, it's meant to be a social game where people can visit the cities of others, but there should be some
option for those wanting to play a "private" game.
EA had to have some idea of how much its servers were going be hammered after the issues it experienced during the closed beta. No one's expecting launch day to go flawlessly, but if you're going to require an internet connection that's reliant on open slots on regional servers, you are going to make paying customers
very angry. Many of the people experiencing these problems paid for this game weeks or months ago and are having their loyalty rewarded with half-hour waits to spin the wheel on possibly
accessing an open slot.
Not only are paying customers being locked out of playing the game they purchased, but other purchasers are still waiting for their downloads to complete or have their purchases authenticated and unlocked. The authentication servers are being hammered so badly that, according to TotalBiscuit's "review" video
, people with pre-orders are purchasing second copies because these new purchases are unlocking immediately, while authentification of their pre-ordered copies is still seriously delayed.
Now, some people may ask, after viewing this dialog box, "Why not just play on another server with more open slots?" Well, therein lies another piece of bad news for SimCity players. Should you have actually managed to get online and start a city, you'll be exceedingly disappointed (and possibly homicidal) to discover that saved games DO NOT
transfer between servers.
This all adds up to another spectacular DRM failure. When discussing piracy, game companies like to point out that a majority of their sales occur shortly after release, making these first few weeks critical to the success of the title. This critical sales period is used to justify DRM measures because, while every piece of software will eventually be cracked, anything that delays this inevitability results in a few more sales.
Sadly though, this same crucial sales period is when EA will be punishing its paying
customers the most. By refusing to allow single players to start private, unconnected games (in case of a lost or unavailable connection), it's now racing around putting out server fires. Using the launch day traffic surge as an excuse for unplayable/unauthenticated purchases is not acceptable. EA knew
the game would be popular. It even had advance warning thanks to the large number of pre-orders. But it's kind of hard to teach a company a lesson about DRM hurting paying customers when it already has their money.
For EA, this works out nearly perfectly. Sure, it's probably not evil enough to want players locked out for hours on end, but it probably considers these "hiccups" a small price to pay to keep piracy to a (temporary) minimum. Of course, considering someone else (the customer) is actually paying that price, it's really not sacrificing anything at all.