SimCity is a Prime Example of What is Wrong With the Gaming Industry

The launch of SimCity has proven to be a complete disaster. What was supposed to be one of EA’s biggest launches this year has been a train wreck of long queues, busy servers, and lost cities. So what’s the root of the problem you may ask? SimCity’s DRM and bad industry practices.

In attempt to combat piracy and cheaters, an increasing amount of developers and publishers have begun to utilize an always-online policy. However, every time such a game has released its launch has been a huge fiasco. The most notable in recent memory, besides the SimCity release of course, has been Diablo III. When Diablo III first launched, its servers were hammered by so many players that they were forced to be taken down, meaning gamers were left out in the cold even if they wanted to play the game solo. Surely within a few days the problems were fixed and the game began to run smoothly, but not before marring Blizzard’s and Diablo’s reputation.

Looking at the track record of previous games utilizing an always-online policy, you would think that developers and publisher would tread cautiously when deciding to implement it. Yet EA chose to turn a blind eye and go along with its original plans.

As a result, SimCity has faced numerous game breaking problems throughout the week. Try and log in and you’re faced with ridiculously long queue times that often never finish. If you so happen to gain access you would think that all the problems will go away, that you will finally be treated to a well deserved experience after such a long wait. Well turns out that’s not the case. If you happen to get onto a server, then there is still a high chance you will disconnect, leaving you back at square one; and if it turns out that this isn’t your first play session, chances are the cities you worked on before might not even be there anymore. If you do manage to get a chance to play long enough, then you will notice that some of the game’s features have disabled by EA in order to “ease” the servers.

What SimCity represents is the most obvious problem with DRM. Gamers are left at the mercy of EA. Whatever EA says goes; if the company wants to shut off the servers for any reason then gamers can’t play, if they wish to disable some features well then tough luck, and once EA thinks SimCity isn’t worth their time anymore and permanently shut down the servers then you’re left with a few gigabytes of useless data.

Still that’s not even the biggest problem with SimCity’s launch debacle. What SimCity is a better example of is shoddy industry practices. About a month ago I wrote an article on how patches are hurting the industry. What patches were suppose to provide for developers were backup plans to fix the occasional bug so they could provide an optimal experience. What it did was make them lazy. Developers have gotten to the point where they ship games before they finalize them, and attempt to fix them on the first day they are released. What SimCity has proved is that you can’t always do that.

Sure there might not be anything wrong with the game itself, as the core problem are its servers, but the point still stands. Yes, I’m very aware that even with extensive stress testing there would be a few hiccups at launch, and that’s certainly understandable, but surely not to the extent that has been seen over the last few days. They should have done more testing, or they should have let more people into beta, but they didn’t, and now its blown up in their face. Customers have demanded refunds, Amazon has completely stopped selling the game and offered full refunds for dissatisfied customers, and forums everywhere have blown up with complaints and backlash.

Now EA is left to hit the panic button. Recently they withdrew all marketing campaigns and have asked affiliates to do the same. Furthermore, In an attempt to salvage their already tarnished reputation, EA has agreed to give disgruntled customers a free game from its Origin service, but they have yet to announce which one. I still remain skeptical; until I see EA offer customers whichever game they like off Origin then I’ll be satisfied. At that point ill tip my hat to EA for doing the right thing, for providing a worthwhile apology for the disrespect that they showed one of their best franchises and more importantly the customers that went out and bought the game.

Ultimately all I have to say is that this has been a bloody travesty and a prime example of where the industry is currently at and where its headed. What should have been a great game has proven to be an utter failure because of terrible practices, and if things continue the way they are then we’re in for many more.  As for the DRM, all I can say is the ball’s in your court Microsoft.