From Instability to Criticism: The SimCity Situation

Well, SimCity is a thing. That you play, you know, theoretically.

It's been a rocky road for Maxis and EA this past week, with SimCity's continuing server instability turning what is normally a peaceful fanbase into disgruntled consumers looking to get their hard-earned money back.

For a brief moment, let's be positive. 

The actual game itself doesn't look to be bad at all. While it does away with the large-scale cities the previous entries in the SimCity series were so known for, the additional resource management options add an alternative kind of depth. Players who found SimCity 4's intense micromanagement to be too much can find a more interactive yet not overwhelming experience in this newest title.

The problem is that for the time being, the game doesn't work.

Server overload

Origin's SimCity servers began to buckle as soon as the game launched in North America. Not allowing players to pre-load the game meant everyone who purchased the title had to download it at the same time.

While we had inklings that the always-online DRM built into the game was going to be bad news, the overwhelming traffic from player downloads and log-ins showed just how ill-prepared EA really was for the game's release.

How do you not allow those who have pre-ordered the game to pre-load? How do you not roughly gauge the server load based on pre-orders before release and plan accordingly? That part is what really blows my mind here, and is the cause of all the ruckus in the first place.

You're going to get people complaining about how the gameplay has shifted regardless of whether the game is good or not, but core fans and new players are going to stick with it. The game being completely unplayable for first few days is not something that people can overlook, even if this newest SimCity was amazing. What's the use of a good game if you can't play it? (The collector inside me weeps at this statement, but no EA title is rare anyway.)

Maxis is promising they are putting more servers up to help the load, in the meantime they have disabled a number of "non-critical" features to help alleviate the server load. Cheetah speed was disabled soon after the first wave of feature deactivations. Despite these efforts, many players reported there was no change in instability.

But the question is...

Is all of this really worth working a persistent digital rights management method into the game?

The region system in this newest SimCity was built to be multiplayer from the ground-up. This is why crying for DRM removal isn't going to get you anywhere and isn't a viable answer to the problem. I will protest the forcing of invasive DRM practices until I go blind and can no longer partake in sweet sweet (sour sour) video games, but that is an industry problem and not something that can be dealt with on-the-spot.

Because of the way the game was made, there is simply no way to "get rid" of SimCity's DRM. You can pirate it, you can crack it -- but EA isn't going to remove it from the game because:

  1. It would require a massive amount of resources and time to do so.
  2. Once this whole thing is said and done, they will still have a tight grip on the majority of people playing the game.

In this isolated instance, the real problem is the lack of foresight on EA's part. We'll get to how they've handled the community aside from the server problems, but this could have all been avoided by planning according to the pre-orders and general hype surrounding the title.

A company with so many resources and so much experience behind them should know to be prepared, right? Common sense would dictate that they would at least try to gauge the amount of people that would be trying to access the servers on day one. Why didn't they?

Maybe they should start taking some of the money they put toward their multimillion dollar marketing campaigns and putting it toward a working and robust server structure that meets the needs of the users. You know, actually do something for the people that give them money instead of focusing on getting that mad dosh.

Speaking of mad dosh

The server load oversight is one thing, but the way EA have treated SimCity buyers post-release goes above and beyond on showing just how little the company actually cares about the consumer.

Many people unhappy with the server instability want refunds, and EA simply isn't okay with that.

There is one piece of information here that I do not have the source on because it has been removed (though I did see it at the time). It is a pretty important one: They did claim to be honoring refunds for a short time, though that claim was edited shortly after the initial posting. That post was removed in its entirety hours later. This is how you get situations like chat log posted in this article.

EA's stance since its flip-flop has been to deny all refunds. Those of you who purchased the game via GameStop or Amazon are able to seek refunds through those retailers, but those of you who purchased through Origin are out of luck.

I've been playing the SimCity games for 20 years. I wanted to get this newest iteration, but I can't support the anti-consumer practices that EA is so fond of. The company's actions post-release have clearly shown how they feel about their customers.

It's increasingly important that you vote with your wallet these days, and I'm simply not voting for EA ever again. Take note of publishers that treat their customers and fans poorly, and start voting with your wallet.

Associate Editor

Ashley is pretty lost in most things, but not the FFXIV smol life. Oh yeah, there's someone impersonating me. Trust me: I didn't email you.

Games SimCity Genres SimulationStrategy Platforms PC Tags amazongamestoprefunds
Published Jul. 25th 2013
  • RAVaught
    Featured Contributor
    While I do think that always online DRM is a bad idea, and that EA's policy and attitude regarding refunds is garbage, I do think gamers should learn just a little patience. It is a little naive to think that just looking at your pre-orders is a good enough indication of what kind of server architecture they would need. Networking on that scale is a serious undertaking and there are only about a million and one things that can go wrong, many of which can not be predicted until the server is being put under some fairly extreme stress. Without having seen the user data to know how many concurrent users were trying to log in and download all at once, it is hard to say whether or not their preparations were inadequate. Realize that their server architecture may already in fact be sufficient to handle the number of users under normal traffic, but perhaps not adequate for the massive data throughput of having everyone download the game at once, something that they were perhaps not counting on. (i.e. they were expecting users to be able to load from disk after authenticating, and did not anticipate all the additional downloads that their faulty DRM generated.)

    Ladies and gents, learn to be a little patient. Over the years of watching technology develop, one thing I have learned is that if you are in a mad dash to be the first one on the band wagon, don't expect it to be a smooth ride straight out of the box. Every big project goes through birthing and growing pains.

    All of that being said, while I might excuse them for not being prepared, I don't excuse the use of abusive DRM methods or piss poor customer service. As the OP said, if your experience was that bad, vote with your wallet. Go download Dwarf Fortress and give Tarn Adams $5, you'll get a personalized crayon drawing :P

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