Those who know me will wonder what I’m posting on this subject for. I’m not a big gamer so maybe I am missing something with the rollout of this game. I doubt it, though.
The tale starts with me pre-ordering the new SimCity game from EA – I’d played ealrier versions years ago and actually enjoyed playing. When the new version was released I thought I’d take time out to give it another try. Was it as good and enjoyable as I remembered? Was it going to be worth the 40-odd pounds it would cost? I was happy to wait and see.
And then the game had it’s UK release yesterday. I went online, downloaded the game I had pre-ordered and started it up.
Or at least, I tried to.
You see, it is by now well documented that EA massively underestimated the level of demand for this game, and the server infrastructure they put in place to deal with it crumbled under the load. Out of the dozen or so servers available, only one was listed as having any capacity. “Never mind”, I thought, “at least there is one server I can play on”. Well, that ambition was crushed pretty quickly as well. This is a screenshot I took while trying to connect.
Yes, you’re reading that right – just short of 19 minutes until the game would even attempt to connect to the server again. Wow!
So, I wasted quite a while trying other servers, and attempting to reconnect. Every now and then I would be allowed to hit the “start” button, but each time I did I was greeted with a message saying all servers were busy. Not a great experience, EA. If I wait patiently for a place on a server, the least I’d expect is to be able to make use of that space when it is granted.
So, a few hours, a lot of waiting, and several choice swear-words later I finally manage to get in and start playing. (I realise that I am lucky and there are many, many others around the world who didn’t manage to get this far).
So, I went through the tutorial (I don’t see a way to skip it – am I missing something?) and all was well. Until the tutorial got to the point at which it had to connect to the servers again (for reasons I frankly don’t understand, or care about for that matter). This was a step too far for the fragile systems, and the game kicked me out. More swear-words.
Back to square one. I went through the whole thing again (hey, I’m nothing if not persistent) and this time actually managed to get through the tutorial and into actual game play. I spent a couple of hours building a city – not a very good city, but a city all the same. Got to a point where I was ready to call it a day, and exited the game through the menus, and turned in for the night.
This morning, I wanted to go play some more, so I booted my laptop, connected, was astonished to see that I was able to connect to a server within half an hour and went to look for my city.
The save had apparently failed. My “work” was gone, my city reduced to electrons and its citizens returned to being the stuff of memory.
So this brings me to a very important question. Actually, a series of important questions, but the one I want to focus on for now is this.
How did this game get released to the paying public in such a crippled and infuriating state? The answer, it seems, is in DRM.
I can understand that a games company such as EA loses millions each your to pirated software. I can understand that they would like to put something in place to prevent the wholesale theft of their intellectual property. I can’t, on the other hand, understand why they had to make the game so dependent on having an always-on connection to the ‘net. I mean, if I wanted to while away one of my regular 2-hour train journeys by playing a little SimCity, I would be out of luck. If my net connection were to disappear I wouldn’t be able to play. If the company massively underestimates demand and fails to provide enough server capacity to cope, I am similarly out of luck.
Why EA didn’t decide to give this game the ability to work offline with a periodic anti-piracy check by “phoning home” is beyond me. Isn’t it reasonable, even in the 21st century, for someone to want to play a game they paid for without being subject to this kind of heavy-handed security? “Of course you can play, but only if big brother is watching because we don’t trust our customers”.
Anti-piracy measures are not to be taken lightly. It’s a tightrope walk between protecting your IP and risking alienating your customer base. As an example of the completely opposite approach to IP protection, you only have to look at the Reaper audio production software. Rather than waste time and effort on implementing more and more obnoxious and intrusive anti-theft protection into their software, they didn’t bother adding it in the first place and charge a very reasonable fee for their product. Result? Consumers are happy that they know what they’re getting, and the company is happy because more people are willing and able to hand over the requested fees. Possibly not the best way to become millionaires, but a good, open and honest way to run a software company.
EA, on the other hand, have released a game that doesn’t work for most people right now, and to add insult to injury will not even entertain the idea of refunding anybody’s money. At all. The best they have managed to come up with so far is an offer of a free game from the EA catalogue. All very well for someone who plays a lot of games, or is happy to accept this as an acceptable alternative to getting the game they actually wanted. Personally, I’d be happy with a game that works as described in accordance with the Sale of Goods Act here in the UK. That, or a full refund after which I will walk away secure in the knowledge that I don’t have to have anything further to do with EA.
It is my opinion that EA have failed massively. This game that I was looking forward to is crippled to the extent that I can’t play it. I am very unlikely indeed to entertain the idea of giving them any more of my money. Well done, EA. I hope you are able to use the money that you gained from this episode to good use. Maybe you’d like to invest in some market research to see why your failed product launch alienated so many people? That, or you could read your own forums.