SimCity Limps Out of Gate
MARCH 11, 2013 • Many consumers who purchased SimCity after its release last Tuesday discovered that they were unable to access the city building game, or found their experience hobbled if they did manage to get the title running on their computers. Amazon.com went so far as to suspend digital purchases of the game temporarily on March 7, and has since posted a warning notice to consumers that the game is experiencing problems that publisher Electronic Arts hoped to resolve soon. Unlike previous version in the franchise, SimCity comes with online features that allow players to co-operate in building their cities. Consumers can set the game to play in solo mode if they choose, but EA still requires an always-on login and connection. According to Maxis, the studio behind the title, problems arose when many more people flooded the available launch servers, and played in unexpectedly more resource intensive ways than expected – at underestimation that Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw characterized as, “dumb.” Maxis’ response was to increase server capacity by 120%, and to optimize server architecture and response times. By Sunday night, the studio reported they had reduced game crashes by 92% from the number experienced Tuesday. On March 18, registered SimCity players will receive a coupon via email good for one free game download from EA’s portfolio on the Origin service as compensation for their inconvenience.
Impact: We understand that EA is enamored with virtual item sales, as well as the enhanced metrics that come with an always-connected tether. Then there is Maxis’ desire to boost player co-operation and to feed unscripted events to solo players, which are admirable new features for the franchise. But publishers that release a solo-playable PC game that cannot be accessed because of insufficient server capacity, or buggy login code, does so at their own peril. Ubisoft went through this recently, and determined last summer it was more advantageous to abandon its always-connected policy for a one-time only online activation. Ubisoft’s aggrieved customers were so frustrated that many of them felt driven to download offline-enabled cracks of the games they had paid for specifically for a glitch-free experience. Ironically, this was the very behavior that Ubisoft had intended to curtail. Maxis maintains that the online feature options present in SimCity preclude switching off Internet connectivity, even for single-player only sessions.
Regardless, the perspective that has to be pounded home is that once a publisher makes its PC game a connected affair, that title ceases to be a packaged good and becomes a service. Consumers may indeed pay for a lackluster game that they can play or discard at their leisure, but they get justifiably testy when a service throws up roadblocks to accessing the entertainment they paid for. With so many options and platforms to entice gamers, driving them away is not a sound strategy. Kudos to Maxis for the swift reaction in fixing the problems, and we have every expectation that SimCity is a popular enough franchise to overcome this black mark. What befuddles us is why are we still seeing these same launch mistakes repeating themselves within the industry.