In the last few weeks, Sim City fans all across the gaming world are reeling from the nightmare of what was supposed to be EA’s big PC release of the year. With an overwhelming mixture of confusion, outrage, and sheer frustration, the commercial tragedy is nothing if not sad to behold for so many gamers. Just about everyone has their own opinion on the whole disaster, so I take the time to give an assessment of the what gamers need to know about the game as well as my own musings on this latest gaming incident.  

The Situation:

On the surface, SimCity’s release has appeared to be a rip-roaring success. In just its first 24 hrs., Maxis’s general manager Lucy Bradshaw stated that the game boasted “more than 700,000 cities” on behalf of the SimCity developer and after its first two weeks, the title sold over one million copies worldwide. 

From day one, though, the trouble was already brewing to its boiling point. On its release date of March 5, SimCity’s North American versions were reportedly suffering a variety of issues thanks to the game’s requirement for a persistent on-line connection. From agonizing disconnections to burdensome loading times to the king of all gamer frustrations, losses of saved data, the game was quickly a train-wreck to play. Amidst the ensuing fan outrage, SimCity’s reputation was crushed even further with removing all digital copies of the title from its marketplace. Described as “disastrous” by many, the picturesque vision of 2013‘s SimCity was transformed into an utter train-wreck. 

Since then, SimCity publisher EA and its developer of Maxis has made many attempts at quick fixes, including patching “non-critical gameplay features” to SimCity, such as “leaderboards, achievements and region filters” as well as adding in a slew of Internet servers to accommodate players’ situation. Despite such efforts, delayed reviews for the game averaged from a lukewarm to a mediocre reception at best from many sites (including this one). The game still remains unplayable to many, leaving many SimCity fans game-less and no doubt serving as one of the most painful failings of the year so far.

Why Did it Happen? Who’s Fault Was It?

Following such controversies like Rayman Legends’s delay and EA’s micro-transactions, the implosion of Sim City has not gotten 2013 off to a good start in the department of gamers’ patience. Is Sim City any better? No, certainly not. Arguably it’s even worse. Is it different? I think so, and just as the previous disappointments of the year did, Sim City can show us how what’s wrong with incidents like this and how companies can avoid them in the future. 

The Technical Issues:

First of all, the disaster of SimCity was a technical one. As a simple miscalculation on its developers part, SimCity’s mistake may have been an honest one. With SimCity’s enormous sales figures, it’s clear that the developers may never have expected to be swamped with so many players overnight, and preparing the game’s servers for such an enormous burden might not have been anything they could have foreseen. The imperfect nature of game development is just the reality of human error, and sometimes problems are just inevitable. Thus, in some ways, Maxis may deserve far more slack they they’ve received in the initial occurrence of SimCity’s on-line issues. It’s how they deal with them from here on out that’s really on their own heads. 

In light of its many problems with Internet servers, SimCity also raises the greater issue of on-line gaming. In comparison to console games, exclusively on-line games have always come with the great risks that come with sometimes tenuous Internet connections. I speak as someone with Comcast Internet access and with such lousy service that comes with it, I’ve wished since forever that more computer games had better back-ups for people in my case. Many players’ demand for SimCity’s access to an off-line mode has only reflected issue more and speaks volumes as to how more instances like SimCity could be avoided. Whether due to poor personal Internet access or power outages, games with both online and offline modes are just good back-up to have and developers like Maxis would have been saved a lot of grief in the long run. 

What’s truly unfortunate, however, is the prospect of the developers themselves already having the solutions to fixing SimCity’s problems. Following EA’s denial of creating an offline mode, claiming that the move would require an impossible amount of engineering work, rogue hackers have since made the counter-claim that they’ve been able to play the game off-line indefinitely with the change of a single line of code. While we may never know the real ease with which they really could solve SimCity’s woes, if these allegations are indeed true (we can emphasize IF), then SimCity’s tale of woe just evolved from a mere mistake to full-blown conspiracy of laziness on the part of both Maxis and EA. 

The Corporate Response:

What’s just as significant to SimCity’s disaster has been the company response. Aside from all of the frustration of its technical failiures, SimCity’s legacy was perhaps most damaged by EA’s back-handed attempts at an apology. According to its original deal, all EA Origin service users having bought the game prior to March 23 (tomorrow!) were allowed one game title for free among a list of recent games including Battlefield 3, Dead Space 3, Mass Effect 3, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. However, full cash refunds for the purchase of SimCity itself were denied for any buyers of SimCity’s digital copies. Goodies like free games these are nice to some, but somewhere deep down, they almost serve as too little too late. To many fans, cash refunds for a product aren’t just about the money, it’s about addressing the specific wrong committed from the purchase of a product. It’s about justice, and shoving a handful of free games, some of which fans may or many not want, skirts around the issue of SimCity just to silence fans with “appeasements.” Worse, EA is playing favorites by refunding hard-copies rather than digital ones, saying in its own way that hard-copy buyers are somehow more important to them than digital ones. Considering the massive fan protests against its micro-transactions this year with Dead Space 3, our old friend EA’s already been skating on thin-ice. Such antics with SimCity don’t bode well for a troubled company already having suffered recent lay-offs, and as someone that’s fed up with the gaming industry’s increasingly corporate attitudes as of late, they further serve as a poor representation to the industry’s handling of public relations.

Keep Calm and Game on

As terrible as the case of SimCity is, the lesson we can learn is that, simply put, things happen. Companies will choose what they’re going to make as the producers, but as customers, we’re always presented with the choice of buying from them. Horrible games are released each and every year, and we never have to spend one penny on them. It’s terribly sad to see SimCity end up as one of them, but who knows, maybe there’s the slim chance that it could improve. Will we see that happen? Time will tell.