Opinion: Some Thoughts on SimCity
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece by Minnnesota Viking punter Chris Kluwe, a.k.a. Chris Warcraft, and does not reflect the opinions of Game Informer magazine. Our review of SimCity will be coming in the following days.
Hi. I'm Chris. I've been playing SimCity ever since the Super Nintendo version, and I've always been a huge fan of the franchise (SimCity 3000 is my favorite). Thus, when PC Gamer came to me and said, "Hey Chris! We want you to play the new SimCity with us in our Celebrity Sim City region," I wasted no time in responding with a resounding "Hell yeah!"
I mean, what could go wrong? (Other than the inevitable giant lizards, meteor showers, and poor sewage planning that happen in every SimCity game.)
Not only was this the first SimCity in ten years, allowing for massive development time, it also had the immense resources of EA behind it. The scope and attention to detail promised to be amazing. You could follow every person in your city around as they went through their daily lives, you could interact with other cities in the region via trading, gifts, and cooperation on Great Works, and you could even play an antagonistic version against other people by sending criminals and pollution their way (via indirect methods of crafting your own city).
This promised to be one of the best single-player games of the year. Unfortunately, the reality did not quite live up to expectations. Don't get me wrong, the game itself is great. When it works, that is. And oh boy, does it hate working.
At the time of writing this piece, SimCity has been active for almost 62 hours. Of those 62 hours, I've been able to log in for around ten. Of those ten, four consisted of massive latency issues and corrupted games, so (quick calculation here), I've had access to the actual game for maybe 10 percent of the time I've had it. EA's servers are, to put it bluntly, utterly bugf---ed, and there's no option to play the game offline.
Therein lies the heart of my problem. SimCity is, at its heart, a single-player game. Having access to other players' cities is cool, but I want to build MY city, and I don't want some goatfisting, totally unnecessary "always-on" DRM to keep me from playing the game (full disclosure: PC Gamer was kind enough to provide me with a download code for the game, so you can only imagine my rage levels if I had actually put money into EA's pockets for this "experience.")
The fact that EA requires an "always-on" connection is ostensibly because so many operations are taking place server side that your computer won't be able to handle it (which is a blatant falsehood, since when I was streaming the other night, the only times I DIDN'T have latency was when I was disconnected from their servers and my computer had to run all the game operations.). In reality, it's to try to combat piracy.
Sadly, EA seems to have failed to do some very simple math. Let's look at an example. We'll assume that for an amazingly successful game like SimCity, about 20,000 people will end up pirating it (those who have the technical knowhow and Internet savvy to find a working crack). I have 160,000 Twitter followers, of whom around 50,000 follow me for gaming. I just told those 50,000 people NOT to buy SimCity because EA cannot handle its s---, and the game is unplayable. We'll say half those people listen to me and haven't bought the game already. So, carrying the pi, we see that EA is already out 5,000 more sales than if they had just created a normal, single player offline capable game with multiplayer components.
(Don't forget, "always-on" DRM also screws over people who don't have access to Internet for large periods of time, like those who live in rural areas and travelers. More lost sales!)
But that's not all! I'm not the only one pissed off about EA's stupidity – countless review and news sites are also weighing in, and the reports aren't good. In fact, Amazon has stopped selling digital copies of the game because so many people are complaining about how horrid the connection issues are. So, it's not just the people following me on Twitter that are hearing about how craptastic this is, it's people all over the gaming community (if you were curious, EA, that's your customer base). Even more fun, EA has decided that it won't honor refunds for digital sales if you bought it through their Origin service, so a lot of people who are understandably upset about their $60+ purchase have no means of recourse.
This is terrible.
Why is this terrible? Not just because of EA's total dickery when it comes to refunds, not just because of the destruction of Maxis' image as a developer, but because this was completely avoidable and SimCity is actually a really fun game (when it works). If I was able to play SimCity offline, I would be wholeheartedly recommending it to everyone, even those who aren't normally into the genre. For the PC Gamer region, I created a lovely little town called Herpes (the servers rejected Poopytown), and it quickly turned into a bustling metropolis of 160,000 people happily going about their daily business, and I HAD FUN.
For the six hours I got to play.
However, after countless failed login attempts, and a queue that constantly refreshed itself but never actually let me in the game (protip: If you have a queue, make sure it actually queues to something), and rubber band lag that almost gave me motion sickness at times, I had to bid a sad farewell to the lovely people of Herpes because I just couldn't take the frustration anymore. This was no longer a game. It was an aggravation. And I don't play aggravations.
But that's not the worst part. No, the worst part is, the game you just paid $60 for, the game you may love, is not your game to own. You see, when a game requires an "always-on" connection, and stores data on EA's servers – that means EA owns your game. If EA decides to shut the servers down five years down the road? Tough luck. Hope you played all the SimCity you'll ever want to play, because it's gone now. No going back to nostalgic old favorites; no showing your children an amazing time with a game that influenced your life; no reliving those memories.
So I say to EA, and any other publisher thinking like EA – stop with the "always-on" bull----. Yes, you're going to lose some sales to piracy, and yes, it sucks. The solution isn't to f--- over the people who actually want to play the game. The solution isn't to treat the customer like a prisoner you're graciously offering the opportunity to lease your game. The solution is to make a good game, and then people will tell their friends about it, and then those friends will buy the game and YOU WILL MAKE MASSIVE PILES OF MONEY AND NOT INDUCE RAGE ANEURYSMS IN YOUR CUSTOMER BASE.
Because believe me, I'm not shy about letting people know when to avoid a game that's not worth playing. And right now, SimCity is not worth playing.
EA, you are worse than Herpes. At least my infrastructure worked.