Monday, March 11, 2013
The SimCity Effect
Last week, I had the joy and pleasure of being part of video gaming history. It is rare for any video game event to be so in the media as what happened on March 5th, and the days that followed. I could site page after page of news story, showing how widespread this was, but instead, I’ll just stick to my own observations.
SimCity is a gaming franchise that goes WAY back in time. It has always been a favorite of mine, and I’ve enjoyed every incarnation of it. It had been a decade since the last true SimCity game, and the video game market was dying for the return of the franchise.
The build up to the launch of the game was nothing short of spectacular to watch. There was a battle raging between the video game consumer and the corporation that was releasing the game, Electronic Arts. The argument is over something called Digital Right’s Management, or DRM, which is a fancy way of saying the game has to be played online so there is no piracy of the game. The problem with it is, the game requires and Internet connection, but alienating those with slow internet, or without internet.
In the end, that fight is another thing all together. The fact is, they made SimCity as an online multiplayer game, and they were standing by that decision. Most online games have troubled launches, as massive amounts of people try to log on to servers which simply can’t handle the load. People were criticizing EA right up to the launch, as there were no beta stress tests to get a feel for the server load. What followed launch was quite a circus.
I’ve not been a big fan of Electronic Arts since they bought Origin, the company that made the original Ultima Series, and Wing Commander. For those of you that only know Ultima as an online game, then you are missing out on something wonderful. Role Playing Games got no better than the Ultima Series, and Wing Commander is still the best space flight combat sim in existence, and its so old that it won’t play on modern versions of windows.
They took over that company, liquidated it, and those franchise games were lost to the ether of time. Star Wars: The Old Republic was another one to see EA’s hand. Bioware was working on a premier online game, and it was highly anticipated. EA took over the company a year before release, and the end game was a lackluster online game that had tons of flaws and shortcomings, not to mention tons of things missing from what we, as a consumer, were originally promised in the game.
Electronic Arts is the largest gaming company in the world. So when they released SimCity on March 5th, many were honestly stunned that they couldn’t play the game. Servers were full, the game crashed constantly, and instantly the consumer’s voice was heard.
Every social media site there is lit up with anger and outrage about not being able to use they product they had paid so much for. On day two, people were posting pictures of the emails where they had gotten refunds from Amazon.com. Late that Wednesday night, Kip Katsarelis, the Senior Producer of the game, released a tongue in cheek message, calling their customers ‘fans’ and talking about how well the launch was going, despite the technical issues....
The outrage that followed that was epic. On EA’s official forums I saw hopes that he and his team get syphilis, to a really well written rebuttal to the customers being called ‘fans.’
On Thursday, the rage still flowed freely, and then something truly amazing happened. Amazon pulled the game from sale. The blurb on the site mentioned that the game was unplayable, and would be available for sale when it was. News websites, including Forbes, ABC, CNET, and many others started posting articles about the customer outrage.
Out of all of this, I got to see something else truly special, those that would defend EA, saying, “Just wait a couple of days and you’ll have a great game.” The best rebuttal I’ve seen said, “Would you be satisfied with buying an mp3 player, and it would skip and delete your mp3 every song, forcing you to redownload the song? Then you take it to the store, and they tell you they won’t be giving refunds, but they’ll ‘fix’ it sometime in the future?”
Fact is, what happened with SimCity is something for everyone in the gaming industry to take note of. Just because it is software, doesn’t mean its not a consumer good. You may call them your fans, and they may truly be, but the fact is, they are your customers. They paid you for a product, and they deserve to be able to play that product.
The other big point is, the fact that the public outcry was indeed heard. It doesn’t matter that the game is a great game despite its flaws. If people can’t play it, then they shouldn’t have been charged money to get nothing but frustration. Hopefully they CAN fix all the issues besides the server issues, because there is a huge list of them.
Its going to be interesting to see where the entire gaming industry, and EA itself goes after this debacle.