by Anna Roberts
SimCity’s launch week has not exactly gone according to plan. We all predicted the server issues, but the fallout has spread – from damning user reviews on Metacritic and Amazon to customer service disasters gone viral. What’s been going on, and what are EA and Maxis doing to try to fix it?
SimCity was released in North America on Tuesday. First there were problems downloading the game through Origin, then players were met with full servers with log-in attempts only allowed every half hour or so. Today marks the U.K. launch of SimCity.
Even where users were able to log into the game, some were kicked out during loading screens and others lost hours of city building when servers dropped. Players took to Metacritic and Amazon to express their disappointment, anger and sheer disbelief at being barred from playing a game they paid $80 for.
Past incarnations of SimCity were largely single-player only, but SimCity 5 requires a constant Internet connection, because a good chunk of the processes in the game are chewed on by EA’s servers (N.B. this is EA’s word, and this point is still up for debate). However, it’s clear to most people that the main reasons for the “always-online” requirement are first, to strongly encourage multiplayer, and second (and most controversially), to act as a form of DRM.
EA wants to keep the pirates away from SimCity, rightly, of course, but in this instance it’s the paying consumers that are getting hit. This gif has been circulating over the past few days, and it perfectly expresses the frustration that many are feeling.
More servers were added to cope with the load, but this did little to ease the problems.
Leaderboards, achievements and other “non-critical” features were disabled. Cheetah speed (the fastest simulation speed setting) was disabled in a later update, prompting Polygon to reduce their review score for a second time, knocking it down from an original mark of 9.5 to a measly 4. At one point yesterday, Amazon decided to stop selling digital copies of SimCity due to the server issues. They have since reinstated sales, but even the EA behemoth must have been slightly shaken by Amazon’s move.
EA’s apparent inability to fix these problems has confirmed their status as the Internet’s favourite punch bag. Then there were the PR disasters – some players were apparently denied refunds, whilst South Korean fans were told they didn’t have a server because of Asia’s piracy problems.
SimCity’s user score on Metacritic sits at an average of 1.6 (“overwhelming dislike”) based on just under 2200 ratings at the time of writing. On Amazon, the average rating sits at 1.2 stars, and some of the highest rated reviews are and cry.
The reaction may seem out of proportion (after all, in a week or so, everything will be working again) but SimCity is one of the most beloved gaming franchises of all-time. To see it on its knees like this is upsetting for millions of fans across the world. Yet at the same time, many of us feel slightly satisfied that its launch week has gone so poorly. Whether you’re someone who is able to say “I told you so” or if you just despise always-online DRM, the negative publicity might well dissuade publishers from going down this route in the future.
All I want out of this is a quirky, deep and addictive Maxis SimCity game that I can play whenever I want. Is that too much to ask?
What’s your experience of ‘SimCity’ launch week?