Sunday, March 10, 2013

I was thinking about buying SimCity 5, but...

Anybody who knows me knows that SimCity is my favorite computer game of all time. I still remember playing the original SimCity on my Macintosh 512k back in 1989 and thinking how awesome it was, and I'm sure the game had at least something to do with my decision to become a city and transportation planner. So needless to say, I was initially excited about last week's release of the games latest and greatest iteration, SimCity 5. Even though the OS X version of the game won't be ready until later this year, I was so excited about it that I was planning to buy the PC version and play it on my girlfriend's computer.

Until I read this:
[...] EA, a technology company with a market capitalization of over $5 billion, could not muster the online servers necessary to handle an influx of players looking to build their cities. This was entirely a problem of EA’s own making, as SimCity was not designed with an offline mode. Even if you don’t want to team up with others and join your cities together, you can’t just build your personal metropolitan layouts in peace: Every player must be constantly connected online, as a draconian step to crack down on piracy of this PC-only game.

Hey, launch hiccups happen, right? Everybody all tries to connect at once, servers get throttled, and you figure out a way to make it work. Trouble is, as of this writing EA hasn’t figured out a thing. SimCity is still totally busted. It’s difficult to log in: Nearly all of the servers are full, and when a player does find one that’s available, attempting to log in usually throws back an error. And you can’t try again until a 20-minute counter finishes ticking down.

Ah, but if the servers are full, that means at least some people are playing the game, right? Yes, but not really. Players are finding that the servers, choking to death on the player load, aren’t saving their game progress. After spending hours playing through the game, many players are confronted with an error screen, forcing them to choose to either roll back their city to a previous save point or trash the whole thing.

In other words, SimCity is currently in the midst of a disaster that makes zombie attacks and nuclear meltdowns seem tame. Electronic Arts’ attempts to fix the problem have not only been unsuccessful, they’ve been making the SimCity blackout even worse, at least from a public relations standpoint: EA said Thursday that it would actually begin removing features from the game in an attempt to get it to run. At first it was non-core features like achievements and high score leaderboards. By the end of the day EA had ripped out the “Cheetah” gameplay mode, which speeds up the passage of time so you can develop your city more quickly.
Okay, forcing people to be constantly connected to a server in order to play a single-player game is stupid enough. But not providing enough servers to meet demand, and then cutting features from the game in order to get it to work correctly... Words fail to describe this level of incompetence and outright contempt for paying customers. Little wonder that Consumerist voted Electronic Arts the Worst Company in America last year.

Chris Kluwe, who reviews games when he's not kicking punts for the Minnesota Vikings, is livid:
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 [redacted] 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 5 is actually a really fun game (when it works). If I was able to play SimCity 5 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.
Neither do I, which is why I'm thankful that reviewers such as Kluwe have saved me from such aggravation. As disappointed as I am to learn about SimCity 5's flaws, I can only imagine how much more upset I would have been had I actually purchased the game and encountered these problems while trying to play.

Needless to say, I'm going to hold off purchasing SimCity 5 for the time being. I do want to play the game eventually, but Electronic Arts needs to do right by its customers by either fixing the game's problems or (better yet) releasing a version of the game that doesn't require a constant connection to a server before they will get any money from me.

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