The SimCity debacle: disillusionment and sensationalism
Before you go any further, I’m not EA’s biggest fan. My last editorial on EA ended with “you’re capable of great things, but you need to change.” The SimCity launch has clearly perpetuated the consumer mistrust in EA, and by extension, in Maxis – who already risked alienating their oldest and most vocal fans by re-branding their once-strongest franchise. SimCity‘s launch has harvested wide indignation from basically every group of people on the internet.
Those who want to play the game are furious that they can’t – and those who can, are furious about city roll backs, and in some cases losing their entire cities. Those who have no interest in playing, but a general interest in gaming, are sometimes – but not always – quietly observing as the post US and current EU launches unravel and iron themselves out, critical of what’s been said and done by both consumers and Maxis. Everyone is once again furious at EA’s apparent negligence towards consumers needs, wants, and desires – and Maxis seem equally annoyed at their publisher, finding it necessary to iterate that they “own the franchise,” thus implying it’s they who call the shots. In other words, Maxis created an online dynamic as a design decision, not a DRM decision. In some-more-other words: EA didn’t create an annoying DRM system, Maxis created an annoyingly social game. The two aren’t the same.
The state of the game as it stands
Right now, SimCity is about 90% less of a mess than it was on the US launch. Whilst beta testing didn’t provide concrete data to estimate just how many players would be playing, and pre-order numbers clearly didn’t help, gamers feel as though EA should have had a sensible prediction as to just how many eager mayors would be hammering the log in systems from day one. That’s really SimCity‘s biggest problem truncated into a single sentence without any swearing or knee-jerk pseudo-intellectualism: the SimCity servers are being hounded by players.
Regardless of your opinion of the game itself, all of the social problems, roll backs, and an inability to join or sustain connection to their servers stem from one simple problem: a lack of server capacity (which is currently at 120%), and a lack of servers. With these problems come an inability to get back into your city without a 30 minute wait, and an inability for friends to join each other on servers that grow full very quickly. Those who can join eachother sometimes face the problem of being unable to send invites to their ‘regions’, thus once again ruining the intended charm of online-play.
These are the objective reasons as to why SimCity is currently annoying the world, but it stems from one simple-enough, temporary issue: server capacity.
I’ve been called ‘negligent’ for giving SimCity a high score of 4.5 in my review - a comment that I wasn’t unaffected by. We all know that numerical scores are entirely arbitrary, and simply reflect the overall premise in the text, with the full argument stated in the review itself. Reading the score without reading the review is actual negligence, and commenting on the score without having read the review in full is full-on risible. In fact, head here to find out how our review scores work, and our philosophy on why review scores, on their own, mean nothing. Derive whatever value you want by our numbers – both publishers and consumers – but without the body of the text, and our original argument, they’re meaningless and disposable.
In my review, I dedicated the opening paragraph, and the three following it, talking about the server problems, and the various bugs that exist as a consequence of them. I made it crystal clear that, at this time, you will experience problems with the game (although not nearly as many as during the US launch). Returning to the original point about the root cause of the games issues: servers are being constantly hounded, and EA need to increase capacity. I dedicated four paragraphs to something that will soon be irrelevant, as servers begin to stabilize. Some people, however, decided to dedicate entire reviews to that point – despite the fact that their reviews will no longer reflect the game – or the product – in probably less than a weeks time.
The consequence of this is hundreds fallacious reviews disregarding what the game is for the mere premise that servers are nearing their capacity. What the hell use is that?
A not-so savvy reader might at this point protest, saying something like: “consumers have a right to know they can’t play the game they bought!” To which I’ve only to reply: “I actually listed every single problem in full, and told readers straight up that they might have problems playing it at the time of writing.” That’s really all you have to do, and here’s why:
Reviews aren’t strictly ’opinion pieces’, or editorials. They’re not ranting spaces.
This is an editorial – I can veer, dip, and dive all over the place, throwing opinion around like a Libertarian in a Seattle coffee shop. From the comfort of my beanbag, I can make the most outlandish and unfounded statements about anything I see fit. This is my space, this has no rules. Reviews are not the same. It simply isn’t proper to use a review as a space to rant about something so temporary, and how it affects the end consumer and the industry on the whole. SimCity - the game – stays within SimCity. When I’m reviewing that product, I’m looking at the game, how it works, what it has to offer, and if it’s fun, etc,.
“But it doesn’t work!”
For whom? During my 40 hours with the game, I experienced server queues and a need to roll on different servers in order to play with my friends. This is all covered in my review. I didn’t – and neither did our team – experience any issues that would indicate SimCity is broken. SimCity is not broken. The ability to play online is not game breaking, and social features in a game that “isn’t classically online” is not game breaking. Whilst I understand that thousands of players are still facing problems, it isn’t my job – in a review – to speak for those players. That isn’t my experience. The most I can do is merely point out that you are likely to face temporary issues. That’s what I did, because that’s proper.
The definition of broken
There’s this myth going around that SimCity was always a single player game. It infuriates me that the way in which they choose to play is being imposed on this pseudo-ethical argument against the new dynamic. Watch LGR’s video on SimCity to actually get a good impression of the franchise from start to finish. SimCity has had similar social functions in previous games, and it’s also had the ability to: drive cars around with direct input, drive around the city from a third person mode, fly around your city, and other little tweaks and changes. SimCity is a very dynamic franchise, about the only consistency is the fact that it’s about managing a city. How you play it, or how you want to play it, has nothing to do with what it actually is. The fact that it’s now a more social game does not mean it’s a broken game, and if the basis of your argument about burying it in the New Mexico desert next to Atari’s E.T is centered around the fact that it’s now online when previously it was not, then you should tall with less furor because you don’t get to tell people how to play.
Unfortunately for some, Maxis have – to an extent – told people how to play. You can play SimCity on your own, but the game is both clearly – and decidedly – created to be played on a cluster of cities with your friends, sharing resources and working cooperatively to create a region. This is part of the reason why cities are so small. Build up, micromanage, prosper, move on. The new dynamic suggests that – as indeed it is – SimCity is a reboot. This, again, does not mean the game is broken.
“But if the social functions don’t even work, then isn’t the game fundamentally broken?”
The social functions are sometimes turned off to deal with server capacity issues – issues that have been reduced by 90% since the US launch, and are reduced further every day. Is every major MMO or expansion broken on release day? Does the fact that your guild’s server has a queue mean Guild Wars 2 is broken? Should that game have a “0/10″ because it’s popular on release day? No. The sad fact is that SimCity is hosted on EA’s side, and playing it means connecting to their servers. Similar games having this facility are titles such as Anno 2070, which had severe login issues for a good month after it was released. Anno 2070 is a game that received mostly positive reviews – probably because the internet didn’t go ape-shit, although its much smaller community actually did. I was one of them. I gave it a positive review, because it’s a sublime game. The server issues have gone, now – wouldn’t I look silly if the entirety of that review had been about a problem that didn’t exist anymore?
Why is everyone acting so irrationally?
It’s perfectly rational to be angry that a game you just bought for a ridiculous price doesn’t even work because you can’t log in. It’s perfectly rational to be angry for other people – to an extent – who can’t play their game, despite paying over-the-odds for it. There’s no debate there. I’m incredibly critical of EA’s inability to provide adequate server hosting for the launch of the game; they’re a company with more money than God, and more man-power than the Chinese army. Ostensibly, someone had a board meeting in which some whiskey drinking moron in a suit discussed how to get through launch as cheaply, but as successfully as possible. Like every moron who puts company turn-over before sensibility and economic stability, they fell short of their targets – people are imperfect, especially when they’re drunk – which means that once again, everyone is pissed at EA.
I’m still angry at EA for Dead Space 3. I’m angry at EA for churning out mechanically tedious, copy-paste games designed to sell copies, and then DLC – rather than offering rewarding gaming experiences. I’m angry at EA because no matter what they do, they always seem to show a startling alienation between themselves and their consumers. They’re making products for a demographic, they’re not making games for gamers. They seem to have a choke hold on nearly everyone who work under them, and basically everything released from the publisher is met, from me, with a tired intrigue that says “I wonder what they’ve gone and done this time,” rather than “I can’t wait to play this!” Microtransactions, DLC, F2P mechanics – having their own cake and eating it – I get it. I really do.
Maxis get it too, and that’s why they’re quick to state that SimCity is theirs, and it’s online because that’s the way they designed it. They’re annoyed that EA didn’t handle server capacity well, and they’re not the only developer this month whose confused as to why a game under EA is having so many problems. Medal of Honor didn’t “resonate”, and Crysis 3 didn’t do well due to “bored gamers” (yeah, bored of shovelware). They’re clearly missing the mark.
EA must feel as though they can’t win – and, actually, that’s exactly how they feel. It’s become “popular” to bash EA, which is a bit like saying being displeased with Bashar al-Assad is a cliche - Reductio ad Hitlerum, etc,.
It’s the internet, and sometimes people take it too far. But let’s finally try to add some clarity to this whole debacle.
Clarity to this whole debacle
It absolutely sucks that, right now, SimCity is experiencing problems. These problems have been greatly reduced, though, and they’re beginning to stabilize. EA have offered free games to everyone affected, (although I’m not sure how a copy of Dead Space 1 will help alleviate pains), and Maxis have come out of the woodwork to explain exactly what’s going on.
Actually read what Lucy Bradshaw had to say, because it’s clear and cogent, and offers some insight into where the game stands. Two days after writing my review, issues are reduced 92% – that’s nearly 100%. 100% is a lot of percents, and I imagine by the 100% mark, not many players will be experiencing issues, such is the nature with the exact amount of percents 100 refers to. That’s basically the highest amount of percents we can even get to on this issues, and we’re only 8 of them away. That’s great, right?
So, now we can finally play the game – hopefully with stability – but what about those who didn’t want online play in the first place.
It’s pretty simple, but it doesn’t offer much condolence. SimCity is what it is, and the fact that you needed a constant connection to the servers at all times was made perfectly clear. If you bought it despite that, then whilst you can offer your opinion on exactly what the game should be – and you certainly have a right to complain about connection issues – it’s not really much use claiming it “should be offline”. It wasn’t designed for offline play in mind, and, it pains me to say it – I’m not even comfortable saying it – you buy games on the grounds that you agree with what the game is about. The SimCity of 2013 is a very social game. If you’re playing it alone, then according to Maxis, you’re not getting the full experience. I can’t tell you how to play, but having played it with four friends for quite some time, I kinda get where they’re coming from. If I had bought SimCity to play alone, I’d probably not be having the same experience as my peers.
Of course you have the right to play anything you paid for however you want, but everything Maxis has done to this installment indicates an online, multiplayer experience. You can play World of Warcraft completely alone if you really want to, but your experience would differ greatly from the intended experience of the developer. If you’re not happy with SimCity being a more social experience, then you should definitely not buy it.
Those SimCity fanatics who really want to continue the tradition of playing SimCity how they always did: you really have no other choice than to merely endure the fact that you feel as though Maxis stabbed you in the back. If you’re one of those players, then I suppose in a way they did – and that sucks. That said, SimCity is a reboot, isn’t it? As soon as the title was announced, I’m sure as your suspicions became a reality, you washed your hands of the whole ordeal before putting your money down, didn’t you? If not, then whilst you might hold a very low opinion of the game and its new direction, there’s really nothing you can do. Reboots nearly always suck if you’re a die-hard fan of the original, and it’s really not a problem that can be reasoned away. Asking for offline play isn’t a viable solution. You can’t ad-hoc make SimCity what it once was, even though I wholly empathize.
Back to my original review: if you don’t mind waiting for teething issues with servers to iron out, then SimCity is potentially a very enjoyable game. It’s surely enough to point out, in a review, that users will experience problems this close to launch, understanding the issues, but understanding, critically, that they are clearly temporary.
Some sites have even gone so far as to issue a temporary review score with revised ones when they sort themselves out. One site even wrote up to 4 review “updates” changing their minds and essentially flip-flopping on a daily basis. This is absolutely ridiculous. On every launch, should we now give games temporary scores until their problems are ironed out? Is that what reviews have become? Ultimatums for consumers? Weapons to fight publishers with? Do we revise scores for every game? Or is, for some reason, SimCity just an exception? Who gets to pick which games are worth revising? Social out-cry? Sensationalism?
As a reviewer, I wrote about and accepted that consumers will face issues purchasing and playing the game at the time of release. I did so calmly, not expressing an opinion either way on it. It’s up to you if you want to put up with that. For some, it’s really not a big deal – for others, it’s abhorrent. As an addendum, however, this article portrays my views in full – in the appropriate place, with the appropriate tone. Reviews aren’t devices we should use to punish – or lash out at – publishers and developers with. There’s a difference between bugs and teething issues, and SimCity seems a relatively bug-free game, aside from the issues caused by the server teething issues. That means that potentially all of the issues with the game – subject to taste in dynamic – are reparable in merely a matter of days.
Far be it from me to tell you what you should be angry about, and to what extent – but since I was criticized for not being a maniac in my review, despite being 100% honest about the problems, I’m being a maniac here. You want my opinion? There it is. I refuse to be coerced into a sensational fight with EA over something I see to be a very temporary problem. As consumers, you should stand up for your rights. In this case, it’s your right to play the game – something Maxis are working on. For those of you fighting for the “right ” to play it offline – you unfortunately don’t have that right. If you want to ask for offline play, you can go right ahead. “Vote with your wallet,” as they say.
I’m not fighting against the consumer on this one – I’m just saying that in order to get your message across, you need to fight in the right arenas, with the right arguments. If you want change, you have to ask for sensible change that can’t be used against you. Sound too entitled, and it’ll work against you. Speak without clarity, and they’ll ignore you. Show you have a firm grasp on exactly what’s going on, and at least show some understanding of the publisher and developers point of view. They will listen to good arguments, but they will not listen to people stomping their feet. Be a cogent individual, not a bloodied demographic. Fight your own fight, with your own arguments – because right now there’s a whole lot of Ctrl+C going around, and that, I promise you, will be instantaneously disregarded by anyone who matters.
Note: this is my opinion. Please don’t murder me.