There is a specter haunting Electronic Arts: the shadow of one whose name has been spoken only in whispers. It is the specter of Metacritic. Yes, Metacritic: the faceless horror of a thousand angry mouths, from which is spat a thousand curses of untold savagery. It is a ruthless, relentless beast: one from which mortals flee, and against which even the power of the Old Ones shrinks in dismal impotence. Devourer of worlds and incarnation of man’s greatest fears, this Black Prince of the Nine Hells knows no love; for it can understand only hate.
Hyperbole aside, it’s most recent casualty is SimCity. The game’s launch has been described in many ways – most of which are variations of “disastrous.” EA has experienced a server overload since SimCity‘s release, stemming from the “always online” requirement
which has never caused any problems whatsoever. With insufficient capacity, many gamers who paid for SimCity now find themselves in a world of disappointment. Workers were scrambled, marketing campaigns pulled, and in a choice of words that could be aptly described as “poor,” Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis stated that the issues were occurring because“players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game” – keeping in mind that the intended audience was affected players, who were losing out on both the “fun” and “game” fronts – before noting that EA had cut “leaderboards, achievements and Cheetah Speed” to free up resources.
Despite the launch issues, SimCity scored an average 76/100 on metacritic. User reviews, on the other hand, were less forgiving: As shown in the above image, the game is currently at a 1.5/10. For those curious about gamers’ criticisms over the launch, the kids over at Destructoid have a posted a collection of their favorite user reviews. Granted, a game’s launch can be a turbulent affair, due to the fact that, as one might expect, the event generates an immediate surge of players – the number of which can be (and undoubtedly was) estimated, but with only so much precision. Yet this is old news: Diablo III‘s infamous “Error 37” stemmed from the same issues, highlighting the importance of preparation, and the PR disasters that can ensue when said preparation is inadequate.
Even though I don’t agree with the “piracy is the cancer that is killing the industry” argument, I understand the logic behind “always online” DRM. Unfortunately, such a strategy comes at a hefty price. Aside from the extra bandwidth, additional man-hours, etc., there’s the damage done to a company’s reputation. While “new release” aficionados are familiar with Day 1 problems – bug, quirks, crashes, and the like – such games are at least playable. In the case of SimCity, those experiencing the issues have essentially paid for a 10GB menu. EA has since addressed the issue in a press release (which I will post below), stating that they have increased server capacity, and are currently working to resolve the issue: one that indeed stem from the fact that EA’s underestimated the stress that would be put of servers – a move that they admitted was “dumb” – but clams that “The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent.” To foster goodwill, the company will be offering a free game from the EA store; SimCity owners can expect an email on March 18th, with instructions on how to redeem their download.
So alas, the simple solution would have been to abandon the online requirement entirely; but since that’s unlikely to happen, I can only share a quote (translated into “safe for work” terms) from one of America’s most respected philosophers: “This is the expected consequence of intercourse with one who has requested no such things.”
From the EA Press Release:
“Here’s a quick update on the problems we were experiencing with SimCity – and a little something extra for people who bought the game.
The server issues which began at launch have improved significantly as we added more capacity. But some people are still experiencing response and stability problems that we’re working fast to address.
So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta.
OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent. It’s working – the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically. The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent.
So we’re close to fixed, but not quite there. I’m hoping to post another update this weekend to let everyone know that the launch issues are behind us.
Something Special for Your Trouble
The good news is that SimCity is a solid hit in all major markets. The consensus among critics and players is that this is fundamentally a great game. But this SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience. So we’re not going to rest until we’ve fixed the remaining server issues.
And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.
I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent.
SimCity is a GREAT game and the people who made it are incredibly proud. Hang in there – we’ll be providing more updates throughout the weekend.”