What I’m not getting for my birthday

The new SimCity game.

Image courtesy of Ars Technica.

I played the original SimCity as a kid. I have fond memories of being so hooked on the game that I’d wake up at 4am just so I could get in more gaming time beyond my 1 hour/day allowed quota.

(that lasted until I got caught one morning…oops)

It was engaging. It was immersive. It appealed to the fledgling nerd in me to play a game that was open-ended and for the singular purpose of seeing what I could possibly create. It let my imagination run wild.

Fast forward a few years, and out comes its sequel, SimCity 2000.

Mmm, stadiums.

Mmm, stadiums.

I played the bejeezus out of this game. I was old enough to start employing some semblance of strategy and to understand the benefits of pre-planning the terrain for your city, and still young enough to be passionate about the opportunities awaiting me in the virtual sandbox.

It took awhile, but one of my best cities eventually acquired enough Launch Arcologies to begin the Exodus, the closest thing to “winning” in this version of SimCity. I couldn’t have been prouder. I further experimented with different asset overlays, the robustness of various terrains to particular natural disasters, and even flew through a bunch of my cities when SimCopter came out.

Even though I never got around to trying out SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4, these two games alone defined a not-insignificant portion of my childhood. They directly led to many other games I played growing up–SimAnt, SimFarm, SimPark (which my sister played far more than I did, and I played it quite a bit!), and SimTower, another one of my favorites.

Needless to say, when I heard about the new SimCity that was under development, I was pretty excited. I immediately stuck it on my Amazon birthday wishlist, since its release date was in conveniently close proximity. I waited with breath that was baited.

Until the reviews started coming in.

EA: "Here's a brilliant idea, let's fundamentally break this game!"

EA: “Here’s a brilliant idea, let’s fundamentally break this game!”

First, the game’s very architecture directly resulted in the game being completely unplayable for the first 96 hours after its initial release. We’d known for awhile that EA was going to enforce an “always-on” requirement, meaning that in order to play the game in any capacity, you had to have an active internet connection. This has been implemented before, usually as a DRM method, and the only case I know of where it didn’t create a public relations disaster is that of StarCraft 2. And I suspect that’s because the game 1) is awesome, and 2) allows a limited amount of flexibility with the always-on requirement: you can still play single-player, except your scores won’t be saved and you can’t unlock achievements.

So of course, with a huge crowd of nostalgic gamer geeks clamoring to play the first SimCity title in over a decade, coupled with the requirement that the game be always connected to EA servers, those servers were quickly overwhelmed, resulting in nobody being able to play the game. Well done, EA. Well done.

Second, EA’s response was paltry. Yes, they apologized (a rare, if otherwise unheard-of, move for the video game manufacturer), and they provided a $50 EA credit to everyone with issues, but in my mind this is pretty useless. They flat-out denied anyone refunds, and frankly I never understood the act of giving someone a credit to your store when it was your own store that created the bad experience in the first place. “Yeah that sandwich tasted like fried shit, so I’d love to have $50 in free fried shit!”

Furthermore, as a quick fix to ease the load on the EA servers, EA disabled a great bit of SimCity functionality. When you have to intentionally cripple software just to get it to work properly, how does that not amount to an argument for a refund? Or suggest that your entire approach may have been flawed to begin with…

Third, and most damning in my opinion, is that EA has not budged on any of its philosophical decisions that went into the game and its architecture in the first place. It has absolutely no plans to remove the “always-on” DRM, even though its justification for doing so recently took a beating. It has no remorse for effectively forcing players into a multiplayer “region” when every single previous incarnation was a strictly single-player game. There’s something to be said for “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And worst of all, from that previous article, it would seem the game is full of holes: the simulation engine appears incomplete at best.

Zero Punctuation regularly calls out video game manufacturers for essentially cranking a lever on a machine that spits out generic video games stamped with a high-profile manufacturer’s label, guaranteeing fanboy profits for the next several years. EA has been one of the worst perpetrators of this construct, with so many of its games showing a regular inception of sequels. It’s also received a lot of flak for its draconian DRM implementations, but with its hulking bottom line, they probably just don’t care as long as rabid fanboys continue to purchase its spunkgargleweewee.

Well, I’m here to say that I refuse to put my hard-earned and graduate-student-sparse cash into this cheapskate video game manufacturer’s coffers. I loved Maxis and its Sim franchise, and consequently I am appalled that EA would so twist the brand in an obvious pursuit to wrangle every possible penny from Maxis’ legion of loyal followers. I won’t be purchasing the game at all until all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The “always-on” requirement is at least eased, if not removed entirely. I want to be able to play a quick 20-minute session on my laptop while I’m sitting in a waiting room with nothing else to do.
  2. The vaunted and much-publicized “GlassBox” simulation engine is fixed. If you’re artificially inflating figures for the sake of making it look like your simulation engine is doing what you said it does, you have a lot more work to do.
  3. Cities are allowed to expand far more than they are now. One of the biggest limitations of SimCity 2000 was the limited real estate you had to build a city. That was fixed in SimCity 4–the area you had in which to build a city was huge. Now it seems like EA didn’t read up on their history, because they went right back to tiny blocks of terrain. Allow gamers a little room for their imaginations to fill!

I honestly don’t give two shits about multiplayer in SimCity. I really don’t. And no, it’s not one of those “you don’t realize you want it” things; SimCity has a legacy of success in allowing individuals to build the cities of their dreams. If you want to include the option of allowing us to build regions with other people, that’s fine, but forcing it upon everyone breaks a fundamental baseline of SimCity and wedges players into a niche they have neither patience for nor interest in. Not everything needs to be “social”!

Dorkly says it best:

 

[UPDATE 3/15: Looks like a week didn’t really improve the opinions of the Ars Technica staff of the game.]

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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2 Responses to What I’m not getting for my birthday

  1. Colin Lord says:

    What’s sad is the reviews of the game itself sound awesome. I’m waiting for the Mac version to appear before making my final decision. I really want to like the game.

    • magsol says:

      Ehhhh, the reviews I’m seeing are still kind of lackluster: seemingly arbitrary fluctuations in income and population, drastically reduced sandbox size for city development, limitations in the diversification of your transportation network, the simulation not responding to or otherwise not seeing improvements that are currently in demand, etc. It sounds a little buggy at best, crippled at worst. I’ve seen a few glowing reviews but to be completely honest they sound like marketers or fanboys who decided before they bought the game that they loved it.

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