Opinion: SimCity's Launch Disaster Proves Always-Online Doesn't Work
SimCity's shambolic launch disaster proves we're not ready for always-online games, and we might never be. Xbox 720 beware.
Published on Mar 8, 2013
Every Sunday, NowGamer's Alex Evans will be posting an opinion piece about that which we all love: games.
I'll say it. SimCity's launch was a total and unmitigated disaster. From lengthy server queues just to play in single-player to refund issues and ban threats for users trying to get their money back, EA's always-online SimCity could not have gotten off to a worse start.
But it's been that kind of week for EA, one which started hot on the heels of last week's 'Microtransactions in all our games' controversy (now revised to just mobile and free to play, apparently), hit an ugly middle with the 'cancellation' of Dead Space and ended with Maxis' latest PC game outlining How Not To Do DRM.
Microsoft must be taking a good long look at SimCity's launch and wondering about always online stipulations. As EA so visibly proved, the tech just isn't ready, and the gamers probably never will be.
Even if the servers were brilliant, forcing players to go online in single-player would be a very irritating decision. Want to play it on the train with no Wi-Fi? Someone else taken your internet? Visiting family with no proper connection? Sorry, can’t play it.
But it’s far worse than that. Thanks to the terrible Origin servers, most players have been completely unable to play the game they just paid £45 for. Even the fastest internet connection in the world won’t help if the servers are broken.
Then Origin staff have - allegedly - got the cheek to refuse refunds and threaten to ban users who try to reclaim the money via the bank, according to this screenshot chatlog.
This is despite a press release promising those unhappy they’ll be refunded. This isn’t just creating extremely ill-feeling. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.
In fairness to EA, it’s not 100% certain this exchange happened (though EA has since responded to NowGamer saying they won't ban users, it didn't say the chatlog was false) and it says it’s working hard to fix these server issues.
Above all, EA still hasn't said it will refund players.
It’s safe to assume there are frenetic people running around desperately plugging ethernet cables into fresh servers right now at its HQ.
But the damage is done.
This is why always-online simply won’t work for PS4 and Xbox 720 – the technology isn’t ready, and neither are we.
Until super-fast, unlimited internet becomes available everywhere and servers work every time without failure, always-online is a huge mistake with potential consumer ramifications.
Perma-connected gaming makes about as much sense as paying for an album that only plays with a 3G connection. Spotify is a web-based service, and even that has an offline mode.
Imagine a Smartfridge that won't let you have your milk because it can’t connect to Tesco. Or an oven that won’t cook your tea because HotPoint’s servers are down. Or a game you can’t play because the game’s got online-only DRM. Oh, wait.
It’s been a rough few days for the mega-publisher, and it only has itself to blame.
EA, for many years, has sown the seeds of its own self-implosion – and SimCity is the proof its strategies don’t work.
People want freedom when they buy their media – not to be dictated to by The Man.
All week, EA has lurched from one PR disaster to another, with gamers (rightly) making their displeasure heard loudly, forming petitions (link) and packing Metacritic with low user-reviews (SimCity currently has an average user average score of 1.6/10 on the review aggregate site).
Gaming – like anything – is constantly changing, and not always for the better.
If we roll over and accept always-online in games, it’s just going to get worse, as this week proved.
There’s only one way businesses will truly get the message - by voting with the only thing they really care about: our wallets.
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