EA’s Latest Mistakes

The recent release of the latest iteration in the SimCity series has served very well to expose several shortcomings of not only EA, but the gaming industry as a whole.  From the beginning, EA refused to allow pre-loading of the game through their Origin service (a program that has been controversial since its incarnation), the only source from which a consumer can access the game, along with several other EA titles, like Battlefield 3.  The influx of requests for downloads upon the game’s release was too much for EA’s distribution connection, making it nearly impossible for many to even download the game at launch.  The server troubles did not end there, however.  SimCity 5 is subject to always-online DRM.  For those who may be unfamiliar with this term, it refers to a method of Digital Rights Management in which all consumers must be connected to the Internet to connect and authenticate (read: play) the game they purchased.  This introduces a whole set of issues, brought to the forefront with the release of Diablo III in 2012 (another game that instituted always-online DRM).  The most obvious issue with this is the fact that when the demand for playing the game exceeds the capacity of the servers responsible for authentication and such, the servers will fail.  Diablo III fell into this issue upon release, and came under heavy fire for it, and it would seem that EA has not learned a single lesson from Blizzard’s blunder.  As soon as customers were able to finally download and install SimCity, they found themselves completely unable to connect to the servers due to demand exceeding capacity.  On top of this, Marcel Hatam stated that “If you regrettably feel that we left you down, you can of course request a refund for your order.”  It was made apparent to those who tried that Hatam never meant that the refunds would be given to anyone.  Customer service practices along these lines are what earned EA the title of “Worst Company In America”.  Probably the worst problem posed by always-online DRM, however, is EA’s ability to shut down or repurpose the current servers as soon as the next iteration of Maxis’ former glory (and now EA’s cash cow) comes out, forcing the obsolescence of SimCity 5 and the purchase of whatever comes next (if the customer desires to continue playing the series).

On top of the problems surrounding the business and accessibility aspects of the game, many features (or lack thereof) have been criticized as well.  The first issue that was brought to my attention was the size of the cities (that being “tiny”, in this case).  A nice picture has surfaced online to demonstrate the problem.  Another issue presented is the introduction of curved roads… and the fact that towns are so small that the only efficient streets to build are straight avenues.  Quite different than past games in which highway construction were quite a large part of the system.  Another mechanic that used to play a large part and is now completely removed is terraforming.  The best you can do now is remove trees.  The only other problem with the game itself is the lack of a save or load function, which completely discourages risk-taking of any kind.

Not Very Large, Huh?

The Maximum City Size of SimCity 5.

Quite frankly, I’m nowhere near convinced enough to abandon the glory that is SimCity 2000.  Perhaps my nostalgia glasses are just on far too tightly, but at least I can play 2000 on an ancient laptop without having to worry about being online, on EA’s leash, and fretting over whether the game will actually work tomorrow.

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