Pat Pilcher: SimCity debacle grows

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If EA had have taken the insights gained from an earlier closed beta and added an offline mode, much of this grief would never have happened.
If EA had have taken the insights gained from an earlier closed beta and added an offline mode, much of this grief would never have happened.

It's likely to go down in the annals of gaming history as one of the biggest blunders by a gaming company ever. Amidst a significant amount of hype and growing gamer expectations, EA launched the latest version of its SimCity genre. Since then, nearly everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and the gaming communities' condemnation has been both swift and brutal.

Sadly this gaming equivalent of a multi-car pile-up was probably avoidable. The problems have stemmed largely from SimCity's online only requirements - access to the Electronic Arts servers is mandatory before the game will function. This has always had potential for problems, and in a pre-launch closed beta, access to EA's servers quickly became problematic. Bizarrely, even though this was clearly going to be a deal breaker, EA pushed on, continuing with the mandatory internet access requirement and launching the city building/management title.

Unsurprisingly once the title began to sell, things quickly turned to custard. The servers EA had installed simply didn't have the capacity to handle the sheer demands being put on them, and this effectively rendered the Sim City unplayable, making gamers who'd forked out $100 for the title hopping mad.

Sadly if EA had have taken the insights gained from an earlier closed beta and added an offline mode, much of this grief would never have happened. Trouble is that the way the game is coded means that a significant amount of SimCity's in game processing is supposed to be done by EAs servers, and the late introduction of an offline mode would have entailed a massive amount of re-coding and re-designing of the game, not to mention scrapping a sizeable investment in online infrastructure. In effect the new SimCity would have gone from a money spinner to a cash sink-hole. Unfortunately as it stands now, if a SimCity player can't find an EA server with spare capacity, the game is unplayable, which is driving scores of gamers nuts.

Nearly all game reviewers are panning the title as the social network outcry grows, and both of these are acting to scare potential buyers away from the title. Credit where credit is due, EA, hasn't wasted any time in trying to put things right, and has been working to add capacity to servers. Indications are that EA had begun to shut off several non-essential game features in a bid to ease the load on their servers. However, even this is potentially a risky move as EA run the very real risk of annoying a bunch of already angry gamers even more.

The multi-million dollar question now becomes one of what damage has been done to the EA brand, and can EA recover lost credibility. Multiple petitions have been launched at change.org demanding EA dump their online only specification and some are already well on the way to 50,000 signatures. A serious amount of gamers are fuming and EA will need to work some serious PR (and coding) magic before this problem is going to be fixable.

- NZ Herald

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