There's no comeback from mucking up a game's launch, writes Siobhan Keogh.

In my last blog I wrote about why Steam eliminating the competition in the battle for the living room would be great for gamers.

To recap: I argued that if Steam Machines took off, exclusives could become a thing of the past and games could become cheaper. Voila, gamer problems solved.

Read more: Steam box to hit shelves in 2015

But realistically competition benefits the consumer. And it can also benefit some businesses - the ones who deftly leap over their competitors' bodies while they're lying in fetal position on the ground.


One such company is Colossal Order, which has just released its city building simulator, Cities: Skylines. The Cities series has been around for a while, but never really taken off - likely because SimCity had that niche locked up tight.

But when the latest SimCity released in 2013 as a buggy, limited, online-only experience, consumers and critics revolted. On release the game was virtually unplayable, and publisher EA instantly, accidentally turned one of their most beloved franchises into one of its most reviled.

About a week before the release of Cities: Skylines, EA announced that it was closing down SimCity developer Maxis, although I expect the SimCity franchise to live on in some way - if EA can really nail the next SimCity, all may yet be forgiven and the money may pour in again.

While SimCity suffers, Cities: Skylines sold more than half a million copies in its first week - not a massive game launch when compared to your Call of Duty, but the biggest one its publisher, Paradox Interactive, has ever had.

The game has been well-received by critics and gamers alike - it has an average critic rating of 86/100 on Metacritic and a user score of 9.4/10. Personally, it wasn't one of the games I had on my 'must play' mental list at the start of the year, but now I can't wait to give it a go.

The CEO of Colossal Order has since admitted that Cities: Skylines' success wouldn't have been possible if SimCity had been the huge success that the company had expected.

Closer to home, there's a New Zealand success story that may not have been possible had the company not been able to capitalise on the mistakes of others.

Grinding Gear Games, creators of Diablo-influenced action RPG Path of Exile, have seen enormous success (although they won't say exactly how much). It's safe to say that success is due in part to the launch of Diablo III.


While Diablo III was positively received by critics - the game itself is pretty good, just saying - the issue is that many of the reviews were written before launch. Since Diablo III was online-only, those critics playing it prior to launch were playing on congestion-free servers. Gamers who logged in on launch day, however, were not. They were playing with lag and connection drop-outs, if they could get games at all.

Problems persisted for weeks, and the massive amount of goodwill that the Diablo series had built up disintegrated quickly. Then people discovered further issues with the game, like that the real money auction house - where people could sell in-game items for real money, with Diablo's developers taking a cut - meant that rare loot was very, very rare. given that the Diablo series is all about the loot, this upset a lot of fans.

While its developers at Activision Blizzard worked hard to make up for their mistakes, most of the damage was already done. And so along came Grinding Gear Games with their free-to-play model and their ethical microtransactions, and a lot of the people who felt chagrined by Diablo III started to play. It grew, and grew.

There are a few of lessons publishers can learn from the launches of SimCity and Diablo III - and it's mostly the publishers, not the developers, calling the shots. First, people don't like it when your game is online-only.

Second, if you're going to make your game online-only, you'd better have enough servers to handle the launch-day load. (Given how scalable cloud services are now, there's really no excuse.)

Lastly, you'd better not squander your fans' appreciation with a bad launch, because there will always be another company waiting in the wings, ready to make some money off your mistakes.