SimCity launch shameful, don’t buy it yet (or at all)

EA and Maxis have gutted SimCity and a disastrous launch makes it all the more bitter a pill to swallow

SimCity column 0

Electronic Arts’ and Maxis’ SimCity reboot has launched as a broken mess.

By now most gamers who frequent online news sites and gaming message boards will know the story, but allow me add my voice to the throng.

My statement is based on personal experience trying to play the game, and the countless irate testimonials from customers posting across EA’s interaction points (Facebook, a never-ending stream of twitter complaints, YouTube videos from angry players, and just about any gaming message board you’ll find on the net).

And that doesn’t even address the gameplay – all the complaints stem from EA and Maxis’ complete failure to launch a capable online service alongside the game.

As it stands this weekend, around the globe, you’ll be lucky to get into the game. You’ll also be lucky to get back into the server that you chose, and therefore continue with a city and region in which you invested time. Yup, you can only resume your cities on the servers on which they were created. And because the servers are constantly over-loaded, it’s a gamble every time you try and log into the game.

SimCity server browser

SimCity server browser: says available, but it’s lying

In SimCity, the predefined regions have up to 16 slots for cities, and you can create a private region for yourself to keep others out, or at least share only with your friends.

At this point, the social integration features simply don’t work properly. I have not been able to add friends or join friends in private regions. Once finally in a game, the ability to support friends in your region by focussing on specific aspects of gameplay, such as electricity production, is dodgy at best.

During a 6 hour session yesterday, between myself and another MyGaming community member, our ability to support each other with resources and other variables was constantly fluctuating. At times the progress of our cities did not update for lengthy periods of time, leaving my friend with no electricity, and myself with no fire services as my industrial district burnt down.

As I write this, I have been trying for over 3 hours to log into the game. First, I tried to join the same server as I used yesterday, but that is now apparently down for maintenance. 6 hours of vested gameplay time is now lost to me.

SimCity server login unavailable

SimCity server login unavailable

Trying to join a new server just so I can continue getting some review time in, I’m not only forced to redo the lengthy and tedious tutorial mission, but then also told that, due to server problems, the tutorial mission cannot be loaded.

When SimCity was announced and revealed that online integration was going to be a core feature of the game, the alarm bells began to ring. However, that was the nature of this product – it was going to be always-online. We didn’t have to buy it if we didn’t like that idea. That’s how a consumer market is supposed to work.

Except now that it has been launched, it is quite clear that a core feature of the game that was marketed as a selling point and a revolution for the series, is broken. It doesn’t work.

I cannot play this game online. I have come to the party with my Internet connection and origin account and thus far I’ve spent more time watching failed loading screens and reading innumerable complaints than I have in the game itself.

I cannot play the game offline because EA and Maxis didn’t cater for this scenario.

EA and maxis promise they are working on fixing the problem, but really this isn’t good enough. These issues were raised in beta, and yet they hamstrung the North American launch on 5 March. EA promised the EU launch would go off without a hitch on 8 March. It didn’t.

In an interview with Polygon, Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw said they didn’t see the level of demand coming, and seem to have underestimated the server load requirements. I find that excuse laughable. Were they simply penny-pinching, or was it bungling ineptitude?

Additionally, Bradshaw indicated that the game’s Glassbox Engine couldn’t keep up with the tidal wave of simulation data – data which is processed at EA’s server side and not on the client PC. Again, so what? Test it more thoroughly, and put down more server hardware to cope.

Essentially, the gaming public has paid full price to test the product.

Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw

Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw

Bradshaw threw out a meaningless statistic, claiming their work to fix the game so far has shown “an 80% decrease in connectivity or responsiveness issues.” Guess I’m stuck in the 20% pool of chumps then.

EA has offered to give a free game from their catalogue to SimCity owners by way of an olive branch. They won’t be giving out refunds for digital copies though, as they were quick to remind customers post-launch.

Knowing full well the number of pre-orders in place, and with a wealth of marketing metrics and other prediction tools you’d expect from a global mega-publisher, it seems EA and Maxis can’t roll-out proper server structure support for their game.

Should we be surprised? Probably not; even the mighty Blizzard, king of the MMO, made a similar fumble with Diablo 3. A similar problem plagued Ubisoft’s Anno 2070 when it launched, as that strategy/city-building sim also had a global economy and always-online requirement.

Should we accept it and wait patiently for a fix? I don’t think so. The concerns were raised when the game was announced to require always-on Internet, and EA brushed it all off saying things would be fine. Well, they aren’t. Now what EA?

It’s irresponsible hubris for EA and Maxis to think they would succeed where others have failed.

It actually astounds me that there is no single-player mode for Simcity; despite the fiasco around the multiplayer elements, the game is ostensibly enjoyed as a solo experience. It shouldn’t need multiplayer to operate, otherwise it’s not really the same SimCity game we grew to love over the years.

There really is no reason not to have an offline single-player mode (anti-piracy DRM is not a reason as once-off authentication works fine for numerous other games). For Maxis to say they built it as a multiplayer game from the beginning is, in my humble opinion, a grave design flaw that set the game off down this dark path.

SimCity 4 launched 10 years ago, and it still enjoys a solid base of players and thriving communities around it. I wonder if we’ll be saying this about SimCity 2013 a decade from now…

This also brings up the broader problem with this model. EA and Maxis have gutted SimCity. There are important “sim” gameplay features missing that the franchise had been improving on and adding up to now, and it’s because of this always-online demand.

There are no in-game saves, so I can no longer enjoy trashing my carefully crafted city with natural disasters just for the fun of it, and then reload a previous build to resume my simulation.

Did you enjoy modding SimCity 4 (a game which is still superior to this reboot in my mind) with the impossible variety of things created by a SimCity loving community? Well, you won’t be able to do that either.

SimCity – Fires everywhere and only one truck to handle it all; an apt metaphor.

When you buy SimCity, you are not getting a sandbox game to do with as you please. EA is just letting you borrow a little bag of sand with their logo on it, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a cramped corner of their playground in which to try a craft something personable.

Tomorrow, you might not be able to play with your bag of sand because EA insists that once it’s been dumped out, it’s now theirs and you can’t take it with you. They might give you another bag of sand to go build elsewhere on their cramped playground, assuming they have enough to go around.

SimCity server browser - unable to connect

SimCity server browser – unable to connect

Finally, I’m concerned to see that there are certain core elements missing, and with EA’s ongoing sordid and public DLC affair, just which features are we going to have to pay to have shoe-horned into our game in future? Larger regions? Region editing tools? Terraforming tools? Subways? Yup, there are no subways in the standard game.

Some quick feedback on the time I did get in SimCity: the game looks like it is packed with potential that has been crippled by a completely unnecessary always-on Internet requirement.

I am still working on my review of the gameplay itself (connection permitting), but I’m starting to get an uneasy feeling that SimCity is a well-presented doppelgänger of the preceding titles; it puts on a good show and has it’s own merits, but it seems to have lost its soul.

Here are some of the issues that concern me:

  • No save games and therefore no loading previous builds when mistakes are made.
  • There is no ability to craft your own region layout and its appearance prior to building a city there.
  • There are no terraforming tools to shape your cities and help roads flow better.
  • Bulldozing a road will destroy the zoned building next to it (with confirmation for more important buildings). Why?
  • No subways.
  • Simplification of water and electricity grid and zone densities by linking it all to the road system. Larger roads support denser zones.
  • I already feel like firing up SimCity 4 with my favourite mods and getting the unhindered experience I know and love.

This opinion piece could probably go on ad nauseam (if it hasn’t already). Thanks for sticking with me if you made it this far.

Let us know your thoughts on the matter in the comments below and on the MyGaming forum. Have you bought and played the game yet? Has this launch disaster put you off buying the game?

More SimCity news

SimCity brick by brick

SimCity SA launch to be “stable”

SimCity intro trailer reveals space-aged surprise

SimCity “multi-city” features detailed

SimCity 5′s always-on internet requirement is “totally worth it”, promises Maxis

Tags: electronic arts, headline, Maxis, SimCity

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