This article is part of our series on SimCity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of GamingExcellence.
And let it be known: there are no winners here.
First off; the consumers. The gamers. The people who keep the industry alive. They are angry, and have a right to be. They've spent their money to purchase a game, and want to be able to play that game. On day one.
The fact that refunds are available for those who bought the physical product from EA is a good starting point. Those who purchased digitally (or from a retailer) will be getting another game from the EA catalog as an apology. Ultimately, if you purchased SimCity, you will get to play it; it may just take a little bit of time to get the issues sorted out. At this point, I'd simply consider EA's offering to be interest on your investment; or you can simply get a refund and buy the game again later. No matter which option maligned gamers choose, one thing is for sure, he issues will be addressed in time.
The whole DRM issue has been well covered, and while piracy is a huge concern for publishers, in this case I believe the decision to be always-online was not to act solely as a DRM, but to provide a truly interconnected experience. The mistakes made at launch won't do anything for our industry but stifle innovation going forward.
In an effort to make the game playable by the widest audience and provide a socially connected experience, the Maxis team did something really unique with SimCity. They moved part of the GlassBox engine into the cloud. Many of the complex simulation calculations are offloaded from your PC and into the cloud-based environment. As well, many of the online-oriented features, such as collaboratively building cities alongside one another would be virtually impossible to do in a traditional multiplayer sense. SimCity is a game with MMO elements, without the subscription fees.
We've heard of gaming services running entirely in the cloud; SimCity is like their little sister. Should SimCity support a full offline mode if the user chooses? Absolutely. Does the mistakes made at the SimCity launch make people think twice about investing in this sort of interconnected experience going forward? Sadly, it seems so.
The executives, and EA itself, aren't winners here. Games cost big bucks to design and no doubt SimCity was a massive investment; likely in the scale of tens of millions of dollars. Not only has this launch given EA another black eye, I'm sure the ultimate sales numbers will reflect the launch problems. But unlike many games where the publishers simply ship them, throw a few DLC packs together, and then let the game slowly fade into the abyss, SimCity is an ongoing investment. Those cloud servers aren't cheap to run, and every month the game is available, it's costing EA money. There are no subscription fees which MMOs use to offset those ongoing costs. So what's the business case for keeping these servers running over the long haul? Aside from pissing off a huge fan base, I'm sure EA has additional revenue models planned for the game, be it in-game micro transactions and/or future expansions, but the fact remains that they could have done this game entirely offline, and saved themselves a lot of headache (and the black eye) in the process. They took a risk and tried to innovate, a move that unfortunately hasn't paid off thus far.
Which brings me to back to my original point, who are the people that this fiasco ultimately hurts the most? The designers, the developers, programmers, artists, sound engineers, testers, and the countless people involved with actually bringing the game to life. The people who put their blood, sweat, and tears into the game and worked countless hours over many years to deliver a really unique and compelling game. To reboot a franchise while having the pressure of a die hard fan base undoubtedly criticizing your every decision isn't a fun prospect. No wonder so many gaming studios have shut down over the past couple of years. It's a ruthless industry, one where people are often overworked and underpaid. It's these people who ultimately suffer due to something entirely outside of their control. Where the game they've devoted multiple years of their life to building is considered among the worst rated products ever on Amazon and is subjected to several scathing review scores from critics and gamers for issues that will undoubtedly be fixed in a matter of weeks.
But once SimCity has the capacity, does it take the sting away from the development team? Absolutely not. Those Amazon ratings will remain. Maxis or EA won't be done any favors from MetaCritic's ridiculous policy by refusing to update a review score for a game; regardless of whether or not a mistake in the review was made initially or the review changes over time to reflect the changing game experience. Sadly, this will forever destroy the game's overall aggregate rating. For the sake of the developers, let's just hope that there were no bonuses tied to the MetaCritic score.
There are no winners here. Consumers can't enjoy the game they paid to play, EA won't see anywhere near the return on their investment that they otherwise would have, and the developers worked for years on a project, only to have their dream game trashed by consumers and critics due to something completely outside of their control.
But who is the biggest loser here? The gaming industry itself. These sorts of colossal failures always lead to second guessing, stifling innovation at the expense of "risk mitigation". Which, in a nutshell, means the same formulaic games over and over again; proven concepts that simply see some minor gameplay and graphical tweaks year over year.
No doubt the short-term issues of the SimCity launch will be healed in the coming weeks, but the scars and resulting fear of innovation and risk will remain much, much longer.