News: SimShitty

EA Logo Eats Money Bags

This is what it looks like when a company cares more about cost cutting than it does about reputation.

SimCity Launch An Unmitigated Disaster

This past week has seen EA’s launch of their new SimCity reboot, a game which Lusipurr.com readers will probably be familiar with on account of it featuring some abysmally punitive DRM, which requires players to stay logged in to an EA Origin server despite the fact that it is a single-player game. Well, it would seem that just like every other launch of a single-player game with always-on DRM in the history of gaming, the game has launched with nowhere near enough servers, and players have been facing mammoth waiting queues to even gain access to their full priced game, and once they are finally into the game Origin’s straining servers frequently refuse to save a player’s cities on account of their not being allowed to store and access their save files locally. In an attempt to mitigate the crippling disaster of Origin, EA has begun stripping the game of all non-essential gameplay features, such as leaderboards, achievements, and region filters – and thus basically removing every single element which served as EA’s original exceedingly weak rationale for the burning need to have the game require an always active internet connection in the first place!

Due to a flurry of complaints Amazon has pulled the game from their storefront, as well they should. The SimCity product page on Amazon goes on to explain:

“Many customers are having issues connecting to the ‘SimCity’ servers. EA is actively working to resolve these issues, but at this time we do not know when the issue will be fixed. Please visit https://help.ea.com/en/simcity for more information.”

To make matters worse, while many much more reputable establishments have been refunding the purchases of disgruntled consumers, EA’s own Origin storefront has been refusing to do so. EA’s official line on the matter is that Origin does not refund consumers unless there are “special mitigating circumstances” – and apparently rendering the game inoperable beneath a thick veneer of obnoxious DRM does not count as “special mitigating circumstances”.

As one final amusing aside, Good Old Games’ Twitter account was this week advertising the purchase of SimCity 2000 with the cheecky description:

“Server problems? DRM-free SimCity 2000 needs no internet to play AND it’s only $5.99.”

Microsoft vs Valve.

Why is the contest between PS3 and the 360 even close?

Because Xbox Live Was Not Expensive Enough

Xbox Live Gold accounts currently go for an absolutely disgustingly unjustifiable asking price of $60, but what of large families who all like to play online? What if father, mother, sister, brother all want to game online and have their own unique accounts and profiles? Well, until this week one could simply purchase an Xbox Live Family Pack subscription, but now that is no longer the case.

Xbox Live Family Packs allowed Xbox 360 owners to purchase four Xbox Live Gold accounts for the still extortionate price of $99.99, for use by power gaming families. Apparently Microsoft fancies that their offer of family savings was too generous by far, and have unceremoniously yanked the package without even a warning or announcement. If there is one consolation, it is that the average Xbox 360 owner’s console will probably have died by the time their subscription is due.

Game Development Practices For the Current Gen and Beyond

The video game industry is currently gearing up to make the transition to the eighth console generation, and such shifts tend to lend themselves to developers briefly opening up and waxing philosophical about their intended approach going forward. This week has seen personnel from CD Projekt RED [The Witcher franchise], Take-Two [working on Grand Theft Auto V], and Ubisoft [working on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag] open up to grant insights into their particular video game development processes.

CD Projekt RED’s studio head, Adam Badowski, explained why, for their continued success, “creative vision has to inform business policy and not the other way around”. Badowski considers it to be very detrimental to the studio when business interests win out and are allowed to determine the direction of game production. Badowski went on to state that despite microtransactions and freemium game-models being where all the money is being made at present, such things do not sit well with the creative ambitions of the studio, and are thus being ignored by them at present.

“Financial and business concerns shouldn’t decide which path we take or the creative aims of the company. For example right now we are not dealing in the free-to-play market and this is why – the market is far from perfect yet, I think there’s something strange and awkward about this business model. So we’re not getting involved in it, even if everyone is excited by how much money can be made using this model. Maybe we’ll change our minds in that regard, but not yet.”

Grand Theft Auto V Main Character Splash

Sure to be a massive commercial success, and yet iterative installments are not being churned out year after year.

Meanwhile Take-Two’s chief operating officer, Karl Slatoff, opened up about the reasons for the publisher [and Rockstar] eschewing a bi-annual release schedule for Grand Theft Auto games. Take-Two are of the view that such a quick turn around in game production would degrade the quality of the game’s content, and thereby fatigue the traditional Grand Theft Auto audience who look to each game’s release as an event.

“Often times people ask us, ‘Why don’t you come out with Grand Theft Auto every two years? To us, that doesn’t make sense, because Grand Theft Auto, every single time it comes out, is a brand new experience. You can’t possibly do that in two years. And if we did that, our product would fatigue and the franchise would degrade from a value perspective.”

Finally, Ubisoft lead game content manager, Carsten Myhill, discussed the publisher’s approach to working on such an atypically developed title as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The game has been in development since 2011, is launching on both current and next-gen consoles, and is being developed by a massive eight different studios! Their method seems to be to have two different teams do the preliminary work on the game, and then to bring other studios on board once production ramps up.

“We’ve been in development since summer 2011. We’ve had two teams working in parallel – there’s been some overlapping and when it gets to the end of a game it’s all hands on deck to get it finished.”

When questioned about the Playstation 4 version of the game, Myhill responded: “Visuals enhancements are the most obvious difference. We’ll also be supporting the new Playstation 4 controller. We’re going to be revealing all the details of that [in the future]. The feature is built for the Playstation 4 controller, but we’re also looking at other controllers too.”

It is always illuminating to see the extent to which studios are willing to allow the concerns of business to guide their endeavours; here we see an ascending WRPG studio brush off the bandwagon fads like microtransactions [they also have a legacy of opposing DRM in their games], and we see the undisputed king of open-world action games taking steps to avoid overexposing their top money-earning brand. In contrast to this we can see the custodians of the fast fatiguing Assassin’s Creed property [thirteen games released since 2007] moving heaven and earth to ensure that Ubisoft will have yet another samey Assassin’s Creed game to sell this holiday season.

As a side note, it appears that the PS4 version of Assassin’s Creed IV will be the worst of the bunch.

19 comments on “News: SimShitty”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this Sim City thing…

    EA has deliberately hampered the servers to make it seem like the game is in very high demand. Immediate and unrelenting overload for a Sim City just seems too good to be true, and I would like to see the sales figures that show how packed it was on day 1. The idea that gets out, through the filter of EA press releases and yes-men [I decided not to append the title of “journalists” here] like Kotaku, is that overwhelming demand for a great game is at fault here. What a lovely message to consumers, isn’t it?

    My hypothesis goes on that EA, being a fundamentally evil corporation, wants the end to justify the means, and to add another cliche, bad press is better than no press. Especially when it comes with that happy ending, great game – high demand message they want consumers to be thinking once Origin is fine again.

    It could be a great game that lots of people bought, but I’d rather not take that conclusion just based on EA’s community management press release. But when their guy said it’s “a little contrived,” I think he’s hit the mark with some underestimation on “a little.”

  2. @Matt: Penny Arcade, which have hammered EA on this topic, reviewed SimCity favourably–and indeed, that does seem to be the case. SimCity seems to be a good game; it had very positive reviews in the lead-up to its release; and it has been heavily marketted. I don’t know that significant demand is too hard to imagine, as a result.

    I propose an alternative: poorly designed server architecture and a bandwidth intensive network design at the game level means that it takes a comparatively small number of players to create intense network demand. Combined with the probably reasonably large number of people playing the game (though nothing approaching ‘blockbuster’ status, surely), this was almost certainly enough to bring down the poorly-constructed house.

    The problem I have with your extended hypothesis is that you are essentially accusing EA of being a very evil–but also a very competent and crafty–organisation. I happen to think it is far more likely that they are very evil and incompetent, instead.

  3. From what I can tell, this is worse than the Diablo 3 launch. If only because people’s progress is also being lost.

    And whenever I bring up the botched launch, I keep hearing something like “well, it isn’t surprising”. It’s sad that this isn’t surprising. That games can’t even be expected to function AT ALL on launch day, let alone the first day and week patches high profile games need to iron out bugs the multi-hundred strong dev teams couldn’t (didn’t) find themselves.

  4. @Lusipurr: By the way, I don’t mean my proposition to be taken very seriously. Surely incompetence played its role, yet I don’t know much about server technology, and lack of knowledge can lead to illogical (but hopefully fun/interesting) ideas. It would surprise me though if a giant, evil corporation bungles its way to profit without some more sinister agendas going on, specifically coming from their marketing and advertising scheme-mongerers.

  5. @Matt: I think it is just more parsimonious to believe they are incompetent than to believe that they are capable of predicting the future.

    @Mel: This is worse. I was playing D3 at launch without issue. By the end of the first day, most of the issues which other people were reporting had been resolved. Moreover, Blizzard didn’t have to *disable* Diablo III features in order to make the game accessible for an already-reduced number of players. And, of course, D3 was subject to FAR more demand than SimCity, which makes this situation even more absurd. We’re talking about a fucking City Simulator. How much network overhead is there? That is why I say this is incompetence, not some grand plan founded on incredible foresight into the vagaries of how the market will react.

  6. @ Lusipurr: Agreed. I, too, played D3 at launch and with some persistence the game could be played normally since only the authentication servers had problems, not the world servers. In this case, with Sim City, the problems seem to be longer lasting and more entrenched and (as you noted) probably from a lesser demand. Not to mention, this is all from an Origin service. Who even wants to subject their PC to that?

  7. @Mel: I have no idea why anyone would use Origin. They routinely ban people who make the mistake of complaining when access to their games is blocked by bad programming. They threaten to ban people who tell them that they will complain to the Better Business Bureau. People who wanted refunds for their games were threatened with across-the-board bans. They literally use customers’ purchases with them as a tactic to scare customers into submission.

    EA is a fucking evil monstrosity. Why would anyone use Origin? Why would someone give EA their video game library as a cudgel to wield against them? On consoles they survive only because there are enough bro-meatheads who must have their [sports genre] [current year] iteration, even though it is exactly the same as last year’s game. But on the PC? I cannot for the life of me imagine why.

    Even checking with http://isitfinenow.com shows me that EA Origins is not, at the moment, Fine Now.

    In short, Lusipurr.com has long been a prophetic voice, warning people of the dangers inherent to using the Origin service. HEED OUR WORDS.

  8. I’m actually so disgusted that Origin even made it to release. It’s a stupid idea that EA clearly doesn’t even have the resources to support. Steam all the way, people.

  9. They said something like half the calculations used by the game are done on the server. I don’t know how Diablo 3’s persistent-connection worked, but I can imagine it didn’t require that much from the server, just to play single player. It’s hard to comment on this, not being a programmer, so usually do multiplayer games perform most of their calculations on your computer, or on the server? Because if sending half the calculations out to the server is an unusually high amount, it could mean some serious problems going forward.

    In any case, hopefully this helps people learn not to buy EA games anymore.

  10. @Matt Dance: I spent several hours of yesterday evening playing SimCity 2000. I was able to build bridges and roads to neighbouring towns, the game never crashed, and I didn’t have to authenticate with an online server in order to play.

    Why would I play SimCityOrigins when I can play SimCity2000 or SimCity4 without having to navigate the lunacy caused by EA’s anti-consumer DRM weapon?

  11. I can see the short sighted logic in EA (and other large players) wanting to run their own storefront. But the order of the day (i.e. the way to succeed) for online money making is convenience. It is NOT convenient to have everyone running their own damned digital storefronts, and have each of them requiring payment info, passwords, installations, updates… Notwithstanding all the myriad horrific reasons Origin is a terrible service in itself that Lusi outlined above (objectionable on practical and moral standpoints as well as threatening on a privacy level), Origin stands to lose business for the simple lack of convenience.

    Oh, what’s this? Christmas, a sale on some game I’m interested in? Origin is Fine Now™ and isn’t doing evil things? Sorry, don’t feel like running another glorified download manager. It takes it right out of impulse range, which I’d wager is the kind of shopping that keeps Steam the de facto standard.

  12. Oppressive DRM, among other things, is rapidly destroying the industry. The big problem is that the majority of the gaming public does not take a stand and ignore games like SimCity. Maxis would have more motivation to remove the always online requirement if the game had completely flopped. Instead, Maxis and EA have already sold tons of copies of a broken $60 game, and then refused to refund any of that money.

    The DRM in SimCity was known well before the game was released, yet people still purchased it in droves. If the gaming public does not want to be continually butt-fucked(it’s not rape when one willingly supports a game like this) by DRM, they need to boycott the games that feature it, not just bitch and moan about what they enable companies to do to them.

  13. Yeaaah…when Steam was first released I remember being outraged and foaming at the mouth, if only because I was still on a dial-up connection that needed to be on for nearly three days to download the package. The thing is, Valve and Steam have modified themselves and improved Steam’s functionality as a product, to the point that it feels like nothing at all to open Steam up and get it running. Though that may also be the fact that I got rid of flipping dial up.

    Origin came into the market with complete access to the lessons that Steam learned the hard way, and the developers behind it seemed to say “$@#$@ that noise, we’ll figure it out ourselves!” falling flat on their faces in the process. EA repeated this mistake with Sim City, assuring everyone that they’d learned lessons from watching Blizzard’s Diablo III debacle, yet managing to screw up even more than Blizzard. I tend to not knee-jerk into rabid hatred of EA or DRM or really anything, but EA’s lackluster ability to apply any lessons from industry mistakes does very little to establish any confidence in them.

  14. Unfortunately, while people who pay regular attention to the industry might have known about Sim City’s DRM, I’m betting most buyers didn’t. I had to dissuade a couple friends who heard of the game close to launch and nearly bought it on day one. They knew nothing of the inane always-online requirement for a game they expected to be “Sim City 2000, but new”.

    Not being aware is no excuse, however, for supporting stupid tactics. But… lack of awareness is the problem here. The dumb masses, unfortunately, won’t do the minor research before buying a game. They’ll see a name, watch a trailer, and buy the game. Thankfully, I think some of the stink being made has given pause to even some of the dumbest of masses. Perhaps too late.

  15. @Timothy The hatred for EA is something that has been building for a long time. They seem to constantly push the envelope, but not in good ways. Day one DLC was not enough for Dead Space 3, so they threw in a bunch of micro-transactions. Steam took a cut from their PC sales, so they locked all games, console and PC, to Origin. They got tired of shelling out money for servers for Battlefield 3, so they just rented them out to players. Those examples are just from the last 12 months. Now they have a huge debacle with SimCity, refusing to refund consumers who bought a broken product, and threatening to ban them from Origin(where all their EA games reside) for voicing their displeasure regarding said refund policy.

  16. I do not recall a time when Steam was ever spyware. Nor do I remember Steam ever banning people from playing their single player games. Nor do I remember a time when Steam obliged people to maintain an active internet connection when playing their single player games.

    Steam has learned many lessons along the way, but don’t kid yourself, Timothy, Origin has started off in a far worse place than Steam ever did, owing to the fact that it has been created with the guiding philosophy of maintaining stiffling control over content, while trampling over the rights of consumers.

  17. To be completely fair I suppose I hadn’t clarified myself properly- I was never suggesting that Steam and Origin were ever literally comparable, only that Origin (and EA by extension) very clearly never looked at what made Steam successful and that, in my opinion, is the core of their problem. They never seem to really understand the lessons that other game companies offer when similar situations erupt. For example, the comparison for Sim City is coming ever closer to be The War Z than Diablo III, yet whereas Valve offered refunds on a digital product (with no questions asked) within days, Electronic Arts will only offer refunds on physical copies of the game, with digital holders being forced to discuss it with their banks.

    But really, I’m preaching to the choir here.

  18. Let the Shitty continue. Apparently any claims EA has made about the integration of the game to the EA servers has drastically overblown in a poor attempt to validate the DRM usage. The game is capable of being played offline, however your progress can’t be saved. Not until a crack of some kind rolls along and then your progress probably will be perfectly savable.

    Punish the paying customer. Present piracy as the superior alternative. That’s what DRM gets you.

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