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Was Anything Learned from SimCity? Should Anything Be Learned from SimCity? March 27, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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…and remains one of the top 10 highest Metacritic-rated MMOs.

Mark Jacobs, in reference to Warhammer Online

I could list any number of reasons why I did not buy the latest SimCity.  I could go on about EA itself, or the Origin store, or the price, or always online issues, or the estimated lifetime of server support.

SimCity in 2013

SimCity in 2013

But in reality, when the game was announced, I realized that I have never quite gotten around to purchasing its predecessor, SimCity 4.  Despite having spent many hours with the first three versions of the game, I think it was clear that I was no longer as big a fan of the idea as I once was.  So I was probably not going to buy the new version in any case.

However, a lot of people did buy it.  It is (or was, or might be again) a huge and popular franchise.  And the pre-release reviews were overwhelmingly positive.  This was a game to have.

For example, there is the review over at Polygon.

I am going use their review, because they are pretty up front with how things played out.

Great Game – Score 9.5

Their initial, day before launch review, based on pre-release play time review gave SimCity a 9.5 out of 10.  The review praises the game mightily.  Addiction is mentioned in the opening sentence.  And the only real caveat about online play was a side bar that had to do more with the reviewers home router configuration than the game.  There was a caution that you needed to have a reliable connection to the internet to play the game.

Good Game – Score 8.0

Then came launch day.  Polygon, to its credit has a review policy that allows them to update review scores.  The old score remains, but an update gets added with a new score if something changes.  And the change was that a lot of people who bought the game couldn’t log on to play, even those with reliable connections to the internet.  And since there is no offline play option, lots of people were unhappy.

Due to these first day problems, Polygon changed their review to 8.0 out of 10.  The issues were likely temporary, but they felt that they could not keep the 9.5 score.

Bad Game – Score 4.0

Two days later, things had gone from bad to worse.  EA was behaving like a real city government and turning off what it deemed as non-essential services.  Leaderboards and cheetah mode were gone.  Yet there was no change to how the game was behaving.  So Polygon again updated their review.  SimCity was now rated as 4.0 out of 10, which I am pretty sure we all recognize as a “do not buy” recommendation.

Which, of course, was too late.  Part of the problem was that too many people had already purchased the game… well, too many people relative to the EA server infrastructure at least.

And there the review stands nearly two weeks later.

Meanwhile, EA began to consistently and repeatedly piss people off.  It told players they could ask for refunds, failing to mention that their policy is not to issue refunds for products purchased via digital distribution.  No refunds for Origin customers.  EA danced around issues like how long server support for the game was likely to be around and whether always online was just a DRM ploy.  And they outright lied about why online only was a requirement and that significant engineering would be required to allow the game to be played offline. (Even mainstream media is on their case about this.)

Meanwhile, the more hardcore fans were discovering that the simulation itself was not all it seemed on the surface.  Sims seem somewhat dim, and the depth of the game doesn’t seem to be up to past standards, not to mention the simple things, like saving a city then unleashing disaster to see what happens, while still being able to restore and return to your city, are no longer an option with the online model.

And amidst this, EA’s Maxis Label General Manager Lucy Bradshaw came out to tell us that in many ways they had built an MMO.  I guess if you consider an asynchronous experience like FarmVille an MMO, then SimCity fits the bill as well.  Or if you just want to count bad day one experiences as part of the MMO experience, it certainly fit in that regard.

So it was a disaster.  The Metacritic score sits at 65%, and is only that high because they only take the first review score and not revisions.  So Polygon, as an example, still shows as a 95% score on the list.  But enough sites waited that at least it won’t be the same situation as I quoted at the top of this post.

Amazon, where the game has a 1 star review average, stopped selling the game and has not resumed as of this time.  EA issued a directive to its sales and marketing channel to stop promoting the game.  EA ended up offering people who purchased SimCity a free game from their back catalog… which really costs them very little… but it was something.  The best bit or irony in that though was SimCity 4 appearing on the list.  There is your offline experience.

Well, there was one part that wasn’t a disaster.  The money part of the equation for went well for EA.  More than a million people sunk $60 (or more) into the game to play it.  So, financially, EA probably did pretty well.  And since all they need to do is sell the box to make their first big financial gain, there seems little incentive for EA to spend much right away on fixing issues.  As Lucy said:

We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent.

Whenever that is.  Because at that point I am sure EA will have some DLC to sell you.  Like the definition of MMO, I am not sure that Lucy is using the same definition for the word “friend” that I do.

Of course, I am not Lucy’s friend in the first place, since I did not buy her game.

All of which leads me back to the headline.  Was anything learned?

Does anybody think that the launch of the next big single player, always online game will be anything less of a disaster?

Will anybody think twice before purchasing that game if it is the next title in a big franchise?

Will reviewers hold off on their reviews for such games until any first day issues are apparent?  Or should such issues even be considered?  And should reviews change as they did at Polygon?

What should we take away from this event?

What will people take away?

What, if anything, should change?

Addendum: Another input. You can log in and play now, but is it worthwhile?

Comments»

1. Edohiguma - March 27, 2013

Well, I’ve learned one thing: I shouldn’t be mayor. I’d be too busy trying to either pollute the neighboring cities or scam them out of money.

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2. Hunaiam - March 27, 2013

What should change is the policy to not issue refunds to unhappy customers. If you are sold a bill of goods that you don’t get and then told sorry we are not giving you your money back. Well I call BS. IMO I think that this sort of policy is just begging for a class action lawsuit. Once that happens and I’m sure it will sooner or later, then these companies will review and change that policy.

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3. Tesh - March 27, 2013

I guess we’ll see with SC2’s Zerg chapter.

I believe we won’t see any change for the better.

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4. john - March 27, 2013

What players should learn out of this(which I have learned years ago as I am also an ancient gamer) is never trust advertisements and reviews from magazines or very popular sites. Always wait for the game to release, wait a week, read on the forums what other people have to say, read players various review and try to find the “truth”

Here also comes the company reputation. I never trusted EA, never..and I had a good reason..

Nowdays companies spend lot of money to advertise their products in popular magazines instead of give the people a demo of their game..

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5. Aufero - March 27, 2013

I installed Origin at one point, (I forget for which game) and it was so unpleasant and buggy I uninstalled it and resolved never to touch a game that required it.

(An aside: If your commercial service/website/store/whatever makes it painful and difficult for me to GIVE YOU MONEY, you’re doing it wrong.)

Anyone who hadn’t already learned not to trust EA probably isn’t going to learn from this.

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6. mrrx - March 27, 2013

I have learned my cautious approach to buying games is not shared by legions of other gamers. They’re buying them on launch day, come hell or high water. And $60m in sales is probably a success, unfortunately. The problems don’t seem to matter.

Therefore I can expect to see more of this behavior from the big gaming companies because it makes them money. It stops sales of used games. And it introduces a hard sunset to the previous version (notwithstanding hacks that disable server play).

In the meantime, I’m clearly only ever playing Simcity 4 for that franchise, and I have to pay attention to these kinds of issues and simply not buy games like this, because it will anger me instead of having fun.

The younger generation isn’t going to have anything like DosBox that keeps old games alive if they’re tied in to external servers. And I thought Steam was bad.

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7. pkudude99 - March 27, 2013

I tried the original SimCity waaaay back in the stone ages of computerdom and it didn’t trip my trigger, so this whole debacle has been interesting to watch.

For the most part, it seems like the early “good” reviews were based on about 8-10 hours of play experience without any server trouble.

Then you had the 1st day or 3 reviews where you couldn’t get logged in to the game at all so they were all really low “Since we can’t play it, we can’t give it a review, so here’s 1 star for it” or something along those lines.

The later reviews (after the day 1-whenever can’t connect problems got resolved) all more or less said “The 1st 8-12 hours are *awesome* but then it goes downhill fast” and then give it something like 4 to 6 out of 10. Not great, but not necessarily awful either.

The word of mouth I’ve been seeing is pretty much the same — the initial experience is great, but as your city starts to get up to its size limit, a ton of problems, bugs, and annoyances crop up, and then there’s the whole mess with regional play added in on top of that.

It’s been really interesting to me to watch the progression.

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8. James C. Causey Jr. (@attikusf) - March 27, 2013

I changed my mind about purchasing from the early warning signs when being unable to download the Beta version for testing purposes due to traffic…I think. Boy am I glad I stayed away.

Sad really. But you should give SimCity 4: Rush Hour a chance. 13 years old and I still play it…standalone. Something probably that is not going to happen with this new version. Much less be active 13 years from now on a server.

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9. Random Idiot - March 28, 2013

The people have spoken!

They will not accept continous online connection for a single player experience…

Online verification needs to be handled differently.

p.s after watching some vids, as I have not bought it either, I am staggered by the amount of release bugs, large buildings constantly in default, similar vehicles all following each other round the map, while that is comical and produces a humourous effect, it cannot be allowed to continue for the sanity of the builder ;)

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10. Wilhelm Arcturus - March 28, 2013

@Random Idiot – That bit about the people was ironic, right?

Because the complaints about being able to play at all have faded, and now people seem to be mostly angry about bugs and such. EA believes the connection problem is solved for now and that their new asynchronous, always online SimCity MMO is just fine.

A million people gave them $60, half of them through their high margin Origin store. As long as that happens, no message has been sent that EA can really understand. People are unhappy? But look at all the money!

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11. pkudude99 - March 28, 2013

@Wilhelm — you sound like George Lucas after Episode I came out. An interviewer asked him how he planned to appease his fans who thought Ep1 was a failure and GL looked gobsmacked and said something to the effect of “It made 450 million dollars domestically. How is that a failure?”

Seems the same…. people bought it becuz they love the franchise, and were disappointed after they’d already paid, but couldn’t get a refund.

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12. Wilhelm Arcturus - March 28, 2013

@pkudude99 – An excellent analogy!

I suppose we’ll see how well SimCity and EA do going forward. Will people buy all the DLC that they no doubt have planned? Will people buy the NEXT EA product that is an online only faux MMO?

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13. NoAstronomer - March 28, 2013

I think the only lesson (re-)learned from SimCity is that in any multiplayer game some portion of the population will derive their enjoyment from messing with other players.

Count me out.

Mike.

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14. Wilhelm Arcturus - March 28, 2013

And along came the Zero Punctuation review of SimCity. Ahhh…

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15. Aufero - March 28, 2013

The problem with Yahtzee covering a topic is that he says everything I might have thought up in a week, plus some points I would never have thought to make, and makes the sarcasm work.

Bastard.

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16. Dr Go - March 29, 2013

EA = the new Evil Empire.

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17. Differing VisionsKill Ten Rats | Kill Ten Rats - April 14, 2013

[...] contrast between SimCity and Dwarf Fortress, using a classic version of SimCity rather than the recent debacle. (Fun note: “SimCity debacle” gets 36,000 hits on Google and 126,000 if you remove the [...]

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