Was Anything Learned from SimCity? Should Anything Be Learned from SimCity?

…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?

An Indictment of Something…

…and remains one of the top 10 highest Metacritic-rated MMOs.

Mark Jacobs, in reference to Warhammer Online

Mark Jacobs is talking to the press again because he and his new(-ish) company, City State Entertainment, have a new MMO under way; one with some familiar sounding features.

The Emerald City Logo

The Emerald City Logo

Of course, this means he needs to answer the ever present questions around how this new MMO will relate to his two previous ventures, Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online.

He is candid, as usual, about how these two past games are influencing his current venture.  And he is up front about the problems with Warhammer Online.  From the interview:

Nobody was more disappointed in WAR than I was. At launch, it had lots of wonderful things in it, but it also had way too many bugs, balance, and leveling issues, and of course, crashes in Tier 4. It was my worst nightmare come true, and as I’ve stated before…

And yet there is that quote at the top.  That really caught my eye.

There is that list of reviews on Metacritic.  Look at them.  There are 18 reviews that gave the game a score of 90 or more, including two that gave it 100.  And since the game has stagnated since, never shipping an expansion, that is what you see when you look at Metacritic for reviews.

It rates higher than any MMO I have played for more than a couple of months, save World of Warcraft… which really brings up the question of how MMOs should be reviewed.  Clearly the ” spent a few hours in beta and read the press release” method leads to erratic results, though sometimes that seems to get it right if the issues are obvious enough… or if the publisher doesn’t have enough advertising clout.

As for the new MMO title and its Kickstarter financing plans, I am currently in the “tell me when it actually ships” column.

Turning the City State Entertainment team from March on Oz, a pretty but pedestrian iOS Plants vs. Zombies knock-off, to a full fledged MMO seems like a pretty big leap to me.  Doubly so when Mark himself describes the group as:

…a small, independent team of very dedicated and hard-working guys and gals, many of whom had never worked in the games industry before.

We shall see.