Tag Archives: Maxis

A Sad Day for Sims

Upon seeing the news about Maxis yesterday, I realized that I had probably not sat down and really played a game from Maxis this century.

I bought a copy of SimCity 2000 from GoG.com for some tiny price back when EA/Maxis was busy shooting itself in the foot with the latest SimCity.  That was the last game in the series I could recall having played.  And I put SimCity 4 on my Steam wishlist and a reader actually bought it for me. (Thank you again!)  But I never managed to sit down and focus on playing either for any real length of time.  The crude graphics and the awkward interfaces of both chased me away pretty quickly.  Minecraft seems more palatable to me these days than either of those.  And I certainly wasn’t going to give EA any money for their latest version.

And without SimCity, what is there when it comes to Maxis?

Well, I guess there is The Sims, the best selling game series ever and probably the one reason that there is still a Maxis left to shut down in 2015.  EA seem dumb, evil, and heartless… often on the same day… but they do love the sound of money.  It’s just a good thing they haven’t figured out how to make money via malware or we would… oh, wait, I forgot about Origin.  Never mind.

However, I never played The Sims, aside from a brief dalliance with the Facebook version, back when that was how all game companies were going to get rich like Zynga, and we saw how that turned out.

And your father smelt of elderberries...

My usual interaction options with Tobold… we flirt shamelessly

And if I understand the history correctly, EA had already brought The Sims into their Redwood Shores lair, placing it directly under their control before letting it return to the Maxis logo, creating a taint that explained to some why The Sims 4 seemed like a step back from The Sims 3 in many ways.  So that wasn’t going to keep Maxis viable any more.  EA could just snatch The Sims back any time they felt like it.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And without The Sims, that left Maxis with… um… SimCity 2013 and… Spore maybe?  Talk about a couple of titles that failed to live up to expectations.  I didn’t even know that Spore had a follow-on game, which was even more poorly received.

So I suppose the real question is why it took EA so long to finally shut Maxis down and close their no doubt pricey digs across the bay in Emeryville. (I had a job interview right around the corner from Maxis back in 2010, with another company that is no longer around.)

Still, I feel some lingering nostalgia for Maxis.  I remember back when the original SimCity came out, when it was something new and different and people were struggling with the idea of it being a game because there was no obvious win condition.  Some were insisting we call it a computer “toy” or some other ambiguous title.

SimCity back in the day

SimCity back in the day

Back then I played many, many hours of SimCity.  Likewise with SimCity 2000 (which like a lot of games of its era, was much better on Mac OS).  I would let my city run while I was in the other room or at work (with disasters turned off naturally) to build up a tax base and then spend the evening expanding my domain and fighting off fires and alien invasions, all while trying to keep my ungrateful population happy enough to not flee the city.  I’ll tax you little bastards back to the stone age!  I remember the music especially, the jolly, bouncing, honky tonk tones of a happy thriving city or, more commonly, that trudging, day-to-day, we’re just getting by melody.  Is the SimCity 2000 sound track available on iTunes?

I am pretty sure I also bought SimCity 3000, but can only recall a mild sense of disappointment.  Plus it came out in 1999 when EverQuest pretty much owned my play time.

A bunch of other “Sim” games came from Maxis over the years, none of which really appealed to me.  Looking at the list of Maxis games, there are a lot of titles there that I let pass on by.  I think Maxis might have been ahead of their time in some ways.  SimFarm, as an example, was never a hit back in the day, but Farming Simulator has sold millions of copies on Steam.  Gaff can’t get enough of that one.  The simulation craze came too late for Maxis.

The only other Maxis titles I can muster much nostalgia for are RoboSport and Marble Drop.

RoboSport was a simultaneous move, multiplayer combat game, something of a precursor to the Combat Mission series of games, where both sides give their units instructions during the orders phase, then both sides act on those order at the same time during the combat phase.  For a season, when we were not playing Full Metal Mac or Bolo or NetTrek, it was the after work game of choice.

Then there was Marble Drop, which was probably the last Maxis game I purchased.  It apparently got poor reviews, but I recall it as being a fun little puzzle game that I played all the way through… though time may have fuzzed the edges of those memories.

A level in Marble Drop

A level in Marble Drop

And that is about it for the history of Maxis as viewed through the prism of my experience.  They mostly made games which I did not play.  Then they were acquired by EA which kept them around a lot longer than some other studios they have purchased.  But now Maxis has joined the list of the departed, along with Mythic, Origin, Kesmai, Westwood, Pandemic, and Bullfrog.

You can argue over whether Electronic Arts buys studios that were destined to die anyway or, if by buying them, EA destroys them on its own.  Either way, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between being bought by EA and being shut down by EA.

But the world of video games is volatile and it isn’t like the only studios that shut down are the ones owned by EA.  So we say farewell to Maxis and wish good luck to those who are now out there looking for a job.

I feel like I have been writing a lot of these nostalgic/memory/milestone/obituary posts lately.  What is up with 2015?

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?