SimCity: A Man-made Disaster

SC_02SimCity has a special place in gamers’ hearts. For many, it was the first time they felt not just in control but truly responsible for a virtual world. We’ve all campaigned for fantastical realms and foiled villainous plans but the micromanagement offered by Will Wright’s city-building simulator was something entirely new and empowering back in 1989. Over the franchise’s almost 25-year history fans have faced everything from traffic to tornadoes and even extra-terrestrial invasions, but with the launch of Maxis’ 2013 reboot of SimCity players were up against a new threat to their metropolises that was never possible before.

Upon the new game’s release in North America last week fans were shocked to find the game almost unplayable. Despite its past as a primarily singleplayer experience Maxis decided to implement digital rights management. While Lucy Bradshaw, general manager at Maxis, did attribute the always-online requirement to supporting the GlassBox engine and encouraging connectivity between player’s individual cities some time ago, it is more than likely that EA pushed the feature in order to reduce piracy. In direct result of DRM, EA’s servers crashed early last week under the overwhelming mass of players attempting to login.

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EA and Maxis have worked tirelessly for the past week to accommodate the heavy traffic. They initially increased server capacity by 120%, which allegedly reduced disruptions by around 80%, whilst on Thursday Maxis released a hotfix patch that removed a number of non-critical features such as leaderboards and achievements to ease the burden on servers. Unhappy with the issues EA has temporarily halted all advertising for the title and late last week Maxis apologised again, offering owners of the game a free PC download from EA’s library.

Bradshaw issued an update on Maxis’ progress on Sunday evening revealing that, regardless of the server instabilities, around 8 million hours of gameplay have been logged and that crashes have been reduced by 92% since launch. Once again she apologised and commended the fans for supporting their efforts and trusting their ability to solve the many problems and furthermore hopes that all the issues should be resolved within the next few days.

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While Maxis and EA’s attempts to appease fans have been appreciated, the source of the problem cannot be denied. Ubisoft’s implementation of DRM a few years ago saw Assassin’s Creed II players losing save data whenever their internet connection was severed while Activision and Blizzard were heavily criticised just last year after connectivity issues locked gamers out of Diablo III’s singleplayer as well as the multiplayer. Understandably publishers and developers want to keep people from stealing and copying their products illegally but every time we see them try to combat this problem the paying fans suffer.

You need only look at the reviews of SimCity to see that Maxis has done the legacy of the series proud but the entire launch debacle has left the hard work of the developers and EA as a whole tarnished. Most of the reviews are positive but they all show contempt for the always-on DRM controls, bringing many high scores down in light of the current issues. It’s a shame to see a well-made game brought down by poor infrastructure but had Maxis and EA not incorporated these restrictions, thousands of fans would no doubt have been revelling in their mayoral duties from day one.

  • Allan Walsh

    The large companies refuse to see sense with regards to DRM. It’s intrusive attempts at stopping piracy that actually make piracy worse. All you have to do is look at many of the forums online to see comments about people waiting for the cracked versions of games. People who rip through the DRM of software do it with more gusto if they see it as a challenge and a high profile disastrous launch like this will have them flocking like flies around faeces.

  • http://www.grumpyrocker.co.uk/ Harry Neary

    There’s a bigger problem with the game you missed in this article. The simulation of human activity is completely broken at the design level. Sims go the nearest job each morning, returning to the nearest empty house in the evening. People flow like sewage in the game, the whole thing is fundamentally flawed.

    • http://www.gamedot.co.uk Liam

      You know I never really took much notice of the comings and goings of the Sims in the game. I shall watch a few of them tonight when I play.

    • http://www.gamedot.co.uk Liam

      The problem seems to be even worse that that. The Sim seems to go to work (I had one that drove along a very long main road, turned around at the interstate and arrived at his place of work which was on the other side of his house. It would have been quicker to walk – which they do!) and then goes home which at times appears to be a completly different house.

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