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SimCity, One Month Out: Still As Troubled As Day One?

I'm Feeling Pretty Duped Right About Now...

Most gamers who weren’t snookered in by the alluring siren call of pre-order goodies on SimCity saw what happened during the title's launch and smartly said “I’ll wait.” One month out, the verdict is in. Keep waiting.

In terms of games whose launches were the entertainment version of explosive diarrhea, and similarly unpleasant, SimCity has earned a place in history. It now joins those lofty, ignominious horrors wrought upon the world of gaming. Let us remember fondly the version of Anarchy Online that formatted your hard drive. A Final Fantasy XIV as being one of the most frustrating subscription-based screensavers you could have signed-up for. Ultima IX being so terrible at launch, the official forums were shut down. As for the grand-daddy of epic fails, well, no list would be complete without Daikatana.

At launch, SimCity was just short of aneurism-inducing, with its insistence that you download and install Origin, EA’s version of Steam, which occupies your computer in the same fashion a gas station breakfast burrito might occupy your intestinal tract. Think RealPlayer, without all of the frills and charm. Luck, patience, and an Internet connection with extraordinary stability were required if you were foolish enough to shell out cash to EA ahead of time for the chance to play on launch day. Servers were slammed, and I don’t mean in a way reminiscent of Diablo 3’s launch, where you were inconvenienced, but able to play once you got in. Servers were obliterated from users downloading the game due to a lack of preloading as an option, users attempting to log in, and angry users trying to log back in after having been booted due to synchronization errors. It was nightmarish, as though EA had not predicted the game they were spending millions to advertise was going to have a lot of people try to play it on the first day.

Objectively, how long should it take a development team to set up new servers? If your launch is an utter failure on Day One due to psychotic and entirely expected server load, isn’t the first response naturally to get new servers operational as soon as possible? I ask because it seemed to take weeks before the ability to connect to the servers stabilized. Blizzard’s Diablo 3, referenced earlier, is the perfect example of this. A catastrophic launch day was followed up by an immediate response to improve server capacity in a very short period of time. A stumble and a recovery for Blizzard on stability issues, and a lesson not learned by EA, despite numerous examples in the industry.

The half-hearted apologies from upper management at EA were not enough for most gamers. The statement that “SimCity was meant to be played online” was a bold-faced lie, as most astute users have come to understand. I know this because, as of this writing, most of the largest features involving online play with other users are turned off. The Global Market is deactivated. Leaderboards are not active. And finding a game to play with friends or other SimCity users is next to impossible due to the game browser lacking functionality a kindergartner would question the absence of.

The free game they gave away to “patient Mayors” had a five day window to claim it. If you bought your game after the announcement, like I did, thinking, “Hey, I’ll give it a shot. If I don’t like it, there’s another older game I can check out,” and had it shipped, chances are you missed the narrow window of opportunity. Tough. You deserve what you get. You bought SimCity after all.

I took the plunge because I knew, at some point, I was going to play it. I’ve played every one of the Sims games, as far back as SimEarth and SimAnt. I must admit, I’m guilty of a bit of schadenfreude when it came to watching the launch. It was like watching a 60-car freeway pile-up in slow motion. Having been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of patch days and game launches from the industry side, I’m glad I wasn’t involved, and it was intriguing to watch this one as a spectator. SimCity’s launch was around the same time that Tom’s Hardware was launching its new forum platform, and I have to say I was nervous that our roll-out was going to meet with a similar reception. I realized that we don't hate our users, whereas EA seems to. You are viewed by our staff as critically-thinking individuals. We prompt you constantly for your feedback, rather than treat you as miniature cash machines that we can pull a lever on to force you to spew up dough for pointless pixelcrack that by all rights should have been in the original feature set. Want the ability to post a new thread on the forums? That’ll be $2.99 please. Upload a custom avatar? $1.99. No. That’s not the way we play, and you’ll notice we’re now ad-free on our forums, too. But I diverge.

  • iam2thecrowe
    It's nice to read a good rant every once and a while. Wonder if EA is listening yet?
    Reply
  • Driwer
    I laughed.
    Reply
  • Soma42
    Plenty of single player games like Fallout, Bioshock Infinite, Skyrim, The Witcher, FTL, etc. all are incredibly successful.

    If you make a quality product and make it easily accessible (i.e. limited DRM) to people, they will pay for it.
    Reply
  • tridon
    It's good to see that more people agree that this feels like a beta, not a release worthy product. It's sad that this game we've waited on since 2005-ish is so lackluster :(

    I preordered Cities in Motion 2 (a €20 Paradox-title) and on releaseday it was excellent, though with a few minor, non-critical bugs. A team of 11 made a game that for my taste beat the crap out of the beta that SimCity in truth is. Maxis has shown through the years that they are able to make great stuff, so I guess I'm still waiting for a number of "huge patches". Still hoping it will become the perfect, aweinspiring citybuilder of epic proportions that I imagined when I heard about it one year ago. Doubts are growing however. *sad face*
    Reply
  • Shankovich
    I'm really annoyed with the hardware optimization the most. Crappy frame rates, artifacts at certain zoom levels, and a really slow chat system...the game could have used another 4-6 months in the oven.
    Reply
  • amoralman
    Best. Article. Ever.

    /rant
    I can't stress enough how EA, fake DLC, always-online is killing the industry, ruining franchises. I can't wait for the day games are given back to gamers, and the aggressive capitalism gets the fuck out of the gaming business.
    /end rant
    Reply
  • kinggremlin
    I supported EA through the initial servers access issues that only lasted a few days. That wasn't a big deal to me, nor is the always online requirement. But, the more I played the game the more my support has eroded to the point that this was the first game I ever stopped playing because of bugs and instability. This game is such a disaster at the base levels that I am shocked that EA even chose to release this game when it was released. I am baffled how the Q/A testers ever signed off on this piece of junk or if there actually are any internal testers at all. Within an hour of the 2.0 patch release there were numerous users complaining of crippling bugs (horrific pollution from nothing). How did the testers miss these? I hope this game gets fixed and runs the way most of us wanted it to, but I have no faith that that is going to be any time soon. I will never preorder another game from EA.
    Reply
  • kinggremlin
    I should point out as well, that the official message board on SimCity.com is far more entertaining than the game itself. 24 hour comedy gold.
    Reply
  • thor220
    Someone should make a movie about the modern gaming industry. They could show the dramatic effect publishers have on games and how companies like EA can continue to lie about a product to sell it and not get fined.
    Reply
  • dragonsqrrl
    I've gotten pretty far into Sim City, and the only advice I can give prospective buyers is to avoid this game for as long as possible. If you've been seriously considering it, just don't. At the very least wait a while, it's not ready for prime time. A lot of the mechanics in the game are either broken or make absolutely no sense. Here are just a few of the problems I encounter on a regular basis, some of which were also mentioned by Joe.

    Traffic at intersections with stop lights is absolutely terrible, to the point where it simply doesn't work. Users have had to invent creative solutions in street layout to either minimize or avoid the use of stoplights altogether, which is ridiculous. Once you reach a certain population this can completely kill your city.

    Path finding in the game is stupid, which further contributes to the traffic problem. Vehicles seem to take the shortest path (in terms of distance to destination) no matter what, even if there's a colossal traffic jam in the way and there are many other open routes available. Since practically everything in the game is dependent on this system (cars, public transit, trash, fire, ambulances, tourism, etc)... ya, things don't work so well.

    Public services seem to randomly stop working, more specifically trash and recycling pickup.

    Rail cars don't work, even on a simple loop, they're simply broken. But at least Maxis has acknowledged this one.

    Oh ya, you can lose a city or even an entire region due to some sort of critical (and seemingly prevalent) server syncing bug. Yes, you could lose all your progress with no chance for recovery. Why? How? No one seems to know. It's the "City unable to process" error, and there's a 220+ page forum filled with users who have encountered this problem. Unfortunately I'm one of them. Luckily my city was able to recover after about a week of inaccessibility.
    http://answers.ea.com/t5/Miscellaneous-Issues/Info-request-Cannot-process-this-city-at-this-time/td-p/731232/highlight/false

    Tourism is broken, largely due to traffic problems. Tourists won't visit your city if you have heavy traffic around tourist destinations. So ya, path finding again. Also, tourist numbers seem to drop off a cliff and never recover for no apparent reason, even in the absence of heavy traffic. Maxis has supposedly addressed this specific problem in their latest 2.0 patch, but I haven't noticed a difference.

    Intercity play, the core gameplay mechanic in Sim City, needs some serious tweaking. Lets just call this broken for now too. The idea is that you can share resources between cities so you don't necessarily need duplicate services in a region that can take a significant toll on your city budget, such as a university. The thing is at a certain point it seems like every city needs a copy of every service in order to progress, and certain services don't seem to contribute to the region in the way they're supposed to... such as universities. Also, money transfers between cities can take a ridiculously long time to go through. I waited almost a week once before another city in my region received a transfer I made.

    Overall Sim City has been a bit of a disappointment, as you might imagine. There are tons of other critical, practically game breaking bugs out there, but I'm tired of typing. It's just sad because this game really seems like it has the potential to be great. For the first couple hours the experience is honestly fantastic. There's nothing like building up a city and watching it work. But then it breaks, and the reality of the broken features and mechanics sets in. There's no better way to sum up Sim City, the more you play the more frustrated you become.
    Reply