Tom's Hardware's Community Manager, Joe Pishgar, eagerly anticipated the launch of SimCity. Now, a month later, he has something to say about EA's handling of the day-one issues and the continued problems plaguing a game he wanted so much to enjoy.
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.