As EA put it so eloquently, ‘Challenge Everything’. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between pushing the boundaries of gaming innovation and making a server so bugged, it really is a challenge just to stay online.
Welcome to the SimCity fiasco, which has been dogged with problems from day 1. A partially functioning game wasn’t even ready until day 3, which by then, had already caused some degree of outrage.
Problems are slowly being addressed by Maxis, the game’s creator (owned by EA), but it looks like the damage has already been done.
But there’s been some surprising announcements during the course of the saga, coupled with EA’s notoriously dim-witted PR that could well show up their true colours and intentions for the future.
So are people jumping on the EA hate bandwagon, or is there more to this than meets the eye?
The SimCity DRM Experience
Before proceeding any further, this is the first SimCity game that is online-only. Going offline, ironically, could solve many problems that the game is facing, which particularly centre around the game’s servers.
The possibility however, was rebuffed by Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw’s blog post back in December:
Creating a connected experience has always been a goal for SimCity, and this design decision has driven our development process for the game. This is easily the most ambitious game in the franchise and we’ve taken great care to make sure that every line of code embodies the spirit of the series…There is a massive amount of computing that goes into all of this, and GlassBox (the game engine) works by attributing portions of the computing to EA servers (the cloud) and some on the player’s local computer.
So the game seems to have been designed with online intention’s from the off. But Rock Paper Shotgun‘s John Walker reported that the game could actually work offline with very little change required.
EA have other reasons to be reluctant to go offline though. They very hot on Digital Rights Management (DRM) on many of their PC games, making sure games must be connected online in order to play.
For EA, this is supposedly good. It’s going to reduce pirated copies that plague PC games whilst giving them massive control over your game.
However, their PR team is not exactly in top form and they’re at risk of alienating a large chunk of their fan base.
Blizzard’s Diablo III turned out to be a somewhat disaster by requiring users to be constantly connected even when users just want to play single-player part of the game.
EA could certainly digging it’s own grave with this move. Developing markets, especially in India, are having trouble keeping pace with the internet revolution. Many still struggle to have a stable internet connection, and EA could be losing a huge market segment in the future.
But closer to home, it’s not like EA have a great history with servers either. Even the Fifa series, the crown jewel of EA, was and still is, butchered with poor servers that frustrate many.
But beside an annoying inconvenience of constantly staying connected, a very dangerous legacy will be set if more games are rendered DRM.
EA like every other publisher/developer/business out there, is profit-driven. As much as we’d love to look at games through those rose-tinted spectacles, at some point in the future, these games are going to be played by only a handful of dedicated gamers.
As these games become less and less profitable to keep servers running, these games will eventually be shut down.
It would be a great shame if these games were to fall by the wayside in the future just because of someone’s insistence they may still online.
And with the inevitable future of disk-less games for consoles (most likely after this upcoming generation of consoles), an insistence upon DRM could well cause many problems with non-profitably servers in the future.
Single-Player is Dead, Long Live Multiplayer
Ever since the explosion of online multiplayer from Call of Duty: Modern Warefare generated a healthy $775 million in it’s first 5 days, developers have been scrambling to find that winning formula that builds a hugely profitable online empire.
In the eyes of EA: everything needs multiplayer. Even if it’s absolute garbage.
They’ve been proudly shouting their multiplayer love-in from the rooftops, as EA labels president Frank Gibeau boldly stated he had “not green lit one game to be developed as a single-player experience”.
In a market that’s already saturated in mediocrity, EA are being very short sighted about the experiences their fans want to be having.
For starters, setting a legacy of tacking half-baked multiplayer modes onto any game is going to come back to haunt games built on solid single player experiences.
Take Bioshock 2. Both the original and sequel had fine single player modes that make them some of the best games this generation. However, the multiplayer in the sequel added very little to the game itself.
The story was not held up in quite such regard as the original and this is most likely down the development time and costs needed to add multiplayer in. A longer, more-developed story mode with greater artistic expression could easily have matched the original.
Although at least it has been confirmed that the third will not feature it at all. Lesson learnt. Move on.
EA take a different approach however. Sticking religiously to their need to incorporate multiplayer wherever possible, they severely detracted from the experience of the Mass Effect 3 story mode.
The ‘galactic readiness’ points system, which were earned online, likely left gamers who ploughed through the story mode without even touching the multiplayer with a completely different, and often worse, ending.
Despite being an excellent stand-alone mode, the multiplayer bared no resemblance to the original story and felt as if Bioware were subtly pushing you towards the multiplayer once you had finished.
Hopefully other developers will take heed of EA’s poor judgement and continue to make single-player only games, but they’re quickly being relegated to niche status.
Whether this is a good thing is anyone guess, but if EA keeps on buying up talented studios, forcing multiplayer down their throats and then throwing them by the wayside (we’re looking at you, Dead Space 3) then things aren’t going to look too bright for single-players.
Stubborn Ignorance or Economically Sound?
EA are once again in the running for America’s worst company after coming out on top last year and after CEO John Riccitiello’s recent resignation, they certainly have many problems to content with on the PR side of things.
But is this just EA adapting to the current financial climate? Game development is as rocky as it has ever been, with developers closing left, right and centre.
So it’s understandable that EA are trying different strategies to keep themselves on track. Which is why, as much as I despise the concept, I understand that they are introducing online passes. It’s damn well annoying, but they’ve got to make money somewhere (not that they aren’t making enough already).
But what is unforgivable is their sheer disregard for the quality of games they publish. Now more than ever, they should be trying desperately hard to bring out games represent value for money. Yet they seem to be sticking to their principles of putting money before quality.
Other developers have had great success using the likes of DLC to generate further revenue.
Skyrim’s latest Dragonborn DLC provides a fine example, so it’s definitely not as black and white as EA make it out to be.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll be looking at more of EA’s underhand tactics and whether they are a black mark on the gaming industry!