SimCity SimCity

Gamer's Notebook

EA had one job and completely botched it

By Chris O'Neal 03/14/2013


SimCity is available for PC at the price of one soul ($59.99).

When you’re down, often a dark room where no one but your mother can find you and a pint or two of bitter is the prescription for the night, It’s easy to disappear and forget the outside world. Unless you’re an international leader of a multibillion-dollar industry, in which case, bad days don’t just disappear under a torrent of booze. Ask Electronic Arts (EA). Its bad day has turned into a bad week and has quite possibly ruined the rest of its year.

When Maxis Entertainment’s SimCity was announced, the sixth release in the series, much rejoicing was had. SimCity was the city-building simulation we all grew to love as children, building enormous metropolises and then wrecking them through natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes. Watching electronic denizens scurry about as their virtual world came crumbling down around them was a pleasure unparalleled.

On March 5, SimCity was released for the PC through publisher EA. Droves of parties of two or more went to local retailers and, upon purchase, split up and went home alone to build a populace.

But a dark cloud loomed over the servers at EA headquarters, a dark cloud with a silver lining that screamed problems.

Months before the release of SimCity, EA announced that in order to play the game, players would need to have an Internet connection. For a single-player game, this announcement seemed absurd. Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis didn’t require an Internet connection. Neither did any of the previous SimCity games. Why the sudden requirement?

The answer is digital rights management (DRM), a term used by lawyers that loosely translates into, “What’s yours is ours.”

EA’s DRM on SimCity required an always-on Internet connection to digitally assure that the game being played was purchased legally. Privacy and ownership issues aside, on March 5, when players attempted to legally purchase and play the game via EA’s digital service Origin, they were met with server errors, crashes and saved games disappearing entirely.

The problem was so bad and so embarrassing (Minnesota Viking’s punter Chris Kluwe, @ChrisWarcraft,  tweeted to EA, “How does it feel to run a developer’s image into the ground?”) that online retailer Amazon pulled digital sales of SimCity and suspended the game until the issues were addressed. Watching the SimCity launch was like watching a man’s shoes pop off after being hit by a car.

DRM is an always on kind of ordeal. DRM was the reason your Chumbawamba album didn’t play in your CD player, it’s the reason your Japanese DVD copy of Battle Royale won’t play in your DVD player, and now it’s the reason SimCity has become the biggest failure in modern gaming history.

Inevitably, the servers will be fixed. Consumers will be able to build their cities and destroy them as they see fit. In time, all will work as planned and DRM will no longer stand in the way. The damage, however, has been done. Unlike unleashing a tornado in your simulated village, DRM is the tornado that has destroyed many a reputation in the gaming community, making EA into the Saruman of the gaming world, perched high upon its tower, demanding DRM for all in a world that just wants to interact with talking trees and go on unexpected journeys without all of the bullshit.

In other news, as in . . . reality, so much attention has been focused on video game violence, the question of whether or not children can differentiate between reality and fiction continually pops up. The answer has finally been revealed on Danish television’s TV2. While speaking of Syria, anchorwoman Cecilie Beck sat in front of an image the television station believed to be the skyline of ancient Damascus.

As it turns out, the image was a high-definition rendering from Assassin’s Creed 2. Maybe they’re on to something after all! 

Chris O’Neal is an architect who firmly believes that everything belongs in a museum. Follow him on Twitter @Agentoneal.



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