The SimCity Disaster: Et tu, DRM?
SimCity is a series that has been around for decades. I first remember playing it on my brother’s Compaq Presario when I was five. I didn’t really understand how to build a city, but it was fun making different structures and seeing what would happen. My cities never lasted long, and that was alright. I never wanted to get too involved; I just wanted to jump in, mess around a bit, and then go do something else. It’s a shame the developers at Maxis couldn’t remember those simpler times when releasing their new SimCity a few weeks ago.
SimCity is the latest in a string of high-profile games to try and stymy piracy by using always-on DRM. The concept is frustrating, yet simple: in order to play the game, you must have an internet connection. The game is downloaded from servers provided by the developer/publisher and maintained the same way. The idea is that by forcing online play and having Simmers go through the servers in order to do so, it will cut down on piracy.
The problem is that a lack of internet connection renders the game basically useless. In doing this, EA and Maxis have gotten rid of the single-player mode in SimCity.
With an always-online game, the publisher and developer have to make sure that everything works properly before launch, and that includes servers that are well equipped to handle the initial rush of players, especially with a game that has such a pedigree like SimCity. Neither EA nor Maxis really tested their servers for the kind of traffic they’d get, which shows how much they underestimated the game’s selling potential. When players tried to log on launch day, they were greeted with an error message.
Thousands of players found themselves locked out because of EA’s wonky servers being unable to process the influx of new users. EA claimed they would fix it, but the problems persisted for several days until EA finally announced they would be adding more servers to accommodate for the massive player population. Because of the online-only system, many users found themselves out $60 with no game to show for it.
Though the servers should be up in a few months, this sort of gaffe should not be forgotten, especially when two very big franchises (SimCity and Diablo 3) launched with the same issue that sullied their legacies. Some gaming publications have recognized this fatal flaw with the game. What’s interesting is that the gaming press all had a feeling that this was going to happen, but it was not reflected in their reviews of the game (except for Polygon’s review which retroactively changed SimCity’s review score from a 9 to a 4 in the wake of the disaster).
The amount of heat that EA and Maxis has taken is of little surprise; Ubisoft went through the same public flogging when it’s version of always-on DRM, Uplay, messed with gamers’ copies of Assassin’s Creed 2. The reaction was so bad that Ubisoft swore to never use always-on DRM again.
Why is it that game companies are so ready and willing to break their own games and incense their fanbase? Piracy. Yes, piracy in video games is a big deal, and hundreds of sales are lost to such illegalities. Yet, to force gamers who happily bought the game, your core fanbase, to put up with DRM and end up with a broken game is just ludicrous. Pirates will eventually crack and release the game on torrent sites while the people who spent real dollars end up unable to enjoy their purchased product. They are the ones who post on message boards, demand refunds, and raise a general stink on the internet. Pirates will be patient; paying customers will not.
What is the solution here?
Companies obviously cannot allow the loss of sales through piracy, yet they cannot continually enforce these draconian measures that only piss off their audience. There’s no good answer, because no matter how a company tries to protect their games, they will be pirated. The urge to get things for free (especially in this day and age) overwhelms any security measure publishers can produce. Any protection will eventually be broken, and the game will be distributed illegally.
It mercifully won’t be long until the always-on DRM goes the way of CD keys and code wheels, but publishers will come up with something worse in order to preserve their sales numbers. The best thing publishers can do is to ignore the pirates and focus on pleasing the general consumer.
You know, the opposite of what their doing now.
When not torrenting all the things, Ben Christ writes about video games and sports for Hobbeslives.com