SimCity's "Always Online" Screwup

SimCity's "Always Online" Screwup

In case you missed it, the latest SimCity game was released last Tuesday (March 4th). While game reviews by news outlets were quite positive, user reviews have been in the toilet. Why? Because Electronic Arts, the game's publisher, so severely underestimated the load the game would place on its servers that they've done nothing but choke since the game went online. And gamers are peeved.

But let's back up for a second. SimCity has always been a single player game. Why does a single player game need to run off EA's servers? Because of fear, primarily. EA was so worried that piracy would take a bite out of sales that they took an otherwise single player experience and bolted on some multiplayer features so they could essentially call it a MMO. That gives them cover to require gamers maintain an active connection to EA's servers in order to play.

By requiring a constant connection to play, EA has cheapened the experience of paying customers. I understand the draw, from a publisher's standpoint, of the always-online requirement. It virtually eliminates piracy and secondhand sales, both which, in theory, are supposed to lead to increased sales as those low/no cost options are removed from the market. Unfortunately that upside is not valued by the customer, while the downsides to the requirement are.

Requiring an always-online connection means a couple of things. It means I can't play anywhere without a stable internet connection, such as a train, plane, or possibly even my house because if my connection is interrupted, even for a moment, I get booted from the game. The second, much larger problem, in my opinion, is that I don't own the game. When EA decides its no longer profitable to operate the servers that run the game and shuts them down, it will take the ability to play the game with it.

With no upside to counter the tremendous downside of their decisions, it's likely that EA will lose more in sales from releasing a substandard product than what it would theoretically lose from piracy and secondhand sales.