EA's SimCity Launch A Disaster-Fueled Nightmare; Company Reneges On Refund Promise

Three days ago, EA launched the latest version of SimCity. Opinions of the game itself have varied widely. Pre-launch reviews were generally positive, though a number of publications criticized the heavy reliance on multiplayer, small city sizes, and the fact that other players can deliberately sabotage hours of careful work. All other characteristics, however, have been overshadowed by the game's disastrous launch performance.

How bad is it? Bad enough to make Diablo 3's launch look good. To date, EA has disabled online features, forced the game to run slowly, and implemented login queues. It hasn't delayed plans to launch the game in more areas, and sure enough, gamers in those countries are now experiencing the same problems US-based players are having. To be fair, delaying the game launch might or might not have made sense -- Germany's servers aren't going to be handled by the same infrastructure as US servers -- but continuing the rollout in the face of these problems suggests that either the issues were expected, or that the company doesn't know how to fix them.

Thousands of players are apparently also locked out of previously saved cities, with no information on when or if they'll ever be able to access these games again. EA's attempts to manage the damage have mostly succeeded at pissing everybody off. Yesterday, an Origin Community Manager, EA_ComRaven, posted the following (Full text available via Google Cache):

Now, the company has backpedaled from that announcement -- as documented below:

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Maxis General Manager Lucy Bradshaw told Kotaku today that "700,000 cities have been created in one 24-hour period," but internal memos that have leaked to game journalists suggest that the company believes the hammering the game has taken is justified -- while arguing that the reason no game servers are localized in Asia is because "there is a lot of piracy in Asia, so it would be difficult for the time being." This had the side effect of pissing off every EA customer on an entire continent. Amazon has taken the unusual step of putting a warning on the Sim City page, stating that "Many customers are having issues connecting... we do not know when the issue will be fixed."

One of the problem with launches like this is that customer behavior changes in ways that actively make the problem worse. I've seen it before in multiple MMO launches and with Diablo III -- when login queues are long and connectivity is a crap shoot, customers who manage to log in take steps to stay logged in. This further exacerbates the problem when login attempts are being tightened to keep servers online.

I loved the original SimCity and several of its sequels, but the multiplayer, always-online requirement, and backtracking on the refund issue have personally turned me off the game. In this case, only part of the problem is launch-related. Playing SimCity with other people sounds interesting, but not at the expense of building large cities -- and not if other players can purposefully wreck your city by leading you to rely on them for key resources (like power), then pulling that resource out from under you unexpectedly. Multiple reviews have indicated that if this occurs, the city may well enter a decline that's impossible to stop.

EA will eventually fix the problems -- but there's no reason to hand them your money until they do.