Video Games

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Unnatural Disaster

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Memo to Electronic Arts and Digi-Mayors: WAIT, ACTUAL QUOTE TIME?

"OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it." - Maxis General Manager Lucy Bradshaw, stealing my goddamned thunder.

Still, one week after the ill-fated launch of SimCity 5, also known as "SimCity" to the reboot-obsessed game industry that brought you Mortal Kombat Not 11 last year and Tomb Raider Not 10 the same week as Sim City Not 5, it's not a bad idea to look at what was so fucking dumb about the whole situation.

SimCity is online. Hella online. You can barely even buy it on physical media. And if you want to play it, you have to be online, and connected to one of EA's servers, because this is SimCity, a game that traditionally has involved one lone dude sitting in front of his computer for hours and hours manipulating the lives of imaginary digital people, so of course that shit needs to be as online as possible.

But EA doesn't want you to steal it, and "online is the future", and so if you can't connect to EA's servers, it doesn't work. And if a bunch of people connect to a server at the same time, that server doesn't work. Guess what's been happening for the past week? Shit ain't worked.

The best part was when EA tried to improve server performance by turning off "non-essential features" of the game. Now, my knowledge of game architecture and programming is rudimentary and strictly from the viewpoint of a consumer, but who the fuck puts "non-essential features" on the server side of the equation? Non-essential features are the things the user disables so that they don't have to buy a new computer. Not the things the PUBLISHER enables so that they don't have to buy a bunch of new computers. That's some bullshit right there.

That said, the other side of the equation doesn't get out of the You Are Dumb Dot Net Scathing Look Shop without a bag full of goodies. And as a prime example of what I'm talking about, here's a comment from an online petition asking EA to release an offline version of the game. ACTUAL COMMENT TIME!

"I expected a multi-billion dollar company to be able to handle release-day server load. This was pathetic, and as a consumer, I for one will not be purchasing games from EA in the future." - Robert Privitere.

Why would you expect that? I expect the sun to come up tomorrow, because sunrise happens regularly. I expect Al Sharpton to stumble over his words on MSNBC. You know what I don't expect? I don't expect the new Pope to be a gay black woman. You know why? Because it's never happened before. You know what else has never happened before? A multi-billion dollar company being able to handle release day server load.

It doesn't fucking happen. Not for any game with even a shred of mass popularity. It never happens on PCs. It never happens on consoles. It never happens because it's never economical to build for peak capacity. If you go to a hot new restaurant right after its five star review in the local paper, you're not going to get a table right away. A month later, when some people have gotten their fill and the bloom is off the rose? Your odds are much better.

Summer blockbuster opening night? Buy your ticket well in advance and expect to get a buttery, popcorn-smelling elbow intruding into your personal space for 150 minutes. Or, if you don't like that, wait a week or two, then go. Nothing in this world is made more pleasant by thousands of other people wanting to do it at the same time you do. And no, I do not accept your counter-example on this, so don't bother.

Now, given that this is the case, and EA knows it's the case, and everyone knows it's the case, then EA needs to mitigate that shit. And there are ways to do this that they didn't take. Making a game that's not so goddamned online-dependent. Not giving it an irrelevant "release date" in the digital world, but instead rolling it out more slowly, and limiting the number of purchases to what their servers can reasonably handle, just like a restaurant taking reservations.

But please, dude. You're not going to buy an EA game ever again? Good luck with that. Maybe in that alternate game world you live in, where you can expect companies to handle Day One server loads, EA isn't a massive, overbearing publisher whose tentacles are in a third of the games on the planet, but here? They're gonna put out something you want. And long before then, as with every online-dependent game, the traffic will stabilize, the servers will catch up, people will get their game on, and the SimCity debacle will be largely forgotten. And you'll buy another EA game, because outrage is cheap, commitment is hard, and in this case, the cause in question isn't that big a deal.

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