SimCity disaster launch unlikely to affect long-term strategy

It’s been an unbearable six whole days since SimCity launched – or at least, tried to launch – sending shockwaves of righteous rage through the gaming community. The way I hear it, EA will never sell a game again, not after a disaster worse than the Titanic, the Hindenburg, and the Star Wars Holiday Special combined.

Bull, I say.

If you’re one of the people who bought SimCity on launch day and are currently among its most vitriolic detractors, I put forth that the reason you feel that way is because you love SimCity that much more than the average fan.

What will that mean when SimCity 6 comes out? You’ll ignore it because “FU, EA”?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of folks out there who are angry enough take that approach, ones who aren’t so completely devoted to the franchise or who are sturdy enough to stick to their guns.

And a lot of people simply don’t care for the “forced multiplayer” aspect of the game and would have rejected it out of hand, even if the servers worked just fine.

But I think enough people will have put this incident far enough behind them or will adapt to – and even possibly begin to like – the online gameplay elements that the current game’s troubles will make only the smallest of dents in the next’s overall sales numbers.

Don’t think so? It’s already happened. With a Maxis/EA game, no less.


Virulent Spore

Spore launched in 2008 with DRM tool SecuROM and faced similar vilification from gamers. Barely a week after its launch, 2,016 of its 2,216 ratings on Amazon were of the one-star variety, mimicking the online blasting that SimCity has received.

This article, which quotes a former Maxis employee on the SecuROM/Spore fiasco seems like it could have just as easily been printed last week:

[quote]Also, they have thrown away a lot of the goodwill that gamers have towards Will Wright. I understand why they think the DRM is a good idea, but they haven’t even tried to make it ‘good’ DRM, by defending their position, making it clear when and if the DRM will be removed, or abandoning it the day it got pirated.

From a PR point of view, this is a disaster, as they have come across like they have their fingers in their ears and aren’t listening. Ultimately I think it’s sad, because this was a very original, high budget PC game release that could have been a great shot in the arm for PC gaming. Everyone loses as a result of this, EA, Maxis, and PC gamers. the only people celebrating this are the people who make a dishonest living from selling advertising impressions on pirate websites. It’s a totally avoidable disaster.[/quote]

Clearly, that “goodwill that gamers have towards Will Wright” wasn’t diminished much, if initial impressions of SimCity‘s sales are to be believed.

Going away from EA/Maxis, we have Ubisoft, long the primary villain in the DRM world. So much was the company and its DRM loathed that Assassin’s Creed II sold nine million copies. Oh, the horror. People hated Ubisoft so much that (DRM-free) Assassin’s Creed III notched seven million sales by the end of 2012. Short memories or a response to DRM removal? Or just a lot of rage about nothing?

And then there’s Diablo III. Error 37s and all, it sold 3.5 million copies in its first week and 12 million in all of 2012. That means that, even after its problems were well known in its first seven days, it still sold 8.5 million copies. If Diablo IV sells fewer than 10 million copies, I’ll eat my hat.


Fail Wail

It’s true that SimCity‘s defenders point out that the online-only mode is a required game function and a part of the design – not an oppressive DRM scheme. It’s possible that the developers envisioned it that way, dubious a design decision as it might have been.

But in the lightning-fast – or is that cheetah-fast? – world of the Internet, perception becomes reality. To the majority of dissatisfied players, the always-online requirement is DRM, meant to treat paying customers like criminals, and that’s the end of the story. EA/Maxis can’t spin this in a positive direction, no matter how hard they try or even what facts they offer forth.

The phrase “vote with your wallets” gets bandied around a lot right now, but the fact of it is that the number of people who are pissed off enough about the SimCity debacle to not purchase the next version – or even this one, once things are straightened out a little more – is probably very miniscule.

And it’s not like bad sales of the game – if they are realized – will “kill” EA, which has plenty of other cash cows, like Madden and FIFA to weather the storm of any one bad release. You not buying the next EA game will kill EA like you quitting World of Warcraft “killed” that game.

There’s not likely a whole lot you can do about this. By virtue of reading this, you’re in the minority of gamers who have the patience to get to the end of a 1,000-word article, which makes you very much unlike the types with the short memories and attention span of a gnat who will flock to retail outlets, physical or online, to pick up the next installment of a series that they loathed with such venom just a few years back.

In other words, that same fervor with which gamers demand their product right freaking now is used against them by companies that know that there will be an overwhelming number of zero-hour purchases that instantly swell their coffers, even if a relatively small number of people exhibit instant buyer’s remorse.


Money talks… quietly

If I had any advice to give, it would be to not put yourself through the same wringer next time. Because there will be a next time, whether it’s the next SimCity, Diablo, or even your favorite MMO that has its usual slate of issues at launch and beyond. If you’ve waited years for a game, waiting a couple more weeks won’t hurt you, and, if a game like SimCity‘s connectivity issues are any indication, you might not be missing anything by delaying your purchase anyway.

And if you really want to “vote with your wallet” without completely cutting yourself off, don’t buy direct. If it’s EA you want to spite, don’t buy from Origin. Buy from a third-party retail outlet, like Amazon or Best Buy, who takes a cut from every sale.

Don’t let your fanaticism work against you. Yes, a company that takes your money should give you a fully functioning product in return. But if you keep making the same mistakes in your purchasing habits, you’re just setting yourself up for inevitable frustration and are learning as much from your errors in judgment as EA and Maxis are from theirs.

Jason Winter has held several positions in the tabletop and video-gaming industry since 1996, including writer, editor, marketing coordinator, and game designer. He's the former editor of Beckett Massive Online Gamer and almost considers himself competent in PvP. In addition to his work with, he also blogs about video games at
  • Nipper

    Still waiting for the rage response from someone who only read the title line.

    • Pat Hamilton


    • Inkogni Alex

      call me for RAGE FUEL, make your own rage posts with my help.
      i can be reached on 911 hotlines, just ask for BATMAN!

  • Mike Coulombe

    Has any Maxis release been a truly polished product, like, ever? I keep hearing horror QA stories every time a Maxis game comes out. I could very much be wrong, but if that’s the case, isn’t an MMO-type experience going way over their head? I dunno… 

    I think Anno 2070 nailed the “putting a good and functioning reason behind always online” by having elections which directly affected your games, daily missions, events in the form of unique campaigns.

  • Jason Jenkins

    Sorry Mr. Winter but i have to disagree with you here, I’ve been a die hard simcity fan since the first one all those years ago and while yes now I am enjoying this installment of sim city with some degree I can say this will be the last time I will buy a maxis product straight out of the gate.  This always online craze that the companies are doing right now is just getting too much for me to stand even with them eventually fixing it, like the have done for simcity currently.  Its just not the kind of burden they should be putting on me as a paying customer.

    • Martin

      Well, have fun playing Tetris and Angry Birds, because this is the future of most(if not all) high budget big games. I’m not saying I like it, I’m just telling you how it is.

      • Bill Gerrettie Jr

        That’s only how it is because the majority of consumers are lemmings willing to walk off a cliff as long as others are doing so. If consumers don’t buy it, they can’t “make” this be the future of gaming. You want to bend over be my guest, I plan on fighting.

        • Eric Davenport

          You are joking right? You think people buy games just because other people buy games? I buy games because I enjoy them or they look interesting. I can give two shits about what other people buy(unless there is a good co-op mode). I also don’t understand people’s hate of DRM. The point is to deny pirates and give more money to the developer. I guess the only reason to hate it would be because you pirate as well.

          • Bill Gerrettie Jr

            I don’t hate DRM if it doesn’t overly inconvenience the user. An always on connection required for a mostly single-player game is intrusive DRM, and that’s what I’m against. Also, yes I do think a lot of people buy games based solely on what other’s think. I’m not trying to make people agree with me and follow what I do, then they’d still be lemmings. People need to make informed decisions and not just say “that’s how it is so I gotta accept it”. No, you don’t!

            My point is intrusive DRM is only “the future of gaming” if we accept it, I don’t intend to. 

          • Kevin J. Redmond

            Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of players will, and that makes your “fight” inconsequential.

        • Martin.

          Noone is “bending over”. The future of technology/computing is moving online toward the Cloud. This is a “Natrual” progression, not just in gaming, but in tech in general. Change is always chaotic, so you can choose to lock yourself in a room and not buy anything….noone cares, and noone will be hurt by it. For me, i’ll just ride this wave out (or “bend over” as you ignorantly put it).

      • Trevor Kidd

        I play plenty of games that don’t require me to always be online. I have 300+ games on my Steam account alone, that I can play offline. Nearly every day, new games are being released that I can also play offline. These developers and publishers don’t have the clout that EA has, to arrogantly shaft their customers. They can’t afford to be pissing us off, so I’m not worried about running out of games to play. There are enough small, hungry developers out there to keep me busy for a good long time and who actually value my business.

        Companies like EA and Blizzard will continue to have their zombified throngs hurling money at them, but they will never be the only game in town. It’s also been proven that they can’t even deliver the best game in town when studios a tenth their size regularly provide a superior product.

    • Michael

      Yep. I don’t think we can really say that all the fans will purchase the next title or that they won’t. We have not seen a fail of these kind of proportions of a game like this one pretty much ever. I think when we start to see games like Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect 4, Diablo 3 expansion, and now Sims expansions start to come out we can really get a look at stuff like this. All those games sold really well out of the gate due to various reasons -little to do with the quality of the game- stemming from loyalty to the franchise, loyalty to the developer, and word of mouth. Some of them continued to sell well because fans simply refuse to believe that someone may have been disappointed by a title they previously adored.  We won’t really know where those big games fair until their the next outings.

  • Deadalon

    I do agree that players should boycott Origin.  I have done that since half of EU was considered to be second class countries and not allowed to buy on Origin when SWTOR launched.  Apparently that part of EU was supposed to fill up the servers later on…  

    But I still feel that the gaming world has changed quite abit in the last few years  – enough for players to start to think where they put the money.  Games can be found all over now – many of them totally free.  We got new ways for developers to make games with crowd funding so the big publishers are no longer in the same demanding position they were before.   EA has a long history of bad service – bad treatment of their developer companies – and zero care for their customers.  Its a big corporate thinking where each individual player has no say.  But this ppl have the internet to let their opinion be known :D

    SimCity will not down a whole corporate mindset of EA.  But it will hurt them quite abit.  And looking at the coming months of EA releases… they dont have much coming.  They milked Bioware dry already.  PC market is barren for the rest of the year.  

    So lets hope this will hurt them.  And lets hope we will have plenty of ppl in the future reminding others what DRM really stands for when it comes to consumer rights.  Origin has made it clear. Even when the publisher has full control over who stays connected… the consumer has no right to return a broken product.  Thats just total disgrace.  

  • Hicks64

    My faith in AAA titles has dwindled as a late, with SWTOR, Diablo 3, Colonial Marines, and SimCity… 

  • Adrian Lloyd

    I don’t like DRM at all. PC games that are made to be played offline (in single player mode), shouldn’t force you to be online. Period. I understand it’s to counter piracy. I understand game companies want their revenue. But honestly, when you’re affecting your actual customers more negatively than piraters… is it really worth it?

    On a sidenote, I bought all the Assassin’s Creeds on Steam last year (post DRM). I’m glad Ubisoft dropped DRM completely. I think they noticed that they’re doing more harm than good. Wish EA would see the same.

  • Kamil

    SimCity was the pillar of the city building simulators. They were always top notch games. The new one is not and I won’t buy it, It’s a shell of a game compared to SC4. I want a single player SimCity with fully customisable regions and mod support (like sc4) that I can play without the need for an internet connection. If SC6 delivers that I’ll buy it, because we all know that SC5 will not change so drastically. If not then I’ll be sticking to SC4.

  • DoctorOverlord

    Very entertaining article Jason.   But as you point out, anyone with the patience to read it is unlikely to have the patience to actually stick to their guns and resist future zero-hour purchases.

    I have not bought an Activision game in 10 years and I will continue to do so but I never fool myself into thinking Activision will notice.   I’m not doing for my own sense of what’s right, not to inflict hurt on Activision (well okay, maybe a little).

  • Sharuko

    News flash, we are living in the future.  Soon most AAA games will require “always on” DRM, it sucks but that is how it is.  In terms of SimCity the game is amazing, I played it this weekend and literally 5 hours flew by.  Better than Sims 4 and even Sims 3000.

    A great game ruined by a bad launch, but they will recover because the game is actually good.

  • Jonnara

    EA Origin……..enough said, You couldn’t pay me to use Origin.

    As for always on DRM, the game client connection to internet is fine but anything that needs to run Origin in the background than NO.

  • ZackForester

    When did Jason become an EA apologist?

    • Inkogni Alex

      Diable having sales after all the error 37 and BS we got about PS3/4 i’d be surprised for them to even attempt a sale campaign.
      think we will have not official (pirated) servers for whatever Diablo game will come after this?

      • ZackForester

         Diablo sales after error 37 can easily be attributed to the game being fine until you reach Inferno Mode and the lag time between players leveling and word of mouth spreading. I’m sure we’ll have emulated servers for whatever game is released next in the Diablo franchise. Emulated servers were widely available the day after Diablo 3 launched.

        • Dularr

          Simcity is still number 1 on Amazon sales and Diablo III is still in the top thirty. 

          • ZackForester

            Says more to the overall quality of games being released today than anything else.

        • Snapneko

          You’re the dumbfuck that people make DRM because of, good job.

  • Ravenstorm

    Jason you big tease. Can you show a pic of that hat? I’m not sure you are the Lord Sarcasm or the Devil’s advocate. Or maybe even Lord Advocate or Devil’s Sarcasm. Let’s just say you’re the Lord Devil enjoying advocates sarcasm.

    Ofcourse you won’t be eating your hat. Blizz just has to wait another 15 years to launch D4, by then everyone will give it another chance. Unless maybe, if Titan rips us another craphole.
    Nah, we, the effing consumers, will consume.
    And by we I mean the quiet shoulder shrugging majority, not us ragewarring zealots of undeniable truths.

    The humanity.

  • Dularr

    Good article.  Nicely done. You do have to wonder if the launch woes will affect EA selling DLC for Simcity. Or just delay it. 

  • Jim Bergevin Jr

    Well said, and how true. However, I will be in the minority when it comes to sticking with my guns. I remember the day I bought Spore, then later found out about the DRM (fortunately before I cracked the wrapping). I didn’t return the game (having worked retail for a number of years has changed my PoV on returning things), so it Spore still sits on my 5 shelf gaming bookcase unwrapped, and from that point on I made it a point to try to learn what requirements and DRM a game would have prior to buying it. As a result – no AC games for me, and no SimCity 5+ now or ever. If they go back to their roots and make an off-line single-player game the way the franchise has been (and part of the appeal for me), then yes, I will buy it. But in the mean time, the only on-line games I will be paying for and playing are MMOs.

  • Shadowtalis

    Of course this won’t really hurt EA.

    Gamers as a whole are a weak, impotent consumer base. Most do one of three things.

    1. Whine on message boards, only to support the same company they complain about.

    2. Completely ignore bad business practices and buy no matter what.

    3. Actively attack anyone who DOES take a stand and label them *entitled*.

    In the long term, this isn’t going to hurt EA much, if at all. EA has been acknowledged to be one of the worst companies on earth for years, but that won’t stop gamers from throwing buckets of money at them.

    As consumers it is our responsiblity to reward or punish businesses based on quality and performance. When we don’t, the entire system falls apart. Worse, massive publishing blobs like EA roam around and devour smaller, better organizations and slowly dissolve them in digestive acid until nothing remains.

    And now…. I’d like to take a moment of silence for the fallen developer, Bullfrog Productions. You died before your time.

    • Trevor Kidd

      And I’d like to take another moment for Westwood Studios. Another great studio ground beneath the gears of the hungry leviathan.

  • Eric Bloom

    I agree with Jason.  Many new games have server problems and still go on to succeed.  If I like the game and the problems are tech-related, I’ll stick with it, be patient and unless the developers are in some guy’s basement, it usually smooths out after time.

  • Patrick M

    It’s not even server issues anymore. Do some research, the Glass Box engine itself isn’t what it was hyped up to be. At least with Diablo 3, once you got in, the game was enjoyable until you got to inferno, something many players didn’t even manage until after a month or more. The problems with population counts and the pathfinding AI ruin the game within hours. As soon as you hit 100k population, things start to break down and it only gets worse with time. Maybe they can fix it, who knows, but I’m seeing a lot more people ask for refunds now that they can actually play the game, and that wasn’t the case with Diablo 3.

  • Patrick M

    It’s not even server issues anymore. Do some research, the Glass Box engine itself isn’t what it was hyped up to be. At least with Diablo 3, once you got in, the game was enjoyable until you got to inferno, something many players didn’t even manage until after a month or more. The problems with population counts and the pathfinding AI ruin the game within hours. As soon as you hit 100k population, things start to break down and it only gets worse with time. Maybe they can fix it, who knows, but I’m seeing a lot more people ask for refunds now that they can actually play the game, and that wasn’t the case with Diablo 3.

  • John Smith

    Jason DeWinter you idiot. Try keeping up with news for once instead of being light years behind the trend. Yes the DRM is draconian but worst off is that the game is simply poorly coded and broken. EA sold what is evidently a beta, a product that isn’t even finished let alone ready for market.

  • gingerbill

    Good article . Though i think the jury is still out on simcity and it can be turned around . Diablo 3 it was the auction house i hated more than the DRM , combined with low drop rates that was far more cynical to me.

    I speak out about DRM and bore people about it but i guess im part of the problem as i purchased simcity and Diablo 3 . Though those really were exceptions as they happen to be unique in that they have a history of being brilliant games i’ve loved for a long time .

    You make a good point in the article but i do think it hurts them in the long term , at the moment they can get away with it as they have some very long standing huge brands that have earned lots of goodwill over many years , they won’t always have that and certainly not at this rate.