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.