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The SimCity Debacle and the Scourge of DRM

If Electronic Arts was one of the millions of hosted SimCities dotting the digital landscape, it’s mayor just quit.

On Monday, EA announced that John Riccitiello will step down from the CEO position of the company, following news of poor earnings and the massive snafu with the company’s launch of the new SimCity game. However, the CEO’s exit isn’t entirely due to the botched release of Maxis’ highly anticipated sequel in the SimCity franchise. The company has been under fire for how it handled other big titles as well, like SOTOR, Mass Effect 3 and others. The company just hasn’t fared well under Riccitiello, and their stock has suffered in recent months.

The Breakdown of the Disaster

In case you were abducted by aliens and cutoff from all gaming news over the past few weeks, here is a gist of what happened after the first addition to the decade old SimCity franchise was released.

The game launched on March 5, with a controversial feature that requires all players to be connected to EA’s servers in order to play. While that feature is familiar to people who play MMOs like WoW or other games that require DRM protection, the issue was that EA’s servers put nearly a million players who had forked out their $60 to play the long-awaited game out of luck, with nothing to do but turn to blogs and social media to vent their frustration.

Clearly EA didn’t anticipate the load of players planning to ditch work, power up their gaming rigs, and get their city planning on immediately after the launch. Massive numbers of players went online to download and play the new game, which ostensibly allows players to interact with nearby cities and players. The load was too much, and server crashes and connectivity issues continued. The company apologized last week for the continuing server issues after a PR firestorm that thoroughly embarrassed both Maxis and Electronic Arts.

As compensation, EA is offering a list of titles that players can download for free in compensation, including BF3 Dead Space, Mass Effect 3 and more. (If you’re one of those disgruntled players, you only have until the end of the month to cash in on your free game).

Those consolation prizes are only a little level of comfort to those who had been dreaming of diving into Maxis’ new world; whether or not they believed it was a true MMO. Personally, I think the MMO crowd and the strategy/designer crowd may or may not overlap that much, and SimCity is not an MMO, no matter how EA may want to dress up their DRM as such. Either way, people were looking to get their civil engineering fix, and a lot of them have largely been out of luck.

The Problem of DRM

Most of the issues seem to be resolved at this point, and the company recently restored features of the game that had previously been disabled to give their servers a break. Even though the company admitted that the game essentially could be played offline (a feature many fans have pleaded for), EA has no plans to make that available.

This leads me to worry whether this trend towards always-connected digital rights management for copyright purposes is the brave new world of gaming. Certainly, companies like Blizzard have managed to get their players to swallow the hassle, even for games like StarCraft and Diablo III, which could be played online. Maybe the bad PR that EA is currently dealing with will act as a warning to other game publishers about the possible backlash from angry customers.

Are you one of the victims of this online disaster? Is the free game offer by EA enough to compensate you for the hassle, or have you packed up and left SimCity for good?

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