SimCity launch a disaster

Remember how SimCity released in the US on wednesday, and the servers had problems keeping up with the load, so that a lot of customers couldn’t play the game at all? Remember how EA promised to fix that little problem for the European release, yesterday? Well, they apparently lied.

Go check out any gaming site you care to mention, and you’ll find hordes of angry players complaining about the EA servers being unreliable, busy or just plain broken. The European (and thus, of course, Nordic) launch was every bit as bad as the american one, and probably worse, since disgruntled American players resorted to using European servers to get the game started.

So what, exactly, is the problem with SimCity, and why can’t the gamers who bought it play it on release day? The main problem is the game’s always-online-DRM, a form of copy protection that checks that you have a legitimate copy by connecting to a server somewhere every time you start the game. That kind of thing has led to some fairly disastrous launches in the past (Diablo III perhaps being the most memorable). But EA seems to have taken the system one step further, constantly checking what the players are doing in-game against the servers, which not only slowed the game down for people over the last two days, but often resulted in people who just forked over €50 or so being unable to use the software they bought.

Now for the opinion piece of this, um, piece. My own personal experience with the game was much the same as everyone elses: I got a few hours of play, until the servers burped and I was unceremoniously kicked out to the desktop. I managed to reconnect long enough to find out that the game hadn’t synched against the server when it crashed, and that all my saved data was gone. All the servers then showed as ‘busy’, and I called it a night.

I’m preaching to the choir here, I know, but this simply isn’t acceptable. Always-online-DRM is pointless, does nothing to stop piracy, but it does plenty to punish and aggravate the people who actually buy games. You know, the people you might want on your side for future releases. I realize that it’s physicall (or at least fiscally) impossible to provide enough server capacity for everyone to play the game on release day, but the solution is probably not to try and trivialize the problem. I think not using a DRM scheme that locks everyone, except those who pirated it, out of the game might be better.

The frankly ridiculous lengths EA went to with the SimCity DRM turned the launch of an otherwise very good game into an unmitigated disaster. Because it IS a very good game, when it works. Let’s just hope that EA, and other large publishers, take something away from this and realize that the people lining up to hand you wads of cash are NOT the bad guys.