The Inevitable SimCity Launch Post

Look you knew it was coming.  I’ve been analyzing game careers for awhile, and then EA dumps a big pile of SimCity follies in my lap.  Of course I was going to write about.

If you didn’t hear what happened with SimCity 2013, here’s the skinny: EA’s latest version of the game required a persistent internet connection (yeah, DRM any way you slice it).  The downloads, the server load, etc. caused all sorts of outages that in turn made it awful hard for people to actually play the game they paid for.

Of course they were mocked understandable across the internet.  EA added more servers and offered a free game to early adopters – after removing the supposedly so-critical features that required an always-on-internet connection.  Marketing was apparently suspendedAmazon pulled downloads.  There’s a petition to just yank the DRM, and a Kickstarter for a DRM-free competitor.

And so, here I am, looking at the bizarre mess trying to figure what to say.  So first, let me get to my analysis.

This was stupid.  This was stupid on amazing levels.  This is bizarre, control-freak behavior that ruined the launch of an anticipated and apparently damn good game.  This should have been obvious from past DRM fiascoes.  This shouldn’t have happened because you do your damn server sizing and pad the crap out of it, and because this shouldn’t have been needed anyway.  The fact there’s a Kickstarter for a non-enabled competitor is awesome and I hope they make a lot of money and should send them some cathartically.

There, that’s out of the way.  Now let’s got to the career analysis section of my ranting.  Then I can go play a game that’s not crashing all the time.

1)  I think after seeing Diablo III’s issue, this issue, and other past launches, it’s pretty clear that we’re heading for further conflict of Stupid DRM ideas versus Actual Gamers.  I’m hoping companies learn from this, but I’m not entirely sure they will.  We’re moving into games as rent-seeking, but if you work in gaming, maybe you can convince people to be sane.

2) Gaming already has countertrends in it – in fact it seems that having trends against certain trends almost defines gaming.  We’re downloading more and buying physical copies less, I see a return of Roguelikes, there’s pricing experimentation, the return of Richard Garriott, and now this “anti-SimCity.”  I expect this to accelerate, and for counter-trends to be something actively leveraged in game development and by companies.  In short, riding someone else’s screw-up-train is a possible future norm.

3) This didn’t have to happen because the DRM/always on thing is dumb.  I’m sorry.  It’s transparent.  It didn’t have to be this way.  Advocating against it probably won’t hurt your career and may help.

4) Also the server failure is dumb and anyone who had paid attention should have made sure this didn’t happen.  This smells of bad estimates, bad planning, and bad testing.  If you work in gaming, this is a shiny new horror story to scare the crap out of people who think they don’t need to scale their servers.

5) This is memorable.  Gaming has a decent sense of history (not perfect), and I suspect we have brand damage going on here.  It takes a lot to mess with a famous franchise, but EA managed to do it, and I’m not sure how to triage it.

6) The Civitas factor interests me because of countertrends (above) but also because I wonder if any of this can be done preemptively.  The ability to raise money, large technical bases, viable talent, etc. could let counter-trends begin before games even come out.

7) This is further evidence that a lot of pricing and moneymaking models are just terribly broken.  Folks, you there in gaming, you need to rethink this.

8) I want to see how competitors jump on this.  You know some marketing departments are salivating.

9) Amazon’s pulling of the download is interesting.  Makes me think of how various providers, like Steam, may become quality gateways in the future over such things.

So there’s my take – what’s yours?

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at