Reticulated Splines Are The Least Of EA's Concerns

Courtesy of EA
I've never been a PC gamer. If I can be described as a gamer at all, it has always been consoles for me. I've always had at least one, starting with Atari, through the Golden era of Nintendo, then jumping ship over to Sony at the beginning of the 3D generations. I've never been overly current (I only acquired my PS3 early last year) and tend to consider video games an occasional distraction rather then a passion.

The only PC game I've played with any consistency is SimCity, a game of which I've owned every version of, even the only for the SuperNES. I never got into the Sims, mostly because I could give two half tosses about watching the lives of digital people. It was the building and balancing and maintaining the city that I liked. Trying desperately to find the Goldilocks zone between taxation and industrialisation, urban renewal and expansion, and hoping all the while that a giant eye didn't drop out of the sky and vaporise my nuclear plant (I don't listen to environmentalists, especially digital ones).

So, I am of two minds of the current clusterfuck happening over at EA with the launch of the newest SimCity game. One one hand, I am saddened that a game whose legacy I so enjoy has went so wrong. On the other hand, my adoration of schadenfreude is making it hard for me to do anything but giggle whenever I read a new article about how it's all falling apart.

The story thus far: last week, EA and Maxis launched the newest SimCity, a game I have drawn attention to in the past. It did not go well. Apparently, PC games are now including internet-insistent connectivity as a form of DRM, which was news to me, and seems like a dick move to all the gamers like myself who specifically wouldn't buy a game that required an internet connection (more on that later). Now, despite the fact that the title is well loved, EA didn't think the 1.1 million people who bought the game would want to play it as soon as they got it home, leading to failures in server connections, crashed games and generally slow, unplayable game play. This has made a lot of people very angry, and has largely been considered a bad move.

According to EA, the internet-insistence isn't a form of DRM, but that the game is so big and powerful, it requires a connection to the EA servers in order to process. Home PC just wouldn't be able to handle it. Quote,
“With the way that the game works, we offload a significant amount of the calculations to our servers so that the computations are off the local PCs and are moved into the cloud. It wouldn’t be possible to make the game offline without a significant amount of engineering work by our team.” 
They also point out that Sims within your city can vacation in other people's cities, an advance from the last SimCity game, which allowed you to import your families from the Sims. However, this is obviously just a secondary feature, and wouldn't require the internet connection for you to build the city in the first place, and if you're playing SimCity, lets be honest, that is what you are there for. EA has protested demands that the game be allowed to operate without the internet, by saying any attempts to fix the problems would require "significant engineering." The internet being what it is, it didn't take long for modders to start monkeying around in the code, trying to find a fix. Most have found that disabling the internet connection allows for twenty minutes of unfettered gameplay. Others have found that the removal of a single line of code enables indefinite gameplay.

Aside from tarnishing the good name of SimCity, and the name of EA, the company's CEO John Riccitiello has resigned in the wake of this boondoggle. According to Riccitiello,
“My decision to leave EA is really all about my accountability for the shortcomings in our financial results this year. It currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued to the Street, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. And for that, I am 100 percent accountable.”
So, he's saying that the 60% drop in company value under his 6 year leadership is the reason for his departure, and that it comes on the heels of one of the most public failures of the gaming industry is just bad chance. This seems plausible, but I'd say it was more likely a creative combination of the two. This doesn't look good on EA, and it certainly doesn't endear the future of PC gaming to anyone already in the anti-DRM camp, and has probably moved a few more over to that side in the process.

I'm an isolated gamer. When I sit down to play a game, I want to play a game, not log on and team up with someone half a world away, shouting racist things in my ear. I don't want to compare my scores or trophies, or get sidelined in "exclusive downloadable content." I want to play the game. This internet-insistent DRM was news to me, and makes me nervous for the next generation of consoles, already teased by Sony. Increasingly, the focus on consoles have been on making them into expensive computers, that can Netflix and Skype and all that other nonsense that isn't gaming. I don't know what the whispers in the community are about something similar DRM-wise appearing with the PS4 generation, but if the next generation of console games start requiring an internet connection, then that will be it for me. I'll be done, sitting alone with my SuperNES, dodging turtles and happily disconnected.

Via Gammasquad. Many several times.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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