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Sim City Burning: A Cautionary Tale For Consoles

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Showing 1-25 of 175 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 7, 2013, 10:34:51 PM PST
Dukeshire says:

SimCity Burning: A Warning to Microsoft, Sony, and All Publishers on The Dangers of Always-Online DRM
Why it's just not worth it.
by Dan

March 7, 2013

It has been out for three days, and SimCity is broken. Seriously, unplayably broken. As a long-time fan who's been looking forward to this week for many years, this is a huge, frustrating disappointment. The worst part? The main issue isn't with the game itself, but an entirely unnecessary and completely avoidable always-online DRM system that's keeping millions of fans from playing the game they paid for, when they were told they'd be able to play it. If there is one good thing that comes of this disaster, let it be yet another lesson to publishers like EA and Activision/Blizzard, and platform owners Microsoft and Sony, who may be considering always-on DRM in next-gen consoles or PC games: don't even think about it. It's a pipe dream, and to attempt it is to invite an enthusiasm-draining catastrophe with every single game launch.

Here's what the past 10 years of online DRM has taught anybody who's paid the slightest bit of attention: it never works right, at least at first. And while it might be largely successful in stopping piracy (as Diablo III effectively has), it exacts a terrible price: the trust and enthusiasm of the most loyal and enthusiastic gamers. These are the people who are dying to get their hands on new games, the ones who eagerly spend on pricey collectors' editions and DLC - all of it sight-unseen. If treated well, their word of mouth buzz can generate more game sales than a site like IGN ever could. They are also the ones who will always be affected most by the inevitable screwups that always-online DRM will bring.

I'm no network engineer, but it's obvious even to me that the infrastructure required to allow millions of gamers to play at once without issue is extremely complex. That means there are simply too many points along the line where it can break down, and it only takes one to make a game that's dependent on servers completely unplayable. It's also a system that invites technical disaster and locks out gamers who travel frequently or serve in the military. Failure is virtually assured.

SimCity is currently working just barely well enough for me to grab this screenshot.

You, the publishers, might think that it'll be different when you try it - that you'll get it right where others failed, and the fancy new proprietary always-online DRM technology you've invested in is foolproof. Here's the reality, reinforced by this week's events: you will almost certainly fail, and the payoff of zero piracy isn't worth the cost. In PC gaming, publishing giants Ubisoft, Blizzard (and by extension Activision), and now EA have all attempted it, and all have completely botched the launches of some of their most highly anticipated games. While you might eventually stabilize your servers after the initial spike in demand and get things humming along, constant login queues and downtime have turned many of your greatest allies into your worst enemies. You'll have hamstrung your own momentum.

Yes, MMORPGs and most free-to-play games will always have this problem, because being online is an integral part of their design. It's what the O in MMO stands for, in fact. But games like Diablo III and SimCity are not MMOs. They don't need to be connected to be enjoyed - I know, as I've played both primarily in single-player thus far. In SimCity's case it's especially ridiculous, as you're not even playing with others in real-time. Despite Maxis' insistence that it was built from the ground up to be a multiplayer game, its designers' best efforts couldn't shoehorn essential multiplayer into a game that is inherently single-player. Certainly nothing that's worth not being able to play at all because a server's down. Not to us.

We don't need to add the unfortunate downsides of MMORPGs to games that don't have or need the upsides which come with that necessary evil. Piracy is awful, and most gamers can only imagine how it feels to have to watch as your expensively produced product is stolen with impunity. But this is an overreaction that runs a very serious risk of doing far more harm than good.

But forget about money for a moment. There's also the question of preserving gaming history. As we saw with THQ last month, publishers aren't immortal. They can die, and had THQ implemented always-online DRM in Darksiders II, all copies of that game might've died with it when the rights to the series weren't bought up by another publisher. As bad as it must feel when thousands - or even millions - of people are playing your game without paying for it, surely the idea of everyone who did pay for it losing access to a piece of your work that they love is even more appalling.

I feel terrible for Maxis, who I'm almost certain didn't come up with the idea to make SimCity require an online connection. That development team put in years of their lives on a game that, when it works, is astonishing in a lot of really interesting ways, and watching it sabotaged by DRM has to be absolutely crushing for them. And I feel awful for gamers out there who waited 10 years for a modern successor to a classic PC game, only to find a frustrating technical mess.

Just remember this, publishers and developers: if you choose to go down this road, and there comes a time when you're frantically scrambling to fix your overloaded and failing servers, with hordes of angry customers howling for refunds and swearing off all your future games forever (as Maxis is this very moment, and Blizzard was last year)... it didn't have to be like this.

In closing, here's what SimCity looks like when it's working mostly as intended:

Posted on Mar 8, 2013, 4:11:53 AM PST
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Posted on Mar 8, 2013, 4:16:41 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 4:20:50 AM PST
MrFoxhound says:
It sucks that Activision is guilty by association because Blizzard implemented restrictive, persistent DRM into Diablo III. I have a hard time believing that Activision had anything to do with that decision, since, on consoles, they are the biggest publisher in the world and they haven't adopted online passes yet.

Also, what happened to THQ had nothing to do with DRM at all. I don't see how adding THQ's plight into this story adds to his overall anti-DRM theme.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 4:40:51 AM PST
Riyoshi says:
Shhh, here's your fork. Just join the mob and stop thinking reasonable.

Posted on Mar 8, 2013, 5:09:26 AM PST
So the author played D3 and was upset at that game's horrible launch, and then the author buys another always-online game at launch and is upset when servers don't work.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:16:00 AM PST
you say this like Activision is a company that makes no bad decisions.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:20:21 AM PST
MrFoxhound says:
There are far worse companies out there, and it's really not Activision's fault that every other company is trying to emulate their success with CoD.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:22:40 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 5:22:54 AM PST
Actually My only problem with Activision (and it's i guess a minor one) is that they do release the same-ish game every year without fail, CoD, Assassin's Creed, even Skylanders. And there isn't that much of a difference between them.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:23:05 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 5:26:11 AM PST
MrFoxhound says:
Assassin's Creed is Ubisoft.

This industry has lots of yearly releases though, and fans of CoD do say that each game in the CoD franchise is vastly different and adds new things keeping the gameplay fresh, also, unlike EA with Madden and Ubi with Assassin's Creed, CoD games get a 2 year development cycle compared to the 1 year that most other yearly releases get. If EA or Ubi wanted to do a 2 year development cycle they would have to cancel a game. Which I think that EA just did that with NBA Live because the game sucked so bad.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:25:04 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 5:27:15 AM PST
Oh wow, my mistake you are correct... but they copied that yearly thing that annoyed me I thought it was Activision :p

I'm not saying EA and other's aren't an offender of it in fact they may have been the original starters of it, EA Isn't my fav company, but I don't hate them so... viscerally as others do. In fact I don't think i hate any game company apart from Zynga... i think that's how it's spelt.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:29:52 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 5:30:23 AM PST
MrFoxhound says:
My point was that Activision's "yearly" release actually gets a 2 year development cycle per game because they use lots of different teams. Gotta be some reason it's a yearly billion-dollar selling franchise.

I don't think that Activision is that bad of a company. I don't believe that Activision has a focus on mobile and social gaming like EA does either, which automatically makes them better than EA.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:31:45 AM PST
The bit about THQ didn't say anything about their problem being DRM. He was saying that IF Darksiders II had used always-online DRM, that game would be cut off from everyone who paid for it. Just as Diablo III will cease to exist if Blizzard somehow folds, or maybe just has a bad year and chooses to turn off the servers. Or all of those Ubisoft games with server-based DRM will stop working when Ubi goes the way of THQ (it isn't unthinkable).

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:33:22 AM PST
MrFoxhound says:
Ah, I guess I missed his point there. Well, here's hoping that if a company is about to go under, like Steam, they remove the DRM from the games and allow everyone to download their library locally and continue to use it.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:35:10 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 5:37:06 AM PST
Ice King says:
The only lesson being learned here is that although people will get upset at first, they'll still buy the next game that does this. And the next one, and the one after that, etc.

Unfortunately, always online DRM isn't going anywhere. The future of gaming is going to to full of not being able to play games at launch because the servers can't handle it. Expecting to be able to play the games you pay for whenever you want is going to be a thing of the past.
/doom & gloom predictions.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:40:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2013, 5:42:12 AM PST
I think what he was getting at with THQ is that if they have used persistent DRM, then all the people who bought the game would have lost the ability to play the game when the company went under. I am unsure about how that would work technically, but maybe it would mean all the THQ servers would have been shut down and access would be lost?

Again, not 100% sure, but I think that is what he was trying to say.

EDIT: Ninja'd

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:46:55 AM PST
FOGE says:
The author is a game reviewer. Its his job to buy games. They dont pick and choose.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:47:22 AM PST
Gaben's publicly stated they'd unlock everyone's library before folding. Hopefully Valve can stay true to that if anything catastrophic happens to the company.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 5:56:37 AM PST
MrFoxhound says:

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 6:24:24 AM PST
T. E. Maddox says:
Servers definitely geta 0/5 rating.

I am still not as generous as you with my rating. Still enough glitches to get mildly annoying.

Right now I have a friend trying to set up a private region and use the invite feature and it hasn't been going well. Of course part of that is the servers.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 6:48:29 AM PST
OP says:
Hmm, I guess this might explain the EA servers in FIFA 13, where random disconnections seemed to occur far too frequently, and usually at the most inconvenient times.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 6:54:40 AM PST
That isn't a problem with publishers, it's a problem with consumers.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 7:03:36 AM PST
Ubisoft uses a ton of teams to make the AC games. I don't think all of them are made in under a year.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 7:09:48 AM PST
I thought this was an urban myth.

And that would be a publishing deal nightmare.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 7:10:54 AM PST
Then i again stand corrected, I thought they only had one team. My mistake.

Also, I haven't found any glitches in the game yet so I'm not sure what you mean, what glitches are you talking about T.E.Maddox?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 8, 2013, 7:15:43 AM PST
He generally gets provided with games without having to pay.

You're right though, I didn't realize this was a reviewer. I stand by what I said as it applies to general consumers.
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Discussion in:  Video Games forum
Participants:  34
Total posts:  175
Initial post:  Mar 7, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 11, 2013

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