EA’s always online Sim City has enraged fans of the series as server problems rendered the game almost entirely unplayable. Fans took to the web to voice their rage, negative user reviews on Metacritic flooded in with the game averaging just 1.7 out of 10. The server issues lead to Amazon temporarily pulling the title from its store.
EA’s PR response to the disaster was rapid and while mostly helpful, the spin often beggared belief. Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis explained on EA’s forum that “What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join”. EA have also attempted to win back angry fans by offering them a free EA game, which they can redeem on EA’s Origin store March 18 onwards.
Initial server issues are beginning to be resolved, with EA increasing servers by 120 per cent. This has led to the number of disrupted experiences falling by 80 per cent according to general manager Lucy Bradshaw. However the fact that for some the game remains unplayable raises questions about the decision to make the game always online.
Sim City has traditionally been a single player experience, but EA’s new release scrapped that in exchange for online multiplayer. Cities now compete across regions with multiple users interacting in real time. Still, making the game always online seems a drastic measure, considering that most of the features could function in solo play.
Always online is seen by many users as a means of restricting piracy by requiring every user to be logged in. However being always online requires that the publisher is also always online. Recent history, including the disastrous launch of Diablo 3 suggests this is rarely the case. Publishers will have to decide whether or not the benefit of reduced piracy will outweigh the risk of a massive PR fail when the system inevitably crashes.