Friday, March 15, 2013

Why We're Really Mad about SimCity (2013)

Ramblings Post #219
Currently I am in the midst of a 14-game win streak in my fourth NBA season, managing an Argentinian Soccer Team and just realized I'm going to have gut my Transfer budget to resign my key players, two tourneys away from the Masters, picking out which faction I want to be in control of in feudal Japan, slowly taking control of Stillwater, trying to run a train based empire in central Africa, and hoping that the Baron of Black Gorge ends his mandate soon so that my dwarves don't starve. Those are the games I can remember that I'm playing. I think I might be a gamer.

The nostalgia aside for a building cities on islands linked by a symphony of bridges in the shape of my initals or that resembles what you imagine Gotham City must look like, we're really mad at EA for SimCity for actual reasons. Let me be clear: I and most other detractors of this incarnation realize that since the company owns the property that they can do what they want with it, and are not obligated to meet our demands in anyway that do no serve their own ends. That said, making your customers mad usually isn't the best business model. I think a number of software companies, if not the whole entertainment community,  have looked at the Apple model, which is more akin to a cult, and are trying to trap it's customers into arrangements that keep them tied up forever.

Note, unless you're Apple, or other cultists, this is not a good business model.

First, had they just named the thing SimCity Online it would have cut out a bunch of confusion. That little phrasing changes the whole connotation and expectations of potential purchasers. The problem is you can't really sell a strategy game for online play, especially since the heart of the game is solo city building. What happens if you cut a deal with five cities...and four of them quit playing? In a questing game, you find new people. In a strategy game with locked regions...then what?

Was that so hard?
Via Reddit. I forget the redditors name.
Plus, having a game that is locked into a server and players need to communicate with other players in the game indicates that this game is a "temporary" situation. By that I am pointing out that as there are currently no monthly fees - ala World of Warcraft or EVE - which would be the incentive to keep the servers humming five years from now for a game whose sales will peak this year. It doesn't matter how much DLC they try to append, it's a downward curve. And each quarter as that profit margin drops, it becomes more and more likely a cost cutting executive will suddenly decide to pull the plug. Meaning you didn't "buy" the game so much as lease it....which is not how this type of game genre works. Simulation games are for strategy players, people who aren't really interested in swinging the sword a thousand times but instead tend to play games over and over, for years, inventing new things with the tools given.

Then there are the lies. When asked, EA stipulated that computations are run server side, so a single player game is supposed to be impossible. But some of the game developers are quietly confessing the cloud connection isn't strictly necessary. And then someone modified (modded) the game so that it can be played without a connection, less than 30 days after release.  It's like a restaurant saying there hamburger is 100% American beef, then finding out its 50% Mexican horse and 20% unclassified filler. In some areas, abusive treatment of customers works, they even enjoy it. This is not one of those places. 

Forget that people have already figured out how "to game" the mechanics, creating cities with practically no industry or commercial sections, with sims getting "rich" going to the park. Making the game pretty to look at, but essentially broken. The mod might have to fix that too.

We all know the real reason for the always on internet connection was an ill-conceived attempt to prevent piracy, so why lie? And now because of this all out effort to combat thieves and make the game all pretty, it seems that a pirated version, which is coming as sure as the sun will rise, will give players what they actually want - an off-line version that actually works correctly. And this isn't an industry where you want a third party producing what is technically is a better product than the original.

The video game industry isn't quite like other industries, in that you're going to buy toothpaste (I hope) and toilet paper (I pray), so particular consumer demands only weigh in so heavily. The industry is a luxury item, and even the production of good, popular games isn't a guarantee of success - ala THQ. When a staple veers too far off course, the fans, the very vocal fans...speak up. And in this day and age there are two many avenues to do that. And in a market already crowded, the cumulative effect might amount to little more than commercial suicide for a major game industry franchise.

Barkeep, I'm firing up the wayback machine. I think I have SimCity 2000 around her somewhere.

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