The Many Ways We Didn't Get To Play SimCity This Week

Looking back on this week's SimCity launch debacle, it isn't just remarkable that the game's servers failed, it's remarkable how many different ways they failed.

The spectre of Diablo III has loomed over this entire affair, as Blizzard's action-RPG is certainly the easiest point of reference for an always-online PC game that fell on its face upon launch. There is one major difference, however. Diablo III failed in one easily identifiable way: Error 37.be

Error 37 was useful, because it became emblematic of the entire disaster. Sure, there were other errors that cropped up later, but Error 37 is the one emblazoned on t-shirts, immortalised in gaming forums and ingrained in the public consciousness. It was Diablo III's failure, writ large.

SimCity has no Error 37. This game's failings are as varied and unique as the colours of the rainbow. (A shitty rainbow.) Their variety makes the game's overarching problem more difficult to encapsulate, diagnose and prepare oneself for. SimCity could fail at the outset, or it could fail mid-session. You may have been unable to download it, or you may just be unable to escape the tutorial.

Last May, the day after Diablo III launched, I wrote an op-ed titled "Last Night's Diablo III Debacle Demonstrates The Problem With 'Always-Online' Games". Here are the final two paragraphs:

The important thing to note is that last night, a game was rendered unplayable for a large amount of time entirely because of server failure on Blizzard's part. Maybe it'll never happen again. But maybe it will.

We always knew that by demanding a constant internet connection, Blizzard was taking away a portion of the consumer's ownership of their game. Last night, as the starting gun fired, we got a reminder of what that really means. It means that we play at their pleasure, and that we no longer have the power to decide when our game starts and when it doesn't.

Replace "Blizzard" with "EA" and I could've written that this morning.

In an effort to get my head around the week that was, I've put together a partial list of the many ways that we've been unable to play SimCity since its launch late Monday night. This list certainly isn't complete, but here are some of the ways SimCity has failed for me and my colleagues at Kotaku.

***

No Unlock For You: Right off the bat, there was a string of problems with games unlocking on time. Lots of people weren't even able to begin downloading the game until hours after the official launch time. It was never quite clear what the hell was going on, only that some people had access to the game while others didn't.

No Pre-Loading: One of the only reasons to ever pre-order a digital game is that, at least through Steam, you can "pre-load" the game and play it immediately as it unlocks. You'd think that EA's Origin would have used a similar approach. You'd be wrong. For reasons passing understanding, Origin didn't allow anyone to pre-load SimCity, meaning that everyone had to download the entire game at the same time.

That led to the unlocking problem above, and also to the interminable installation of the game itself, best exemplified by the "Processing Large File" crawl that we all had to sit through. When I initially downloaded the game in Origin, about an hour after it unlocked, I thought I was in great shape. The entire thing seemed to download in under 30 minutes. Wow, really? Well, no. Actually, most of the game downloaded through the pre-launch menu, and it hung for so long at 23 per cent that I figured it had surely frozen. In fact, I quit and re-started the download multiple times. But then, I finally just let it be, and 20 minutes later it kicked up to 24 per cent. Jeez.

Server-Selection Pinwheel: This one often happens to me when I'm trying to select a different server. It's usually right after I've gotten so fed up with waiting that I decide to take drastic action. I load up the sever selection tool and see a couple that are marked green. I click one, and my Windows spinning-wheel of thoughtfulness starts spinning… and spinning… and spinning, for more or less ever. Or until I give up and try again.

Login Closed: This one's doubtless known to anyone who has tried to play the game, at least on North American servers. You'd try to log in and will simply get a pop-up that the servers are unavailable. EA has, at some points, taken servers down for maintenance, but their announcements and timetables have been so nonsensical (see the below error message, via NeoGAF) that it's difficult to say whether a given server unavailability is planned or accidental.

That might be the least clear server maintenance message I've ever seen. Then again, even when there was a listed downtime, it had no bearing on reality.

The Endless Tutorial Of Death: Yet another problem with the always-online setup seems to be that each server saves a profile for you, but if you go to another server you have to start fresh. That makes sense to a point, but it's odd that the game can't seem to remember that I've done the tutorial like, five times. So, every time I switch servers in a desperate bid to find one, any one, that will let me play, I have to go straight into the tutorial again, with no up-front option to skip it. It's annoying — sure, I can just bypass the tutorial after the first dialog bubble turns up, but I wish the game could remember I've played it before. Furthermore, the tutorial never actually tells you you can skip it, so I'm sure lots of players have simply suffered through it again and again.

The TRULY Endless Tutorial Of Death: Then comes the bug that's one of the cruelest: Finally, you get past the server woes and into the game, you begin the tutorial for the seventh time, planning to bypass it asap and start a real game, when for some reason, the tutorial won't actually start. It just sits there, showing you the tutorial town, playing that dreamy music, but it won't ever give you that first pop-up speech bubble. You quit to the main menu. It tells you, hello, would you like to do the tutorial. No, you would not. You load the tutorial again. Same thing happens. Back to the menu. Hello, would you like to do the tutorial. No. You despair.

No City For You: If you manage to get past the loading and the tutorial-loop, there are still plenty of other ways SimCity can fail. How about at the very next screen, where you select regions? Yep, that's a big failure point as well. Several times I'll get all the way to choosing out a plot of land for my first city before being told that no, actually, I can't play the game after all. So sorry.

Crash And Burn: Even if you get a city built, it's entirely possible that you'll lose your connection to the server, and therefore whatever work you'd done. Sure, in theory, you can get right back into your server and pick up more or less where you left off, but that's not working all that well right now. It's understandable to just go hop to another server, but of course it's impossible to take whatever you were making with you. Some players have reported crashing out of the game and coming back to find their cities marked as "abandoned," open to be taken over by other players.

Wrong DLC, Buddy: It somehow didn't even cross my mind that there could be non-server-related ways for this game to fail, but it sounds like it's also possible to be unable to play with friends because you don't own the proper DLC. Which is particularly galling, as it's difficult to parse all the different DLC, and I feel like the few times I've gotten into the menu, I've seen ads for several different DLC packs with no real idea of how many there are, or which one is which. It's one thing to require everyone to have the same map-pack to play a Call of Duty map together, but with granular DLC like SimCity's, requiring everyone to have the same DLC to share a region is madness.

Server Unavailable: While sometimes the game would block logins, other times the servers would simply become "unavailable," prompting an error screen like the one above.

Missing City: Others have reported that even after getting into the game for prolonged periods of time, the cities they've spent hours building have either disappeared or become inaccessible. Others have lost access to the servers upon which their cities were saved, and as a result lost access to their cities.

***

While the variety of SimCity's failings may set it apart from Diablo III, the games have one thing in common: They're both unintentional — but unequivocal — arguments against an always-online requirement.

This week, it seemed that the grim future Diablo III foretold came to pass. SimCity has failed its users so thoroughly and in such a variety of ways that I can't help but stare at the wreckage of this by-all-accounts lovely game and shake my head. Surely there's a better way.


Comments

    Ok, wow.
    First of all Im not defending EA. They definitely suck, at everything.

    However, a couple of things id like to point out.
    1. Maxis stated a long time ago that the always on connection was required for the simulation to work. there is simply so much going on that it computes using the servers. Even a top of the range beast gaming rig couldn't handle it. This is one reason the server load is so high. they're not just authentication and such, they're actually doing work. its just a shame that they are EAs servers and therefore, garbage.

    2. It doesn't matter what server you're on, if you've done the tutorial, its done across the board. having to redo it is a bug.

    3. lets not forget, its Maxis' game, not EA's. Yes it EA's fault that the servers suck, and they didn't run beta long enough to iron out the kinks, but it is an amazing game built by one of the greatest developers ever: Maxis.

      1 - I call bullshit.
      2 - It strikes me as a bug too.
      3 - Not amazing enough to strike out on their own and do a kickstarter or something. Instead they chose to continue development with the worst company in America.

        I believe Maxis has been absored by EA? So that being said, they can't really do much in regards to going solo on the project?

      I also call bollocks on your first comment... on your second comment, who cares if it is a bug, it still doesn't work.

      Being such a fan of Sim City I was pumped for this; when I heard about the always-on DRM I avoided it like the plague... glad I did. Even if, or when, this gets sorted there is still a date in the next few years when the servers will be shut down for good. I find it amazing that people will actually pay money for this.

      3. I sincerely doubt Maxis were the ones who came up with the idea of the game being always-online. The shifted processing (red herring) is an excuse, not the primary purpose of the 'feature'. We all know what the primary purpose was, and there's no doubt that was EA's mandate to Maxis.

      EA are kind of like a serial killer, they grab your favourite developer, dissect them and then wear the face to lure you into purchasing the game.

      EA Maxis is not Maxis, how many people do you think would prefer a version that works offline even if it has less stuff? All EA games from now on will have microtransactions, do you think that game Developers like this concept? I get DLC, a good expansion pack style DLC is a side story that might not have made sense in the main campaign. But the idea where too cool to throw away.

      The Wrong DLC is particularly annoying, in Borderlands 2 the game prompts you to download the compatibility pack, so even if you don't have the Mechromancer or the special guns from Captain Scarlet we can still play together. SimCity should let me see that you have purple mailboxes and green police cars, but make me buy them if I want them. For a game where they seem to want to sell you art styles and buildings as DLC perhaps we should all have the assets and pay to unlock.

      Although I do hate DLC that should be earned rather than paid for. Capcom is guilty of this too. I don't even mind if you sell the cheat code to unlock everything.

        EA reminds me of this pigeon.

        http://www.meh.ro/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/meh.ro8624.jpg

        Seriously though, the game is great... Don't let this hold anyone back from buying it.

          Just wait till they get it working.

          Wait a few weeks so you can play it properly who knows you might even get it cheaper.

      1. Complete nonsense. Already been proven false by people who have been knocked offline, but still managed to play perfectly fine for hours.

      Did Maxis advocate the 3 time install limit with Spore?

      Gumstich you're truly a prime example of a retard in every sense of the word.

    Didn't you see the EA internal email to all employees that said:

    "Be Evil"

    They're just doing their jobs!

    1. BS computers can easily handle it and you have no facts to back up your statement, they chose to do the saving and computing on servers for one reason. DRM
    2.Bug
    3. Just like bioware is still a company and any other dev that EA has devoured and whored out to use just as a name.

    All EA had to do is release Sim City as a standalone game, with the option of Massively Multiplayer. Instead, they would rather do anything it takes just to monitor us 24hrs a day

    I find perverted really... it's gone from someone outside, looking in through your window. To actually having "someone" looking out at you from inside your PC. (Which ironically, is most probably 'Windows').

    These companies really have turned into f**king idiots over the last decade too :/

      Maybe this is the secret to the new Simcity! The new Simscity... IS US!

        Hahaaah!

        On a not to serious note, I've always wondered what it feels like for American gamers, who live in the city that a particular game is set in - like GTA 4. Imagine playing a 10hr game session, then decide to go up the road and get some food - but it's the same city!

      Agree 100%! EA's attitude is its all about the money! Fuck the consumer they get what we will give them not what they want!

      Last edited 09/03/13 2:10 pm

    The problem is like most things in America, EA has gotten to big to fail!

    They have such a large amount of IP that people are hanging for that they can make god awful screw ups like this always-online decision, and still have the same people lining up to buy their next game!......Who's pumped for Command & Conquer?? I know I am!

    Last edited 09/03/13 2:24 pm

    Just a quick note on how many people are saying EA is rolling in the profit.

    EA is publicly listed, so all their financials going back to 1999 are available online here:
    http://investor.ea.com/annuals.cfm
    For context, in 2012 EA made ~$70 million in profit, from about $4b in sales. That barely registers, and is the first annual profit EA has made since a similar result in 2007.

    Since 1998, EA has grown sales from $900M a year to $4.14b a year in 2012, but have only managed to grow profit from $30M to $70M. In the meantime, investors have sunk a further $2.36b into the company (note this has come mostly from employees and managers, so that speaks volumes about management's ability to spot a good investment!). This is a woeful business to be in.

    In total, EA has raked in $40.7 billion dollars in revenue 1998-2012, and has managed to LOSE a net $350 million dollars in the process - even after investors have tipped in another $2.36 billion dollars! For a short period in 2004-5, EA looked marginally viable as a business, bringing in $500m in profit for those two years, however since then all that and more has been destroyed in poor investments, and cost blow-outs.

    The fact is, EA makes no economic profit. Gamers here have the gullible investors who keep pouring money into the EA firepit to thank for subsidizing the games we enjoy playing from them.

    I'm not exactly in defense of DRM - it seems to be the way industry is moving like it or not. But given the above business track record, what can you expect from EA except a monumental stuffup?

    I feel sorry for anyone who bought an Error 37 shirt.
    That's just embarrassing.

    I'm surprised noone's upset about the plethora of day one DLC?

    I'm actually surprised that so many are pumped about Sim City in the first place. I played Sim City 4 to DEATH, but i never thought it was a super popular franchise.

    And then there's wait times like THIS
    pic.twitter.com/8pbqMal8VA

    I'm all for gamers getting of the computers once in a while and getting exercise but seriously EA this is just ridiculous.

    DRM doesn't suck - it makes money to make games
    Online only doesn't suck - its alot of fun
    EA and Maxis don't suck - they make many great games

    the game rules, but like every on-line game has issues when its released because of the mass of players

    what does suck is all the people who said "shut up and take my money" are all complaining on the internet and the media egging them on, that its FAIL and want offline.

    Here's a bit of info...
    its a typical launch of a on-line only game
    the game will never be offline as it was designed and coded to be on a server

    the servers overloading and bugging out is actually what really happens when computers get there knickers in a twist

      Wow, the cognitive dissonance of some fans is mindblowing.

        what are you one of these people calling for an offline mode, where most of the systems are server client, do you hate EA?, or do you just want a refund.....

        mate, you've never experienced a server launch b4? well i guess you've had your cherry popped then coz ive been thru like 40 launchers with similar experiences... im mostly an MMO player and these things happen and don't get YOUR panties in a twist just because the server has too much load.

        I'm pretty sure our IQs decreased a few points reading that.

    also its got nothing to do with ORIGIN, as it opens in its own launcher
    origin just sold you the game and keeps it in your account

    but seriously im sick of all these ignorant gamers

    Last edited 09/03/13 5:18 pm

    As an apology, EA are giving everyone who activates Sim City before March 18th a free PC game, They say from their PC catalog, but they dont what games are ellegible, i good guess is that Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3 are off the list which sucks because i want to play Crysis 3 but i haven't got the dosh at the moment.

    Its lucky because a good mate of mine bought it for me today as a late birthday present.

    People defending always-online in a non-MMO and spouting the 'they need to do calculations server side!' line is so mindblowingly idiotic I can't actually tell if they're being serious or just master trolling.

    This isn't 1997, PCs can handle the calculations of simcity.

    Honestly, this is MUCH worse than D3's launch, and it was possibly the biggest blunder of last year.

    Apologists for this shit are the cancer killing the games industry.

      id much rather have an online game with services

      than play a 1990s game offline by myself with no features

      fuck man we've come along way

      Last edited 09/03/13 6:46 pm

        Pray tell, what game services in SimCity would be unable to function if there was an offline mode? And would those things affect the core gameplay? The answer to both is no.

          fine stay in caveman world

            What, you're saying fryiee's points aren't valid? Dunno, cave man world seems pretty tempting compared to that ignorant rock you live under. I'm looking forward to when a game you play has its servers shut down, but lemmie guess, you'll roll out the argument that you won't be playing that game anymore, correct? It's not like anyone else would want to play that game a few years down the line either yeh? Ooo, here's another one, what happens if you were forced to an area without a good internet connection like many soldiers or people in rural are? I bet you'd have an awesome time playing your social games then. But nah, that'll never happen right? Just like how your internet doesn't occasionally disconnect.

            You really don't realise how selfish your standpoint is do you? Just because the game is working for you doesn't mean it would work for everyone else. People like you make people like EA think, yeh, screwing our customers over like this is fine! Maybe you should become head of activision or ea, I'm sure you'd go pretty far!

    You can add EA just shutting the servers down in a few years and everyone losing their cities and the ability to play the game at all to that list of colossal screw ups.

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