EA's failed SimCity launch

If you're not much into gaming, you'll have likely missed this, but EA launched the latest in the SimCity franchise last week, and to say it was a disaster is understating the issue.
For the uninitiated, here was Electronic Art's business plan last week: Take $60 from a couple of million gamers, deliver a game that needs to be online all the time to play (even in single-player mode), and only have 6 servers on launch day, meaning almost nobody can play the game they've paid for. Ensure no refunds are given, and ensure that people who for refunds (via bank or credit card chargebacks) get their EA accounts banned.
EA already had a bad reputation in videogame circles, but last week cemented their place in gaming history as the worst gaming company in the world.
What makes things worse is that when they held their public beta test, they had the same issues of people not being able to play, servers kicking people off, and huge latency making the game unplayable. That was with a couple of thousand players. Rather than learn from that, they left the same infrastructure in place for launch day, meaning that within a couple of minutes of midnight Pacific time, their entire server farm (all 6 of them) were on their knees. As more players woke up, downloaded and installed their games, the worse it got until about lunchtime on launch day, nobody could play. By the next morning, Amazon had received over 5,000 1-star and 0-star reviews for the game and pulled it from sale. It took until sunday - 6 days after launch - before I could play reliably and even then it took five or six efforts to connect. The internet was ablaze with criticism and complaints and EA seemed genuinely surprised.
What really happened of course, is what's happened in the company I work for : corporate bullshit and procedure won out over practical advice and engineering. Rather than listen to their engineers and programmers (the Maxis programmers have since come out and said they only put the always-on DRM into the game because EA forced them to, then they had to somehow justify it with a game mechanic), EA instead chose to follow some process of spreadsheets, documents and upper management meetings that indicated that everything would be OK because the spreadsheets said it would OK.
The results were what you'd expect when managers get together and make engineering decisions : a total disaster. EA's PR machine has been in overdrive for a week now running damage-limitation, to the point where they're going to have to start giving free games away by form of recompense. (Of course the free game will probably be some no-name title that nobody wants.) Amazon did the right thing by refunding their customer's purchases and have since billed EA for over $1.2M in returns. And all because of what? Because EA are so paranoid about piracy that they tried to hold everyone to ransom with their always-online DRM system. Honest gamers who wanted to play, who wanted to give EA their money, couldn't.
What will happen next is obvious: rampant piracy. There's plenty of people out their currently figuring out how to uncouple the always-on element from the game and as soon as that patch becomes available, EA will have lost the battle again. Only this time, it will be a self-inflicted death. They could have learned from Blizzard's botched Diablo III launch last year. They could have learned from Ubisoft's failed always-online DRM system (that they've long-since abandoned). But instead, EA chose to press on and launch the Challenger and were somehow surprised when it blew up in their faces.


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