Is being online all the time a good thing?
Today's SimCity is supposed to be one the best SimCity versions of the game in a decade. We say 'supposed' as most gamers simply can't play it due to the game's combination of requiring full time connection to the server, and the lack of capacity at those servers.
To quote one reviewer on Polygon: "As expected, the question of whether or not EA would be able to support a large, enthusiastic audience for SimCity with a robust server system has been answered with a resounding "no," at least for the time being."
This throws up a very interesting issue, as seen from the launch or pre-launch preview of the new Sony PlayStation and the various DICE presentations and presumably upcoming GDC presentations - the future of gaming is online, all the time. But what if you can't get to the server? As one angry gamer pointed out, just from pre-sale orders EA must have known there would be huge demand for SimCity when released, yet as the new game rolled out, gamers were waiting 20 mins, 30 mins or were completely unable to run the game. It seems the servers that were setup could not handle the load. EA first reduced the 'fast' Cheetah mode (or fast city time) then added more servers but still problems abound.
Reviewers who did get to play SimCity at private pre-release sessions at EA's Redwood Shores offices have raved about the game. For many who remember the original SimCity this is a real return to form, and yet no amount of pre-ordering or technical tricks can beat the clogged servers and thus highly disappointing experience.
There are many business reasons why a game designer may want to have users connected to the server for everything from updates to collaborative game play, and still more as to why head office might want it: user stats, profiling game play etc. But at the end of the day the near complete failure of the launch to generate positive comments, and the extremely frustrating game play may terminally damage the new game's image.
Is this a failing of the ability to predict interest or a sign post to the flawed design concept of requiring online all the time? One thing is for sure, although Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis points out on the EA forums that "while the ongoing issues are troubling, we can also see that players are really enjoying the game. In a single 24 hour period, there were more than 38 million buildings plopped down, nearly 7 and a half million kilometers of roads laid down, 18+ million fires started and (my favorite fact) over 40 million pipes filled up with poop," - the harsh reality is a huge number of disappointed fans the world over are moving onto something else right now - just hoping that the situation will improve, and that perhaps tomorrow they can actually get to build some cities before they are ruined.
Amazon.com is only selling the PC download version of EA's SimCity with a strong warning.
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