Ten years ago, EA/Maxis/Origin released a computer game named SimCity 4. On March 5 of 2013 a new version of the game was released that is monumentally superior in every way, except for this tiny little detail of actually being able to play the game.
Perhaps it’s the god complex in me, but the idea of being able to control every aspect of the world even down to natural disasters meant that the SimCity game franchise quickly became my favorite game of all time. Ten years ago when SimCity 4 was released, it was the cutting edge of simulation software. The game had progressed so far beyond the original which had players do little more than zoning land for either residential, commercial, or industrial use and then sitting back and watching as the land turned into buildings. By the time version 4 came out, the game had grown much more complex with details like having to decide if placing one more tree in a forest of hundreds of other trees might create just the right amount of extra clean air to let my Sims breath, despite the toxicity coming from the coal power plant. Over the last ten years, I’ve continued to play SimCity 4 off and on, even through the technical challenges of trying to make a 10 year old game run on modern computing hardware and Operating Systems.
In Late 2012 when EA announced a new version of SimCity I was stoked. I began to imagine how much better the graphics and gameplay could be with 10 years of technological innovation and after hearing interviews with the creative director of the game, reading blog posts about how they ripped the guts of the old grid system out of the game and started over so one could finally build curved roads, and then finally seeing screenshots and videos of gameplay – I was hooked. Wow! I couldn’t throw down my $79 fast enough to get a copy! I pre-ordered on December 12th and discovered 90 days is a long time to wait for anything!
At midnight, EA attempted to process my credit card and American Express flagged it as a fraudulent charge. The start of what ultimately turned into a 9-hour delay in getting access to the game had begun. The technical support team at Origin was helpful in resolving the issues and the game installed and was ready to go. I launched the game only to discover what thousands of other gamers quickly learned: EA hadn’t properly load balanced their servers which lead to many of us unable to login to play the game. Let me repeat that: EA, a hundred million dollar plus software company couldn’t keep their servers online long enough for people to play! Now that’s bad. But it got me thinking about something even worse: SimCity now requires an Internet Connection to play because your city is now stored in the Cloud!
Wait – isn’t the Cloud great? Shouldn’t this be a good thing? Yeah there are plenty of great reasons for this decision for example my buddy Joey and I can now play in the same region and we can help each other’s cities out by sharing resources, but the killer problem here is that my ability to play a video game is now dependent on EA having a server connection open. Up until now, my ability to play SimCity was entirely based on how much free time I have. Now, I have to hope and pray EA keeps a server connection online during the time I’d like to play, which thus far is proving to be quite a challenge for them.
Yesterday I was able to play the game for 10 minutes before it crashed. Followed by 20 minutes of waiting for a server connection to open, followed by 5 minutes of play before another crash. Reboot. Try again – 20-minute delay because the server is full. I’m in – wait – why do I have to redo the 10-minute game tutorial again? Another crash. Another 15-minute delay. How about a different server? Sure, but wait – we didn’t tell you that your saved city is stuck on the server you started on that is now full. Hey Joey, want to play? Sure Bryan, but my game is on server 1 and you’re on server 2 and since server 1 is full we can’t. Two hours of my life is gone in exchange for 15 minutes of game time. So I ventured over to the EA support website to see what was up.
Help.ea.com – Day 1 Post 1 – our servers are inundated with mayors, we apologize for the inconvenience. Oh Joy. Post 2 – We found some bugs including making you play the tutorial each time you start the game. Oops. Post 3 – servers are still down. Sorry. Post 4 – We think we found the problem; we’re working on it. Post 5 – None of our developers or support team have slept for 48 hours trying to fix this shit and well, they just aren’t at their best right now. Post 5 – We think we fixed it – but expect server reboots and random behavior for the next 4-5 hours while we try and fix it. Good luck starting the game. Post 6 – we’re up! Really? Great – except that logging into the game still shows it being down. Oh wait – now I’m in. Wait – why’d the game just close – oh I see – thanks for installing new content without asking. Can I play the game now? Really? I can? Pinch me, I’m dreaming. It’s at this point that I finally get a good two hours of play time, which is just enough time to realize that the controls and options and gameplay I’ve been used to for the last 10 years have all been thrown out the window and I’m back to square one. How do I build zones again?
Thirty minutes later the server goes down again. I walked away from the computer, I sat down on the couch in frustration, and decided I need to vent some frustration by playing something else. I know: I’ll catch up on the game The Simpsons: Tapped out. This is another city building simulation game. I had forgotten that EA/Origin also makes this game and it too requires a connection to the EA servers. I launched the game and after 2 minutes of staring at Homer’s pink sprinkled donut spinning (which is the game’s status bar), Bart Simpson greeted me with a message telling me the server is down. I threw the phone down in disgust and went to bed.
Day 2 – the servers were only down 3 times today during the times I tried playing which meant that I actually got to play for another hour until they went down for the fourth and last time I was willing to put up with. Help.ea.com continued to speak to known issues and attempts to resolve the problems. I keep telling myself it’s only Day 2 and that this will get fixed with time. At the same time, I also keep looking up at my shelf and see SimCity 4 still sitting there. Its no-internet-required feature is making me rethink if this new version is worth the effort.