As one of the most Internet-savvy demographics on the Web, gamers are generally the wrong group to provoke. Nevertheless, Electronic Arts — not gaming's favorite company at the best of times — has botched the release of its new 'SimCity' title in some of the worst ways possible.
'SimCity,' not to be confused with the 1989 title of the same name, is the latest entry in the popular city-building franchise. This time around, the game requires players to always be online, even when playing alone.
This design decision invited two problems right off the bat: Many players who paid for the game cannot find open servers, and when they can, the servers have proven to be less-than-stable. Whether playing alone or with friends, a dropped connection translates to a one-way trip back to the starting menu, often accompanied by hours of lost progress. Consumers also lambasted the relatively miniscule city size as opposed to previous games.
Disgruntled users have taken to Metacritic in order to "review bomb" the game. This practice entails gamers traveling en masse to the prominent review collection site and spamming the title with outraged "0/10" reviews.
Gamers behaved similarly for controversial titles like "Mass Effect 3" and even well-liked ones such as "Bastion," creating sharp dichotomies between the professional critic reviews and the user scores. Metacritic has since cracked down on the practice, but culling unhelpful content from over 1,200 is time-consuming and inefficient.
EA has taken the time to respond through multiple avenues, but its response has been inconsistent. Two days ago when the game first launched, a community manager named Marcel Hatam addressed the 'SimCity' community forums. He explained that EA was working on addressing the title's launch issues, and assured players that, "If you regrettably feel that we left you down, you can of course request a refund for your order."
When one user put this policy to the test, though, he found that a request did not necessarily translate to a refund. In a live chat with EA tech support that went viral, a customer service rep named Adrian refused to reimburse a dissatisfied customer. Since then, Hatam has revised his post to remove any promise of refunds. [See also: 12 Biggest Game Fails of 2012]
Furthermore, Adrian advised the customer that his EA account would be banned if he disputed the result. For those who are not familiar with EA's Origin distribution service, an account ban not only prevents users from playing online or buying games, but also bars them from accessing games they have already purchased.
In an attempt to solve problems, EA may have further exacerbated its 'SimCity' situation. A community manager who calls herself "LadyCoconut" posted, "We are in the process of deploying a hotfix to all servers." Unfortunately, in order to fix the game's core issues, the hotfix disables a number of secondary features, such as leaderboards and achievements.
Over the coming days and weeks, EA will undoubtedly repair the issues that plague 'SimCity,' but the fixes might prove too little, too late for a fan base that feels very badly burned right now. The fact that its professional review scores have been almost universally high is worth noting, suggesting that EA's servers were much more stable and reasonably populated during the game's pre-release.
Gamers may remember that "Diablo III," another game that embraced always-online single-player gameplay, encountered its share of problems at launch, too. Perhaps it's best to leave a constant Internet connection for online games like "World of Warcraft."