We Built This SimCity On A Shaky Foundation Of DRM

EA’s anticipated SimCity launch has officially become a cavalcade of fail. Amazon is temporarily suspending sales of digital copies of the game in the face of massive negative buyer feedback, with the electronic title managing to accrue an overall rating of one star on the retailer’s site. This comes after EA disabled certain features to try to ease launch woes, and after it delayed the European launch by 24 hours to do the same.

By all accounts, the game itself is great. The problem is that EA decided to make sure that everyone, regardless of whether they wanted to play with others or by their lonesome selves, be connected to the Internet and EA’s SimCity servers in order to have access to the game. It’s the most insidious kind of DRM, in that it punishes legitimate players almost as much as it punishes pirates.

Rule number one of being a┬átyrannical game company fallen on hard times enforcing an outdated form of content copyright protection: make sure your servers can handle the load. EA has since said that it will bring in additional servers over the course of “the coming two days,” according to VentureBeat, and has already shut down the servers to install updates in an attempt to set things right. It’s also turning off leaderboards, achievements and region filters, hoping closing down non-essential elements will ease the network strain.

Of course, the irony here is thick. EA and Maxis are shutting down gameplay features in order to make sure that a title doesn’t really *need* to be online, can remain online anyway to keep the DRM component in place. From a blog post late last year, Maxis SVP Lucy Bradshaw defending the always-on connection (emphasis added):

Running the regional simulation on our servers is something we also use to support features that will make this SimCity even more fun. We use the Sim data to update worldwide leaderboards, where you get to see your city or mayoral standings as compared to the other cities in your region and between all of the regions in the world. And since SimCity is a live service, we’re also using the data to create weekly global and local challenges for our players that keep the gameplay fresh and surprising.

So when challenged on why SimCity has to have a constant connection to the Internet, even for single-player games, a senior Maxis executive highlighted the very features that the developer now has to disable just to keep the lights on. It was a thin excuse back then, and it’s about as thick as tattered onion skin now.

There’s absolutely no excuse for SimCity’s launch issues beyond simple short-sighted greed. Diablo III, a top-tier title put out by Activision Blizzard last year, faced the same kind of massive launch problems. The title sold well however, thanks in large part to the same kind of pre-order hype that benefitted SimCity, shipping over 12 million copies through the end of 2012. Active players were rumored to have declined quickly in the months following its launch, but the company recently said it’s turning its attention to Diablo III from perennial moneymaker World of Warcraft, so it can’t be doing too badly.

The sad truth is that EA, like Activision Blizzard before it, might not suffer that much material hurt from SimCity’s shaky launch, despite the outraged protest of frustrated Amazon reviewers. But here’s hoping it does, because this is bullshit.