SimCity Launch An Unmitigated Disaster
This past week has seen EA’s launch of their new SimCity reboot, a game which Caspius.com readers will probably be familiar with on account of it featuring some abysmally punitive DRM, which requires players to stay logged in to an EA Origin server despite the fact that it is a single-player game. Well, it would seem that just like every other launch of a single-player game with always-on DRM in the history of gaming, the game has launched with nowhere near enough servers, and players have been facing mammoth waiting queues to even gain access to their full priced game, and once they are finally into the game Origin’s straining servers frequently refuse to save a player’s cities on account of their not being allowed to store and access their save files locally. In an attempt to mitigate the crippling disaster of Origin, EA has begun stripping the game of all non-essential gameplay features, such as leaderboards, achievements, and region filters – and thus basically removing every single element which served as EA’s original exceedingly weak rationale for the burning need to have the game require an always active internet connection in the first place!
Due to a flurry of complaints Amazon has pulled the game from their storefront, as well they should. The SimCity product page on Amazon goes on to explain:
“Many customers are having issues connecting to the ‘SimCity’ servers. EA is actively working to resolve these issues, but at this time we do not know when the issue will be fixed. Please visit https://help.ea.com/en/simcity for more information.”
To make matters worse, while many much more reputable establishments have been refunding the purchases of disgruntled consumers, EA’s own Origin storefront has been refusing to do so. EA’s official line on the matter is that Origin does not refund consumers unless there are “special mitigating circumstances” – and apparently rendering the game inoperable beneath a thick veneer of obnoxious DRM does not count as “special mitigating circumstances”.
As one final amusing aside, Good Old Games’ Twitter account was this week advertising the purchase of SimCity 2000 with the cheecky description:
“Server problems? DRM-free SimCity 2000 needs no internet to play AND it’s only $5.99.”
Because Xbox Live Was Not Expensive Enough
Xbox Live Gold accounts currently go for an absolutely disgustingly unjustifiable asking price of $60, but what of large families who all like to play online? What if father, mother, sister, brother all want to game online and have their own unique accounts and profiles? Well, until this week one could simply purchase an Xbox Live Family Pack subscription, but now that is no longer the case.
Xbox Live Family Packs allowed Xbox 360 owners to purchase four Xbox Live Gold accounts for the still extortionate price of $99.99, for use by power gaming families. Apparently Microsoft fancies that their offer of family savings was too generous by far, and have unceremoniously yanked the package without even a warning or announcement. If there is one consolation, it is that the average Xbox 360 owner’s console will probably have died by the time their subscription is due.
Game Development Practices For the Current Gen and Beyond
The video game industry is currently gearing up to make the transition to the eighth console generation, and such shifts tend to lend themselves to developers briefly opening up and waxing philosophical about their intended approach going forward. This week has seen personnel from CD Projekt RED [The Witcher franchise], Take-Two [working on Grand Theft Auto V], and Ubisoft [working on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag] open up to grant insights into their particular video game development processes.
CD Projekt RED’s studio head, Adam Badowski, explained why, for their continued success, “creative vision has to inform business policy and not the other way around”. Badowski considers it to be very detrimental to the studio when business interests win out and are allowed to determine the direction of game production. Badowski went on to state that despite microtransactions and freemium game-models being where all the money is being made at present, such things do not sit well with the creative ambitions of the studio, and are thus being ignored by them at present.
“Financial and business concerns shouldn’t decide which path we take or the creative aims of the company. For example right now we are not dealing in the free-to-play market and this is why – the market is far from perfect yet, I think there’s something strange and awkward about this business model. So we’re not getting involved in it, even if everyone is excited by how much money can be made using this model. Maybe we’ll change our minds in that regard, but not yet.”
Meanwhile Take-Two’s chief operating officer, Karl Slatoff, opened up about the reasons for the publisher [and Rockstar] eschewing a bi-annual release schedule for Grand Theft Auto games. Take-Two are of the view that such a quick turn around in game production would degrade the quality of the game’s content, and thereby fatigue the traditional Grand Theft Auto audience who look to each game’s release as an event.
“Often times people ask us, ‘Why don’t you come out with Grand Theft Auto every two years? To us, that doesn’t make sense, because Grand Theft Auto, every single time it comes out, is a brand new experience. You can’t possibly do that in two years. And if we did that, our product would fatigue and the franchise would degrade from a value perspective.”
Finally, Ubisoft lead game content manager, Carsten Myhill, discussed the publisher’s approach to working on such an atypically developed title as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The game has been in development since 2011, is launching on both current and next-gen consoles, and is being developed by a massive eight different studios! Their method seems to be to have two different teams do the preliminary work on the game, and then to bring other studios on board once production ramps up.
“We’ve been in development since summer 2011. We’ve had two teams working in parallel – there’s been some overlapping and when it gets to the end of a game it’s all hands on deck to get it finished.”
When questioned about the Playstation 4 version of the game, Myhill responded: “Visuals enhancements are the most obvious difference. We’ll also be supporting the new Playstation 4 controller. We’re going to be revealing all the details of that [in the future]. The feature is built for the Playstation 4 controller, but we’re also looking at other controllers too.”
It is always illuminating to see the extent to which studios are willing to allow the concerns of business to guide their endeavours; here we see an ascending WRPG studio brush off the bandwagon fads like microtransactions [they also have a legacy of opposing DRM in their games], and we see the undisputed king of open-world action games taking steps to avoid overexposing their top money-earning brand. In contrast to this we can see the custodians of the fast fatiguing Assassin’s Creed property [thirteen games released since 2007] moving heaven and earth to ensure that Ubisoft will have yet another samey Assassin’s Creed game to sell this holiday season.
As a side note, it appears that the PS4 version of Assassin’s Creed IV will be the worst of the bunch.