By now you kids know how I feel about always-on DRM. It makes me angry. It makes the fire burn in me belly. And worst of all, it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down in the near future. I vented and raged about Diablo III when Blizzard released it last year, seeing white hot flashes of rage at the fact that I couldn’t play my single player game offline. Seemed like a reasonable to me of course, since the game’s predecessor allowed me to do so, but hey, maybe that’s just me.
As I’m sure we’ve all learned in a number of times in any history class, relationship or other real-life happening, history seems doomed to repeat itself. This time it wasn’t Blizzard at the heart of the controversy though – instead it was EA, one of the OG’s of always-on DRM, and the release of SimCity, next in that line of addictive little sim games. Fans were looking forward to it, and would be erecting tiny digital skyscrapers as we speak if it wasn’t for an absolutely catastrophic launch.
You see kids, the city is a sim. But the horror was real.
For the last few days since launch, a number of users haven’t been able to connect to theSimCity servers. Of course no connection to the servers means – you guessed it – no SimCity to play. The few players that are in fact able to connect being dropped mid game with a suddenly severed connection. The result? Extremely unhappy gamers. Check out the official SimCity Facebook page to see the kind or ire they drew from their customers. You can take another digital trip over to Reddit where the subreddit /r/SimCity has a ton of discussions between unhappy peoples.
That’s the main story, but it serves as a springboard for a couple of other spinoffs in the SimCity saga. Tuesday on the EA forums (I’d link but it’s since been edited), global community manager Marcel Hatam issued an apology to customers, saying: “If you regrettably feel that we let you down, you can of course request a refund for your order at [Origin's "contact us" page], though we’re currently still in the process of resolving this issue.”
Then I saw this floating around Twitter. It appears to be a post of a support chat posted to the EA forums by a user going by the handle CalebPeters. In that chat, we see the customer support representative telling the user that EA does allow users to request refunds, but doesn’t necessarily process them by their return policy, also adding that account bans are in store for users that dispute said policy. Of course that chat image went Ebola-style viral across the web immediately after. Marcel Hatan’s forum post has since disappeared, being replaced with the line “Please review our refund policy here: https://help.ea.com/article/returns-and-cancellations” (check poster EA_ComRaven). This of course links to their return policy, which states that there will be no refunds. Through their Origin account (@OriginInsider), EA then clarified that users would not in fact be banned for requesting a refund. PHEW. Three days of whirlwind nuttiness, all because of always-on DRM. But wait, what’s that I hear?
**HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!**
Enter Amazon into the heart of the melee. Eager to spare their customers from what can only be referred to as a kerfuffle, Amazon has stopped selling SimCity on their storefront. In addition to marking each purchase option as “unavailable” when selected, they give Amazon customers a warning: “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/simcity for more information.” Click that screenshot I took to see it full-size or hit up Amazon to see it for yourself.
So EA is trying to address the problem. Naturally, they hate bad press and the prospect of losing future sales as much as the next company. Today they announced that they are removing “non-critical” aspects of the game to help lower the stress on their servers, letting more people connect without getting the boot.
Now this is the second launch that I’ve seen destroyed by a publisher’s absolute insistence on always-on DRM (of course i say “destroyed” due to user backlash, not money). It is also the second launch where the publisher claimed that the always on component provided benefits and was not implemented for DRM reasons. “Oh it’s technical” they say – well I ain’t buying it. Diablo III‘s DRM-laden launch was paired with sales. SimCity will still sell a bunch of copies once they get all this sorted out. That’s two kids. One more always-on DRM launch and I’m ready to call it a horrifying industry trend.
On an actual technical note, this was the second launch where AAA publishing houses didn’t properly test a stressed server load. You’re requiring every single player to be online. Don’t you think your servers and network should be beefed up to match it?