Like many people, the radical new features of SimCity and the amount of time and dedication EA was investing in it had me excited.
I saw the game at E3 and was genuinely giddy at the prospect of making my own cities once again with some of the new levels of micro-detail we all secretly wished were present: individuals with wants and needs driving their actual cars to their actual jobs getting stuck in actual (read: virtual) traffic.
Now, as the presentation drew to a close, the EA Maxis rep showed us that they’d gone one level further and added the ability for you to zoom out to a regional level and visit nearby cities from other players. You could even trade with them!
The problem wasn’t so much that the game couldn’t be played single player, as much as it was that EA failed to communicate this to players with the initial PR push for the game.
There are a multitude of terrible buzzwords EA could’ve used to get people’s expectations in the right place: massively singleplayer, adding the suffix ‘Online’ to the title jump out at me immediately.
It’s just become such usual fare for games which have a multiplayer component to discuss it with as similar an amount of prominence as EA Maxis did when showing off E3.
It sounded to all involved like it was a remake of the classic and much-loved SimCity, but with cool new multiplayer features to make the experience deeper.
Rightly, no one gets confused when a massively multiplayer game requires an always-on internet connection to play, but without the proper emphasis on those facts right from the beginning, it’s understandable that people are so upset at the late reveal of what appears to many fans to be a last-minute excuse for always-on DRM.
Of course, messaging would only have softened the blow so much. EA Maxis is now reporting that it’s boosted the server capacity by a factor of 40. Which is great, but why was it off by a factor of 40 to begin with?
The dust is finally settling on the whole debacle now, and for my money it simply shows why EA and every other publisher need to be very careful to set expectations correctly at the outset. The largest groups of people buying a game are usually those who don’t look too hard into the details, so the core message which filters out from the enthusiasts has a lot of work to do.
It has to travel well, be intact when it’s received on the fringes and provide enough of its own context to prevent misunderstanding.