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DRM City: The Future of Always-Online Games Looks Grim

Marcus Estrada

Earlier this week, the long-awaited reboot SimCity launched on PCs. It didn“t go very well. In fact, it went horribly as EA“s farm of servers dedicated to the game simply could not keep up with everyone attempting to download and play the game immediately.


As the game is one which requires a constant internet connection, any attempt at playing the game caused further stress to the servers, which resulted in long queues for customers. Although things are settling down now, there have still been issues with playing the game at all.




None of this would have happened if the game did not make use of DRM in the form of an always-on connection.


Sure, Origin itself may have been bogged down with players downloading the game, but afterwards, they would be able to play without egregious wait times or games crashing. The always-on connection keeps players continuously tethered to EA to make sure games played are legitimate, as well as share other data between the two. Although internet connectivity may be used in exciting ways with games, EA appears to do it primarily for security“s sake.


After all, there is no need for players to be connected when developing a city in single player mode. Many, who similarly dislike online integration in general, would prefer to have an option between offline single player and online single player. The benefit of an online single player mode being extra statistics and features while an offline mode would aid those who either dislike or are unable to be continuously connected to the internet.


Instead, EA took the tactic of having a game which is always online no matter what you do. And, as has happened many times before, the servers were unprepared for the flood of gamers. It is not only EA who has suffered this fate, but also Blizzard and other companies who require an always-on connection. Yet, everyone seems to frame each server disaster as a surprise, as if we should not have expected it.




In many ways we shouldn't have to expect it, but companies are obviously not doing enough to show otherwise. As consumers of video game media we have the right to access our games when we buy them brand new. When a game is online-focused, it makes sense that they will require constant connectivity. But when a game is traditionally single player focused, it seems an unnecessary requirement to be constantly having a game verified with the company's servers.


Big names like EA have tremendous amounts of money, and as such that may be why fans expected SimCity servers to work perfectly upon launch. However, EA buckled under the pressure and left many angry. Despite tremendous apologies, they didn“t even go so far as to offer refunds for their product through Origin. At least in regards to pre-orders, EA should have been aware of the minimum player base to expect, and planned accordingly.


Why can“t massive groups like EA handle a launch? It“s common knowledge to gamers that tons of people will pick up a game immediately and try to play. It may be due to the obscene business savvy of EA. Unless a game is really special, it will tend to see a dropping off of players after a while, and eventually there will be much fewer people playing at one time. To EA, it may seem more cost productive to simply have “enough” servers for when the game is settled in its run, rather than have tons of servers set to accommodate the launch rush. Still, this is only a ridiculous plan as it leads to disasters like what has just occurred with SimCity.




EA may have chosen to not prepare as many servers as necessary for a widely anticipated game, but now they have had to bring some more on board all the same. The playerbase is angry that they were not able to play the game they purchased right when it was available. They are even angrier when faced with EA stubbornly denying refunds, as well as requiring the game to be online in the first place. Of course, some are hammering on the company extra hard thanks to it being EA who has stumbled.


What does an event like this do for them? The image of EA was already much-hated within the community, but that hate is only being strengthened now. Beyond the distaste over company politics, there is also a growing dislike of always-on games. Sure, there have always been vocal opposition, but the more server issues happen, the more that gamers recognize their inherent problems, as well as unnecessary nature. Although SimCity has a multiplayer mode, there should be no need for the consumer to connect to the internet for a solo mode.


We are all quite aware of these things thanks to being involved with gaming media. We read copious gaming websites, or at least discuss games frequently with others. From the moment the clock hit midnight on the eastern coast, gamers everywhere knew that SimCity was facing issues. We are all so deeply engrossed in gaming that every problem is inflated to cataclysmic proportions in an instant. Then, we listen to the echo chamber of bombastic journalists who use cunning wordplay to snidely condemn and many fall in line behind these voices.




So anyone reading this is probably very aware of the seething anger around SimCity. But what of players who are not constantly tapped into this world of ours? Just like Diablo III, SimCity is a game with a history that has not been seen for a while. It“s entirely likely that people who have not played many video games in years will recognize the name “Sim City” and pick it up from Wal-Mart in the coming weeks. When the servers have stabilized, will they even be aware that these issues even existed? It“s not likely.


EA is spurning customers left and right who may rightly be considered “hardcore” gamers. However, not everyone in the world understands or sees this occur at all. In a way, EA allows these issues to happen because they know consumers better than they know themselves. There are those gamers who yell and scream now, only to buy games from that company who supposedly wronged them later. Of course, there are also gamers who will take this to heart and not buy an always-on game for a long while.


Overall though, we as a collective player populous need to make a stronger stand against constantly connected games or this will not stop. Instead, games will continue to launch with always-on internet a requirement. Servers will continue to buckle under the stress, we“ll cry and yell, and then “forgive” because we need the next game in a series. Being angry alone does not concern EA, or any other big company, much. Show companies that until they can truly invest in servers to handle a game, that they should not push forward with constantly connected games. Stop supporting these companies and maybe - just maybe - we“ll see them pull back.

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