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SimCity DRM: "Always Online" Mode Results in Disaster For Gamers

If you were super-stoked about the release of SimCity then chances are you spent the last few days in a puddle of your own tears.

The much-anticipated game was released on March 5, and that’s when everything started to go wrong. SimCity requires an Internet connection even in single-player mode, and encountered some serious hardware issues as everyone logged in to play. Players were subjected to long queues, error messages, and random disconnections. What's to blame? Electronic Arts (EA) and their deployment of poorly-done Digital Rights Management (DRM). 

It’s not just that the EA server issues resulted in slow gameplay, for many it meant no gameplay. Polygon revised their original 9.5 score of the game down to 4 after the issues persisted. Russ Pitts of Polygon explains:

"In attempting to play SimCity today, it took me over half an hour to load a game, during which time my connection to the servers dropped repeatedly, multiple attempts to load the city were aborted, and I finally had to "trick" the game into showing me (and then, finally, loading) my city by accessing the list of games present in the drop-down Origin profile menu. The main "Resume Game" button and the list of games in progress both would not show or load a city."

The revised review by Polygon now seems to fit more in-line with the review by ArsTechnia who had originally expressed disappointment with the game. 

The Amazon reviews do nothing short of skewer the game. As of Saturday morning, there were around 3000 negative reviews. Yikes. People have also complained about logging into the game only to find entire portions of their city gone

The fix seemed like an easy one, let people play offline until EA can get the server situation fixed. But they didn’t do that.

Prior to the release of SimCity, EA touted the benefits of the social experience that would come from online game play. They told us cities don’t live in a bubble, and neither should you. They said it would help you make relevant real-time decisions for your city. Is that stuff nice? Sure. But pretending this is the reason for the "Always-Online" gameplay mode is disingenuous. 

Everyone who pays for the game is forced to play in the online community for the sole purpose of protecting DRM and copyright. The move to "Always-Online" adversely affects people who have no or poor Internet connections. It’s also totally unnecessary for a single-player game. 

In order to help solve some of the server woes, EA decided to drop all non-essential parts of the game. Things like Cheetah mode and the leadership board disappeared. It was too bad none of these fixes actually solved the problems.

IGN reports that EA issued a gag order to the SimCity marketing team:

"EA Origin has requested to pause all SimCity marketing campaigns temporarily, until further notice. We have deactivated all SimCity text links and creative and we ask you to please remove any copy promoting SimCity from your website for the time-being (...)"

When people asked for refunds, they were denied by EA’s digital distribution company Origin, who said it is not their policy to offer refunds on digital downloads. As imagined, this did not go over well with fans who had paid $60 for a game that just didn’t work.

Now, EA says it will give fans that bought the game one free PC download from the EA library. In order to receive the free download, gamers will have had to register their game by March 18th.

A petition is circulating on change.org that calls for the removal of "Always-Online" DRM and seeks to prevent such modes from being used in any future EA games. At last check, it has over 50,000 signatures. There have also been calls to boycott other EA games like Dragon Age 3.

The real lesson here? DRM just doesn't work.

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