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A SimCity wide disaster


"EA is an on online company. We're definitely watching what's going on at Blizzard, and we're putting in backstops and checks to try to prevent those kind of things from happening."

That was Kip Katsarelis, the troubled SimCity Lead Producer at Maxis, speaking to Kotaku about a month after Diablo III was released and experiencing its own set of troubling issues; and for very similar reasons. I guess ole Kip wasn't watching carefully enough.

SimCity has been out for a week so far, but if message-boards, forums, Facebook and Twitter are to be believed no one's actually played it. Not because they don't want to, but simply because they can't. Oh there've been a few folks that managed to wear their mayoral chain, but few have been able to do anything significant. Since the game's launch last Tuesday, its always-online requirement has been an experience marred by severe technical issues. For many, the game has become nigh unplayable, due either to connection problems, long waits and/or long worked on cities just disappearing.


No doubt from a player perspective its been a frustrating week, but its been no less frustrating for Maxis. The team have been working around the clock, whether setting up new servers to ease the congestion, rolling out patches to improve connectivity and even going so far as to disable features to improve the player experience.

To the studio's credit, they've taken full responsibility for the game's failings and given time, the problems SimCity is experiencing will most likely be sorted out. Before long, the game will most likely become deserving of the high scores many prominent gaming websites gave. But it really needs to be asked, how did this happen in the first place?

Maxis has offered up a number of excuses for why the game's experienced has been as borked as it has been. The two most prominent being “We never experienced this high of a load during the beta” and “We didn't expect this many people online.” Both those excuses are on the weak side, because firstly, obviously there wouldn't be that many people in the beta. It's a beta, by definition those things have limited and oftentimes a pre-determined number of participants. Secondly, the game's pre-orders should have been a reasonable indicator of demand and, at the risk of sounding disingenuous, companies like EA have armies of analysts whose specific job it is to calculate that very thing.

Regardless of the validity of those claims, I think the real issue with SimCity isn't a technical one, though that is a factor. Rather, the problem with SimCity is one simply of nomenclature. Or in the common tongue, the game has the wrong name.

Consider this. If SimCity was instead called 'SimCity Online' would the ructions about its server congestion, connection drops and long queues be as pronounced? Unlikely, because those are things people expect from an MMO. And make no mistake, SimCity is an MMO and was always intended as such, something which Kip Katsarelis made clear after a livestream preview of the game in October last year. “We really thought about this SimCity as multi-player from the ground up,” he said.

Then again, it is possible that if they pushed it harder as an MMO, it may have garnered less attention, and ironically, not been prone to some of the issues it's currently experiencing now. Regardless, at this moment, what we have is a game that is apparently exceedingly good, but impossible to play. One can only hope that this  - and the well-documented problems with Diablo III - will steer PC developers away from an always-online video game future.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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