Sunday, 17 March 2013

EA and its Attitudes Toward the Consumers and the Gaming Industry.

The recent media attention over the SimCity release has hopefully brought public attention to a problem that has been plaguing the gaming industry for a while now. And that problem is the corporate power known as Electronic Arts.

For those of you not in the know, SimCity was the most anticipated game of 2013, racking up a whole lot of pre-orders. Maxis/EA claimed that it would always be online, considered by most to be a digital rights management move, but claimed by the companies to allow certain features to be added. They claimed that a single city acting on its own is not a realistic simulation and that the online features would allow your city to sync with other cities serverside.

 In response to the complaints that always online would cause problems and that SimCity is an inherently offline single-player game EA/Maxis responded by saying that the connection allows EA to keep the simulation state current for all players, handle cloud saves, and enables social features like cooperative challenges and a global supply-and-demand market. Additionally, Lucy Bradshaw, the PR representative for the game said it protects the integrity of features like achievements and leaderboards. Put together, she said the online features made the game almost like a massively multiplayer online version of the series. More importantly, she also stated that the game was designed around this online-mode and it was absolutely key in playing the game, and it was not something shoehorned in last minute by corporate orders.

On release however it was plagued with server problems caused by this always online "feature". Nobody could connect to the servers. EA hadn't made any preparations for first day rush. Surely they should have learned from the mistakes of other online games such as Diablo III. A lot of the problems stemmed from them using MySQL, a database designed back in 1995. It's not designed to handle the traffic EA should have expected from pre-order numbers, it's built to handle small to medium loads and is actually prone to data corruption at high loads!

Despite all these problems, its what came next that is really despicable. Rathen than admitting they were wrong and offering to fix the always-online issue by patching in an offline mode, EA stuck to their guns. This wouldn't be so bad if it didn't involve them stepping on customers.

EA's CEO Riccicito in his regular attire.

Of course, this is EA we're talking about, so they shat all over the consumer. The first problem was their description of the server problems. People were waiting hours to get in and losing their game progress to the pants-on-head retarded cloud saves.  Rather than admitting there was a problem they had the audacity to dismiss it by saying that people were enjoying it and they hadn't anticipated such an overwhelming response to the game.

Of course, when you contrast this to the overwhelming reviews on both Amazon and Metacritic (1 star and 1.7/10) something just didnt quite add up. Those that could get on were reporting that the game itself was riddled with bugs. People began to request refunds because the game was completely unplayable. EA rejected refunds for all downloaded copies of SimCity.

Then the fallout began. Amazon took down digital copies of SimCity because of overwhelming negative reviews. EA actively censored its customer help number on their forums, god knows why. Modders reported that the game works completely fine offline, the only problem being the lack of local saves. That means Maxis/EA outright lied to the consumer, the game can run perfectly well offline, all the information it "feeds" to the servers is completely unnecessary, all it takes is a patch that would allow local saves!

If it were any other industry, EA would already be bankrupt with the way they've systematically destroyed any shred of positive feelings about the company. If they don't clean up their act, and fast, word of mouth is going to completely ruin their reputation and drive profits into the ground, much more than if they had the basic instinct of simply not ruining their reputation, even if it cost them some money.

EA is constantly setting new lows and is playing with the metaphorical atom bomb in the name of cutting corners. If there's one company I'd love to see crash and burn, it's them - it's just a matter of when the consumer has enough. The main problem is that EA is constantly fucking up in ways even the average consumer can notice. They're not just being a scummy company and the like - something you'd have to research to really find out. This is the type of shit you everybody can see; You buy the game, try to play it and get told you can't because the servers are full.

EA Dev's regular meetings

It's really frustrating. This isn't the first game nor company EA has tarnished. Bioware, Origin, Westwood, Bullfrog; all these are names of companies that EA has swallowed. An  anonymous Maxis dev even came out and said outright that the online was forced in last minute as a digital rights management scheme.

I'll be staying away from SimCity on principle, I wouldn't buy food or a movie if it wasn't top quality. Just because EA monopolizes the gaming industry doesn't mean it can ruin it by destroying reputable companies. With the rise of Kickstarter, maybe publishers for games will become a thing of the past. We can only hope.

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