Exclusive tourist attractions for people who buy Oral-B? We need to worry about this.
By Tim Colwill on April 17, 2013 at 5:19 pm
I spent about 16 hours in SimCity across the Easter long weekend. This was my first time with the game since the limited one-hour beta, and while it was great to see all the new stuff I was forbidden from seeing in that testing period, the biggest feeling that I came away with after those sixteen hours was not one of happiness and discovery.
It was anger. Anger and frustration.
For a game that’s built with such charming, inoffensive graphics, relaxing music and cute sound effects, that’s a pretty impressive achievement. And yet when my city rolled back for the fourth time and undid another hour’s worth of work, what else was I supposed to be feeling?
Earlier this month the announcement that SimCity would be getting free advertising DLC for Nissan, however, demonstrated that I had another emotion yet to experience: incredulity. That’s the same emotion I felt again today, when I read that you can buy specially-marked Crest and Oral-B products to get DLC codes for exclusive new tourist attractions in your city (more info here).
Unlike the Nissan LEAF station, at least these new products don’t result in your simulated city turning into a tiny advertising billboard. But that’s not the point: the point is that SimCity is a literally broken game that doesn’t work properly — and the fact that even a small amount of development time is being devoted to extraneous DLC nonsense like this should be upsetting to players and fans everywhere.
Your city has stopped processing correctly
SimCity really isn’t in a good place as a product. We’re talking about a game so broken that you literally can’t even rely on something as simple as chat messages, which arrive anywhere up to ten minutes after sending them and often in the wrong order. A game where cars stop on the highway for no reason, blocking all traffic into your
village city. A game where you spend hours and hours turning down the same repetitive quests because, for some reason I can’t possibly fathom, the game can’t track what you have and haven’t done.
Now, alone, all these problems (and the many others) would be fine: little bugs that you could ignore, or perhaps work around. But SimCity needs to be online for some reason (even though it actually really doesn’t) and so we’re talking about a game where — for no reason at all that can possibly be justified in this era of MMOs — your city can and will randomly stop “processing correctly”, resulting in forced rollbacks that undo hours of work.
SimCity is broken. It is a broken game, and it’s built on Origin’s hideously broken architecture. Origin is the only game service I’ve ever used where I’ve literally had to restart my entire computer to get the friends list to display correctly. Coupled with SimCity, it’s like somebody decided to build a house of cards on top of a trampoline. Surprise! The cards fell down somehow. Who could have foreseen this?
Lots of people aren’t having problems connecting, and to them I say: lucky you. But even if you can connect just fine, the game is still all kinds of broken, confusing, and in need of serious development work. So why are Maxis and EA spending any time at all on Nissan-brand in-game ads?
But it’s free!
Yes, of course it’s free. Yes, if I don’t want it, I don’t have to get it. All these things are true, and you know — you’re right. I am choosing to focus on this and to become frustrated with it because — like some sort of customer — I paid money for a product and now, over a month after launch, the game still doesn’t work properly.
I, like many others, am invested in the future of SimCity and we want it to get better, faster, so we can go back to enjoying it. Instead, I’m seeing press releases telling me I can now have Nissan-branded buildings in my city (for free!).
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more DLC on the way, and a whole pile of it — we’re talking Roman casinos, a Coal Stripmine great work, army bases, mosques, a Red Cross building, an Amusement Park and more. There’s even something called a ‘Crime Lord Package’, if you scrape the datafiles deep enough.
Obviously, this isn’t the first time EA and Maxis have flirted with corporate sponsorship. Hell, there’s an entire Katy Perry-brand version of The Sims, and SimCity Societies featured a partnership between BP and EA.. But here’s the thing: These were actually working games before the DLC started rolling in. SimCity was actually broken right out of the gate, to the point where EA Labels boss Frank Gibeau has publicly expressed his disappointment in the launch.
Once you’ve got a game engine up and running, most of the hard work has been done: it’s easy enough to design and code a new building, get some 3D assets in place to represent it, and make it happen. But we have to ask the question: how much development time is this taking up?
Could that development time be used to fix bugs instead? Could it be used to expand city sizes? Could it be used to develop a more stable cloud-saving service (since we know that the city is actually simulated on your computer)? Is the Crime Lord Package being worked on right now? What about the Roman Casino? Have they already been worked on? And if they have, are the developers who finished them now back on bugfix and polish?
These are all questions that we should be asking.
There is no conspiracy here
Before we get all tinfoil-hats up in this joint, let’s be clear that there is no conspiracy here. EA obviously didn’t (and continue to not) enjoy the negative press surrounding SimCity’s launch, and Maxis doubly so. That negative press has probably cost them, in sales, more money than Nissan would have spent to get their branded advertising DLC into the game. Probably more even than Oral-B and Crest are pumping into the joint promotion.
Chances are very good that these deals were signed months ago, before SimCity even launched, and EA/Maxis are obliged to honour them. If this is supposed to be a money-making exercise, it’s a pretty poor one — and given that the current promotion also provides codes for The Sims Social, the Facebook game that EA just announced would be shutting down, there’s little incentive to believe this is some sort of mad cash grab.
What we need to see now from EA and Maxis is a strong commitment to not only explaining exactly why the game needs to be online (and not just saying “We designed it that way”), but to moving ahead with solutions to these problems, problems that have no place plaguing such a high-profile title with such a big push behind it. Not more announcements about more DLC-distractions from the core issue: SimCity is a broken game.
And we, as consumers, need to keep asking questions and demanding answers — especially when we’re being charged through the nose.