Dissecting Disaster in Sim City

Sim City deserves a lot of the flak that it got at launch. Players – myself among them – had a right to be upset, but I hope other developers aren’t taking the wrong message away from it. I think it’s fair to berate Sim City’s troubled launch, but too early to draw conclusions about forcing online features and DRM. After all, failed experiments are the price of progress.

It’s true that if Sim City had stayed offline, everyone would be able to play. Yet it’s just as true that if there were enough stable servers most of us could have played too. This is the difference between a bad idea, and bad execution.

Some of the online features look genuinely interesting. The interaction with cities in a region brings a whole new level to the game. In fact it’s the main reason I bothered to buy Sim City, instead of just reinstalling an older version. And games like Farmville present a great case for the broad appeal of this collaborative niche. There are also leaderboards to mark the most advanced cities and regions, and even timed challenges players can work towards, like getting a brand new region’s population to 2.5 million the fastest. Like speed runs, and e-sports, I doubt I’ll take part myself, but look forward to hearing the stories, and strategies of those that do.

There’s a lot of potential here. Yet EA is being admonished for doing exactly what so many have bemoaned them avoiding in the past: something new. I think we’ve overly romanticized the idea of creative, new ideas thanks to recent, stand-out hits in the indie scene. But to praise indie devs as our saviors is to forget how many poorly designed, mediocre, uninteresting, and copycat indie games are made for every great one. Creativity is a process of experimentation. Many try, and many fail. That’s how new ideas are forged into good, and practical ones.

We should not mistake Sim City’s launch for a failure of the game design. It is a failure of infrastructure, and planning.

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