Even if you don’t like playing video games, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard about the debacle with Electronic Arts, subsidiary Maxis, and their new release: SimCity.

Basically what started as a game with high expectations and rave reviews became a frustration for customers and a nightmare for EA.

But let’s delve a little deeper into the issue and discuss some of the problems, the solution, and what this means for the EA brand.

The Problem:

The first SimCity game was released in 1989 and has spawned a very successful franchise. It’s been 10 years since Electronic Arts released the last SimCity game, so longtime fans of the franchise were pretty excited to see this new reboot with killer graphics and improved urban planning.

And according to the initial reviews from blogs and gaming magazine reviews who had early access to the game, it was everything that fans were waiting for.

But when the game launched in early March of 2013, players noticed something. They couldn’t log on and play the game.

simcity error

It seemed that EA really wanted to crack down on piracy, so the game was programmed to have always-on DRM. That means that customers could only play it online on the EA servers. Now while this is great for playing multiplayer games, there were a lot of problems with the situation.

Electronic Arts grossly underestimated the need of server space, which is why early players of the game were unable to log on and play. And if it wasn’t frustrating enough, since the game didn’t support an offline mode, players couldn’t even play in single player mode while EA upgraded their servers.

This created a lot of unhappy customers who couldn’t play the game that they paid for. They took to blogs, they took to forums and they took to Twitter.

The blog Kotaku even created a special gif for the event:

simcity diaster gif

And most of all, angry consumers took to the Amazon review section to air their grievances and discontent.

simcity amazon review

Soon the game had a one star rating on Amazon and the online retailer was forced to stop selling the product for a bit.

Needless to say, the entire incident created a huge PR disaster for EA. The gaming company needed to subdue a bunch of their fans, and fast.

The Solution:

EA wasted no time in addressing the concerns of their customers. They wrote updates for their blog, they made sure that their Twitter account kept fans in the loop, and they made sure to release statements to gaming sites and blogs.

John Riccitiello stepped down as EA’s CEO citing “the shortcomings in our financial results this year.”

Their Twitter account has taken on the role of instant customer service with tons of @mentions to fans of varying degrees of happiness.

simcity twitter

The EA team upgraded and added servers for more people to play. They asked partners to temporarily stop advertising the game. Retailers like Amazon and Best Buy have lowered their prices to around $40 instead of the initial $60.

Since EA seems to be refusing to issue refunds, the company decided to make up for the failed launch by giving their early adopters a free game from the EA library. They offered customers the choice to pick from: SimCity 4, Battlefield 3, Dead Space 3, Mass Effect 3, Bejeweled 3, Medal of Honor Warfighter, Need for Speed Most Wanted, and Plants vs Zombies. These games range in price from $10 – $59.99 and could be downloaded as soon as players registered their game.

Though customers and fans have called for an update with bigger cities (that’s apparently coming) and offline mode, EA and Maxis have maintained their stance that the game will remain as an always-online game.

The Bottom Line:

It’s hard to say who is 100% wrong and who is 100% right.

As a content creator, I can understand that Electronic Arts wants to protect their software. Their games constantly make the most pirated games of the year lists. DRM can help them keep tabs on the software that they’ve spent plenty of time and money on.

But on the other hand, they’re also penalizing the fans who have paid money for the game. Sure the servers are working now, but what if you can’t get into the game you want or you just want to tool around with your city offline? Options that gamers appreciated in the original games just don’t exist anymore.

Two things are certain, though.

One: EA and Maxis have gotten a ton of publicity for their brand and their game. About 99% of it has been negative, but it’s free publicity nonetheless. This has raised awareness far past the gamer circle. And since people have such a fascination with train wrecks, it could lure casual gamers and even non-gamers to check out what the hubbub is about.

Two: Despite the bad publicity, EA and Maxis have a hit. Don’t believe me? At this writing it was sitting at the top of the best-selling list of PC game downloads on Amazon.com. EA announced that they sold 1.1 million copies in the first two weeks of the game’s release.

amazon best seller simcity

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