Forgiving the Unforgivable Sins of SimCity
The people who developed SimCity won’t forget last week. Within the myopic scope of the videogame industry, the debacle that followed the release of SimCity on Tuesday was an unprecedented comedy of errors, a debacle that filled a number of consumers with blind rage and gave a swath of indignant anti-DRM prophets an opportunity to gloat. Because of the decision to tie SimCity to EA’s exclusive Origin store, as well as their requirement that SimCity remain online at all times in order to play, the game suffered from all sorts of hiccups and problems when the servers found themselves overloaded. All of it can be summed up in one tragically simple sentence: The game wouldn’t work.
Let’s be clear: there are real stakes involved here. As consumers, we are all well aware of what spending $50-60 often means in terms of sacrifice. Some players have the ability to take days off of work in order to merely settle in and play SimCity all day. Others found their months-long anticipation deflated when the game merely didn’t work. All of these are real costs, even if they are what many refer to as “first world problems”.
Journalists and game critics both found themselves in uncomfortable positions. Some, who had access before the game was released, were forced to wait until the game was released to see how it would work in the wild, passing up the precious page views that posting one of the first reviews might have brought them. Other websites, most notably Polygon, decided to post the review as is, providing enough information for the consumer about the possible server problems to come to make their own decisions, ultimately opening themselves up to criticism from competitors and skeptical readers. Many writers found themselves with review deadlines but no way to play the game, having received their review copy after the release date. Our own Drew Dixon, under pressure to review the game for another outlet lamented in our writer’s forum, “I am not nerd raging or anything, but I am supposed to write about this game by Monday and and I can’t get in.”
That’s the whole thing – none of these camps are necessarily nerd raging. They’re just frustrated, and rightly so. The thing they bought doesn’t work – and not in a “I think this is a defective” sorta way.
But do you think you, Mr. consumer, had a bad week? Do you think you, Mr. journalist, have been through the ringer?
Perhaps no one has been more invested in SimCity and its success than Ocean Quigley, its creative director. He’s had quite a few angry tweets directed at him lately. One of them said:
Quigley’s reply was heartbreaking:
I imagine that this whole scenario, as enraging as it is to many of us, as minimal as it may be to SimCity‘s publisher, EA, and as silly as it may seem to those with little interest in games, was the kind of thing Quigley had nightmares about before the game went gold. It’s perfectly plausible that he fell asleep anxious and excited for the world to play his game, anxious to receive a number of laudatory congratulations, anxious to finally be able to rest and bask in the brilliant game he knew he’d created. But then he dreamt of failing servers, enraged fans, demands of refunds, angry tweets, and plummeting review scores. In this dream, Quigley found that he was unable to stop the freight train that carried years of hard work from derailing and plummeting into the ocean. I suspect many developers before Ocean Quigley have had this dream.
But when Quigley awoke, the nightmare was only beginning.
The game itself is beautiful, engaging, creative, but also, broken, or at least it was, and at the time of this writing, still kind of is. It makes sense for the press to report the truth, to reflect that truth in review scores. It makes sense for consumers to be incensed that they aren’t give what they were promised. But in all of this mutual destruction, I hope we never lose our humanity to the degree that we’re unable to recognize the dividing lines between publisher machinations, unforeseen circumstances, and developer responsibility and intent.
“OK, we agree, that was dumb,” said General Manager of Maxis, Lucy Bradshaw in a letter to those who were burned by SimCity. They were, of course, guilty of underestimating their own game’s complexity and audience, given the responsibility they had to make a seemingly simple game support some incredibly complex and large-scale online operations. But they’re taking this opportunity to make it up to us by offering those who bought the game early a free game. And before you say anything, yes they know:
I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent.
The letter is brilliant and truthful public relations. It points out the fact that behind the scenes are people who genuinely care about the final product and the experience the players have with that product. They really are, in some sense, just friends trying to get back into our good graces after doing something crummy.
It would be good if, instead of merely raging against the products we are unsatisfied with, we also expressed a genuine care and concern for the people behind them. Maybe, even when a game genuinely disappoints us and makes us want to spit, we could take a step back, see the good in it, and appreciate, if nothing else, the developer’s intentions.
Well after all of this is solved, after the servers are working again for years and then shut off again, what will matter isn’t the game itself, but the people and the ideas behind it. The difference between entitlement and a reasonable sense of personal justice is the conscious recognition and acceptance of what’s at stake and what isn’t, who’s to blame and who’s not, which sins are forgivable and which aren’t. Not to put a damper on the righteous indignation but in this case, the sins committed against us can be absolved.