Iris Rants: SimCity's Draconian DRM May Be Justified by Multiplayer Regions... If They Actually Worked
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
My honeymoon period with the new SimCity ended abruptly last night, less than 24 hours after the its release (though you can read my previous impressions here). Unsurprisingly the first day since the game's launch was incredibly hard on the servers and, in case you don't know, SimCity requires you to connect to their servers to play it at all. It's obviously a heavyhanded DRM measure, but given the heavy focus on multiplayer and shared regions it's also sort of understandable, or even useful, right?
It might be, if any of the features that actually required a server connection actually worked. For many players including myself, SimCity is not even a multiplayer game. Let me explain:
The most common complaint about this game, even during beta, has been that it requires you to be connected to the SimCity servers to play. I'll admit that that irked me a bit as well, but as someone interested in the game primarily for its multiplayer it didn't get under my skin as much as it would have if I preferred solo play. Of course I can't remember a time when games requiring servers launched and didn't suffer crippling load issues for the first week or two--no matter how much stress testing is done it always seems to happen--since it costs less to underestimate resources and demand rather than overestimate them. This time there was even a minor controversy among game journalists when gaming site Polygon updated its review score for SimCity based on the game's server problems.
I've accepted these first-week server blues as a fact of gaming life. In spite of that I'll mention that SimCity's wait queue is the most infuriating one I've ever seen; you aren't given a position in the queue itself or a timer for how long it will take to get in, but rather a 20 minute timer and every 20 minutes the game will try to connect. If it fails, the countdown resets itself. Again and again. I have a hard time explaining why I find this particular method of queueing almost insulting, but I do. Watching that timer reset makes me madder than any queue ever has before. It feels like I'm being scolded for giving EA hundreds of dollars over the past decade. Hot on the heels of my recent issues getting The Sims 3 to even run, it doesn't make me feel good about this game.
But whatever. I'm a big girl. I can deal with the wait queue if I get to actually play the game once I'm past it, but what's the point of putting up with that queue when all the features I'm queueing for are completely unworkable? Once I was finally logged in, I went to check my friends list. My friends, even though they were shown as online and playing SImCity in Origin (the service SimCity runs on) they were not listed as online within SimCity. That was because we were all on different servers. Easy fix, right?
Here's the problem: I had installed the game and made a region (Imbruglia Isles) for us in the wee hours of the morning, but by the time they were around to play, that server was full. Completely full, and not allowing anyone else to join or create regions unless they already had one there. This seems to mean that I can't even invite them to my region, because they can't even connect to that server. That in turn means I have to change servers to play with them, and if I do that my fully developed city with the population of 200k, the Eiffel tower, the university, the nuclear plant... None of that comes with me. That region is unplayable now unless I switch servers to play it alone.
It's just a little bit ironic, isn't it?
So I grudgingly switched servers. I made a new region, named New Imbruglia. A clean slate. I tried to add them to my friends list. One of them stuck, but the other took a half dozen attempts. The latter showed as offline when he was online, the former didn't show up at all. I ignored that and sent them invitations to the new region anyway.
I sent them invitations again and again and again, receiving the same error each time. My friend tried as well, inviting us to his own region, Neo New Imbruglia. He sent them dozens of times and claimed that at least one of them went through, but I recieved nothing.
Now I have the choice to wait in a line for 20 minutes (at best) to play the city I already have, or start a new city that I may also have to abandon later. I instead chose to ragequit, and played Flirt Off instead.
Tonight, perhaps Nouveau Neo New Imbruglia will rise in the ashes of its sister regions, but I'm not holding my breath.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.