On SimCity’s always-on DRM

Claiming SimCity fixed, by removing the server queues, random crashes, lost cities, server drops, and the artificial restrictions placed on the game just to make it run, is like claiming a broken leg fixed because you’ve mended the crutches. The game, by its very design, is hideously broken, and like Diablo III before it, it has only served to scream a complete disregard for sense and a massive disregard for customers. So what we mustn’t do now is say, “Well, teething problems.”

These aren’t teething problems. These are continuous deep-running flaws designed to cripple the game for you as a player, simply to serve some nebulous notion of protecting the game against piracy.

I certainly understand and sympathize with game developers and publishers who don’t want people to rip them off. But there’s a delicate balance between a system that prevents people from stealing a game and one that punishes legitimate users unnecessarily, and right now, SimCity seems weighted towards abusing legitimate customers.

  • Domicinator

    Game pirates use any way they can to justify stealing the game. (I like to try it out for free before I buy it, I’m not giving these large greedy companies my money, I am against DRM so I’m protesting, etc.) In the end, DRM is just another way for them to justify their theft. What’s the solution other than to require a connection to an authentication server?

    Not that I’m defending EA–I hate many, hell even most, of their business practices. But I don’t see what other solution there is. The problem is that if you’re going to do it this way, make sure your servers can handle it.

    Edit: Honestly, I think the best way is the way Steam does it. Authenticate when you log in, and that’s that. No constant connection required, and last I checked Steam is doing pretty good business on game downloads.

    • kibbles

      what does apple do to protect OS X? er…nothing? granted its via the MAS now, but when it was on plastic there was never any DRM. and because I was respected as a customer, I actually would buy the family license rather than pirate a solo.

      • Domicinator

        That’s a good point—I guess you sort of have to consider the audience though. I don’t think OSX update buying consumers are necessarily the same crowd as the people who play PC games.

        My best guess is that Apple assumes most people will just go ahead and buy it, but if a few people figure out that you don’t really need to, then so be it. At least those people are using OSX. I think the PC gaming industry is assuming that most people are stealing the game and they need to get the money for the game where they can.

        • deanishe

          A big difference is the price of most MAS software, including Apple’s, and the restrictions of the DRM.

          The DRM is much less noticeable than the MAS conditions of entry (sandboxing etc.) and a lot of the software on the MAS is pretty cheap.

          Pirating software takes a certain amount of effort, and there are a lot more people who’ll go to that effort for $100 than would for $20 or $5.

          There are also a lot of folks who’ll buy dozens of 99c apps but would never spend $10 on one app. Or who’d buy a game for $20 but never for $60.

          It works very well for Apple, Steam, gog.com and others.

          But EA is locked into its Hollywood cycle of releasing bigger and better (thus expensive) versions of exactly the same games it released a year or so ago. That business model is its golden goose, and EA isn’t about to tinker with it.

    • jacksonsquire

      The problem is that DRM does nothing but hurt the legitimate customer because no matter what there’s a crack out eventually which eliminates the DRM in some fashion.

      Steam does do a good job at desuckifying (yeah, I made up the word) DRM, but it’s possible to download cracked Steam games. The pirates still win.

      The best way period to do it is to do it like Apple eventually did with the music store after they were successful in convincing the record labels to remove the DRM. The songs cost money but yet for many they’d rather buy from there than go through the BS of pirating. The people left are those who would pirate anyway.

      GOG (http://gog.com) does this for games and are quite successful.

    • Steam would be great if it wasn’t for the need to run Adobe AIR to replace my computer’s operating system.

  • Chris Kluwe (@chriswarcraft) had an interesting take. He presumes that the review he did for PC Mag and him telling all his Twitter followers how terrible the game was cost EA/Maxis more in sales than they would’ve lost to savvy pirates using a cracked game.

    As an artist (yes, games are art), I can certainly sympathize with not wanting your material stolen and used illegitimately. But there has to be a better method for this, other than this “always on” crap. As Domicinator said, Steam makes it work pretty well. Why not take that approach, or even just use Steam as your distribution tool?

    • Peter Cohen

      If that’s the case, I’d suggest that Chris Kluwe has either a vastly overinflated sense of his own self-importance or a vastly underdeveloped understanding of how widespread and pervasive game piracy actually is.

  • yeah

    Call it DRM if you want, but the primary reason for it being online is the simulations that their servers do (their words). Of course some don’t believe them. Ironically, their server issues have proven to everyone but the tin-foil hat crowd that their servers do in fact simulate a huge amount of data.

    • samdchuck

      No-one should believe them on that, the only thing that their sever issues have proven is that the game was made specifically to not be playable without a connection to EA, from the cloud game saves to the global market. The game plays perfectly fine for 20 minutes without an internet connection (you have to have one to initiate the game though). There is no simulation on their servers besides the global market numbers.

      You can’t drive a car without the keys, but that doesn’t mean that the key is a vital functional part of the car, meremly that the car was designed to not work without the key.

    • rwitt

      But why do those simulations need to be online? I think the answer is “they don’t,” but it gives EA additional cover for explaining the reasons behind the online only gameplay.

  • jacksonsquire

    The problem with this whole fiasco is that a patch exists that removes the always-on DRM, allowing pirates to play the game while people who paid for it have to experience server crashes.

    All DRM does is make pirates have better content than legitimate buyers.

    • That’s a common problem with modern day anti-piracy systems. The pirates get a better experience than those who legitimately purchase products. It happens with DVD’s and Blu-rays that are now not only loaded with unskippable anti-piracy messages, but are even being bundled with unskippable trailers and advertisements – just like the horrible cinema experience.

      I’ve stopped buying them even though I love Blu-ray as the highest possible quality home viewing experience. Guess who Hollywood will blame when sales fall off a cliff? Not themselves for driving customers away with their shitty business models. It’ll be the selfish pirates fault for stealing and refusing to pay!

      If you buy a digital movie or TV show online, you’re tied to Amazon, Google or Apple’s ecosystem. The pirates get to play their stolen crap on any device they like! Imagine buying a physical DVD or Blu-ray that would only play on one brand of entertainment system. You buy the Sony version of your favorite movie, and slowly build a library of content all compatible with Sony players only. You’re now locked into buying Sony gear for eternity – or at least as long as your purchased media viewable. It’s ridiculous.

      Then we have all kinds of software on your computer phoning home constantly checking activation servers. If the servers are down, or your internet is down, your applications may not be usable until they come back up. And if your own system crashes, good luck getting that company to allow you to re-active your software on another machine. For example: it can take weeks for Adobe to help you and only then it’s a one-time courtesy reset (if you’re lucky). Next time your system crashes and your Photoshop was still activated, you’ll have to buy the software all over again.

      Meanwhile digital music sales are soaring higher all the time long after they chose to abandon the DRM bullshit.

      I’m certainly not opposed to companies making it non-trivial to illegally pirate their stuff. But there needs to be more of a balance between making stealing difficult while protecting the legitimate consumer. These days it feels the actual customer is at the bottom of the list of priorities.

  • eyepaq

    Maxis is taking the same route with SimCity that they took with The Sims where they tried to integrate social aspects into the game. The Sims 3 badgers you infuriatingly to share the details of your game with your friends.

    That’s not social, that’s just annoying. You can’t actually play the game with your friends, you can just tell them about what’s happening in your game.

    SimCity takes it a bit farther but it’s still not a multiplayer game. It could work perfectly well offline. The social aspects that they’re saying it needs to be an online game to support are IMHO the worst parts of the game.