Can anyone put the fire out in SimCity?
Three days after launch, the SimCity drama continues to unfold as some gamers still find themselves battling busy servers, long queues, and unexpected disconnections. Gamers and the press continue to intensify scrutiny of EA's handling of the situation (and SimCity's requirement for an always-on Internet connection -- even in single player mode), which seem widely recognized as a colossal failure.
In the latest twist to the proverbial knife deeply lodged in SimCity's reputation, a reported EA marketing memo sent to affiliates indicates that the company issued a temporary gag order on Internet-based marketing efforts for the troubled city-building game. "EA Origin has requested to pause all SimCity marketing campaigns temporarily, until further notice," indicated the note.
The purported notice to marketers comes a day after gaming Web site Polygon exposed an alleged internal communication from Maxis General Manager Lucy Bradshaw. After speaking of successful reviews and 700,000 cities built in the first 24 hours after launch, the purported note references the widely reported SimCity server instability experienced around the world and frustration over sagging review scores. Bradshaw supposedly mentions the addition of three servers to help get people in the game, and a commitment to solving further issues by adding even more servers throughout the weekend.
We've reached out to EA for comment on the two memos, and we'll update this post when the company responds.
Late yesterday afternoon, Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis issued an updated statement about the SimCity disaster:
You, the fans, are important to us. It's why we got into games and it's because of you that we here at Maxis were able to complete our dream of making another SimCity. This has been an exciting week for us, but as you know there have been some bumps along the way. We want to shed light on one of the most significant issues that we are facing right now, as well as the steps we're taking to resolve them so that we can provide you with an enjoyable experience.
Server capacity is our biggest obstacle. We launched in North America on Tuesday and our servers filled up within a matter of hours. What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn't want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join. We added more servers to accommodate the launch in Australia and Japan, and then more yesterday to accommodate the launch in Europe. As of right now, we are adding even more servers, which will be going live over the next three days. And, our plan is to continue to bring more servers online until we have enough to meet the demand, increase player capacity, and let more people through the gates and into the game.
In the announcement, Katsarelis goes on to reference the newly released SimCity patch 1.2, which fixes several gameplay issues but also turned off leaderboards, achievements, and the Cheetah Speed feature. Turning off social features and high-speed gameplay helped "reduce data stress on the servers and effectively free up space so that we can let more people into the game," said Katsarelis. Taking away these features further enraged gamers already frustrated with the course of events that have occurred since launch.
Aside from not being able to play SimCity and just have fun, some gamers fed up with the experience who sought refunds ran into more frustration. One person requesting money back for his digital copy of SimCity supposedly got shut down by an EA representative and was told that further dispute would potentially call for a total ban from Origin (EA's digital storefront for games). CNET couldn't verify the accuracy of the chat log screenshot.
CNET conducted a live chat with an Origin representative to learn more about the situation, and the rep indicated that EA's policy doesn't allow refunds for game downloads, but that the company can issue refunds for physical game sales under certain circumstances. Comments around the Web indicate that it's basically impossible to get a refund through Origin's live chat, though some murmurs indicate that being very polite on a phone call with Origin customer representatives may get you your money back.
Leave it to Amazon to show EA how it's done, though. You're in luck if you ordered a digital version of SimCity through Amazon and want to return the game. CNET spoke to an Amazon customer service representative who said the company currently allows refunds of the digital download of SimCity, which actually goes against company policy, but the massive influx of refund inquiries left Amazon with little choice. This move follows Amazon's temporary closure of SimCity digital download sales yesterday, which lasted for nearly half a day -- Amazon now sells the game again but warns users about server stability problems.
At the time of this writing, consumers posted over 1,500 reviews of SimCity on Amazon; over 1,350 of those reviews contained very critical comments and rated the game as one star, the lowest rating possible.
The Amazon rep indicated that the green light for refunds of the SimCity download could end at any point. "People are pretty upset [about SimCity]," said the rep, who has worked with Amazon for several years. "I haven't seen anything like this before, even when people were upset with Diablo III."