SIMs Devastated as Llama Fund Dries Up, Opens Micro Black Hole that Swallows Simtropolis

If you’ve played some of the earlier SIM City games, you might remember the news ticker and its strangely charming “news reports” about things going on in your city or SIM nation.   Today’s headline is in homage to that style.  For one reason or another the staff at Maxis games had an obsession over llamas, and based on a 2000 interview the original architect revealed why (here is the entire interview):

Question from strat440: Why are there so many references to llamas in “SimCity”?

Will Wright: Good question. Actually, many years ago, we had a company-wide vote for our informal company-wide mascot, and the choices came down to the Boston tree fern, beef tape worm and a llama. And somehow the llama won the vote!

In case you missed it, “SIMs Devastated as Llama Fund Dries Up, Opens Micro Black Hole” is a reference to the huge debacle faced by developer company Maxis and current parent company Electronic Arts (EA) on the latest SIM City release this past Tuesday, March 5, 2013.  In short, folks that had already spent countless hours building their municipality were suddenly kicked offline and all of their work disappeared forever.  As of late as Friday, there were still legions of SIM fans demanding refunds due to ongoing poor access to play the game along with a host of companion issues from the blackout.   There is even a Change.org petition going around about the issue that features a video of what is considered by gamers to now be a “broken promise” issued by a producer of the game.

As I read the comments in various forums, it appears EA was slow to respond to refund requests at first. By the weekend, EA seems to have finally ironed out customer service policy from the top on down to service agents in order to please irate gamers.

You might be wondering, how did all this happen, can’t people just not go online to play this?   Nope.

There’s this hot topic called Digital Right Management (DRM) = going cloud-based/online only to stop some piracy while creating inconvenience for paying customers.

Also, the game was built with the hopes that entire regions of cities could be crowdsourced together by all the users combining their individual efforts, a virtually-based positive economic impact if you will.

Here are some other problems that have stemmed from the blackout issue:

In the past, major game companies always had a leg up on being able to distribute game discs and cartridges through standard retail channels.   Now that game distribution is being pushed more into cloud-based services, foul-ups such as this leave companies such as EA in a very vulnerable position of staying at the top of the heap for the longer term.   The success of such indie online games like Minecraft and a whole host of app-based games like Rovio’s Angry Birds, who used to make games FOR EA, was nearly bankrupt in 2009 and somehow set out on their own to release the smash hit, point to building evidence that a relative no-name can grab market share quite quickly if the game play and access to the games works fine.

Among others, a special thanks to the crew over at Polygon.com, it’s a great site that has a real pulse on the gaming world if you’re in to that and I have found it to be a great resource throughout my IMC 619 Emerging Media and the Market course and this particular blog post.

While I am bummed to see this happen to the denizens tethered to the PC-only release, I’m hopeful that the MAC version coming out later while leave me pleased as punch.  Otherwise I’ll be

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “SIMs Devastated as Llama Fund Dries Up, Opens Micro Black Hole that Swallows Simtropolis

  1. Cliff Macke (@Tid_Rarbigs)

    I love how you shaped the post. You started out with why everyone loves the game, a group of funny and creative people got together and made something fun to play. It then shows that when the game is digested by a huge company, EA can’t even make the game accessible to play.
    1) Acquisitions of smaller companies stifle growth and creativity. Google just acquired a company called Viewdle. This company showed so much potential in facial recognition software that it was worth $45 million for their ideas. So now, Google will figure out how to take those ideas and make them work best for their interests and company. If left alone, Viewdle would have to create a product that the world would want and pay for, and they would make it best for the end user, not Google. It’s like all of the smaller companies are 3 year olds playing with Legos. They use their creativity to start something very unique and a 6 year old says, “I want that” and takes it and tries to make it fit on what they are building. Bigger isn’t better, better is better.
    2) Back to Sim City. I knew nothing of this before finding this post on a friend’s facebook wall, but now I understand the crux: In order to stop pirates, they’ve drained the ocean. XBox is rumored to be creating disked games that cannot be shared or resold. All that will do is inspire the talented masses to find ways to beat them. If you’re a good neighbor, you don’t have to put up a fence, so just be a good company and people will pay.
    Maybe UFOs or Godzilla will attack EA headquarters and we can start them over.

    Reply
  2. Erik Deckers

    I remember playing Sim City 15 years ago or so, and loved it. And I was especially pleased to see they were making a big comeback, including a big advertising campaign. I hadn’t heard about this issue until now, so thanks for enlightening me. Looks like I have a good reason to not play, and not just because I don’t have enough time. Now I can avoid it out of solidarity for my gaming friends.

    Reply
  3. CarrieBeth

    I remember playing Sim City in the late ’90s and recall the excitement of being able to add a factory or police station to my city. I always idolized by older brother’s city which had people, businesses, elaborate roads, AND even AIRPLANES!! There were many days, when my brother would step away from the computer to take a lunch or bathroom break, and I would take control of our families 1 computer to talk to my friends on AIM. As a jr. high student, this seemed much more important than any SIM creation. I could only imagine the rage of an entire SIM population whose game was interrupted mid-creation!

    Reply
  4. LC

    Interesting post… I was unaware of this issue since I’m not a big gamer but I actually went to the original articles you referenced to learn more. I enjoyed reading about how quickly technology in the gaming world advances and how they handle creating the next big thing. Seems like instead of making it the best possible experience from the beginning they test how well the games will do – even if its highly anticipated – before investing more energy. Once it’s fixed the people that were once in an uproar will be too focused on the game to complain about the past.

    Reply
  5. Jonathan

    I think the issue is more about how intrusive DRM measures are getting. Pirates will likely never pay, but if you create a system that is so difficult to navigate, and fragile that it breaks all the time, you will end up driving away those who would happily pay.

    The real truth is, piracy has never actually hurt sales, until it drives away paying customers. Look at all of the bad press that Sony received when they released CD’s and DVD’s that silently installed DRM worms in Windows XP to prevent piracy. These people need to learn something from the open source movement and all of the wildly successful and profitable freemium services there are out there.

    This is what happens when large bureaucracies buy small creative companies. They reinvent the wheel and make it square.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s