A summary of how EA showed up Blizzard on how to ruin a product launch.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 4.07.46 PMThat SimCity title you’ve heard about has finally been released. Do you even know what that game is?

It’s been on the top of a few folks’ minds recently, especially with it claiming to be a brand new model for the social gaming experience married with the sandbox simulation that gamers have come to know as best in the business.

The launch has shown its patient fans anything but the exemplary gameplay that they had expected and waiting for.

The launch is so bad that:

  1. an NFL player has challenged the collective competency of EA and Maxis in several tweets.
  2. South Korean gamers, after being generalized to be pirates, have started boycotting the title.
  3. EA is so delusional that they actually thought for one second that disabling minor features such as achievements would solve the problem.
  4. Amazon stopped selling the game.
  5. an unknown developer have asked for $250,000 USD to finance a DRM-free SimCity called Civitas.
  6. a waiting in the wings marketing campaign spanning Internet, social media and television buys has been put on hold by high command to control their tailspin of a launch.

When you compare EA’s current situation to how Blizzard’s biggest launch failure in the company’s history, Diablo III, was patently unplayable for nearly everyone–nevermind the fact that it shipped feature incomplete compared to the previous title in the series–it sure seems clear that EA had rolled the dice on their SimCity development and marketing training leading up to the game’s release.

It’s reasonable to assume that it’d be rough for a game to be successful after it is generally unplayable on the week of its release. That being said, Diablo III is doing fine after having a whole year behind it. Last evening I logged into the game after being fed up with the laggy responsiveness inherent in its MMO-styled client-server design. When I had previously stopped playing the game, I remember constantly floating around and rubber-banding with a ping of 300ms. Now that ping was only 100ms! It was relatively playable and it only rubber-banded a handful of times over the forty-five minutes that I decided I could play the game in one sitting.

And while the game could change to be something that could be moderately enjoyable within a year’s time, it seems that many gaming journalists, like the ones over at Polygon (a gaming news spin-off project from the folks who run The Verge), couldn’t wait to praise the game.

Polygon initially gave the game a 9.5 out of 10 rating on 4 March, the day before the official release. Essentially, they were professing that they had seen the light in the strategy genre, and this light had cooperative city planning at its core.

After seeing that the game was not so much a simulation of city-planning and more a simulation of what Diablo III was for a completely different title, they demoted the game to a score of 8.0 out of 10 after assessing their policy on game reviews. They modified their editorial rules to change a published rating for extreme situations such as these.

You read that right, though. Polygon awarded a broken game an 8.0 out of 10 score the day of its official release.

Only yesterday, two days after the official release, did Polygon finally revise their review for a second time, publishing a score of 4.0 out of 10 along with a lengthy bold-faced essay on why they were wrong. From the reporting that’s gone on about the game, it’s as if no gaming journalist was given a version of the game that was intended for release, and that, while there was stress-testing done at several points in the game’s development, none of the enlightening observations from these tests made its way into the product.

Not all hope is lost for honest games journalism, however. The SimCity review published by Kotaku was the only correct approach I’ve seen to the situation so far:

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 4.49.30 PM

Any other review is a sign you might be reading prose written by a bought-off, commercializing scammer who couldn’t give two shits about gaming as a whole or, at the most fundamental point, his readership.

There is one thing that I’m certain about: no matter what the result is from the SimCity debacle, it’s not going to change anything other than the now-diminished likelihood of another SimCity game ever seeing the light of day.

I find Borderlands 2 is more fun to play than Diablo III.

Okay, so these are two completely different titles, right? Yeah… almost.

Diablo II was a great game and it certainly deserved a proper sequel, but I don’t think that Diablo III was the generational leap that the title deserved. Going from dark 2D graphics to completely 3D graphics with a hint of Azeroth isn’t the hurdle I’m talking about—it’s the conflicted and crippling week of the game’s release that really killed it for me.

When the game was scheduled to be released, I couldn’t play it. Even when the game cooperated enough to let me log in, I still had issues completing the earliest parts of the first quarter of the game where I disconnected, it seemed, for the sake of disconnecting.

I forced myself to finish the game with my Wizard and try to play it through a second time on the more difficult game mode, only to abandon it when I happened into a Playstation 2 so that I could replay some older titles such as Ace Combat V, Ace Combat Zero and Front Mission IV. Three games that I definitely consider better experiences than Diablo III.

A side note on better experiences—regardless of Ace Combat Zero’s short story mode, the dynamics of how you complete the game due to a crude alignment system changed how the story was presented in ways that felt impactful than what Blizzard offers in Diablo III. Diablo III’s story is merely successful in pulling the rug out from under you near the end of Act I and at the end of Act III. That’s about it.

I’ve not even completed Borderlands 2 yet, and I have to hand it to Gearbox, I can’t simply label them that one studio that developed some Half-Life games anymore.

Borderlands 2 is just great because it’s such a fucking great game. I DON’T GIVE A FUCK IF I PLAY IT ON A CONSOLE.

Perhaps this is a sign that Blizzard has gone past its prime?

A small concern regarding player-driven economies.

Firstly, I have to admit that my standard for keeping up with ‘video game news’ isn’t exactly the highest priority that I have when it comes to digesting information. Dota2 unveiled for the first time in a million dollar tournament? Final Fantasy Tactics for the iOS is finally out? (If it’s any consolation, I’ve been trying to find a rhythm with the esports scene surrounding Starcraft 2 and Counter-Strike.)

Diablo 3 is going to let rich players have the coolest toys possible?

Well, maybe I embellished the announcement of a player-driven economy and currency-based auction house a bit, there. You know what I was getting after, anyway.

While Blizzard can make assurances that players won’t be able to trade paid-for items to progress through the game with incredible speed, I’m not quite sure that’s the real cause for concern in this situation.

EvE-Online is a prime example of a player-run economy getting away from the developers to the point where it might cause CCP Games some legal repercussions if they renig on any of the current standards and practices they have in place simply because of the fact that they’re allowing real money to count as something transferable and tradable in a game.

Blizzard might be taking that a step further. While I haven’t heard of any subscription-based fees for the upcoming dungeon crawler, the ability to purchase and sell in-game gold directly from the currency-based market might cause a bit of a shift in how games in the genre are produced in the future. Will there be some way that Blizzard will be able to control what the conversion rate between gold and the US dollar is? Or the Euro? Or the Pound Sterling?

I’m sure the terms of the game will be complete enough to deal with the intricacies of starting an economy on the scale with what Blizzard is proposing here, but I have to wonder if there’s going to be any sort of data released on how the economy in the game goes after its released.

I mean, having a D3 gold forecast to look forward to would be pretty sweet, right?

Ultimately, does Blizzard get away with delegitimizing piracy of in-game gold and items? Yeah, maybe. Blizzard will bet getting a cut of the action in the currency auction house—perhaps there will be a black market that will attempt to deny Blizzard even the pennies that it could make from sales of in-game items.

Doesn’t that sound exciting?