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.