Dear EA, I will not be buying SimCity

Dear EA,

I have fond memories of playing SimCity 2000 on my SNES, and got quite a bit of enjoyment out of Spore. After jumping through the hoops of your Origin purchase process, my fiancé actively plays The Sims 3. I like your games, and I have traded you my money for your games in the past. I have every reason to believe that relationship will continue in the future. Unfortunately, you have failed to provide me with any compelling reason to trade my hard-earned simoleons for a copy of license to your latest game service, SimCity.

The online-only “feature” of SimCity is asinine. The maximum size of a city, and its proximity to other cities in the same region is limited to reduce server load. Game saves are held captive on your servers, keeping players from making their own copies and reverting to an earlier point in their city’s development. The best part of past SimCity games is building up a thriving metropolis, and then sending in a massive flood or alien invasion to wipe it out, then reloading and trying out a different disaster. You have artificially disabled the best part of SimCity.

Even though pieces of the game have been excised to accommodate a constant connection to the Origin Mothership, your servers still can’t handle the load, so you have disabled “a few non-critical gameplay features“. You have paying customers who still can’t play SimCity. The always-online requirement is non-critical, and is the only “gameplay feature” that you should be disabling.

Let’s not pretend the online-only requirement is about adding social features to SimCity. This is about keeping the game from being pirated. The SimCity franchise has always been a single-player game, and the ability to see other players’ cities way off in the distance and trade resources with them is gimmicky, bordering on useless, and anything but a requirement. Any player who requires these “features” will perform a quick cost-benefit analysis and save themselves $60 by playing Farmville instead.

The real purpose of requiring a constant connection to EA servers is to thwart ne’er-do-wells who would dare to play SimCity without paying for it. While I don’t have a problem with DRM that is invisible, or even an occasional and minor inconvenience, there is no excuse for sacrificing the quality of your game to prevent piracy.

Do you think that punishing your paying customers is the best way to stop piracy? Do you think that you will boost sales by delivering an inferior product? If I can’t appeal to your desire to create a great game and deliver a great experience, perhaps I can appeal to your bottom line. You will make more money if more people buy your game. By making your game suck, you are actually losing sales, and making less money.

I wanted to do a bit of math to try and figure out just how much of your nose you are willing to cut off in an effort to spite your face, and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe already had the same idea. He estimates that about 20,000 people would have pirated SimCity, but that you will lose 25,000 sales due to his twitter feed alone. Real numbers are hard to come up with so let’s work through an example to get a better idea for the true impact.

There are about 10,000 people seeding Skyrim on The Pirate Bay, and the PC version has sold about 1.4 million copies at the time of writing, grossing $87 million. Let’s guess that out of all the people who have downloaded Skyrim illegally, only 10% of them are seeding it, and let’s delude ourselves into thinking that every one of those people would have actually purchased the game if they couldn’t pirate it. At $60 per sale, (even though the game is currently $40 on Steam) Bethesda’s current “losses” on Skyrim PC piracy would be about $6 million, or 7% of total revenue. How many paying customers are you willing to lose in order to prevent a 7% rate of piracy? I’m willing to bet more than 7% of the people who purchased SimCity 4 will avoid your latest thinly-veiled game-as-a-service like they would an Autosaurus Wrecks.

By all means, continue to give your customers the finger, just don’t be surprised when they return the favor.

Love, Jeff

Dear Facebook, please fix the internet

Facebook is the most visited website on the internet, followed closely by Google, but do you know what domains come right after Google? More Facebook, or rather more accurately, the domains that serve up data for Facebook “like” buttons.

Check out this list of the most visited websites. Notice how there is a corresponding https version of most of the regular http sites? While that is a great thing when things like user credentials, or email content are being transmitted over the intertubes, a great deal of the information zipping through the cloud can be sent in the clear without the extra processing and delays introduced by SSL/TLS encryption.

So why does Facebook force the entire internet to process its information unsecured once, and then a second time over https? There is a prescribed method for adding a “like” button for a Facebook Fan page to a website. You copy and paste a little bit of code into the page, which asks for some javascript from Facebook, and allows people to like the page in question. Facebook maintains that code, and periodically updates it, but the current version of that code makes two separate requests for some data.

http://static.ak.facebook.com/connect/xd_arbiter.php?version=18
https://s-static.ak.facebook.com/connect/xd_arbiter.php?version=18

That second request means that you must download the same piece of information twice, and the second time it has to go through secure channels. How much longer does this take?

It’s hard to tell, exactly. Pingdom speed test tells me that it takes about 350mS to retrieve the extra 9.3kB, but GTmetrix tells me it actually takes over 600mS, and Google Page Speed tells me the file actually weighs in at 24.9kB.

While it may seem small to quibble over amounts to, literally, a split-second of your time, think about the fact that this happens every time that stupid “like” button, which is on the majority of websites on the internet, is loaded.

For example, the Gawker media network, composed of Gawker, Lifehacker, Deadspin, etc. is currently serving 17 million page views a day. 17 million. A. Day. They all have a “like” button.

Lets be conservative, and say that it only takes 300mS on average for that data to find itself on a user’s computer. That means, that, on any given day, Facebook costs readers of Gawker Media collectively 150GB of data and upwards of 59 days of extra time.

What does that mean in real-world numbers though?

Using a wild guess as to the power consumption of the average PC, the price of electricity in New York (Gawker’s headquarters) and a healthy application of Loudifier Fuzzy Math (patent pending), the power costs of those extra requests cost Gawker readers a whopping $17 every day!

Okay, so maybe it’s not as big a deal as I originally thought, but it still screws up my Page Speed score, which can affect Google search ranking. It is supremely annoying that I can turn an ancient laptop into a web server for $0, and serve a full page over a consumer-grade connection in under a second, but loading assets from an organization with millions of dollars invested in hardware and infrastructure almost doubles my page load times. Granted, the big F handles a couple more requests per day than I do, and about 20% of this site’s traffic comes from Facebook. I guess I can wait for them to throw me a bone now and then.

Even if it isn’t a huge problem, I still think they should fix it on principle alone. Those wasted CPU cycles could be put to better use, like searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Using the same Fuzzy Math™ as before, if the computing time that Gawker readers devoted to downloading unnecessary data from Facebook were instead used to simulate protein folding, it could boost the total output of the Folding@Home project by about 10%.

Think about that for a second. By wasting your CPU cycles, Facebook is trying to give you Alzheimer’s. The logic is infallible.

tell Washington that you want to unlock your phone

Whether you actually want to or not, it’s always good to send a message. When the Librarian of Congress made some really odd (read: “dumb”) decisions regarding an end-user’s freedoms to hack devices that they paid for and own outright, the interwebs was abuzz. Now that those rules have actually taken effect, people are realizing that those freedoms, especially the extremely practical carrier-unlocking of cell phones, means more to them than they previously thought.

Now, if you want to avoid breaking any laws, you need permission from your carrier to unlock your phone; a request your carrier will usually flat-out deny, or may even charge you for the privilege of accessing the full capabilities of a device that you own.

Let’s say you have an iPhone 4 on AT&T, and you upgrade to a shiny new iPhone 5. You want to use your iPhone 4 with one of those super-cheap prepaid plans T-Mobile has been advertising lately. You can ask AT&T for an unlock code for your iPhone 4, and they will tell you exactly where you can stick your phone. Good luck asking Apple for help. “Oh, you want to access all of your phone’s functionalities? What will you ask for next? Homescreen widgets? Alternate default apps? You just don’t understand our minimalist genius.”

Imagine buying a Jeep, and having to ask Chrysler if you can put a lift kit on it and go off-roading. It simply wouldn’t be tolerated. I don’t need permission from Sony to power speakers they made with a custom-built amplifier, and if asked why I want to do so my only answer may be “Because I can”.

This site is devoted to DIY, and jealously protective of “Because I can”. You may be fine with getting locked in to an overpriced cell phone plan from an overbearing carrier, but are you okay with being told in what ways you are allowed to use a device that you paid for?

Tell Washington that you don’t appreciate technological advances, competitive business models, and the freedoms of the end-user (that’s you) being hobbled by outdated, misguided law. Sign the petition to Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal.