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

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