How NOT to launch a game

When I was quite young, my dad had a Mac and a game called "SimCity".  I was enthralled by this game.  You could build a city.  You needed police stations to fight crime, fire departments to prevent and clean up fires, and power plants to power all the buildings.  I played it hours on end.  I've never been a violent person, and while I enjoy playing video games which are violent in nature, I usually wish that they were less violent.  This game was perfect because I could play it without killing anyone. And it was tons of fun.

Then, they made SimCity 2000 and 3000, and then SimCity 4.  I probably played SC2K the most because I never got 3K and I only got 4 just a couple years ago.  Each one was an improvement on the last.  In fact, the original game to SC2K was probably the biggest improvement.  So, you can imagine how excited I was near the 3rd or 4th quarter of last year when I found out that Maxis (now a brand of EA) was developing a new SimCity game.  (Of course, I think it's weird that they're going with just "SimCity", rather than "SimCity 5" or something like that, but most people are calling it SC5 anyway.)

So, I watched all of the YouTube videos that were available.  I followed their blog.  And I pre-ordered the game.  Actually, I thought I pre-ordered.  Apparently there was a transaction error and my card was never billed, so I had to have them cancel that order and re-order after the release date so I could actually download the game.

I was really excited for the launch this last Tuesday.  It was going to be perfect.  I defended my dissertation on Tuesday, so now I'm just "coasting" to the end of the semester.  The game came out the same day, so I planned to celebrate passing my defense by playing the game.  Well, that's when I was met with this kind of frustration.  Actually, the guy in this video was lucky.  He was able to download the game.  I wasn't even able to do that.  When I went to download it, I got the error "This game has not yet been released", even though it was well after EA had announced that the game was available for download.  As I said above, it turned out the reason I wasn't able to download it was because it hadn't cleared my account.  But, I couldn't have been expected to know that because upon ordering two months ago, I got an email saying "this email serves as your proof of purchase" and on the Origin account where the game was to be downloaded, it told me "you have successfully pre-ordered SimCity".  So, that's their first fail: telling me I had purchased the game when I really hadn't.

So, they cancelled the first order and I re-ordered it.  This time I was actually able to download the game.  However, I have not yet been able to play the game.  Every time I open it up, I get error messages about their servers.  Either I can't connect, can't authenticate, or when I try to start a new city I get disconnected.  It's quite frustrating.

As to be expected, people are complaining about this.  Big time.  And I'm one of the loudest and most obnoxious complainers.  On Facebook and Twitter, and I assume tons of other sites as well (but those are the only two I use).  Well, all sorts of people have been writing about this.  CNet just wrote about it.  And now I'm writing about it.

I've heard many people saying things like "game launches are always like this" or "You've never participated in a game launch, have you?"  But, that's not true.  Last year, I pre-ordered Guild Wars 2.  I played one beta event prior to release, and it was great.  Then I played at the actual release (actually, I started playing 3 days before the release, since I pre-ordered).  There was no problem on release date.  People who wanted to log in were able to.  There were tons of people playing, but if one map filled up, they'd just create another layer and put people there as a sort of "overflow".  It all worked very well and very smoothly.  There is absolutely no need for all of the garbage that's going on with EA right now.

Many people are asking for a refund.  Understandably, they want their money back since the product they purchased doesn't work.  Most companies have such a return policy: if you're not satisfied, return the product for a full refund.  Not EA.  EA has a strict no-refund policy on any digital download.  And they're enforcing it.  Big time.  Now, I don't want my money back.  I want the game.  I want to play the game.  But if someone does want their money back, they should be able to get it back.  After all, the whole purpose of EA doing always online for this game is prevent pirating, so even if the refunded person kept the game installed on eir machine, it wouldn't run because EA could easily deactivate the account upon granting the refund.  In short, it costs EA nothing to give refunds and it would go a long way in the PR department.  However, they have chosen to do this instead.  This is the thing that makes me absolutely irate.  Not just frustrated that I have to wait a couple weeks to play a game, but irate that they're treating customers like this.  If a customer asks for a refund, you do not, I repeat, not under any circumstance threaten to deactivate their account simply for asking for a refund.  That's the worst possible thing you could do.  You can decline the refund.  Okay, not a smart move, but at least it isn't suicide.  Do not threaten to ban the person.  That's not good business.  It's extremely bad business, and it's a great way to make lots of enemies really fast.  Shame on the hasty non-thinking EA rep who made this threat.  He should be fired.