EA's shuttered Facebook games a cautionary tale for online-only play

As Electronic Arts prepares to shut down several Facebook games, there’s a message that gamers should take too heart: Don’t get too attached to anything that’s online-only.

On June 14, EA will retire The Sims Social, SimCity Social, and Pet Society from its roster of Facebook games. A message on EA’s Maxis blog is surprisingly frank:

“After millions of people initially logged in to play these games, the number of players and amount of activity has fallen off. For people who have seen other recent shutdowns of social games, perhaps this is not surprising.”

The Sims Social is one of the Facebook games Electronic Arts plans to shut down on June 14.

The blog post may be referring to Zynga recently shutting down 11 Facebook games, including PetVille, Mafia Wars 2, Treasure Isle, and FishVille. As TechCrunch noted at the time, the news was met with angry pleas by players who’d poured countless hours over many years into these social games. “Why do you want to kill my pet?” one PetVille player asked in response.

The reaction to EA’s impending closure has been similar. “For all the money I’ve spent and given you, this is the thanks that people like me, who’ve plowed money into your little franchise for endless years, get in return? It’s unacceptable,” one user wrote on EA’s Pet Society Facebook page.

EA’s Pet Society

As Shacknews notes, players won’t get that money back. In fact, players who spent real-world money on virtual currency in EA’s games will have just two months to spend it all, or lose their credit forever. EA says it will have a “special offer” as a consolation for stranded players.

If you have no interest in Facebook gaming, these closures may not seem so tragic. But keep in mind that the push toward online-only games doesn’t stop with Facebook or with massive multiplayer games that have always been susceptible to shutdowns. EA’s SimCity requires a server connection, which has caused all sorts of problems with the game’s launch. The same was true for Activision’s Diablo III. What happens when the publishers of these games don’t feel like keeping them up and running anymore?

It doesn’t stop there. The games industry is continuing its push toward cloud-based gaming that requires a steady Internet connection. Nvidia’s GRID server aims to offer fast streaming games, while Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai paves the way for streaming games on the Playstation Vita. Some sort of authentication or always-on requirement has been rumored for the next Xbox . None of these services can guarantee perpetual support.

As more types of games become treated as services, there’s always a chance that less profitable ones will get the axe, as publishers decide to place their resources elsewhere. Players need to start being careful about investing time and money into games that could be gone tomorrow.

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