EA making progress fixing SimCity problems

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Electronic Arts isn't able to say Game On quite yet to all SimCity fans, but it says it has made "huge progress” fixing problems that tarnished the March 5 release.

Its servers are now responding 40 times faster than at launch while the franchise is seeing reduced downtimes. While the server upgrades are good news, the improvements are late coming.

For days, players have complained of problems connecting with SimCity’s servers, while some players who did get online lost progress in the game, were kicked out of their games or were forced to suffer long downtimes after each failed connection.

Problems with the online-only game were so egregious that at one point Amazon even stopped selling the city-building game .

In spite of launch issues for SimCity and other high-demand games like Diablo III, it’s unlikely that large publishers will turn away from server-based gaming. The online requirement not only allows for unique features, it also provides a potent form of digital rights management, in which all players can be verified at all times.

Gamers have spent years complaining about always-online DRM schemes that require a persistent internet connection lest you be booted from your single-player game. It’s an onerous idea—you can forget about playing should your internet connection go down, or if you choose to bring a laptop along on a long plane flight.

In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital rights advocate, took the launch debacle as an opportunity to rail against DRM in a lengthy blog post in which it said, “…SimCity is just the latest big flop for DRM, which hurts consumers, undermines innovation and competition, and unnecessarily preempts users' fair use rights — all without having a real effect on ‘piracy.’”

The EFF pointed to Diablo III, which last year also suffered problems related to the online scheme, as well as Ubisoft, which used always online DRM for its top titles for years, before realizing it was harming people who were purchasing games, whereas people who were ripping them off actually had better gaming experiences because they didn’t have to remain constantly connected with authentication servers.

“Publishers may disagree about the solution to problems posed by unauthorized copying and the challenges of ‘competing with free,’ but surely the first step in that competition is not making the legitimate product worse than the free one,” the EFF opined.

As for SimCity’s problems, read why TechHive’s Nate Ralph says “ One of the greatest PC gaming franchises has been laid low, and it’s too late to turn back the tide .”

EA, for its part, tried to reduce demand on servers by disabling some game features, then offered players who had activated their game a free PC download game, redeemable on March 18.

“I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent,” wrote Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of the Maxis label, a division of EA, in a blog post.

The connectivity issues haven’t been limited to people who want to play online with friends. In the new SimCity, all players are required to stay connected to Electronic Arts’ servers, even if they want to play alone, in single-player mode.

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