Monday, 18 March 2013

The Sim City That Never Sleeps

 I've been an advocate of the indie gaming scene here before, as well as indie publishing.  This is as much about the quality work they put out as the satisfaction gleaned from sticking it to 'the man', whomever that man may be.  In gaming, we all know who the man is: he's the soulless corporate suit whose medic-alert bracelet reads he is allergic to generosity and whose social security number consists solely of 666.  His driver's license lists his eye colour as green and his tongue as forked.  His initials are E.A. - Electronic Arts.

Normally I talk about the great sense of story to be found in indie games, but Sim City is different.  Sim City is, obviously, a city simulator.  You build your city, you watch it grow, you put out fires and you manage budget crises.  You can create a socialist paradise full of libraries, solar panels and hemp shops, if you balance things just right; or simply rest on your laurels and watch your city descend into a crime-ridden, polluted dystopia that's every libertarian's dream come true.

Speaking of not caring about the consequences of an entirely free market, Electronic Arts have released a new version of Sim City, and if you're remotely interested in the gaming world, you will have heard by now that it has had its share of teething troubles.  I say "its share" because it is the share that everybody saw coming, and then some.  It is resolutely the share of troubles that were inevitably allotted to the game from the moment EA announced in their raspy, Emperor Palpatine voice that this game where you build a city would require you to be always connected to the Internet to play it.  Specifically to their servers, which crashed on release, because lots of people who paid $60 for a game had the temerity to want to play it.

Things got so bad that at one point Amazon withdrew the game from sale because for a large portion of customers it simply didn't work.  When retailers pull your product from the shelves because of a defect, you screwed up big time.  This is lead paint in Chinese toys territory, for the games industry.  So naturally EA responded by refusing refunds for their defective product, and all hell broke loose online.  They later made the more accommodating gesture of offering a free game, though of course this still has the effect of keeping Sim City's sales buoyed, allowing them to pretend on paper that the launch was a success so they should keep doing things like this.

You've probably seen the arguments somewhere.  You might even have been caught in the fallout as it spilled across the vastness of social media, as disgruntled customers fume over not being allowed to use a product they paid for due to the publisher thinking they should control access to your own possessions.  Or you might be here because you like writing and be really bored with my occasional off-topic ramble, but bear with me.  This does tie in to the publishing industry.  I won't bother rehashing the ins and outs of the situation, I'll simply offer this point: when you try to control new media using draconian measures from the old media world, you are playing with fire.  Publishers in particular should try to avoid that, because they are surrounded by lots of dry paper.

Now here it is, your moment of zen:

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