Sim City failed pretty hard. If you’re a gamer you’re probably either still pissed that your game hasn’t worked for quite a while or have at least heard complaints about it. For those who may not have heard let me outline what happened. Sim City is a game published by EA that as far as most people knew resembled something like the Sim City games of yore. That is a heavy emphasis on single player city building and management. This as you might guess is not what people got. What people got was an Internet connected game that they were told is required to be always on and could not be disjoined from it’s online components. To put it bluntly the server portion of the game failed hard for unforseen reasons and stayed failed for upwards of a couple weeks. As is typical for EA they haven’t been forth coming about what the cause of the outage/failure was and we may never know.
I didn’t buy the game, I’m glad, and I don’t plan to either so I think, unlike many of the game reviewers and owners of the game, I’ve got a little bit of perspective. I’ve also been dealing with software and hardware on both sides of the system being a Gamer, System Builder and Workstation Technician as well as being a System Administrator and Enterprise System Analyst. In the industry we have a similar system to what Sim City is. Software As A Service or SaaS. It’s a system of software reliant on a server so that it can be controlled and shut off when not being paid for. We’re seeing more and more such SaaS systems in gaming. The primary examples are MMOs but even things like online first person shooters that do not include a form of single player.
Now two things tend to seperate regular corporate SaaS from video game SaaS. The first thing is that SaaS is usually a continuing payment so at least MMO’s meet that requirement. The second is that SaaS usually has some kind of SLA or service level agreement. This second requirement brings me to my point. We, gamers, almost need to insist that publishers and developers provide an SLA for our games. Software that we seem to pay ever rising prices for. I’m sure some may scoff at this but if you think about the fact that when services and products of almost every other kind are broken it’s not okay. When you buy something at a store and it doesn’t work as advertised you take it back or exchange it. When software as a service fails to work and the SLA isn’t met the provider pays a penalty or you cancel service for breach of contract. And yet with games we have no recourse. You can’t return a digital downloaded game and get your money back. You can’t hold EA in breach of SLA/contract. You are simply left out in the cold hoping maybe they might be forgiving and give you a nugget to make you feel better. This simply isn’t right. So what can we do?
We have agencys and groups like the Better Business Buerau and the EFF and many other types of groups that seek to protect consumers. And yet here we are, gamers, and seem to have no such groups. There are also many watch dog groups for other industries but we don’t seem to have that in gaming. This is the only way I can think to hold these companies accountable.
So who will rise to champion for the gamers? Does any one know how such groups come to be? What other ways can we protect ourselves from the fleecing of the masses that EA continues to embark on?