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How EA could repair SimCity’s disastrous launch

sim-city-5-screenshot-industrialcity.

SimCity faces a disaster. Not a rampant lizard, but a vast crater where the game’s servers once stood.  The ongoing drama has been galling to watch and experience: the game dogged by server queues and bugs, disconnections and downtime from the moment it arrived on people’s PCs.

The only real way to put this right is for EA and Maxis to fix the issues that plague the game. Getting the game we paid for (I bought it too!) to work is the obvious solution. But it’s clear that’s going to take time. in the meantime, here’s what EA could do to help…

Stop selling the game

When the Guild Wars 2 launch went off like a rocket, NCSoft and Arenanet saw they had a problem. They turned off their marketing and stopped selling the game. When World of Warcraft faced exactly the same problem, they took the same drastic solution: pulled the game off the shelves until they could put the server capacity in place to deal with their current demand.

SimCity is still on-sale, at retail, and more importantly, on Origin. This is not a clever plan. If the game servers can’t handle current capacity: and they clearly haven’t been able to handle peak capacity since the launch on Tuesday, they certainly can’t handle current capacity plus one.

That means taking the game off sale online in their own shop and elsewhere.

Ninja Edit: Amazon have just withdrawn the game from sale.

Refund their purchase if players ask for it

Earlier today, an image was flying around that recounted a conversation between EA and a customer support rep. After the customer was refused a refund, he threatened a chargeback on his credit card. In response, the EA rep threatened to ban his Origin account.

We’ve reached out to EA to ask if they’ll follow through on what was said, but had no response.

If the game doesn’t work, customers have a moral and legal right to ask for their money back. SimCity was expensive: at least £40 in the UK. I bought the digital deluxe edition for £65. EA should step up: if players want their money back, they should absolutely let them have it.

Give up the first batch of DLC for free, as a thank you and apology

If players want to stick with the game, they should be rewarded. Right now, you can buy three City packs for the game which add regional special buildings like Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower. They’re expensive, at £8 a time. If EA wanted to present a gesture to customers to say thank you for staying with the game through the problems, gifting that DLC to all customers would be a great start.

Start communicating clearly with customers

Want to know if the servers are up or down? If the game is functional? What the latest patch does? How long the queues are? What EA’s plan is going forward?

Good luck. All that knowledge and information is spread across forums, reddit, twitter, comment threads, the EA support site, even other news sites. There should be one single place where EA and Maxis can explain what they’re doing to fix the problems.

Own up. Say sorry.

Here’s what worries me: I haven’t read a clear and unambiguous statement from EA that shows they actually understand the problem. That’s got to be a first step: owning up and saying “Yes, this was bad.” Part two says: “We are very sorry.” Part three: “We are going to fix this.”

EA has had a terrible week, and the situation is getting worse. Acknowledging that is essential if they’re ever to regain trust in their customer’s eyes.

Don’t do it again

Quite aside from the argument of whether SimCity even needs to be online, there’s a more baffling problem.

This situation should never have occurred. SimCity is an online only PC game, not a console game. It’s not bound by the same rules that govern the launch of, say, Madden. There didn’t need to be a single moment where gamers were suddenly let into the game. They could have staggered the launch carefully, growing out the playerbase from the beta-weekends, and rolling out server capacity as and when it’s needed. Look at how Valve has handled Dota 2: gradually allowing players into the game via the beta. That’s allowed the population to grow organically. It’s also one of the most popular games on the planet.

Make it right

Here’s what’s heartening. Even the best games have terrible launches. But they get past them. Half-Life 2 was a disaster. So was WoW. But if the game is good, players will embrace it. The lesson from here has to be this: everyone will cock something up. When it happens, it’s what you do to fix the problems that matters.

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