The SimCity Debacle: Another lesson in why DRM is a bad idea

Sim City

For anyone who is still not convinced that DRM, as a concept, is a terrible idea, the recent Sim City debacle illustrates why.

The short version is, software publisher EA so feared ‘piracy’ of the latest Sim City incarnation that they crippled the game to require a live Internet connection (to its authentication servers) at all times—not just on startup, but during play too.

Sim CityThey dressed up the requirement in a sort of social play feature, which, to be fair, did add some cool features to the game. But there was no solo player mode. You had to play in the ‘social’ mode at all times and be connected to the Internet to report back to Big Brother. If you lost your Internet connection for any reason during the game, all your progress would be lost and you wouldn’t be able to play again until you were back on-line.

Predictably, this was a disaster. I have been following the whole saga on Techdirt, and it’s like watching a car accident; I can’t tear my eyes away. On launch day, EA’s servers overloaded, leaving paying customers unable to play the game they had just shelled out for. It also turned out that you didn’t just need an open Internet connection, you needed a ‘slot’ on one of EA’s servers. If there wasn’t one available, you had to wait 30 minutes before you tried again.

The backlash was predictable, and swift: users pounded the usual sites with negative reviews, and a creative retailer with stock of the DRM-free earlier version tweeted that it was just $5.99, and propelled that title to a number three best-seller. Meanwhile, a modder hacked the game’s code in ‘debugging’ mode and figured out how to make the game playable off-line, so that those who bought the game could actually play it!

So, lessons learned? Well, the same lessons learned in all DRM stories.

1. The only people who truly suffer under DRM are the ones who pay for legitimate copies.
2. The ‘pirates’ won’t suffer because they will wait for the DRM to be cracked and download a modded copy.
3. DRM is always crackable, so the annoyance you’re putting your customers through isn’t really ‘stopping piracy’ anyway.

About Joanna Cabot (1592 Articles)
"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."

5 Comments on The SimCity Debacle: Another lesson in why DRM is a bad idea

  1. Name (required) // March 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm //

    Another interesting aspect of this fiasco is that EA claimed that you HAVE to be connected to the servers because the game needs to offload some heavy lifting computations to the server, so it was imposssible to create a patch for an off-line single-player version. That hacker that enabled the debug mode has just proven that EA are a bunch of liars.

    Angry users have discovered that the highly touted Glass Box simulation starts giving very strange resuls when your city reaches certain size.

  2. I loved the previous versions of SimCity — even the DOS edition on a monochrome monitor. I was going to buy this new version until I saw it required being online. I’d probably be connected nonetheless but I’m strictly a solo player and don’t like the idea of a tether to the mothership. I suppose I can apply the hack, but think of all the time I spend not playing obsessively can used reading ebooks.

  3. ashious ex machina // March 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm //

    Most early “social” gaming experiences I have had were positive. But, then I started seeing more of the “idiots”. You know the type, the gaming troll, the ones who try to mess things up for the rest. Leroy Jenkins comes to mind from the early days. Anyway, I will avoid any game with a “on-line” only bent; give me some bots or a “practice mode”. Otherwise, I’ll read for a couple of hours instead.

  4. Hmm…didn’t EA learn anything from Blizzard with the Diablo III “always online DRM” debacle?

    guess not

  5. Copyright has a terminal case of diptseure because it has been consistently and grossly exploited by creators and the corporate world via the compliance of politicians under high pressure lobbying.It is terminal because it now gives most ordinary people a lingering bitter taste, and no amount of lecturing from writers, creators or businesses or politicians will change that.The law cannot and will not make people do what they do not want to do and what they feel is wrong, and technology has now given them a free choice whether they want to accept this draconian copyright system or not.Their choice, consistent across the world, is NO THANK YOU. They don’t care about the law. They don’t care about the finger wagging. They don’t care about the patronising lecturing. They don’t care.No amount of new legislation will change this. No amount of strengthening’ of copyright will change it, no amount of stupid court action against downloaders’ will change it, in fact all of this will only make it worse.The die is cast.Copyright’s only chance to regain ground is to reform itself to bring back common sense and to return to the original intentions of copyright.

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