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Jon Hamlin avatar 12:11 PM on 03.08.2013  (server time)
Back to the future: SimCity's progress trap

Like the rest of you trying to play SimCity, I am angry. I'm not entirely sure "angry" is the right word... I'm not even sure there is a word to describe--truly describe--the amount of disappointment and rage I feel over what has been the worst launch I have ever experienced. The past 72 hours have been some of the most confusing and frustrating in all my years of gaming. I'm at a loss, I really am. But, the anger is subsiding, and giving way to disparate feeling of hopelessness. The past month has been pretty rough for gamers. The Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle and now this. Part of me can't help but be nervous for the rest of March.

As the anger continues to subside I find a raging indignation taking hold. Not an indignation toward the game itself, or the developer Maxis. No, an indignation at publisher Electronic Arts, an indignation at how publishers treat consumers and how publishers see the relationship between themselves and the people who buy their product.

The last half of this console generation has seen no shortage of publishers treating their consumers like a faithful herd of sheep. Sure, consumers shoulder a portion of the responsibility for how toxic the relationship has become; but, we've reached a point where agency has been taken out of (perhaps given up by consumers, to an extent) the hands of consumers. The business culture that exists within the videogame industry is disgusting. I've never felt so insulted as a consumer. I've never felt so used.

We're constantly put into a position where we are having to prove ourselves to publishers. Jim Sterling talks about this in a recent Jimquisition video where he discusses preorders. I couldn't agree more with what he has to say. Asking for money upfront from a consumer for a product you haven't yet finished, always-online and the general state of DRM in the industry are all indicative of a publishing group that sees its consumer base as a bunch of shady, pirate-happy fucks who are too braind-dead to decide what's good for themselves. Frankly, I'm tired of it.

In the months leading up to the launch of SimCity, EA and Maxis were trying to sell this iteration of SimCity as the next natural evolution of the series. We've been told constantly over the course of the last year and a half that single-player experiences need to die off, that they need to go away. We've listened to countless video interviews or read feature pieces in which studio and publisher heads have said that it's we--the consumer--who want this. That it's we who want to play with our friends; that it's we who are driving the market toward microtransactions; that it's we who are clamoring for the end of the single-player experience. And this is all neatly bundled with phrases like "this is the future of gaming" and "industry trends are progressing in this direction."

Bullshit. No one wanted a "single-player online" version of Simcity. No one wanted always-online DRM. No one was all that excited about none of the game data being saved to your hard drive and having to be synced with Origins servers instead. We were all willing to go along with it, and, sure, it didn't seem that bad when it was announced, but people stayed skeptical.

Notions of progress among the industry's publishers aren't inclusive, they're exclusive. Always-online DRM, microtransactions, on-disc DLC, preorder DLC..., yes, all of those things can be called progress. But, progress for whom? Certainly not the consumer. For every step publishers take forward, consumers take several back. We've reached a progress trap. The publishing portion of the industry has pursued business practices meant to progress the industry and consumer base forward. However, the results of this progress end up introducing unforeseen problems which the industry has neither the resources, willpower, or wherewithal to solve.

I find it interesting that it has been Maxis taking the lead on assuaging consumers' fears. EA has put out a couple of statements, and Origin reps have been suspiciously quiet. It's disgusting that Maxis is having to lay itself on the chopping block like this for problems that have resulted from--what I'm relatively sure--were publisher-required features.

The balance of power in the relationship between consumer and the publishing portion of the industry is tipped enormously in favor of publishers. Consumers have no agency. Progress? Yes. But, at what cost?

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