Nerd Life: Once and Future Gamer Redux?

Being free from the all-encompassing grasp of graduate school has had a myriad of positive effects. Though I'm relishing each of these in their turn, those most potent consequences thus far have been A) getting to sleep relatively normal hours again B) reclaiming weekends as sources of fun rather than opportunities to do homework and C) indulging in games with not-quite-reckless abandon.  Fortunately, this gaming barrage hasn't included the latest incarnation of Sim City, the release of which (in North America) has unfolded into the sort of PR and customer service nightmare that has become depressingly common for EA.

Is this recent debacle a fresh rendition of the phenomenon we chatted about last year? Mmm, sort of. Though the internets are rife with the paroxysms of infuriated gamers, their gripes are fundamentally different than what we saw last spring in the wake of the release of Mass Effect 3. This situation is more akin to what Blizzard found itself mired in after it released Diablo 3 to the masses. With Sim City, the issue isn't a matter of the content of the game itself, but of critical problems with the functionality of a product that has been purchased and attempts by the manufacturer to address said issues.
In lieu of table flipping, we bring you this car fire
The guys over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun provide an excellent breakdown of this wholly unnecessary catastrophe. Bottom line: this happened because EA is caught up in corporate hubris on an epic scale. Their insistence on forcing online-only, DRM laden access to a game that is primarily single player drove gamers away in scores from the much-anticipated release of Spore. The company has apparently blithely ignored the immense backlash conducted on the forums of and pressed ahead with this deeply flawed distribution/business model. Now thousands of nerds are left with $60 of digital deadweight eating up space on their hard drives and too many hours wasted in what may well be a fruitless battle for restitution.

Is EA doing a fabulous job of trying to ensure that it is crowned "The Worst Company in America" for a second consecutive year? It sure seems that way. However, we, as gamers, victimizing ourselves via one of the major underlying trends that we spoke of last spring: we keep buying these products. Instead of exercising caution when buying games or, hell, even doing something as minor as delaying a purchase for a week or so after a game's release date, we rush out with all the consent and candor of one Phillip J. Frye.
This is why we can't have nice things
That enthusiasm is more than understandable; the Sim City franchise hasn't endured some two and a half decades because people hated it. I'll gladly admit that was a Maxis fanatic for the vast majority of my formative years. A considerable number of hours were logged on things like SimFarm and even SimIsle. If my computer had had the appropriate system specs at the time, my undergraduate GPA would likely have succumbed to the Sims 2. This trend would have continued in all likelihood had EA not attempted to force its online-only gameplay down my throat. After successive disappointments with Spore and the Sims 3, incidents that were considerably worsened by horrific interactions with EA's customer service staff, an air of heavy skepticism seemed to be in order when considering future purchases from the company. If you go to a restaurant and subsequently suffer poisoning it's plausible that it could have been an isolated incident; but where does the blame for your illness lie if you make several return trips and end up with food poisoning every single time?

The real issue, aside from the legions of disgruntled geeks, is that this sort of failure is cyclical. It has become so commonplace that we've actually come to expect it on some level. That is NOT ok. By buying into this phenomenon as a given within the industry we're tacitly admitting that it's perfectly alright to give us terrible service, to deny paying customers access to a functional product and/or a timely refund. Several counter arguments have been put forth that this isn't a simple corporate sham, but something of a "social experiment" due to the alleged lack of precedent with server-based single player games. Umm, no. It's a business model centered around absolute control of proprietary content. You could try to make that argument if EA was the new kid on the figurative video game block, but they're assuredly not. The studio peddled its digital wares for decades, with great success, until it became obsessed with web-based piracy. It has encountered considerable fan reprisals with every single one of its major releases for the past five years yet still clings obstinately to its draconian DRM and enforced online access.

And we keep buying into it. Guys, we're smarter than this. It's going to take more than venting our spleens on any forum that will give us access. If this is truly important, if you feel you've been wronged, then you need to vote in the only way that will resonate with companies of this size: with your wallet.

Best of luck to those still trying to get access to the game they paid for and a happy con to those headed off to All Con or SXSW!

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