So about our SimCity review… [UPDATED]

SimCity

UPDATE 2: Maxis GM and EA SVP Lucy Bradshaw issued a lengthy statement on Friday afternoon aimed at addressing the ongoing server issues with SimCity. As you probably already expected, many more people are playing than anyone expected. How that sort of thing continues to happen in this day and age is a bit of a mystery, and one that Bradshaw doesn’t spend any time addressing. It would be easier to swallow the justification if it didn’t feel like a stock response in situations like this, but it’s all we’ve got. Bradshaw also noted that EA will offer a free Origin download to those who have activated the game by March 18.

On the review side, I’m pleased to report that I was able to log into the North America East 1 server late last night and early this morning with zero problems. The mid-day heavy traffic hours will be the real test, but things are looking positive at this point. Stay tuned for the full review right here on Monday. Thanks for your patience on this, readers; the past few days have been a little trying in the realm of all things SimCity, but things finally seem to be stabilizing. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The weekend is nearly here and, unfortunately, SimCity is still suffering from crippling network issues that effectively render the game unplayable for significant portions of the day. Due to the way that the game is designed, progress you’ve made in one city on one server doesn’t carry over when you switch servers. Some servers have proven to be more reliable than others as this week has unfolded, but expecting players who have already started building to start fresh with a new city on a new server is, frankly, unacceptable. The addition of new servers shows progress, but it is not the necessary fix that this game requires. The hope is that the progress we’ve seen this week will carry over into full or close to full functionality over the post-launch weekend.

We reached out to Electronic Arts and Maxis for comment on these ongoing issues and for some clarification on questions that players have raised over the servers, and how content is saved. You can read the most important bits from the official statement below:

We know the situation hasn’t been ideal for anyone involved (players, reviewers, etc.), but know that the team here has been working around the clock to add new servers and hotfix the issues that people are experiencing. We are taking players’ issues and concerns very seriously [and] are implementing changes to get them into the game [along with] long term plans to fix the issues so people can enjoy the game for years to come.

Our servers are not geographically locked so you can play on any server you’d like from anywhere in the world. Every server provides the same content, however, it should be noted that your saves are unique to that server and they will not migrate to other servers. If you want to play with your friends, you will need to be on the same server as them. You are not limited to the amount of servers you can play on, so feel free to jump around and see the different types of players on each of these servers. If a server is listed as FULL, you will not be allowed to join that server unless you have an earlier city saved on it. If you already have a city saved on that server, the server will be accessible. You will not lose the hours of gameplay you have already built it up.

EA also offered up an official statement from Maxis GM and EA SVP Lucy Bradshaw that speaks directly to the ongoing issues:

Thousands of players across the world are playing and having a good experience – in fact, more than 700,000 cities have been built by our players in just 24 hours.  But many are experiencing server instability and consequently, the rollout in North America has been challenging.  It’s also now evident that players across Europe and Asia are experiencing the same frustration.  Our priority now is to quickly and dramatically increase the number and stability of our servers and, with that, the number of players who can simultaneously access the game. We added servers today, and there will be several more added over the weekend.  We’re working as hard as possible to make sure everyone gets to experience the amazing game we built in SimCity.

As a final note, EA PR pointed us to an ongoing forum thread that lead producer Kip Katsarelis has been active in. You might not get the answers you want if you post there, but there’s no harm in trying. EA is aware of the issue and working to address it. Our review plans stand as previously stated: the Digital Trends review of SimCity will run on Monday, with the critique focusing primarily on the state that the game is in by launch weekend.

Launch week performance will of course still be a consideration, but a review should be focused on the entire experience rather than the technical shortcomings of a botched launch. That being said, we take care in our analyses to look at the experience on the ground rather than the one that was intended. Rest assured that if SimCity continues to struggle as it has, it will be judged accordingly.

ORIGINAL POST: We’re writing to fill you in on the status of our SimCity review. In short, the Friday deadline that we have been planning on has been extended in light of continuing network connectivity issues. We can’t offer a better timetable right now for when the review will be complete, though it’s fair to say that SimCity is impossible to critique in its current form. It is bad enough that we would strongly recommend against buying this game at this point until the ongoing issues can be addressed.

The revised plan is as follows: the review will be going live on Monday, March 11. Launch day failures are an occupational hazard, and Tuesday releases allow some time for things to be fixed before the weekend crowd descends. The state that SimCity is in by the coming weekend is the one it will be critiqued on. 

A little background: Electronic Arts, the publisher, didn’t activate SimCity‘s servers until launch day, at 12:01am ET on March 5, 2013. This means that the bulk of the gaming press wasn’t able to play the game until then. A small handful did, but in a controlled network environment meant to mimic the ideal performance scenario for the finished product. SimCity relies heavily on an online connection; playing without one isn’t just a requirement, it’s also fundamental to the re-tooled experience that Maxis crafted.

I’ve spent a sizable number of hours playing SimCity since it launched two nights ago, and the game’s performance has been extremely uneven. Sometimes it works perfectly, and it seems like a great game when it does. Crashes to desktop are frequent enough to be a nuisance and the game loses connection to the server at least once every hour or two. It doesn’t last long enough to knock me from my game entirely (or hasn’t yet), but all progress stops when I see that pop-up, since the game could kick out to the main menu at any moment.

The servers have been inconsistent in general. For the second straight day, they were taken offline during the midday hours for maintenance. They crashed all together on launch day for an extended period of time. The game is effectively crippled in its current form. You can play it sometimes, but the inconsistent performance is extremely disruptive.

For these reasons, after discussion we’ve decided to postpone writing the review until SimCity can be played as intended. For what it’s worth: I have been enjoying myself when the game actually works. It’s just not in a state right now that is suitable for public consumption. EA and Maxis had to move forward with the release for business reasons, but you don’t have to go pick up the game. And you shouldn’t right now. Not until you can get what you pay for.

It’s worth noting that technical specs have’t been an issue. Below are the minimum specs:

  • Windows XP or higher
  • An active Internet connection with speeds at or exceeding 256 kbps down and 64 kbps up
  • The minimum Intel CPU requirement is a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo; the AMD minimum is an Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+
  • At least 2GB of RAM
  • At minimum, you’ll need an NVIDIA GeForce 7800 or newer, an ATI Radeon HD 2×00 or newer, or an Intel Series 4 integrated GPU or newer. 512MB of onboard RAM is required, along with Shader 3.0 support
  • 10GB of free storage space for the initial install, though having more is recommended for smoother play
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