As everyone who was around last year remembers, Diablo 3 had a very rough launch, in large part because of the. As happens with most game launches there was a rush of fans sufficient to clog the online play options, but unlike when the same thing happened with Diablo 2 back in 2000, there was no offline mode for Diablo 3. This focused the rage of everyone who couldn’t play, and gave the hordes of people who hate any type of DRM extra ammunition for their attacks.
Well, Error 37 is back in the news this week, not due to anything related to Diablo, (which has had generally excellent up-time since the first 2 or 3 days after release) but thanks to the disastrous launch of the new Sim City title. That long-awaited game came with great fanfare and anticipation, but two “features” that mixed like oil and flame: an online-only requirement and woefully-inadequate server capacity.
SimCity fans were against the online-only requirement from the start; a Reddit chat back in December turned into an inquisition over the online-only DRM, and the feature remained quite unpopular, though not enough so to stop the game from selling well. Too well, as the influx of players crippled the Sim City servers much worse than anything we saw during the first week of Diablo 3. It’s been so bad that Maxis had to disable some of the game features and stop marketing it, Amazon suspended digital downloads, and the Metacritic user ratings are even worse than those Diablo 3 racked up. (For more on the SimCity launch, check out the most recent IncGamers podcast, or this article on Kotaku that details in painful length all of the different forms of failure SimCity has demonstrated.)
The parallels to Diablo 3’s own launch are manifest, but at least with Diablo 3 there was some argument to be made for the online requirement. After all, most of us played most of our Diablo 2 via B.net, both since Diablo 2 is better with other players and since we wanted secure character storage and a (largely) hack/cheat-free gaming experience. SimCity had a much tougher sell to make, since while some players were interested in playing it online and comparing/competing their cities with other players, the SimCity series has been largely a single player experience.
I didn’t follow SimCity pre-launch, but as the disaster unspooled this week, I grew curious about what the developers said pre-game. Did they do as the Diablo 3 devs did, and cite every reason other than anti-piracy as the reason for their DRM? Yes, of course.
Lead designer Stone Librande confirmed that SimCity would be an internet-dependent experience. Players will need to be online on Origin while playing, even if that wasn’t the point of purchase. The always-on connection becomes necessary with the game’s emphasis on multiplayer and regional impact, and the use of a global economy that all players can influence.
Naturally, fans are launching online petitions (which are doing exactly as much as they always do) asking for a single player mode, and the developers are stalling for time, denying refunds, frantically adding more servers, and just basically hoping things will blow over once the initial rush of players drops down to a more normal concurrency rate. Which they probably will, though SimCity will (like Diablo 3, and fairly or not) be forever known as the game with the horrible launch and the online-only DRM. Whether the devs will live with that since the online-only DRM stopped piracy and got them 2 or 3m more in sales… I dunno. As long as industry types cite figures of +90% piracy rate, and DRM features other than online-only prove ineffective, I suspect we’ll keep seeing online-only DRMs, regardless of the potential for launch week disasters.
So here’s the big question — in light of the news that the Diablo 3 console will have an offline play option (SP only, or multiple players on the same machine) how do you guys think fans would have reacted to an equivalent of that at D3’s PC/Mac launch back in May 2012? (Or say, in November 2014 when D3X launches?) If there had been a Single Player option for D3 (no TCP/IP or LAN, just a way for you to play solo on your machine), in addition to the Battle.net MP option, would that have quelled the anger over Error 37 and the lack of a SP option? Would that actually have helped Error 37 not exist since many of us would have played offline and not added to the server load? Or were most of the people raging about that just haters, of Blizzard, or Diablo, or DRM in general, and we’d have seen much of the same rage anyway?