Posted March 6, 2013 by Amy in Features

The Sim City Situation


This week, the team takes a look at all the buzz over the recent reviews of Sim City. Is questioning the validity of reviews simply because they were played on pre-release servers a valid point, or just a dick move? Join us in our roundtable discussion, and weigh in on the comments below.

Troy:  Something has been bothering me about game journalism since yesterday, and I can’t figure out if I’m being unreasonable or if the way game journalists handled the early Sim City review was tactless and dickful. Our friend Ben Kuchera over at Penny Arcade wrote a blog entitled: “Why you shouldn’t trust our SimCity ‘review’” – the word “review” being in quotes.  Now he didn’t review… er, “review,” the game, another writer did.  And while he said that the reviewer likely did a thorough job and he learned a lot about the game from reading it, that you still shouldn’t trust the review until you play it for yourself. The reason?  Because the early reviews were done solely on Electronic Arts’ servers.  And why is this wrong?  Because, as he says, it’s not representative of the final product in that the servers were likely running optimally or even flawlessly, as they may have been configured personally for this group of reviewers, to run without issue.

Meanwhile, there is a possibility that once Joe Gamer runs home and the hundreds of thousands of people who ran out, bought the game on day one, may get home and find servers to be congested, slow, and unstable. Ben wasn’t the only person who did this.  There were others – some simply said a similar thing via Twitter about their reviews.  Now, I’m all for reviewers being open and honest, but the way that this all came across was a bunch of ungrateful kids, enjoying a really nice meal and then turning around and biting the hand that fed them.  The disclosure of the EA servers seemed sinister, as if these journalist were revealing some horrible government conspiracy. I think a line about the review copy being played on EA servers, and once the game goes live there may be some issues as EA adjusts the load-balance would have sufficed.  Not several paragraphs. I haven’t had time to read the news today to see if there were any rampant issues with SimCity, with people not being able to log-in or play, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. Anyway, what do you all think?

It’s a valid point. After all, what *is* the reasoning behind all these sudden overt disclosures? After all, I think all but the most naive of gamers would understand that playing a game pre-release is probably going to be somewhat different than post release, server wise anyway. The amount of reviewers taking a look at the game can’t possibly match up to the flood of gamers anxious to play it, amd everyone pretty much accepts that by now (like it or not). So, if the general consensus is that reviewers are playing on the optimum online experience, why all the hub-bub all of a sudden? Some of the team members have a rather unflattering explanation: flame bait.

Amy:  Perhaps I’m way off base here, but I think it is a bit of sneaky trollbating. “Whooooooo….the big, bad publishers are awful (please click on our review). Honestly, there isn’t any way to know for sure how servers are going to handle the load until a game actually launches. Yes, you should mention it was played pre-release, but how is this any different than giving a game a bad rap because there was no one online to play with pre-release? Those are things you can’t quantify before a game is released, and the only thing that could be done is not have any pre-release reviews, and that’s just asinine.

Adam:  That’s interesting (and an odd thing to complain about), perhaps this is game journalists trying to inflate their importance and necessity following the Aliens: Colonial Marines “preview” versus Aliens: Colonial Marines “review”. EA’s a big enough target, sling some mud in their direction and cry foul at the conditions those poor journalists had to review their games in, but look how honest and noble they are. Protecting you, the poor embattled consumer from yet another oppressive kick in the teeth by those horrible soulless corporations. But it’s all for their own vanity and self-esteem surely? Don’t we all by now “expect” to have significant connection issues on a big game during the first 48-72 hours of release? Call Of Duty, Battlefield 3… it would make for more groundbreaking news if players *didn’t* encounter any connection issues upon a game’s release. That would be news. That would definitely warrant a separate article.
Even before joining Games Fiends and understanding the reviewing process a bit better, I always knew that reviews relating to online games took place in private servers with a fraction of the expected user base online. So too would many other gamers I’d imagine, so the “cautionary tale” seems a bit too obvious. I’m with you on this one, to have not put a simple disclaimer within the review itself regarding the conditions that the game was reviewed under smacks of a planned and coordinated attempt to undermine a simple, run of the mill game release. Driving up the page hits whilst trying in some desperate fashion to drum up a revelation out of something mundane and obvious.

Zeth:  Hmm.I can certainly see the need to caveat the review with ‘this review took place under optimal online circumstances…your mileage might vary’. I, like many of you, have done reviews on games days, sometimes weeks, before commercial release. You don’t have to mention that because you put trust in the reader to not be a moron and know that if you have the review up before or on the day of release, then you played it under those conditions. We do, however, mention it to readers out of a sense of honest disclosure.

To my mind this seems like troll-bating, hit grabbing guff designed to appear like a service to ‘the people’, when in fact they are treating them like idiots. Whip up some ‘controversy’ over this big deal, everyone likes to rag on EA right? There were, and are, classier ways to handle the dissemination of some minor information. It also, at best, demeans the reviewers’ efforts. At worst, it implies the review is biased, or even paid for. Dick move, but hopefully for good reasons…

The team seems pretty agreed upon that this whole thing is just an underhanded grab for attention, but Peter feels that all the attention on pre-release servers detracts from one thing people *should* have been concerned about: connection required.

Peter:  For me? The jump out “dick move” is a game that requires online access to play a single player mode. If I have (hypothetically) handed over my money, being then made to jump through their hoops just to get access to what I’ve paid for is just bullshit. I don’t like this movement in gaming – sure, we’re all now really used to being online 24/7; but placing this reliance on good connections, working servers, secure website log-ins…no. No. No.

As for the review status? Well, for starters different people will have different connections, so no review will ever be totally inclusive. What if the reviewer had a terrible connection – should the review of an online game be bad because of it? The main focus of the review would presumably be the game’s features, any reasons and against the online dependency, and so on. I’m personally not convinced that the connection speed will be a factor; the need to be connected, however, would be.

And that’s a really valid point. As more and more games are requiring a constant and quality connection, this whole thing is going to be more of an issue. While there are gamers all over the world who want to enjoy these games to the fullest, the quality of internet varies hugely from country to country, and even region to region. Yes, those reviewers played on a really great server, and your experience may be different. But what about those gamers who geographically suffer from bad connections? Where is the outrage for them?


U.S. Senior Editor & Deputy EIC, @averyzoe on Twitter, mother of 5, gamer, reader, wife to @macanthony, and all-around bad-ass (no, not really)