SimCity (SC) is one of the most classic and popular games in the history of personal computing. From its debut in 1989 the immersive city building simulation has accumulated untold millions of fans who have spent countless hours creating ever more complex metropolises. The news that the all-new SC2013, the first new iteration in a decade since the launch of SC4, was going to be launched this March drove SC fans into paroxysms of ecstasy. This massive anticipation turned into an unprecedented nightmare as EA horribly fumbled the SC2013 launch. The premiere of SC2013 can serve as a lesson to any online marketer as it forms a textbook example of precisely what not to do.
EA didn’t listen
The analysis of what EA did wrong in the SC2013 debacle would easily fill volumes, but the most salient and relevant catastrophes all center around one basic strategic error: EA didn’t listen to its own users, breaking the social media cardinal rule. Much of the structure of the game was known over a year in advance and the company seemed to totally brush off the avalanche of complaints about most of the features which were going to be incorporated in the software. A peremptory review of EA’s own forums going back a year or more results in thousands of prescient posts by fervent SC enthusiasts pointing to the fallacy of the majority of the company’s basic assumptions about the game. At no time did EA pay anything but mere lip service to these critiques, with the online staffers always toeing the company line that the game will be wonderful/fantastic/amazing and will defuse all the criticisms. As it turned out, the company was dead wrong on nearly all of these points.
Sharing cities with strangers
The primary pre-launch complaint was the paradoxical decision by EA to turn what has been a fully single user game for nearly a quarter century into a pseudo Facebook CityVille game where the social aspect becomes an integral part of the game. To the legions of SC aficionados the prospect of having to share their city constructions with a bunch of strangers was welcomed with all the enthusiasm of a government dictate that from now on they would have to share the raising of their children with inmates at the nearest penitentiary. At no time did EA ever mount a successful argument as to why this social sharing would add anything to the game but intrusion and in the final implementation this widespread social participation turned out to largely be an irritant and source of woe.
Hackers destroyed others’ cities
EA assured SC players that although they could participate in regions with other players, their own city constructions would be fully within their control. This expectation was exploded within a couple of days of launch. Players quickly learned that they could build very dirty industrial cities upwind of other people’s cities and ruin them with pollution, and if that wasn’t enough, a hack surfaced where anyone can enter anyone else’s city and bulldoze it flat within a minute.
Bones of contention
Another bone of contention was the almost microscopic city size. While the previous iterations such as SC4 allowed cities to be as large as the user wanted leading to bustling megacities of many millions of people, SC2013 cut down the size to a few city blocks and enforced empty green space between it and the next city. Instead of improving the game EA handicapped it by eliminating terraforming, underground transport, and multiple freeway interchanges. However, the worst fallacy of all was forcing the game to be online only, forcing server-based DRM onto a single player game. Of course at launch EA’s servers couldn’t possibly cope with the stress and millions of players couldn’t log on for hours or days.
Your company spends valuable resources in social listening… so listen! Most of what your customers are telling you is not motivated by malice or nihilism but by a desire to make their experience better. The companies which listen and act on that information will thrive in the social media age. The rest… will be EAs.