Sim-Snow Day and the Attack of the Frozen Servers

SimCity1

As you probably know by now from every article you read over the last few days, to say that the SimCity launch was “rocky” would be quite the understatement.  If anything, it was Apollo Creed.  The game has promise, and I really enjoy it.  I’ll leave the formal reviewing to Jon later this weekend.  I’m more of a comedic essay type of guy.  If I were going to review it, the review would be positive, but I don’t like to make a habit out of writing positive reviews for games that are unplayable.  For now, let’s focus on the story… my story.  I only found out about the game Tuesday morning, and I knew immediately that I had to try it.  I’m a huge fan of the genre, and an even bigger fan of coop play.  I already knew that Jon was on board, because he needed a distraction from his massive failures in Fire Emblem: Awakening.  After a few instant messages, I had a team of four, ready to take the virtual world by storm (and asteroid strike, and Godzilla attack…).

We were all pretty excited, so we rushed home to install the game at 5pm sharp.  It turns out that we could have been about 6 hours dull, because the servers were too congested to play until 11pm.  For a moment, I thought, “maybe Origin is just being meta.”  SimCity is a game that requires advanced planning, so to really be successful, you have to plan to play hours in advance.  Genius!  At some points, it was so bad that the client displayed a twenty minute countdown to space out our log-in attempts.  EA suggested via twitter that the server issues were not prevalent, which directly contradicted the patch which installed this confessional countdown.

 

SimCity's wait time is slightly shorter than the wait time for a Domino's pizza delivery.

SimCity’s wait time is slightly shorter than the wait time for a Domino’s pizza delivery.

 

By midnight, we all got through the tutorial before it kicked us out again, and we were unable to play again that night.  Apparently, “after work” is peak simmin’ season around these parts.  Unfortunately, work is a thing we have to attend every day, so after work was about the only period we would have a chance to play for the next few days.  To make things worse, we are moving on up to the Eastside this weekend, to a deluxe apartment on the third floor.  The service window for our internet installation is between 8am Saturday and 4pm next month, so our chances to really dive into the game this week were looking distant, at best.  Then, late Tuesday night, something wonderful happened.

It snowed.  In a bit of cosmic irony, a real-life natural disaster took place that allowed us all to stay home from work and play SimCity.  It was glorious.  From 10am-6pm on Wednesday, we got the chance to fully experience what this game has to offer.  We started a region together, we built metropolises, we learned from tough defeats, we drank a bunch of beer, we shared natural resources, we strategized regional synergy, we ate two pots of chili, and we amassed fortunes.  (Can you guess which two of those activities we did in real life?)  Then, at 6pm, people started getting off work again, so we were forced to struggle through the next 6 hours of “play” time.

 

Our snow day was something like this, only we didn't go outside, open the windows, or see the snow at all.

Our snow day was something like this, only we didn’t go outside, open the windows, or see the snow at all.

 

The server congestion wasn’t as bad on day two, which somehow made things even worse.  After our twenty minutes of mandatory reflection time, we were usually able to get a game going.  We could even play for about 90 minutes before getting kicked out.  However, upon the server crashing, our progress was rolled back by anywhere from 20-30 minutes of play time.  At one point, my city was on the brink of economic collapse, and I miraculously saved it from total ruin.  It was incredible, like a thrilling, last-second, buzzer-beating shot in a basketball game.  Then, as if it really were a buzzer-beater, the game cued the instant replay, booting me from the server and rolling me back to the exact moment of my previous downfall.  They say it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  Really?  Next time you save you marriage, let me roll you back to the divorce proceedings and we’ll see if you don’t get a little frustrated.

The entire experience got us thinking.  The internet has been a wonderful addition to gaming, as I have mentioned many times before.  Heck, it has been a wonderful addition to the world.  However, it has also had many unforeseen effects on the world.  Over the last 20 years, the internet has been a pretty unpredictable force.  Need a second opinion?  Go ask the forward thinking people at Blockbuster, Tower Records, Hallmark, Tips & Tricks magazine, the post office, your local travel agency, whoever used to make maps, whoever used to develop film, and the list goes on.  It was difficult to see all this coming.  If you unthawed a man who had been frozen for the past thirty years, his reaction to the world might go something like this:  “Hang on… let me get this straight.  You phased out film, letters, maps, books, and privacy?  …but you kept oil??!!”  What can we say?  Zoom, zoom, zooooom!

 

Seriously... there used to be a demand for this.

Seriously… there used to be a demand for this.

 

The same goes for gaming.  The positive effects on gamers have been incredible.  I’m talking about online play, digital distribution, post-launch patches, mod communities, online walkthroughs, beta access, cross-game friend lists, and chat, among others.  These benefits are so great that I wouldn’t have been able to fathom them when I was a child.  If I were frozen even 15 years ago, the positive internet-related developments in gaming would blow my mind.  For this reason, I never really think about how absurd some of our current problems might sound from that perspective.

Humor me.  As a gamer, imagine that you were frozen for the past 15-20 years, and you woke up the day after the SimCity launch.  How would I explain my SimCity experience to you?  To make it easier to imagine, let’s assume that SimCity was actually released for SNES circa 1995.  How do these statements sound to you?

  • I know you just bought this game, and you’re fired up to play, but it takes about 6 hours for the game to turn on for the first time.
  • Whoah, hang on there, buddy.  You can’t just jump right in and play.  Whenever you turn this game on, it requires you to wait 20 minutes before you can start.
  • Right now, you can’t play at all, because too many other people in the world are playing at the same time.
  • The game also randomly restarts from time to time, and you have to go back to wherever you were 30 minutes ago.
  • Your save is missing.  It’s in the CLOUD!

Crazy, right?  Are any of those things you would have forgiven?  Eventually, these things won’t be problems anymore, but for now, I think it is worthwhile to realize how unacceptable they are instead of brushing them off as necessary evils.  SimCity was designed for the world we are becoming, a world where there is nothing but the internet.  I’m referring to a world where people still occasionally use the word “internet,” but in the same way we currently use the word “existence.”  If I listed “existing” as one of my plans for the day, that declaration would be, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, a cry for help.  In the future, the word “internet” will be used similarly.  In this future world, people will ask “What is the meaning of the internet?” when they are feeling introspective, and they will say “I don’t want to internet anymore” when they are feeling suicidal.  In this world, a game like SimCity will be able to launch without any sort of server-side preparation or planning.  Servers will never be crowded, because servers will always be crowded.  The internet will become us, and we will lose ourselves in its embrace.  It shall be, as it was written…

 

Where we keep our files.

Where we keep our files.

 

…But we are not there yet.  The internet is very pervasive, but its capacity is still a work in progress.  It takes 10 minutes to load Facebook when the Super Bowl is on.  The last time I watched Netflix at a coffee shop, it looked like Tina Fey was made out of Legos.  Thus, if you are launching a game, you must stress test the servers.  If they fail the stress test, you must get bigger, better servers.  If your game is available for download, people must be able to download it.  If it is only available on Origin, Origin must be available.  Even with DRM concerns, if it can only be played online, people must be able to get online to play it.  Investing in infrastructure is expensive.  Thankfully, the millions of people who purchase your game fund it for you.  If you build it, they will come.  If you don’t, they will just stick with Steam.

I don’t know what score Jon will give the game when he reviews it, but I imagine his review will be positive.  It is a really great experience when it works, and the online elements are borderline revolutionary.  I just hope this game does not get added to the list of great games that I stopped playing because of server problems… games like Orcs Must Die 2, Pro Evolution Soccer, and every MMO ever.  We could be a few patches away from greatness or a few weeks away from me never playing this game again.  Here’s hoping for the former.

Thomas Shamburger
Thomas is one of the original creators of "What's Jump?" As a lifelong gamer, writer, and comedian, his goal is to provide readers with humorous, entertaining, and thought-provoking perspectives on current gaming news and culture. His early career successes in the business world helped to pave the way for the site's launch in 2012. As the Editor in Chief of "What's Jump?" he combines his passions for gaming, writing, entrepreneurship, and comedy.
Thomas Shamburger
Thomas Shamburger

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