EA has been roundly thrashed for the rocky launch of SimCity, and Will Wright — who designed the original SimCity title and co-founded studio Maxis before leaving for other projects — says the company should have seen it coming. Wright told GamesIndustry International that the new SimCity was "a good game; I enjoy playing it a lot." But he expressed sympathy for the team, saying "I could have predicted — I kind of did predict there'd be a big backlash about the DRM stuff." He has stronger words for the launch itself, which left many people unable to play at all for days on end due to the need to connect to a game server.
"It was kind of like, 'EA is the evil empire, there was a lot of 'Let's bash EA over it,'" Wright said in the interview, possibly referencing EA's election as the worst company in America. "That was basically inexcusable, that you charge somebody $60 for a game and they can't play it. I can understand the outrage. If I was a consumer buying the game and that happened to me, I'd feel the same." While EA has denied that the always-on requirement for SimCity was meant as DRM, the generally single-player nature of the game made the constant connection seem unnecessary at best.
"That was basically inexcusable, that you charge somebody $60 for a game and they can't play it."
Wright hasn't been involved in the SimCity franchise for almost a decade, and he left EA and Maxis in 2009 to help found gaming and entertainment "think tank" Stupid Fun Club. But he, more than almost anyone, should know the backlash that copy protection schemes can cause. His last game, the heavily anticipated 2008 title Spore, used then-controversial SecuROM software, which initially limited players to three installs of the game and remained on the computer even after Spore was uninstalled.
Critical response to the game was generally positive or ambivalent, but Spore's DRM scheme caused massive anger among gamers, with some pirating the game in revenge or even launching lawsuits against EA. To this day, the original release version retains a barely two-star rating on Amazon due to anti-DRM comments. EA apologized after Spore's launch, just as it did after SimCity. In both cases, though, it's hard to tell whether a PR debacle made any lasting impact on the industry.
Wright, meanwhile, is looking ahead to indie games, tablets, and phones for the future of the medium. While he says games are "falling way short," he also sees progress. "The fact that it's now 10 thousand Darwinian developers out there with no restrictions on what they do, coming up with all sorts of crazy ideas," he says, "it's much, much more healthy than it was 10 years ago, when it was a few large publishers controlling $10 million purse-strings."