Not every video game has a smooth launch, but at this point, one has to wonder whether the "SimCity" debacle will ever bottom out. In the two weeks since its release, EA's latest city-building simulation has lost features, threatened bans for people requesting refunds and generally angered more than 1 million people who bought the game.
"SimCity" first released on March 5 as software version 1.0. With the latest patch today (March 20), it's up to version 1.7. The crippling server overload has eased considerably (perhaps because people have given up on the game in large numbers), but this has created another problem: Actually playing the game reveals a wide variety of features that simply don't work.
"SimCity" has created trouble well beyond the confines of its digital trappings. As an apology to early adopters, EA offered a free game download, presumably to occupy gamers while EA fixed "SimCity." These games ranged from "Plants vs. Zombies" to "Dead Space 3," but some users encountered errors while trying to download these titles as well.
The majority of fixes in Patch 1.7 relate to traffic patterns, which have plagued the game since day one. While having the temerity to build a city with intersections, buses and highways is still a recipe for disaster (bringing to mind the old chestnut: "It's not a bug, it's a feature!"), at least "SimCity" players will be able to dispatch emergency vehicles in a timely fashion.
Previously, police cars and fire engines would receive word of an emergency — a robbery, say, or a burning building — and, with no particular haste, take their place in a never-ending queue of vehicles stretching from the station to the emergency. Personnel would arrive just in time for the building to have burned to the ground or been thoroughly cleansed of any valuables. The new patch gives emergency vehicles priority in traffic circulation, as well as allowing their programming to seek out empty lanes, much like a real police car, ambulance or fire truck would.
While this is a step in the right direction for the beleaguered title, "SimCity" still has a number of woes to address. An EA-created Reddit thread about the new patch resulted in more than 300 posts, many of which still complaining about a wide range of issues. Some Redditors complain that they cannot load up their cities from previous sessions, meaning that in order to play, they must build new cities from scratch. Additionally, the game's fastest speed, "Cheetah mode," is still missing. [See also: America's Top 10 Least Secure Cities ]
A significant chunk of these complaints assert that even though Patch 1.7 promised to improve traffic circulation, the system is still broken. Fleets of buses take the most circuitous routes possible to their destinations, picking up and discharging no one. Dozens of fire trucks will respond to the same small blaze simultaneously, leaving others unchecked. Cars drive in perpetual circles near highway exits, resulting in nonstop gridlock.
One enterprising user developed a novel workaround for the problem: build a city without intersections, whose cars drive through a conch-like spiral with the occasional U-turn. According to users, this solution works far better than anything EA has prescribed.
In the midst of the "SimCity" situation, EA's CEO, John Riccitiello, stepped down. Although he cited long-term financial concerns as his impetus for resigning, the ongoing troubles in "SimCity" could not have helped.
Little by little, "SimCity" is becoming a playable product, but gamers would argue that it should have been playable as soon as it released, especially given its $60 price tag. In an era of tight deadlines and ubiquitous patches, it may be unreasonable to expect a video game to be perfect right out of the gate, but users still have a right to expect it to work.
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