Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

EA/Maxis Digging In Deeper

Posted by Stropp on March 14, 2013

Everyone has probably heard enough about the woes of EA/Maxis and the SimCity debacle, but there’s a new twist to the story to tell.

A couple of days ago the fine folks at Rock Paper Shotgun were contacted by an EA Insider (wasn’t there one of those a while back?) who informed them that the statements made by Lucy Bradshaw the head of the Maxis studio wasn’t exactly telling the truth about the SimCity servers doing a significant amount of the simulation work for the game.

That was bad enough, but it did generate some discussion regarding the legitimacy of this anonymous source.

Well, that source it appears was legitimate.

Since then there have been a few reports that players have been experimenting with disconnecting the game from the internet and continuing play for up to 20 minutes before the game chokes up. It appears that the EA/Maxis whistle-blower was telling the truth about the servers not doing all that much; at least in single player mode.

RPS is now reporting that a hacker has managed to mod the game so that it doesn’t need to connect to the servers at all and continues indefinitely. The caveat is that the mod/hack doesn’t actually save the game, so at the end of the session the city is lost.

For your edification here is the link to the Redit discussion where the SimCity ‘mod’ is discussed.

And yes I also modded out the disconnect timer (can now play “offline” indefinitely – but no saves/syncs or region related stuff, not yet anyway… but the simulation can carry on with no connection indefinitely). And I modded out the “fluffed population count”, just shows the real population count now. Both very minor/easy tweaks.

The thing that stands out to me is the speed at which this happened. I guess the fact that there wasn’t actually that much going on in the servers in the first place made this somewhat trivial for the right person.

I also suspect that there are a few hackers out there tuning up their packet sniffers and working on a ‘mod’ to save their games locally. I wonder how soon we’ll be seeing the first savemod.

Finally, Rock Paper Shotgun notes that EA/Maxis are refusing to comment on the claims of the whistle-blower. Now that they have something else to answer for, I wonder how much longer it will be before they stand up and tell the truth. I guess it’s pretty embarrassing for them, eh?

 

 

EA Proves They’re Not A Company You Can Trust #SimCity

Posted by Stropp on March 8, 2013

Here’s the latest in the ongoing SimCity 2013 saga.

1. Some high level boffin in EA responds to the furor over their broken game by telling customers they can request a refund if they’re not happy.

“If you regrettably feel that we let you down, you can of course request a refund for your order at http://help.origin.com/contact-us, though we are currently still in the process of resolving this issue.”

2. Customer requests refund because he’s not happy.

3. EA tells customer that they will not issue a refund for digital (Origin) purchases. And what’s more if they seek relief by initiating a chargeback at their bank, their Origin account and all the games thereon will be banned*.

Is this simply a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?

Is it incompetence?

Or is it out and out lying by EA’s Origin global community manager Marcel Hatam?

In my opinion it has to be the latter. Hatam knew that Origin did not issue refunds, and he did not qualify that in his initial announcement. Good as lying wouldn’t you say? If not, Hatam is obviously incompetent and shouldn’t be in charge of such an important part of EA’s business strategy.

At the very least EA isn’t a company that a consumer should trust. I think this incident proves that.

* This is one of the reasons that I create a new account for each Blizzard game I buy. There’s no chance of losing all my games by making a mistake or by someone else’s maliciousness. I’m also safe(r) from a hack affecting all my games.

Protecting Your EA Games From EA

Posted by Stropp on March 12, 2011

I posted yesterday about the player who was banned from playing his copy of dragon age because he made a negative comment about EA on the Electronic Arts official forums.

Fortunately, EA saw the light, the blinding light of negative publicity and outrage shone upon this practice, and relented by reversing the ban on the player playing his legally purchased game. The forum ban still stands however.

The reason EA could get away with this, is that they are requiring players to create an account when the game is installed. It also turns out that the game checks in with this account to make sure it is valid when the player loads it up to play. If the account status isn’t valid, in this case the player has been banned for whatever reason, you cannot play.

It occurs to me that this is one of the reasons why I opposed the Real ID Forum fiasco back in the middle of 2010. Back then I was primarily concerned with the privacy issue of having a real name linked both to forum posts and in-game characters, but the idea of all my Blizzard games linked to a single account didn’t make me feel comfortable.

Yesterday I said that the best way to get around EA locking you out of your legally purchased games is not to participate in their community, and to find a community elsewhere. I stand by that assertion. But there are times when you need to access an official forum, technical and gameplay support for example.

So here’s what you do. Create a separate accounts for the games you play, and your forum interaction. So in the case where you need to post, if you do happen to say something negative in the heat of the moment your gaming accounts won’t be locked out.

You might want to take this further by having separate accounts for each game you play. It’s more than easy to create as many gmail accounts as you have games. You can even have the additional gmail accounts forward to a primary email address to make it easier to manage multiple accounts.

Still, it’s a shame that so many game publishers are requiring players to create accounts in order to play single player games. Remember the good old days when you could defer registration as long as you wanted?

EA: Get Your Community Elsewhere

Posted by Stropp on March 11, 2011

Both Tobold and Keen & Graev have posted about the policy at EA that can result in you being locked out of not only the official forums, but also any games that are linked to your EA account.

At first blush, this looks like making EAs forums much nicer places to visit according to Tobold and the G.I.F Theory. No one will want to be a semi-anonymous jerk because they might get banned from playing their single player games like Dragon Age.

The law of unintended consequences applies here. Some players might not want to complain about legitimate bugs because they fear the EA thought-police, so useful information will be lost. Rather than outright aggressive language (which can be dealt with by mods and the community) these forums will end up with lots of passive aggressive language that can’t be dealt with, and will make the forums an unpleasant place to be. The better forum users will leave along with the helpful content they write that makes the forums better.

Draconian policies do not make a nicer community.

As far as I’m concerned there is a better option. When someone makes rules you don’t like for their playing field, just don’t play on their field. Which means in this case one of two things.

  1. Don’t play their games.
  2. Don’t use their forums.

I’m assuming that most people will ignore the first point. After all, SWTOR is looking nice, and Dragon Age 2 is highly anticipated.

But this is the Internet, where anyone with a few quid can buy a domain and hosting and set up a forum (or a blog.)

As a rule, most unofficial forums tend to be nicer places to visit anyway. Sure there are the elitist jerks and eq2flames forums that feel like a PvP gankfest, but there are other nice venues.

The other thing to realise is that forums are not the only source of gamer community. There’s all the social networking like Twitter and Facebook where fans can congregate and chat. Twitter comments especially have a short lifespan, so it always feels like more of a conversation. There’s no necroing of year old threads on Twitter.

And then there are blogs. Blogs, I think, are one of the ultimate sources of community. They are operated by passionate fans, contain lots of useful info (mostly) and provide a place for commentors. In fact on the bigger blogs, the prolific commentors are known to the whole community.

So if you don’t like EAs all-compassing-banhammer, then don’t put yourself at their mercy. Get your community elsewhere.

 

EA Layoffs – Piracy Is Not To Blame

Posted by Stropp on November 10, 2009

Tobold has just posted a thought for today: That the EA Layoffs are due to the piracy of their games.

Now first of all, after re-reading, I’m not sure if he’s being serious or just being a tad sarcastic. For the purpose of this post, I’ll assume he’s being serious when he says: “What did people think would happen to a company making bad games and being constantly robbed, in the middle of an economic crisis? If you wanted to save an EA programmer’s job, all you had to do was buy some EA games legitimately” in response to the amount of ‘outrage’ today against EA for laying off 1500 employees.

Now me, I think that piracy-is-a-bad-thing, it is a violation of a long standing set of laws designed to protect those who create those things that we love against the unscrupulous. It’s not theft as such, technically anyway, since no-one is actually deprived of anything, but that can be a hard distinction to make. It seems like theft.

But that’s where I think Tobold is off base. There is no real evidence that the people who pirate software, music, or other media were actually going to buy those things in the first place. So a single act of piracy cannot be logically equated with a lost sale, or a lost amount of revenue or profit. I’m not sure if anyone even has any statistics on what the ratio of pirated goods to lost sales really is. Is it one in a hundred? Or would one pirate in a thousand have bought that copy if a legitimate sale was the only option.

Having said that, I do believe that piracy results in lost income, but I don’t think it is anywhere near as much as publishers are saying.

In fact, I’ve seen in print statements made by the RIAA and MPAA where the figures they are stating for lost revenue seem indicate that their ratio is more than a lost sale per act of piracy.  Does that seem a bit strange to you? How can you lose more than what was pirated?

Secondly, and as Tobold points out in his post, it is an economic crisis. People haven’t just lost jobs and have less disposable income to buy games, a lot of people — a huge number in fact — are turning away strongly from using debt to buy things. This I think is the first key to EA’s financial woes. Less disposable income plus a reluctance to use credit means people are buying less of everything.

Which leads to the second key to EA’s crisis. They do a lot, and I mean a huge amount, of sales of their sports franchise games. They’re the only game in town for the US football games, yet each year they produce what is basically the same game with a few enhancements and a set of roster changes. These games also appeal to the more casual gaming sports fan, a fairly giant demographic.

Less disposable income plus a reluctance to use credit plus casual gamers owning the five previous versions of the same game equals cutting out Madden from the discretionary spending.

The clincher for me is that up until this last year, the game industry reported strong growth year after year. I’m sure you read the reports that said that the computer game industry was going to overtake Hollywood in revenue in just a few short years. This strong growth was all happening at the same time as people were pirating games. Computer game piracy hasn’t jumped by 200 percent in 2009 has it? How much of an increase in piracy would it take to drop revenue by 20 percent, especially considering that those pirates must come from the buying customers. People who would normally buy a game, but have defected across to the pirates.

If nothing else has changed, then EA’s woes must surely be the result of something other than piracy.

Saving that programmers job would have been a little more tricky than buying that sixth version of Madden.

By the way, I agree with Tobold on this; Piracy is a crime. It’s a bad thing to do. If you want to play a game — buy it!

EA – Mass Layoff Effect

Posted by Stropp on November 10, 2009

The game-o-sphere is all a flurry about the big layoffs at Electronic Arts at the moment.

With 1500 job being dumped at EA, including 80 at Mythic which is a bit less than half their staff, you’d be forgiven for thinking that EA is in financial difficulty. And you’d be right as this year their revenue has declined by something like 20 percent.

There aren’t too many business that wouldn’t lay off some staff under those kind of circumstances.

Still, EA hasn’t really got that great a reputation for employee management. Even in the best of times they tend to work them like dogs, and then dump them when projects fail, and sometimes even when they are successfully completed. So it’s no surprise that the same happens when times are tough.

1500 employees though. That’s a lot, and considering many of those would be the creatives. The people who make the games, there may not be as many in-house games being developed by EA over the next few years.

Which could be a silver lining in all this. EA is certainly going to want to sell as many games as it can, so we can expect it to go outside to get them. This could be a good time for non-affiliate game developers (I’m not talking small indie developers here) to develop their own IP and look to EA to do the publishing. This may even lead to us seeing some break-the-mould games appearing somewhere down the track.

The Mythic layoffs are concerning though. With many of their development staff layed off, it’s hard to see how they are going to do more than just maintain Warhammer Online. It’s entirely possible all we’ll see from now on are patches and minor content updates. New expansions, difficult to see them happening with such a heavily reduced staff.

I’m even going to go so far as suggest that Warhammer might now be on life support with the hand of the EA board hovering over the switch.

I think it also shows that these internal teams are regarded by EA as only as good as (the board of directors perception of) their last game. If Mythic, a popular and successful developer, can be gutted because Warhammer didn’t meet expectations, then perhaps no team is safe.

I’m sure the Bioware team is completely aware of that little fact.

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