EA Labels boss says concept was led by devs, but admits it could have been communicated better

GDC 13: EA: DRM had nothing to do with SimCity

EA Labels president Frank Gibeau has insisted that DRM had absolutely nothing to do with the game design of SimCity, which has been mired by served troubles and a player backlash since it launched.

SimCity’s ill-fated release quickly turned into a headache for the publisher, as users flocked to forums and social media to complain that they were unable to connect and play the always-online game. And attempts by the developer, Maxis, to explain the situation only fuelled more outcry.

Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz at GDC this week, Gibeau said: “That’s not the reality; I was involved in all the meetings. DRM was never even brought up once. You don’t build an MMO because you’re thinking of DRM – you’re building a massively multiplayer experience, that’s what you’re building.”

The label boss said DRM was not a topic of internal discussion at EA, and he went on the emphasise that he believes DRM is no longer an option for the games business.

“DRM is a failed dead-end strategy; it’s not a viable strategy for the gaming business. So what we tried to do creatively is build an online service in the SimCity universe and that’s what we sought to achieve. For the folks who have conspiracy theories about evil suits at EA forcing DRM down the throats of Maxis, that’s not the case at all.”

Gibeau explained that the concept behind SimCity about building a connected world with MMO-like infrastructure. The lead designers, producers and programmers wanted to tell a multiplayer, cooperative city story around SimCity, he said. It was decided that there was a “bigger opportunity to chase with an always-on connected experience built around that concept”.

Gibeau added: “At no point in time did anybody say ‘you must make this online’. It was the creative people on the team that thought it was best to create a multiplayer collaborative experience and when you’re building entertainment… you don’t always know what the customer is going to want. You have to innovate and try new things and surprise people and in this particular case that’s what we sought to achieve.

“If you play an MMO, you don’t demand an offline mode, you just don’t. And in fact, SimCity started out and felt like an MMO more than anything else and it plays like an MMO.”

Gibeau accepted that EA probably could have done a better job in communicating to players about the intended MMO-like structure an why they need to always be connected.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t do a better job communicating that upfront,” he said. “I’m disappointed that we had a rough first couple of days in terms of underestimating how people were going to play the game and how the server infrastructure was going to hold up, but we responded the best we could, we got people to fix it as fast as we could.”

When Develop contacted EA customer services on the day of SimCity’s European release we were refused a refund for the game, as the online issues did not count as ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the publisher’s view.


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