SimCity, Diablo 3 Updates Show How Players Can Change Games

With the shutdown of the Diablo 3 Auction House and the launch of Sim City’s offline mode both coming today, gamers everywhere are getting concrete evidence of the influence they wield over the marketplace.

It’s easy for gamers to feel ineffectual. Despite the fact that it’s their money that feeds the multi-billion dollar industry beast, they rarely get a chance to talk directly to game developers. Instead, their feedback is relegated to forum posts, blog rants, or angry Twitter tirades. Beta feedback is often ignored, and in many cases, gamers might feel like they should give up expressing their feelings about the games they buy. But today, they got a great look at just how much power they actually have.

Both SimCity and Diablo 3 were games that had troubled launches due to their incorporation of always-online DRM. In both cases, gamers were extremely vocal about their displeasure. Even in the face of claims that the games were fine, and that complaints were limited to a “vocal minority,” that buzzword of criticism killers, the backlash against the games grew. Columnist Jim Sterling wrote a piece to clarify that bitching about Diablo 3 was allowed.

At Blizzard, Game Director Jay Wilson actually left the project as fan complaints mounted and player numbers plummeted. Blizzard went on to admit that the game skimped on actual content.

SimCity’s launch was actually worse than Diablo’s, as hard as that may be to believe. On launch day, the servers couldn’t stay up, and even the error message players received was bugged at times. EA went so far as to suspend its online marketing campaign for the game, and Amazon pulled the game from its site entirely for a short time. Just like Blizzard, Maxis admitted that the launch issues were its fault, calling the game’s lack of adequate servers “dumb.”

In both cases, players complained about the problems these games were experiencing. Petitions popped up all over the Internet, some asking government agencies to investigate, some asking for refunds, some asking for an offline mode, and all proclaiming loudly that neither of these titles was satisfactory to the consumer.

Long-term effects

Today, one year after the launch of SimCity, and nearly two years since Diablo released, we can see the effects the legion of consumer complaints has wrought on these two titles. This morning, Blizzard completed the removal of the Real Money Auction House from Diablo 3. Also this morning, EA began the rollout of SimCity’s Offline Mode, a move EA had described in the past as, “just not possible.” How did these sweeping changes come about? What changed the minds of these huge game publishers? It’s simple: gamers made it happen.

Despite what you might think and what some denizens of the Internet might tell you, your voice matters. One person’s complaint about a game may not amount to much, but when groups of players are universally disappointed, companies take notice. It’s not just Blizzard and EA, either. Let’s not forget how quickly Microsoft moved to kill off the Xbox One’s ridiculous DRM plans once gamers got wind of the scheme, or how Bioware finally gave in and released an extended cut to try and fix the ending of Mass Effect 3 (even if it didn’t).

All of these examples were brought about entirely because players spoke up, and that’s a lesson we can’t forget going forward. As digital distribution, online DRM and the idea of games as a service become more and more mainstream, these types of situations are bound to pop up again.

It’s vital to the health of the industry that gamers continue to stand against excesses like these, and that they make themselves heard not only by being vocal, but by speaking with their wallets as well. Refusing to support companies that abuse the trust of their customers is the best method of making your voice heard.

Ron Whitaker is the managing editor at GameFront. Find more of his work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @ffronw and @gamefrontcom.

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7 Comments on SimCity, Diablo 3 Updates Show How Players Can Change Games

R.J.

On March 18, 2014 at 4:35 pm

The biggest thing people have to remember is that nobody will listen if they keep forking over cash. If you keep paying me, I’m not going to be too motivated to make things better since apparently what I made is good enough to get you to buy it. For the first time ever, I’m not getting a Metal Gear game when it comes out because I don’t like being charged $30 for just a prologue, so as much as I might want to play that game right now, I’ll wait because my complaining needs to be backed up with the only action most companies understand, which is refusing to buy their product.

Organ Grinder

On March 19, 2014 at 5:56 am

Gamers have, for the most part, had enough of seeing their often valid criticisms waved away with claims that they’re a ‘vocal minority’ or ‘entitled’, or in some cases claiming game developers are ‘artists’ and therefore have no commitment to quality control or advertising ethics. These are attempts to shame the customer into silence, often with complete endorsement from mainstream outlets who hate the fact that the filthy unwashed neckbeard masses might actually know what they’re talking about and have something worth listening to, also questioning the existence of the journalist’s ability to talk about games with any true authority or insight beyond release dates and technical information. And of course, there are also really obedient fantoys who think that because they’re happy to pay $60 for something that doesn’t do what it said it would, therefore everyone should be or else they’re not a true fan.

Fortunately, these examples, along with the Nuketown DLC backlash and other stuff, are proof positive that the gamer’s voice in alive and well, and clearly means a lot more to many developers than they’d like us to think. And those companies that continue to underplay the importance of treating their customers with respect (e.g. Bioware) will learn the lesson the hard way.

quicktooth

On March 20, 2014 at 12:41 am

I think RJ and Organ Grinder have said it perfectly. I add my voice to theirs.

Michael Hartman

On March 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

Great points in this article. Gamers need to mobilize when they are getting hosed and speak up. Gaming companies will listen. It is in their best interests to do so.

T. Jetfuel

On March 22, 2014 at 8:16 am

Yeah, the correct formula for communication with these corporate entities is withholding of money to get their attention, combined with lucid explanation of the reason(s) why.

MTaur

On March 24, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Yeah, complaining but giving them more money after they “learn their lesson” anyway isn’t as effective as not giving them money. People had a lot of trust for the D3 and Sims franchises and paid in advance on good faith. And I hope now they’re paying attention and are more skeptical about this kind of thing. Sometimes even more of the same is too much to ask for, and you get inept suits who don’t even know what made a game good making decisions about the sequel. I just hope people are finally learning and waiting from reviews from now on – this is usually mandatory unless the developer is a person or group of people you know for sure have their hearts in the game – Larian Studios comes to mind.

If a game with the same name is being made by different people, then you can’t expect a sequel to have anything more in common with the original than you would expect some random woman on the internet to have in common with your ex-girlfriend just because they have the same ethnicity and first name.

Also, Metacritic. The user score matters – and I value it more than the “professional” score, frankly. Looking for gaming site articles that summarize gigabytes of valid gamer frustration is a bit of a search for a needle in a haystack.

Thing1

On March 28, 2014 at 11:39 am

Well the whole Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 PC boycott was a total failure. I don’t know how anyone could’ve been feeling friendly towards Infinity Ward though, after they said no dedicated servers and their community manager at one point said something along the lines of ‘we added a lot of support for PC, you can use a keyboard/mouse and ingame chat’ — two things their engine supported since they adopted the Quake III Arena engine from id Software probably back around 2001.

Call of Duty would be a dead series if it weren’t for PC gamers and the free maps they released in patches and the great expansion pack which wasn’t split up into 10 different DLCs so they can charge you more for the content. It would probably also be dead if it weren’t for all the community created mods and maps for the game which kept it alive and kept content creators buying the next title.