SimCity, New Releases, and the Value Proposition

A little game by the name of SimCity was released last week after a decade since the last release (or, in Internet terms, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth). I’ve personally been pretty excited about it, but I don’t really like paying full price for games.  After getting totally burned on the train wreck that was Master of Orion III, I swore off buying any title when it was first released. (I made a special exception for Borderlands 2 and I REGRET NOTHING.) This has since proven to be a smart move. Not only does the game end up getting properly vetted by the gaming public, it also gets patched, comes down in price, and runs exceptionally well on newer hardware.

I’ve managed to play some spectacular A-list titles without breaking the bank. Arkham Asylum? Fantastic game with a great story and top notch voice acting. My patience saved me $52. Borderlands? Same deal. Civilization V? Half off and I got a bunch of DLC that otherwise would have been much, much more. I’ve enjoyed a lot of games more by making sure the value proposition is more in my favor. (My general rule of thumb is that if I end up paying under $1 per hour of game play, it’s a good value.) On the flip side, it’s also saved me from some gaming agony. I’m glad I waited to see how Diablo III would pan out because none of my friends play it anymore and I doubt I would enjoy it based on their feedback.

I’m now having similar feelings about SimCity and have even gone so far as to dust off my old Rush Hour discs to play that instead. EA managed to completely bungle the entire game launch by making an Internet connection mandatory to even load it. This hasn’t sat well for a variety of reasons. The consensus is now that EA forced the issue in a ham-fisted attempt to curb piracy. It has since backfired in such a way as to make all other launch fiascoes look like mere hiccups.

Here’s the problem: you don’t really own the game you purchased. EA has decided that if they don’t feel like keeping the game servers up and running, they can and will disconnect you without any obligation. Meanwhile, industrious pirates are working tirelessly to circumvent what an anonymous Maxis programmer called entirely unnecessary. It’s only a matter of days before anyone who doesn’t care about the “social” aspects of the game will be using a patch to make sure they can’t get disconnected on a whim. Pirates will have to wait a few days, but so do many of your paying customers.

This debacle (which will hopefully be followed by EA’s retreat from using game-as-a-service connectivity on something that isn’t) highlights the big problem with buying early, that you pay more for the privilege of additional uncertainty. That isn’t creating value, and it’s part of why I have an upper boundary of maybe $40 for an individual game. Heck, I’m spoiled enough that I often wait for titles to be under $10 on Steam even if I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I have a very limited budget for that kind of entertainment, and doubly so when I consider the time investments required.

The next time you’re thinking about a new release, ask yourself if you’re better served by waiting a year or two. Odds are good that the answer is yes.

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