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sin non city...

The recent release of Sim City, in a design driven by paranoid digital rights management and a resulting need to force traffic through centralized sites, has fallen on its face spectacularly. Here is one of many articles outlining the headaches Electronic Arts has pawned off onto paying customers.

This prompts me to share part of the reason I have deliberately not played an EA game since the year 2005.

Flash back to a few years ago. I am at one of the major gaming trade shows.

After a panel about how multi-player games of the future would scale technology, employee and business models to serve the growing population of players, the panelists invite audience members to speak with them one-on-one. I approach a developer on the panel and ask privately if quality testing is being considered a path to development. He shrugs it off completely. Next I ask if customer support has a role in handling bugs and interfacing with programmers, thereby opening another route to scale. His reaction is a completely out of proportion explosion. "I AM DEVELOPMENT!" This pronouncement is so aggressive that it draws the attention of a dozen people milling around us in the room. The moderator, standing about 15 feet away, hears it and looks a little embarrassed.

My enterprise-service self kicks in with a rather polite, "Thank you for your time" as I look him squarely in the eye. He doesn't flinch. In fact he is flushed to the point of sweating. I turn to discuss with a companion where we should go for lunch.

Now, mind you. This man throwing a tantrum is a developer sent by his executives to make a good impression on scores of relevant industry buyers and publishers. We are at one of the largest trade shows in the world.

On the way out, I compare notes with another panel member. He laughs and simply says, "Electronic Arts... he's probably mad. Someone asked his manager and him that yesterday and they both stumbled all over the answer. In a day, that's the best he could come up with? Unsurprising."

This was the first of many similar stories I've come across from both customers and employees annexed by EA.

So the lesson? With that kind of anger expressed in a public forum, I can imagine how internal discussions go when EA teams dare to suggest measures that enhance quality, service or design with the almighty developers. Pair that with a bottom-line business model and there is little room for the voice of the consumer. As the costs of failure are pushed further and further out of the development and marketing wings and into the lap of the customer, a fiasco like Sim City becomes more a certainty and less a surprise.

Where individual players paying $60 up front for software are forcibly connected to a failing remote infrastructure in order to even play their simulator game -- even when totally uninterested in interacting with another living soul? You're already two steps removed from where you need to be in servicing your consumer. People do in fact want to do some things they've done for decades. Like, play solo simulator games while they are disconnected from the Internet when traveling or overseas

Ignoring that self-evident fact. If you're going to require such complex digital rights restrictions in your own self interest you'd better have a bulletproof, invisible, triply redundant system handling it. Also, you should have the infrastructure in a 99-year escrow so customers can enjoy the rights to their purchase for their foreseeable lifetimes. It is clear EA didn't provide the former. Based on their track record I'm doubtful they would serve paying consumers by ensuring the latter... and thereby give customers the basic capability to enjoy their purchase decades down the line.

These are the insults that drive consumers to despise a company. These are the insults that drive some consumers to intentionally avoid purchasing a company's products since the mid-2000's. Ultimately these are the insults that breed disruptive technologies, competing markets, and a large consumer base eager to adopt them.


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