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If nothing else,  SimCity  proves that no one is safe from scaling problems
If nothing else, SimCity proves that no one is safe from scaling problems
March 15, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi




"One lesson is that we needed longer, more comprehensive beta tests."
- Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw reflects on its soured SimCity launch in an interview with VentureBeat.

The media is abuzz with arguments about the merits (or lack thereof) of SimCity's always-online requirements, but there's another issue here that's going largely ignored, and it's one that it seems developers of all sizes are facing: scaling.

It's obvious that something went very wrong between Maxis' test environment and its live environment. I've seen official company lines ranging from higher-than-expected sales to players loving the game so much that they couldn't stop playing (and, therefore, clogging up the servers), but for a game as highly anticipated at SimCity, it's hard to imagine that EA was somehow overwhelmed with demand for the game.

Properly scaling a game to meet a growing player base is a challenge we hear about all the time, usually from smaller studios that suddenly have a breakout hit. For a company like EA to suffer these problems immediately with a game destined for success like SimCity is, frankly, a little terrifying.


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Comments


Andrew Traviss
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I don't know about "terrifying". EA was pretty lax in their diligence here. For whatever reason, they decided that throwing a somewhat representative burden at their servers was not a necessary step in preparing for this release.

Something failed when exposed to conditions it was not tested under. Nobody who has ever shipped a product should find this shocking.

Tyler Shogren
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Lucy Bradshaw seems like a great gal, but hopefully nobody else bumps this spin.

Her nod towards beta testing is appreciated, but the overall tone and message from EA/Maxis has been totally condescending and intellectually dishonest.

...the last time I remember her being involved it was Spore-related...

Jeremy Reaban
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Does she really? She seems quite the opposite to me.

First she lies about SimCity not being able to be played offline

Then when it's revealed that she's lying, she insists that you really don't want to play it offline.

How about letting people play the game they want to play it, not how she thinks people should play it.

I'm just grateful she's not in the government...

Andrew Traviss
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It's not right to crucify her the way a lot of people are. It's not like Lucy Bradshaw sits down and decides for herself what she's going to say on a particular matter. She represents a huge team that includes people from EA and Maxis, all with their own agendas to consider. The message she puts out is tempered through that committee.

Which is why it comes out sounding like investor-facing press releases, rather than a genuine attempt to connect with unhappy customers.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Andrew:

"Just following orders" is not an excuse for a senior developer who chooses to lend their face and voice to straight up bullshit. They should expect to get crucified right along with the company. They have a choice, unlike some drone whose rent is hanging on the next paycheck.

Somehow, many other companies can manage to get by after messing up without lying or insulting and blaming their customers. You don't have to spill your guts, grovel, or promise the world in restitution. Just consider every thing you say from the viewpoint of the customers who have gotten hit the worst, to make sure it is not disrespectful or easily misunderstood as such. In particular: make sure everything you *do* say is the truth.

jin choung
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BS. it's not scaling problems intrinsic to the game.

it's trying to get every goddamn copy of the game to have always-on internet checking DRM for a single player game.

they are lying plain and simple. they do this for DRM when they don't have to. they can just say that but they won't.

and this is why indies will be welcomed with open arms... because the big boys insist on being asshats.

Terry Matthes
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The game tanked on launch please give it up with the save face articles.

Maria Jayne
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I have a suspicion, being a PC only game, EA decided it was cheaper to inconvenience their customers while they ascertained it's popularity on live servers, before risking over spending on server support and not needing it. Remember, every additional server they set up, that they don't need is profit loss on Sim City sales.

It's the same story as to why EA wouldn't improve the quality of Dead Space 3 on PC, because they don't value their PC customers above minimal investment. They have hit a sweet spot where they make a profit on their PC business by putting as little effort in as they can manage and still selling well enough to be worth bothering with. It's not a future that will last, but then, next console generation is just around the corner, it only needs to last another year.

Michael Joseph
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what is the status of Sim City now? Have they addressed these issues yet? I think I read somewhere that Amazon had stopped selling the title because they were getting so many customer complaints. Have they resumed selling copies?

Rob B
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Yes, the amazon thing was only brief, I believe it overloaded their complaints system. They brought it back up not long after with a notice about the problems.

The game has become more stable but last I checked is still crippled in certain ways. (Not so crippled that people havent already found a whole bunch of serious flaws in the engine itself mind...)

It would almost be funny if they werent making a colossal amount of money regardless.

Duvelle Jones
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I will be honest, she might have a point to that... given that it a known fact that the internet performance varies, a longer testing period would likely mitigate some of the many issues that face SimCity, Diablo and other online games upon release. I am not talking to the point of a "Google Beta" (which is about 4-5 years of testing)... but the usual 6-9 months of testing on a big project simply might not be enough.

Ron Dippold
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'It's obvious that something went very wrong between Maxis' test environment and its live environment.'

Oh I think they went wrong much earlier than that.

Mike Ferguson
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Scaling isn't a problem with single player offline games. Just saying..

Frank Gilson
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Uhhh...you can dynamically scale out to a public cloud solution to handle spikes in peak concurrency...that is if you design your infrastructure that way. If you don't...well...


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