SimCity’s next big problem: EA is selling a game that may not work, and is refusing refunds
The shame of the SimCity situation is that the game itself, the experience that both EA and Maxis are trying to sell to players, is fun. Our first extensive playtest, playing on working servers, was very enjoyable. The PAR crew was ready for more. But things continue to not work, review sites continue to drop the score for the game, and everyone loses. This is just one game though, for now. The bigger problem is that you’re stuck if you’ve bought the game from most retailers, and players are often left with little recourse when games don’t work. If you’re hoping for a refund, keep hoping.
The sad truth of digital sales
An image showing a chat transcript of a customer trying to get a refund for their SimCity purchase has gone viral. In the image, which EA wouldn’t authenticate or dispute, the customer service representative denied the refund, and then stated that the customer’s Origin account would be locked down if they disputed the charge. So not only would the customer lose access to SimCity, which was pretty much the entire point of the situation, they would lose access to all their games. “As a general policy, EA does not offer refunds on products downloaded through Origin,” a representative told me after I e-mailed EA. “If a player has a question about the policy, they’re welcome to contact our Customer Experience group at help.ea.com.” I said that I understood that general policy states that no refunds are given on the digital versions of the game, although you can refund packaged goods through Origin up to 14 days after purchase, but in this situation, are they being more lenient on refunds? After all, the game doesn’t work. Amazon temporarily removed the game from its site, and has since replaced it, but it's unlikely that Origin would ever de-list an EA title suffering some server issues. EA is selling players a game they know may not be functional, while they strip features like leaderboards to try to get the damn thing to work. “If a player has a question about the policy, they’re welcome to contact our Customer Experience group,” I was told. “Thanks Ben.” I try not to wish harm on anyone, but if that particular Origin representative were to have their home infested with bed bugs, my tears would be minimal. The experience of buying the game in most retail stores isn’t better. An opened PC game can sometimes be exchanged for another copy of the same game, but that’s it. You may be able to get a refund if you ask for a manager and refuse to take no for an answer or take it up with corporate, but those options are a pain in the ass. The reality is that in most situations an opened piece of PC software, even if the service it’s attached to crashes and burns, is yours to keep.
This is the way AAA ends… maybe
The inability to return opened PC games is nothing new, although EA seems either unwilling or unable to give a shit about explaining the situation or making their customers feel better. This situation isn’t remarkable for EA, a company that has fumbled more than one launches in terms of server support, but it’s disconcerting that we all saw it coming, but the reality was actually much worse than even the grumpiest cynics anticipated. It’s easier to understand these situations when the game is based on a strong multiplayer community, but the always-on Internet requirement was something that few, if any, SimCity fans had asked for. Still, when you create a game that requires an online connection, it's your responsibility to keep that game playable. “SimCity is an online game and critics and consumers have every right to expect a smooth experience from beginning to end,” Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw reportedly wrote in a memo acquired by Polygon. “I and the Maxis team take full responsibility to deliver on our promise. The long-term issues for EA, a company that is already struggling, is that it hasn't given customers any recourse when they buy a game that doesn't work. Not only that, but EA has ruined any faith gamers may have in the company's ability to deliver a stable online experience. If EA continues to release games that don't work, and then gives the finger to players who try to get their money back, they're going to destroy the launch market for their games. EA is suffering from falling revenue from their $60 games, while mobile games have been growing. EA may think that they can meld those markets with games like SimCity, but it doesn't seem like they have the ability to release working online titles. SimCity was pulled from Amazon, features are being removed, gamers are frustrated, and no one can get their money back. I'm not sure how things can get any worse. On the other hand, it's very possible that the game is selling much better than expected, and the only lesson learned is that players are willing to put up with these issues. We'll learn more during EA's next earnings call, although the NPD Report will likely provide some hints about the game's performance.