Sim City Has Shown Me That Reviews Don’t Work, So I’m Not Writing Them Anymore

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Depending on whom you ask or what review you read buying the new SimCity through Origin is either a completely normal and fun gaming experience or a sign of the end of times (Thanks Reddit!). I know everyone is entitled to their opinion and that differing opinions and critiques can often be good for the game industry, but these days I can’t tell if reviews are actually honest or are just written as reactions to what people already want to hear in order to increase the amount of people who come to a site. Kotaku even wrote not one but two “Sim City Doesn’t Work” posts in two days while also managing to write another piece to give players tips when playing the game.

It just seems like one gigantic mess; there are reviews for people who like the game and articles for those who don’t. To me this isn’t actual coverage, but pandering to those who have already formed an opinion as to whether or not they will buy the game. What about when someone like me just wants an honest review of the game before they buy it?

I haven’t bought the game; I’m thinking about it, but I’m waiting for the dust to settle before I make a decision. See, I don’t think of myself as a game journalist, I’m just a normal guy who was given the privilege to write about games once a week. I don’t get paid and I don’t receive games for free, so when it comes to deciding whether or not to buy a game I make my decisions just like everybody else; by reading reviews, watching gameplay videos, and listening to my friends. I knew there would be blowback regarding EA’s online-only policy with SimCity, but I figured I would be able to sift through all of the pitchforks to figure out whether or not the actual game, and not just their business model, was for me. I was wrong.

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Bandwagon or truth? I can’t tell. 

To me all reviews are inherently flawed. Many publications receive games before release which means they aren’t actually playing the same game the rest of us will, especially if they’re playing a multiplayer or online game where the servers aren’t crammed full of people who just bought the game. Of course a game won’t lag when there are only 1,000 people online in the world; I want to know what it’s like under normal circumstances.

What about those who get the game for free? How can a person honestly say a game is worth $60 when they actually paid nothing? In my opinion, if a game is free you always get your money’s worth.

Then there’s the elephant in the room; the online-only connection. I get why everyone tends to hate it, but I also don’t get why everyone is so mad about it. It seems that people feel entitled that a game should not only be released, but released in a way they want. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, especially if your connection is crummy, but it’s not as if it’s a surprise. Anyone who purchases an online game does so knowing full well that this is how it works and that there may be connection issues. If you didn’t want to risk the problems associated with an online game you shouldn’t have bought an online game. You may disagree with the business model, but don’t feign outrage when you bought exactly what you paid for.  I’ve never played an online game that doesn’t have connection issues, especially on the first day. That doesn’t mean the game itself is bad.

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That’s really my point; mixed into all of these reviews about SimCity is commentary, not about the game, but about the game’s business model. EA’s business model, love it or hate it, has little bearing as to whether or not the actual game is any good. If a person logs on with no problem then the whole online-only argument is almost moot, yet if there is a problem and a person can’t log on, it’s not the game that’s a problem, it’s the business model. I’m a big boy, I understand the risk of buying an online-only game and I don’t need some reviewer to explain it to me, I just want to know if the game itself is any good and I’ll be the one to decide whether or not to take the risk.

But I’m not some omniscient game writer, I’m just a normal guy and just as guilty as the rest. I’ve written reviews for this site in the past, but despite my best efforts I can’t honestly say whether or not my opinions are genuine or are just a reaction to the pre-launch hype or post-launch bandwagons. Every reviewer likes to be the one person to disagree with everyone else, even if it’s just for the attention. Maybe a writer wants to bring an overly-hyped game down a peg or maybe they want to focus on the good parts no one seems to be mentioning; you never really know.

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I’d be pissed about downtime too if I just wanted to play Single player, but that was a known risk when buying it

Because of this I’ll probably stop writing “reviews” for this site and call them what they are; recommendations. I only have this one article a week and there’s no point in just writing about a game because everyone else is. I play lots of games, but I usually only write about the ones I really enjoy, that’s not a review it’s more like a heads-up. From now on when I play a game I enjoy, I’m just going to give you all a heads-up and stop pretending that I’m capable of giving an unbiased opinion. All opinions are biased, that’s why they’re called opinions.

About five minutes ago, in the middle of writing this, a buddy of mine messaged me and told me I need to buy SimCity, and that so far, in his words, “it’s amazing.”  I asked him about all that I’ve read, “What if I can’t play it, what if it doesn’t work?” He just said, “I don’t know, it works for me and I like it.” So far it’s the most honest review of the game I’ve read.

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  1. Hey Dave,

    I agree with your buddy. All this whining I’m seeing reminds me of the Louis CK bit about the cellphone signal taking too long. Just revel in the glory, not in the issues. I’ve played the new SimCity for about 5 hours since relase (not due to sever issues, just too much work) and have had little to no problems aside from giant lizard stepping on my Nuclear power plant and spreading radiation across my city. I’m amazed by the depth of the game and how it can appeal to both casuals and hardcore gamers. I’m sure once all these server issues are sussed out people will have nothing but kind words to say about it.

  2. I will say this is a great game I love the gameplay and it is genuinely fun. I great sequel to the franchise. Good Graphics and good controls. The only gripe I have gameplay wise I want to build larger cities. I have maxed a city size at 75K residents. I guess I have to get used to the multiple city region play. but it is a wierd thing to run out of room to build and have to just build tons of city buildings and parks to up land value to make bigger housing structure’s. So on a game play standpoint I like it and give it a 9. but you cant help but me mad you spent 60 bucks and cant always play when you want. I have a 19min queue to play today. Anyway that is just my 2 cents. Also I have played for like 6 hours total.

  3. reviews of artistic objects like movies, musics, paints, or video games (even if some don’t want to call it an art), are always bias by personal tastes and feelings… that’s why some people will report a game as great and other people will consider this same game as bad! and that’s why every reviews of that kind of things should be better call recommendations!

    And concerning sim city, I didn’t buy it, not because of the online-only connection itself, but because of the issues link to this, like the fact that you can’t save and reload an old city to make some crazy experimentation on your city without risking to lose it all! Anyway, in 10 years, I’ll still be able to get back to my old sim city 4’s cities, or even the sim city 2000’s ones if I want, and all the guy who would have play this new Sim City could just cry as the server will be shoot down, or if they are lucky, buy and play one new sim city!

  4. The “online only” aspect of the game is PART of the game and changes the entire experience, so why shouldn’t it affect how good the game is when it is scored?

  5. If a game is buggy and it doesn’t work for a significant amount of people, in a degree that it’s not possible to have fun with it, I hope a review to say that, because that’s how a review works.
    Can you imagine this kind of argument with another kind of product? “Yes, there’s a chance that this ice cream can give me cancer, but is delicious, and that’s what ice cream is about. Fuck you for mentioning cancer”.
    This article sounds like written by someone that’s very anxious about playing the game and just want an excuse to buy it even knowing that might have problems.

  6. This is the best and most honest opinion piece I’ve read on this site in a while. You want to know why you can’t trust the opinions of online gamers?

    I know /v/ is for trolls, but still, they stick by their guns to the point I think some of them may have actually adopted what started as trolling as their actual belief. Out of every game released in 2012, Mass Effect 3 had the very worst writing? Really? And the second worst gameplay behind only a text-and-picture only visual novel (a format which The Walking Dead was bordering on)? Come on. Why not vote Halo 4 for worst graphics while you’re at it?

    All you can do is look at the trailers and whatnot, decide if it looks like something you want to dish out for, buy (or rent) it, and decide for yourself because online reviewing has become an irredeemable cesspool of edgy hivemind trolls and paid shillers.

    1. I think you can trust reviewers as a hivemind more than gamers as a hivemind, even though that’s not exactly comforting. Reviews don’t bomb their scores of a game to a 1 just when on particular aspect of a game pisses them off (ME3’s ending, SimCity server issues). Reviewers, on the whole, at least take a more careful look at games than many reactionary fans do. They’re far from perfect, but many are at least trying their best.

  7. I really don’t read reviews anymore. I just watch videos and see what the gameplay looks like and decide if i’m interested. And nowadays i’ll just wait for the game to appear on a steam sale.
    Most of the times as well i’ll try out a demo or get into the beta (which really are demos but in a new form).
    There’s only been a few games i’ve picked up on launch the last couple of years and that’s Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and Batman Arkham City. All of which I was really looking forward to and also enjoyed all three a lot.

  8. I agree with a lot in this post that reviews just seem to go to an extreme standpoint and wait for views. That said, for me it is subjective to the game at-hand whether I side with positive or negative reviews as the best indicator for the quality of a game. Take Sim City for example. The things I look for in a Sim City game are amazing replay value, fun, challenging, and playing god. For the new Sim City, it may be fun and challenging but it lacks everything else that I look for in a game. Extremely small city size forces me up against a wall that limits the fun and replay value. I don’t really mind always-online for most games. But I will simply not pay money for a Sim City title with forced obsolescence. I love picking up and playing my old SC games 10 years later. To fire up the new Sim City game 2 years down the road and see my collection of cities inaccessible is unacceptable.

  9. A game with less features than its predecessor, a disastrous first few days where a bulk of customers can’t play, and an online-only “feature” that only promises micropurchases on top of an $80 dollar base-game deserves all the hell. I love Simcity. I’ve been playing since the 90s as a little kid. While the game looks amazing and very fun (albeit with very limited map-space, no terraforming, and no subway systems which was part of the fun in creating an intricate city), I will not buy this game until there is some off-line functionality. I play my video-games (ALL of which have DRM via Steam) when I am unable to access internet. I rarely play a video-game when I have internet. Simple stuff. Not to mention, the fact that it’s an $80 RENTAL with the online-only “feature”? I played SimCity 4 *all* of 2011. It was my game after years of publication. I still think of my fond memories of YEARS of watching these clips:

    Ten years from now, if I buy this game, will I be able to play Sim City 5? Hell, no. EA will attempt to force-feed Simcity 6 by 2015. It’ll cost $30/month, online-only, $10 to save game to specific server, $5 to add, what was once, “base-game” objects.

  10. I think gamers are justified in their outrage at the online only aspect of this.
    It represents yet another failed attempt at curbing piracy, with the net result being a significant inconvenience to paying customers, and not affecting pirates at all.

    The point the article makes about “knowing the risk” involved prior to purchase is kind of moot. As somebody who loves the SimCity franchise and has done so since its early days, I am bloody well pissed off about having to be connected 100% of the time to their servers, if I want to play the game.

    Am I supposed to simply forget my love for this franchise because I disagree with this new “business model”, not purchase it and pretend like I haven’t been psyched to play it since I heard it was in development? That is why many are so outraged (Read: Heart broken).

    I am yet to purchase this latest installment of SimCity, but if its online only experience is anything like that of FarCry3 and that god-awful Uplay shit,
    then I definitely do not want a bar of it. I bought it on steam, too.
    Having to run 2 separate applications AND be connected to the net constantly, just to play a single player game? Wtf, honestly?

    Publishers and Developers alike need to stop punishing their paying customers for the actions of others.

  11. I get that game companies are against any piracy and such. This isn’t going to stop it and in two major attempts that we’ve seen with two major releases in the last year and a half. It’s only infuriated huge fan bases and left companies in utter embarrassment.

    With that said, we all knew exactly what was going to happen when it was released and sure enough. It happened. Upsetting? Absolutely.

    There is only one big loser in this whole mess and in any future ones if it is not sorted out.

    Us. The consumer. The one who buys the game. We fork out X amount of money for a game we should be able to play the moment we get home and install it and wait for updates and patches 30 minutes later. Not have to sit around because servers are full or what other rubbish they want to use.

    They should have expected this and be well prepared for it.

    The companies still make their millions off us and we are the ones who suffer to play a game.

  12. I feel the exact same way. I can see why people disagree with the decisions made regarding SimCity, but I can’t understand why they’re so angry. People are destroying the game online just because it’s not “100% complete” for the release. I’m not trying to excuse what happened; It’s unfortunate. However, now people are just going to remember SimCity as “The game that caused all those people to complain” or “The game with all those problems”, that will mar what is an otherwise structurally sound and rather fun and enjoyable game.

  13. I’m pretty sure the Simcity fans have every reason to raise hell. That said, I despise always•
    -online DRM. The reason was Skyrim. I thought that, buying a physical CD allows you to play it offline indefinitely. Wrong. But that’s ok, its just a one time online-based that’s deification right? Wrong, after a forged update by Steam I can’t even play Skyrim. Bought it since the beginning of last year and haven’t been able to play it due to the online requirement. That’s $80 wasted.

  14. The problem with reviews are not the amateur reviewers. It is the paid shills, the professional gaming enthusiast press, who hide behind the name “enthusiast”. They are nothing but insiders who might as well be working directly for EA and any visit to their twitter accounts, where you will see back peddling and excuse making, will further prove what a bunch of slimey, egotistical, entitled (yes, they are the term they use against complaining gamers) and grifting losers they are. Is it any wonder all the old gaming press sites/magazines are dying. We are not getting what we want, as consumers. Actual journalism and actual opinion, not based off free games and being buddies with everyone on the “inside”. Why is this not a problem with other enthusiast press, such as with movies?

    Anyways, there is more then just DRM and not being able to connect with Sim City, it is just that real reviews have been lost in the wilderness. Houses in streets, traffic disappearing and reappearing, getting stuck for no reason, the number of sims on the streets not being representative of the total population (which was the excuse as to why the town is so tiny compared to previous games) and I am sure many more issues that I have not read about. In either case I would also like to mention your idea that this is an online only game, of which I agree, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. The trouble is, it is not like Sim City is World or Warcraft or something. It has always been a single player game, and if you don’t spend your time on gaming sites or /v/, you might be victimized by this. Yes, you could read the box, but the mention of online might not have been super clear. The brain does strange things, and you might just think it has online components. I mean, why would a single player game require online? Well…… those people certainly got screwed. The non enthusiasts, who don’t spend all day on n4g or are not technically proficient.

  15. I don’t agree with this article-no way.
    1)All these “facts” about reviews mentioned in the article are known for a long time,and many ‘journalists’ simply bash games as bashing is the easiest way to get klicks by creating controversials
    2)the real point about sim city was completely missed here.
    Even if you ignore always online,drm and pseudo multiplayer or the fact that you neither own this game,nor can save it,nor can play it as single player.
    it is about the game itself.
    Sim City is a beta,an unfinished product and you are ea’s guinea pig.
    The AI is bad,no terraforming,subways?,small maps(in fact it is Sim Village,not sim city)
    The gameplay was dumbed down.Huge loss of creativity.

    Now combine all this and you have a game you don’t own but rent, though it is expensive,a game you can’t play and if you can play than it is a bad game.
    Sim city deserved bad ratings.

    The question is not how the reviews rating could have changed that much,
    the question is: how can a game with so many flaws reach 90% overall score with the first 6 ratings.
    Even if you ignore always on,drm etc and the game runs smoothly it is just below average-maximum:70% game.
    maybe a casual gamer will love this game,but a reviewer is a skilled and professional core gamer and should recognize all the bad thing in sim city.No hoenest reviewer can rate this game 90%,not even close.

    that’s why i don’t trust the 1st reviews of a new game as they are bought.

  16. well written sir and i agree with all your points i truly wish all reviewers who wrote reviews looked at it like u do because lets be real sites like ign and neogaf and even revision seem to lean toward a sponsored review it would truly be sad to lose such a honest opinon, And my honest opinion is simcity is amazing when the game is working, and i bought it a week after launch and seriously havent had any problems anybody want to build regions together add me on origin – Krypt1983

  17. “If you didn’t want to risk the problems associated with an online game you shouldn’t have bought an online game. You may disagree with the business model, but don’t feign outrage when you bought exactly what you paid for. I’ve never played an online game that doesn’t have connection issues, especially on the first day. That doesn’t mean the game itself is bad. ”

    I’ve purchased a few games with this kinda of online only software validation. Not any more though. Not a single game I purchased this way was playable out of the box on day one. Zero. I’ve even returned one for my money back when after a week it still couldn’t connect to the server for it’s initial login. I paid for a game. What I got was a disc or a download, some loading bars and that’s it. I didn’t get the game I purchased at all since it was unplayable.

    This also begs the question of what happens in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? If I want to dust off an old game for another play though (I’m looking at you Heroes of Might and Magic 3) I can. If I want to play a game while on a plane or the bus without internet I can. Can I do that with this new system? Sure they ‘may’ unhitch the game five years from now. They may file Chapter 13 and disappear with the rights to games rotting unused(like when Acclaim went under).

    We need to look at the long term implications of such systems. Do they benefit the consumer or the company? Do they hurt the consumer or the pirate? What are the potential implications of this technology expanding (big brother is watching you…sort your inventory in D3 for 2 hours straight).

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