EA did NOT kill Maxis
Well, the news hit the streets today.
Many long time gamers will be mourning the loss of Maxis, the nearly thirty year old game studio that brought us a slew of amazing games, such as SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 64, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, SimCity Social, SimEarth, SimAnt, SimLife, SimFarm, SimRefinery, SimTower, SimCopter
Streets of SimCity, SimHealth, SimIsle, SimTown, SimPark, SimGolf, SimTunes, SimSafari, Sim Theme Park, SimCoaster, SimGolf, SimAnimals, and other games that did not contain the word “Sim” in the title.
However, I will not be joining my fellow Maxis fans with pitchforks and burning torches at the castle gates of EA to demand a blood sacrifice for the death of EA, as I know that Maxis was poisoned long before EA got a hold of them. I even have a picture of the poison. Would you like to see? Here you are!
This is the copyright protection sheet from the original SimCity game. Years before DRM, Maxis was paranoid about game piracy. Don’t get me wrong, they had a perfect right to be. In the late 1980s, early 1990s, although the spread of pirate copies of software was slower that now, it still existed. Heck, even I did it.
But the issue is that they focused so much on protecting their IP that they neglected their customers. Take a look at the sheet to the right. What do you see? Well, first, it says nothing about copyright protection. That’s because they never once said that is what it was.
A prompt would appear when you started the game, asking for the three symbols after the city name. If you did not enter them correctly, it gave you two more chances. After the third chance, the prompt would vanish, and the game would run, apparently normally. You would start building your city. Time would pass. and that is when the disasters would start.
Depending on how good a player you were, your city might end up a flooded tornado alley, a radioactive alien infested wasteland, or a flaming mass protest. And it would not stop. With midi sound effects, the descending buzz of disaster became nearly constant.
Cute, right? Sure, save for a few things.
First, the deception from the game not telling what the prompts were for left quite a few legal owners frustrated with burning cities they could not control, and their games ended up in yard sales. That was how I eventually got a legal copy.
Second, the dark red sheet, designed to make photocopying impossible, made reading it difficult and did not make photocopying it impossible, just more difficult. I played the pirated copy at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Took us about a half hour to get a decent photocopy of the sheet, and, from that copy, a dozen more were made. We slipped one under each monitor.
Finally, the entire experience made it clear that it was the company versus the user, a feeling that continues to this day with most DRM. It may make piracy slightly more difficult, but at the same time, makes the pirate feel more like Robin Hood and less like a common thief.
Do you know why Minecraft sold millions of copies and has such a loyal fan base? They didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about DRM. Sure, they put in certain protections, but playing single player and one could play with a pirated copy indefinitely. But, I would be surprised if Notch did not read up on Singer Sewing Machines.
First, he offered upgrades and new versions for free to registered users. Pirating over and over again is difficult. Dropping the cash for the full version is more convenient. And the upgrades were actual upgrades, with new, fresh content that did not detract from previous content and expanded gameplay.
Second, he didn’t need to entice people with DLC; all he needed to do was make skinning your character dependent on being logged in, legally, to the Minecraft ID server.
Finally, there was humor in the game, and not in the developer making fun of forcing the player to enter in a silly code every time they wanted to play.
But the problems were deeper that just an attitude of distrust of the end user. Over the past few years, it was clear that Maxis, under the guidance of EA, was trying to combine the standard gaming business model of buy once and play with micropayment add ons traditionally found in free-to-play games. Take Sims 3 for example.
The base game currently retails for between $20 and $25 on Amazon. Not bad for a game… until you consider that it is six years old. The majority of other games of the same age retail for half the price, with a few exceptions.
But, it doesn’t stop there. There are a total of twenty expansions and add on packs, each retailing for $20. On Steam, you can get the whole kit and kaboodle for $384. You read that right. $384 for a game.
But wait! There’s still more! That does not include all of the stuff you can buy online! Not only can you buy additional content a piece at a time or in packs online from inside the game, the game actively encourages you to do so. Enter the editor, and a window pops up declaring how wonderful it would be if your family had something from the online store.
Now, I understand trying to make a profit off of something one has developed, but this is utterly shameless. Especially for a six year old game. And this is what killed Maxis. Sure, itmay have been pushed over the edge by EA, but it walked up to the cliff on its own.