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SimCity failure highlights importance of predicting demand

03/11/2013 | Data centers |

If you ever needed a reminder of how essential it is that you have adequate technology solutions when running any business online, then the recent problems faced by one of the world's biggest gaming brands should be it.

This month saw the eagerly-awaited launch of the newest title in the famous Sim City series - one of the most popular PC games since the release of the first edition back in the 80s. It's been ten years since Sim City 4, so excitement among gamers for the new reboot of the franchise was high.

Reliance on servers
However, one concern some individuals raised was the decision to make the new SimCity require a constant connection to publisher EA's servers in order to play - even in single player mode. With millions of gamers around the world expected to log on at launch, the need to have robust servers in place with enough processing power and bandwidth to cope with this was paramount.

Unfortunately, it seems this wasn't the case. EA and developer Maxis seriously underestimated the demand for SimCity, with the result that servers quickly became overloaded. Gamers reported waits of half an hour or more just to get a slot on a server, while crashes once they were playing - resulting in a loss of progress - were also said to be common. As there was no option to play offline, this left many users extremely frustrated.

PR nightmare
As a result, what was one of the biggest PC game launches of the year has turned into a public relations disaster for EA. Unhappy players flooded review sites and comment boards to complain about not being able to play the game, while Amazon even briefly suspended digital sales of the title in the US.

The developers have since been working to increase capacity on their servers to meet the demand, even going so far as to temporarily remove what it described as 'non-essential' features in order to lighten the workload. EA has also offered a free game from its archive to all customers as an apology.

Lessons learned?
What this could illustrate to any firm that runs an online-based business that's dependent on dedicated servers is how vital it is to be able to predict demand and then respond quickly if this exceeds your capacity. Whether you're running an ecommerce website and have a sale planned or are offering an online gaming platform, if you don't have adequate infrastructure, you'll end up with unhappy customers, leading to lost business and a severe reputational hit.

For many firms, this could be an afterthought as ensuring your products are high-quality and your prices are attractive take precedence. But as the SimCity issue shows, this alone won't save you if the back-end systems aren't up to the task. Many commentators have agreed that the core gameplay of SimCity is excellent, with reviews published prior to the problems emerging as uniformly positive.

But the problems with connections have overshadowed all of these and the message for other businesses from this is clear - if you don't plan for demand spikes or have adequate solutions in place to scale up server capacity as required, you could be left exposed to serious problems that will significantly harm your company.

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