A City in the Cloud: Could EA Have Saved the SimCity Launch?

Written by Joe Kozlowicz on Wednesday, March 13th 2013

A new SimCity game launched last week. But because the publisher requires an always-on connection to one of their servers in order to run the game, things got hairy fast. The official servers flooded. After paying $60 for their new game, people couldn’t connect. Things were so bad that Amazon even suspended sales of the game only two days after release.

Why weren’t EA, the publisher, and Maxis, the developer, prepared for their game to be a hit? And more importantly, how could they have saved the launch?

“A lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta,” Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of developers Maxis, wrote in a blog post last week. “OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it.”

The team has been great about communicating their efforts to fix the game, to their credit. But even a week later, it still wasn’t running at 100%.

The always-on connection is primarily intended to stop piracy in its tracks, and it also adds a new level of social interaction to the game. Without questioning the decision to require a connection, how could EA have been prepared to scale up their resources on-demand?

Why, a cloud server solution of course.

Now, we don’t know what kind of servers EA/Maxis were running for the game. They could have used virtualization, and they could have had a ton of them. But it seems like they ran out of resources very quickly, and had they been prepared with scalable cloud servers, they could have quickly booted up new VMs to handle the additional demand. At the very least, they could have been prepared with a public or contracted infrastructure as they needed extra resources during the intense loads of launch week.

The SimCity team stated they didn’t experience this type of stress during beta testing, making it difficult to anticipate the immense server loads. That’s fairly valid reasoning, but another wrinkle in the server debacle were more than 10 servers that needed to be updated. With a managed solution, those servers would be up-to-date and ready to handle their loads.

Of course, EA wants to protect and control its own infrastructure, and clearly needed the resources of dedicated servers. That’s why a private cloud solution, perhaps with additional public cloud support during launch week, might have saved the SimCity launch.

Posted By: Joe Kozlowicz