PSA: Don’t Buy SimCity 4 from Origin
August 24, 2014 2 Comments
Edit as of August 27, 2014: Origin has fixed the issue. Mission accomplished.
Edit as of February 5, 2017: Origin seems to have reverted back to the unpatchable Version 1.1.610 copy. More here.
Lately, the NAM Team has been dealing with a rash of tech support cases, all from users who purchased the game from one particular digital retailer: Origin.
For whatever reason, rather than selling the pre-patched Version 1.1.641 release offered by all other digital distributors, including Steam, GOG.com, Amazon, and GamersGate, the version Origin is selling carries the number 1.1.610, the same as the unpatched retail disc copy, as shown by this screenshot provided by a user at Simtropolis:
The NAM, of course, requires at least Version 1.1.638, the version number that results from applying EP1 Update 1 to the retail disc copy, and the installer checks to ensure that the user is running this version at minimum. EP1 Update 1 fixes a number of transportation-related issues and other fairly serious game bugs. It also runs fine on the two higher versions, 1.1.640 (disc copy with BAT Nightlight Update), and 1.1.641, the digital equivalent that Steam, GOG.com, Amazon, GamersGate and pretty much everyone but Origin is selling.
That version check in the installer blocks the NAM from being installed on unpatched 1.1.610, and its European counterpart, 1.1.613, in order to avoid issues with users blaming the NAM Team for things Maxis fixed with 1.1.638, which had become a considerable annoyance for us. Given some of the bugs that were fixed with 1.1.638, it ultimately did the unpatched users a favor to update, giving them a more stable and enjoyable game experience. That version check also has the side-effect of blocking the NAM from being installed on installations that use NoCD hacks, including pirate distributions of the game, which, while not an originally intended feature of our installer, was left in, as we can’t properly support unofficial copies of the game (especially ones that mix a 1.1.638 executable with 1.1.610 .dat files), and don’t want to promote piracy. These hacked executables have a different checksum, and thus, the NAM installer rejects them.
If the digital Version 1.1.610 copy that Origin is selling was capable of being properly patched, like its retail disc counterpart from 10 years ago, this would merely be a minor inconvenience. Users could just apply the standard patches their disc counterparts did, and all would be fine. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as Origin modified 1.1.610, to swap out the original SafeDisc copy protection system, which required the disc to be in the drive, for Origin’s digital rights management (DRM) system. This modification, however, changes the checksum of the executable, just as the NoCD hacks did, which not only causes it to be rejected by the NAM installer, it also prevents the EP1 Update 1 patch and the BAT Nightlight patch from being installed, as well as the official first-party content creation tools, like the Lot Editor and the Building Architect Tool (BAT). In effect, this forces the user to remain at Version 1.1.610, deprived not only of the full function of the wide array of custom content available for the game, but of basic fixes to the game that have been available for 10 years. It is not, as one Origin representative put it, “working is [sic] intended and [. . .] not broken”. Origin’s digital version of SimCity 4 Deluxe is not just unpatched, it’s unpatchable.
Given that Origin is owned by EA, and is effectively a first-party distributor, the fact that they would be selling an outdated version–and one that is unpatchable–is incomprehensibly absurd. EA and Maxis have been previously quite supportive of the NAM Team in the past, and the availability of a wide array of mods is often seen as one of the things that has kept the game turning a profit for them. The NAM installer’s “anti-piracy” side-effect should be a boon for their business. The fact that they’re selling a copy that gets blocked by it would be rather hilarious, if it didn’t mean that there were a ton of users who were unable to get a refund from Origin, forcing them to buy the game for a second time from another retailer, in order to get what they thought they were getting from Origin: a properly updated digital retail copy.
If anyone from EA/Origin is reading this: please update your copy, or at least produce versions of the EP1 Update and BAT Nightlight Patch, so users will not be stuck with a bugged product (1.1.610) that can’t run the custom content the game was intended to support. The fact that the NAM’s version check blocks pirates is doing you a favor, and has brought you countless sales from users who might have otherwise been content to go the illegal route.
To all the users out there thinking of purchasing a new digital copy of SimCity 4: until Origin has corrected this situation: do not, under any circumstances, buy SimCity 4 Deluxe from Origin.
Instead, try GOG.com, GamersGate, Steam, or Amazon. As of writing, GOG has it in sale for US$7.99, which is less than half the usual US$20 going price. If you miss GOG’s sale, all four of those sites will periodically put the game on a flash sale, it pays to be on the lookout.