Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably heard of Electronic Arts’ disastrous launch of the latest SimCity. It was designed to play for only about 20 minutes offline before closing down. Since cities are saved on servers, not locally, you don’t get to play if the server happens to be too busy for you. Tough luck.
Unfortunately for EA, it underestimated the number of people who bought SimCity when the game launched. Kotaku says 700,000 cities were created in the first 24 hours, and the servers were overwhelmed. That left many players struggling to connect for up to three days. Reviews on MetaCritic and Amazon by customers have been about the lowest possible. Reviewers gave the game a Metascore of 67. Users gave it a score of just 1.7.
So what went wrong? Apart from a chronic lack of server capacity, players generally believe that the “always connected” necessity is just Digital Rights Management designed to stop piracy. EA may deny it, which they do, but that doesn’t negate the effect: You only get to play unconnected for 19 minutes before you’re at the mercy of the servers.
In theory, DRM limits or prevents play by those who aren’t authorized. In practice, DRM systems often penalize legitimate gamers while those who obtain illegal DRM-free versions play without any issues. Anti-DRM campaigners call it “crippleware” or “defective by design.”
It’s still too early to decide how big a disaster this is for EA. They may well be able to get past it, as they did with Diablo 3, which launched with the same issues last year. With so many browser games and MMOs around, many players are used to competing online, so for them it’s not such a big deal. The losers are those who like to play offline or while traveling without an Internet connection.
It’s particularly irksome that SimCity was originally a single-player game. In the past, EA’s justification that it needs to be played online was never an issue in the past. Maybe it’s time for us to boycott games that don’t allow offline play. If publishers have their way, all games will probably end up being played online.
Playing online can enhance game play but it should be optional, not mandatory. After all, why exactly do we have to be online for a single-player game?
Other Ramifications of Online Play
If we fast forward to 2018, will the SimCity servers still be running? Based on EA’s own information about other games, the answer is probably not. You’ll still be able to play SimCity 4000 or earlier titles that don’t require a server, but this incarnation of SimCity will be gone — and left unplayable. For that and that alone, I won’t be buying it, even though I much wanted to. I may still be playing Civitas, the cross-platform city-building game that’s currently raising funds on Kickstarter. Of course, I’ll only get to play if it reaches its early-April goal of $250,000.
Older titles that run on less-powerful hardware can still offer compelling play. I love to play through games like Quake II and the Serious Sam games, though I’ve completed both many times. I want to buy games that I can replay in the future, and not be left with nothing but a memory because the servers are gone.