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Maxis: SimCity's Always Online Req Not About Piracy

A very, very early prototype of Mass Effect's Paragon/Renegade system.

You’ve probably heard that SimCity will come tethered to a pesky always online requirement. You might have heard that we don’t like it very much. But then – like an absentee father – it’s really only an absolute necessity on start up, so things could be worse. Still, though, I like playing games when I’m thousands of feet in the air, in the middle of nowhere, or punching my incredibly spotty router for yet another hour of downtime.  “Why,” I’m instead forced to bellow at SimCity, slumping to my knees in defeat. “Why can’t I play you in a car, on a tree, in a box, or with a fox?” “Piracy!” replies the roving Internet peanut gallery. Maxis, however, claims it’s prepared to prove everyone wrong.

Maxis producer Jason Haber explained his company’s side of the story during a chat with Eurogamer.

“From the ground up it’s been a multiplayer game. I’m not surprised we’re getting some reaction like this. But I think once people see it in action – and at E3 we’re really looking forward to showing people multiplayer and how it works – hopefully that will show them why it’s such a great feature and it’s totally worth having.”

“The thing that’s important for people to know is it really was driven by us as the dev team. We feel it’s a core feature to the game. It really makes the game richer. People have their conspiracy theories over why we’re doing it. But really, it’s honest that the dev team feels like it really does add a lot to the game, and it’s totally worth doing for that.”

One such “conspiracy theory” is, of course, piracy prevention, which Haber flat-out denied as a motivation. But with these vaunted social features largely under wraps – beyond, say, helping a friend put out a fire – prospective players can only speculate.

Which, if you ask me, seems like kind of a silly choice on Maxis’ part. I mean, the developer wasn’t – to my knowledge – living deep beneath the earth’s crust where even 3G fears to tread when Blizzard announced Diablo III’s always online requirement. Haber and co knew what they were getting themselves into. They could have prepared. They could have blown the doors off their excruciating GDC presentation with some mind-blowing, game-changing multiplayer feature. But instead, they’re asking us to take it mostly on good faith for the time being. So yes, we’re going to be skeptical and petition for a true single-player mode, because there is very little proof here. Just lots and lots of meaningless, fat-laden pudding.

Moreover, EA doesn’t have the best reputation for keeping game servers online in the long-term. Yes, SimCity is a bigger brand than, say, The Saboteur, but what happens when/if a sequel springs up? What if Maxis tangles up the series’ DNA or loads it down with microtransactions or something, and fans still prefer the previous game? Fingers crossed for some sort of offline-focused patch, but again, EA hasn’t exactly set the best precedent. At this point, I don’t think there’s a multiplayer feature in the world that could douse these concerns, but who knows? Maybe, in a couple months, Maxis will make me eat my words. If that’s the case, I hope they at least taste like alphabet soup – and not warm, bitter regret.

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Nathan Grayson

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