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SimCity Is Inherently Broken, Let's Not Let This Go

Always-Awful

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EA reports that SimCity is slowly getting into a state where it’s playable. Many of the launch issues are getting sorted, and soon it may well be in such a place that it becomes functional. So we should forgive and forget, right? Wrong.

Nathan wrote a piece about SimCity last week, discussing how the situation should never have happened, but that EA had done well in response. I don’t entirely agree. Because there was only one valid response from EA after the clusterfuck of SimCity’s launch: capitulation. A full admission that the DRM that infests their game was needless, a bad mistake, and that they’re working to strip it out for single-player games as quickly as possible.

Claiming SimCity fixed, by removing the server queues, random crashes, lost cities, server drops, and the artificial restrictions placed on the game just to make it run, is like claiming a broken leg fixed because you’ve mended the crutches. The game, by its very design, is hideously broken, and like Diablo III before it, it has only served to scream a complete disregard for sense and a massive disregard for customers. So what we mustn’t do now is say, “Well, teething problems.”

These aren’t teething problems. These are continuous deep-running flaws designed to cripple the game for you as a player, simply to serve some nebulous notion of protecting the game against piracy.

But no! cry EA and their more loyal defenders. The online is there for the players! It’s not DRM, it’s about enhancing the game, it’s designed that way, it’s it’s it’s… It’s all bollocks. Yes, SimCity offers some multiplayer options that sound a lot of fun. Being able to build cities near your chums, create trade routes with them, share resources, be affected both positively and negatively by your neighbours. Ranked leaderboards, cloud-saved cities, perhaps even world-wide events at a later stage? And of course everything is always up-to-date, latest patch, etc. This is all brilliant stuff. If I want it.

What EA and Maxis have done with SimCity is attempt a year-long PR assault to suggest that the online-only nature of SimCity is designed to offer enhancements for gamers. This is simply not true. It’s utter rubbish. It’s a backward step for a format that seemed to be managing for years to offer single player and multiplayer options for games without the universe cracking in two. The idea that multiplayer-only is an enhancement is such an obvious piece of newspeak, such a ridiculous untruth, that we can only loudly and furiously react against it if we’re to not see it incredulously accepted as fact. I do worry it’s maybe already too late.

To see anyone defending EA and Maxis for the state of SimCity, even were it in perfect working order on launch, depresses me to my core. This self-flagellation-as-skincare notion, where gamers loudly and proudly defend the destruction of their own rights as consumers, is an Orwellian perversity. That it might be considered in any way controversial to call them out on their crap, to point out that no, always-on DRM is not an advantage to anyone, is bewildering. It’s a sign of just how far the gaming world has fallen into the rabbit hole of the publisher’s burrowing.

Years back we would get up in arms about entering codes to launch single-player games. Now it’s as natural a part of the installation process as choosing the install directory. Damn it, it was only the last two years where we stood up and shouted down Ubisoft for their ghastly, cruel and completely useless always-on DRM, and they wisely capitulated and removed it. They must be staring in confusion and horror as people excuse EA for SimCity, and Activision for Diablo III. Tolerating this idiocy is how it will become the norm.

It is simple. SimCity, of course, could be a single-player game. Ignore the utter nonsense about how some of its computations are server-side. What complete rot. As if our PCs are incapable of running the game. I’m sure some of the computations are server side! But they damned well don’t need to be, as all of gaming ever has ably proven. By breaking the running of the game in two, EA have given themselves a neat way out of being able to flick a switch such that it runs as it ought. That can be fixed. That can be changed. They just have to have a customer base conscious enough to demand that they do, and develop the basic shreds of respect for their players to do so.

SimCity, in the state it’s in, whether the servers are up or down, the Cheetah mode switched on or off, is an insult to you. It’s a gross, bawdy guffaw at just how much you’ll put up with in the name of “fighting piracy”. They’re laughing at you, while you hand over your £45 for a game that maybe works sometimes.

I feel very bad for many of the developers at Maxis, who would have set out to make the best game they could. They, of all people, should possibly be the angriest – to see their creation so needlessly broken, so cruelly and stupidly trapped in an online-only prison, cursed to piss players off where it should be providing them fun. I would like to see them speak out too – they should have their voices heard, let them express their frustration.

SimCity could be a very splendid single-player game, and one that could then be taken online for other funs. It’s perfect laptop-on-the-train gaming (especially with such stupidly tiny cities), that’s rendered impossible to play on a laptop on the train. It’s ideal flight fodder, that no one can play on flights. It’s a game that of course should be able to fill an evening when the internet’s gone down, that shall fill no such evenings.

Always-on DRM is a disease that we cannot allow ourselves to be so willingly infected by. It’s a curse on gaming. It’s diminishing our experiences, reducing the possibilities for our play, and creating a space where faulty games are accepted as complete. Always-on DRM is a broken game. They need to be fixed.

Photo credits:

Image 1 by Bart Everson
Image 2 by Albert duce
Images 3-5 by Infrogmation of New Orleans

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and general hero of humanity.

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