Home / Opinions / Natural Disaster: the SimCity launch shows gamers should come first

Natural Disaster: the SimCity launch shows gamers should come first


simcity disaster

If you build it they will come, or so they say. But what if you want to Build It, but you can't because a load of other people are Building It and you can't get a look in and have to wait ages for one of them to stop Building It to let you have a go?

Yeah, that's pretty much what happened in the SimCity launch.

SimCity is one of the increasing number of games that relies on an always-on internet connection to play. The game has a well thought-out and innovative multiplayer mode, which obviously requires an internet connection to play, However, SimCity doesn't really care if you are planning an urban sprawl with your best friends. It will insist on a live internet connection before it will let you play even a single-player game on the easiest difficulty.

As the game launched in the US on March 5 and then steadily unlocked for each subsequent territory, it soon became clear that EA might not have quite enough server resources to handle the sudden influx of players. Would-be town planners and civil engineers found themselves unable to connect and thus to play. A few lucky players got through but others were kept hanging on for over 30 minutes at a time. Once connected, server load meant the game performed sluggishly and connections were dropped, locking early bird gamers out of their saved games until another slot became free.

Connection Crisis

So, why are developers insisting that you stay connected? Maxis/EA is adamant that the always-on element is driven by gameplay and that an always-on connection leads to a deeper simulation as each player's game can can be influenced by the surrounding area on the game's global map.

simcity disaster

The live connection enables players' cities to influence each other both directly and indirectly. One city could provide useful resources to another, say, or players could collaborate on Great Works.

That does sound pretty cool and online cooperative play is a great feature to have. It's not the only reason for the always-on requirement, though. Whatever gameplay features it may add, the bottom line of Always-on is piracy. Always-on is just Digital Rights Management (DRM) taken to the next level.

This was the justification for Diablo III's no-offline play policy when it launched last year. You may remember that Diablo III's launch was also something of a farce. Blizzard's Battle.Net servers struggled to cope with the sudden demand (a massively-hyped game proves popular. Who saw THAT coming?) and gamers reported lag even in single player games.

Spreading Like a Virus

There are even rumours that the next-generation Xbox console will insist on this kind of persistent online authentication for all games. Worse still, this may be used in conjunction with an activation code system to prevent the sale of games on the second-hand market. Once activated, a game could only be played on the single console it was registered with.

simcity disaster

iD Software, which brought us Doom and Quake among others, has offered another argument for always-on connections - automatic updates. There is something to be said for a game that manages to patch itself without user intervention. Unfortunately for iD, the argument also works the other way. As a simple Google search for "Game Update Breaks" will illustrate, games could soon be able to cock-up without user intervention as well. Thanks, internet.

The Bottom Line

There is no denying that a persistent internet connection could add a lot to a game (even these Xbox rumours could be excused to a degree if Microsoft were to use it to add value through its SmartGlass second screen project, as seems likely) but what all of these examples have in common is a prioritisation of business interests at the expense of the gamer.

In that 'software as a service' way of looking at things, publishers aren't selling you a game - they are selling you something more akin to a football season ticket. Except, instead of a guaranteed seat for every game you might still be turned away if a popular fixture means the ground is too full. Want to share your ticket with a mate on the weeks you can't go? Forget it.

Piracy is a significant and serious problem for game publishers just as for the rest of the entertainment industry but there is more than one way to kill sales of a game. Seeing it leak on to the internet is one way, but annoying the people who would otherwise buy it seems just as certain to stymie success.

Read more features >


March 11, 2013, 10:54 am

Couldn't agree more, it's such a negative move for games publishers. Not even being able to play a subset of the game offline? Tying a physical game to one box? Crazy. They're poisoning their own well.

Neil Richardson

March 11, 2013, 12:20 pm

As always, DRM only serves to punish the paying customer. In the mean time the pirates circumvent and end up enjoying a better user-experience.
Wouldn't mind but SimCity is almost the quintessential travelling game too. Long train and plane journies would be perfect, but now practically impossible.


March 11, 2013, 2:25 pm

What's the reaction been like, when these publishers switch off the games servers (as has been happening with regularity on previously successful games), you're left with a pretty box and a coaster at best. Not great...

Publishers are still tasked with wringing every last penny of profits from games sales so you can see the cogs whirring away. Oh those dastardly pirates are costing us a fortune, but what about if we don't sell them a game, we just rent them a game?... Errr no thanks Mr Publisher, but hold on a minute, is my music rented? hmmm... actually, yes if you don't have a CD. But hold on a minute, what about my movie collection, weeelll Blu-ray is on the way out as a medium, so what next, oh yea, online movies. Yea! But hold on, what happens if the service stops? Am only renting the movies??? er, yep.

And that's fine to be honest, but the price has got to be right. Why would I pay £40 for a game I own and can play indefinitely against £40 for a game I can only play for a certain amount of time before it's taken away...



March 11, 2013, 2:38 pm

I agree with this entirely and have made the point before. Digial delivery of games is all well and good, but if the product I've paid for is only something I'm now allowed to 'rent' then no thank you.

And even the games I have paid for, if they are shutting down the multiplayer (and now single player) servers, can't they just release the server code to allow people to create their own servers? If you don't want to host the games anymore, then at least give your customers the chance to do so. Obviously this is more for PC games, not sure if console games would be flat out of luck.


March 12, 2013, 4:29 pm

Anything EA touches with there grubby little hands is usually bad for the consumer.

comments powered by Disqus