SimCity Shows the Dark Side of Online Gaming

SimCity's launch was a disaster. Will our online games always be victim to such spectacularly bad releases?

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EA has managed to get SimCity into the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, completely ruining the launch of its connected new title, having it temporarily pulled from one of the world's largest retailers, and looking shameful as it offered mixed signals with refunds to some unhappy customers and then ban warnings to others.

The core of the problem is this: SimCity requires you to be permanently connected to the Internet, and data is constantly being passed between your machine and the game's servers. There is no option to play offline, and right now the servers are so overloaded with requests they simply cannot keep up. The game, as it currently stands, is broken.

SimCity shouldn't be broken. There are no excuses. It's a frustrating and painful experience, and the people getting burnt are the game's most loyal supporters.

These server woes are particularly egregious to many because they reflect a schism between gamers and publishers. One of the biggest causes of friction in our industry at the moment is the rift between established longtime gamers, who grew up predominantly with isolated single-player adventures, and modern publishers looking to transform their long-running franchises into service-led experiences.

Predictably, Maxis says this online requirement offers up a suite of social, connected features that just wouldn't be possible otherwise. The argument, it goes, is that that the 2013 version of SimCity just wouldn't work as a concept unless it's hooked into the Internet. So what we've ended up with is a product that, for now, just doesn't work at all.

Therein lies the problem. Publishers are becoming too eager to leap into their service-led futures without nailing the basics first. EA is trying to run before it can walk, and many more intricately network games have launched with fewer problems and, when the worst happens, recovered faster. SimCity is in a league of its own when it comes to network failure, but it's also not the only one guilty of the problem. The issue spreads to almost all online games: think back to the awkward launches of Diablo III, Guild Wars 2, Gears of War 2, Battlefield 3 and Bad Company 2. These problems are happening all too often, and need to stop.

It's frustrating, sure, and too often publishers and developers are left desperately scrambling to rush out apologetic tweets and grovelling forum announcements as they race to stem the entirely justified ire felt by their customers. But what of a month from now, when servers will likely have stabilised? Some people like to think Maxis is currently rearranging the deck chairs on its own personal Titanic, but I don't think these launch woes will obliterate the game from the offset. Yet they'll certainly stain its reputation.

Service-led gaming isn't inherently disgusting, but the idea shouldn't be wholly intertwined with absolutely every game on the market. Good services are almost completely transparent. You take them for granted, and you can't imagine life without the best ones: things like Netflix, electricity, Twitter, and your mobile phone contract. There can be agonising problems along the way, but by and large they are accepted pretty seamlessly into our lives. But when games attempt to be a service they seem inevitably destined to stumble out of the starting block. Even when SimCity has been fixed, many will still remain cautious. The service will never be able disappear into the background.

Games publishers rushing into the dream of connected, always-online versions of traditional single-player games seems to be a step too far at the moment. It's not a case of a faulty concept but of poor design and execution, and that's a real shame. To put it simply: until always-on can work flawlessly, developers should make sure there's an optional offline mode.

It's ghastly when things go wrong, but it's fantastic that developers are trying to rethink the way we play traditional games. Look at something like Dark Souls, and its oft-praised mechanics of having other players leave messages. These fantastic bits of game design that feel endearingly modern, and completely refresh the idea of a third-person RPG.

It's an incredible connected feature, and Dark Souls will still function if Xbox Live/PlayStation Network is down or your Internet drops at home. It's a lesser experience that way, sure, but the option is still there. And, really, the beauty of the Internet is that it should be giving us more options as opposed to less.

There's still plenty for publishers to learn, then. It's good to see the SimCity team trying out new ideas, but this aggressive pursuit of an always-on, connected service has affected the game and will continue to do so long after the servers stabilise. The problem is not the concept, however, and we shouldn't treat social connectivity as the villain in the sorry state of SimCity.

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Hi! I'm Martin, for some reason or another I have managed to convince the people who run GameSpot that I am actually wor

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Discussion

799 comments
gouldjw
gouldjw

The entire concept is flawed. What if I want to play this game 10, 15, 20 years from now? I like to play PC games from 2003 and even 1993 on occasion (using DOSBox). Will the SimCity 2013 servers still be available in 2033? Yeah, didn't think so.

ggregd
ggregd

EA is definitely running before they can walk, but I think SimCity is just their proof of concept and guinea pig for their real pot of gold when they do this with The Sims.

peteyboi29
peteyboi29

i don't always online, its pointless for some games, sim city more so than any i have seen, can't help but but feel there doing this just so they can bombard us with DLC and offers in a bid to make even more money of a single title as seems to be the norm these days :( :( :( :( :( 

what has happened to the games industry ?? possibly time to go out side and start doing real things, at least we don't have to pay extra to breath the air *yet*:(

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

I like the ideas in this article, and the pics are a nice, amusing  touch.  The writing isn't great though.  Sorry Martin. :(  Take 2 minutes to do an outline of what you want to say before you slap down a yard of words.  You seem to slip from one topic to another, then back.  And its not clear exactly what point you are trying to make.  You could tighten this up and it would be a really nice, brisk commentary on a very current topic.  Just my 2 cents.  I know its way easier to be a critic than to actually write the stuff.

awheaten
awheaten

I personally hope that games never completely go strictly online. Atleast until internet becomes less of a hasstle to obtain. I struggle everyday on how to save on my services. I pay about 60/mo for 10 megbits download. Now thats just way too much for internet service. My point is that until internet becomes a feasible option for all, I dont think any game should be internet only.

TORCEDOR
TORCEDOR

good article , publishers should make you want to be connected to online services by providing something extra rather than forcing you to be connected just to play base"core" game play. I have been gaming for decades but have never hated something so deeply as this . if you charge full price then let us decide how we want to play , make us want to be connected by providing some thing more like demon soul and dragons dogma, or else provide the game for free and then tell us what to do and how to play. I so envy guys who play pirated games now days. lets prove them(publishers) wrong, resist buying games like these and support DRM free game.

YSDG
YSDG

Has EA learnt nothing from Ubisoft..?

Luca Steviee Spencer
Luca Steviee Spencer

Does anyone know if teso counts as the new tes or if it is just an extra?

Aphyosemion
Aphyosemion

Developers are frothing at the mouth with the idea of having us constantly connected because that will allow them to begin spamming us with advertisements or charging us for things we never had to pay for before.  Instead of buying a game we will have to keep paying and paying and paying to play it.  If we try to sell it or complain on the forums too much they will turn off our service.  Hell, it has gotten so bad we don't even own the things we buy anymore, according to them.  This is why they are in such a hurry to jam a product down our throats that we don't need or want.

lokar82
lokar82

"To put it simply: until always-on can work flawlessly, developers should make sure there's an optional offline mode. "

 Always-on can never work flawlessly, what about when you are traveling?  Obviously MMOs need always-on but no other games do.  SimCity was always a single player game but EA wanted to make it always-on as DRM and so they can kill the game entirely in the future by pulling the plug and making people buy the next one.

ag_04
ag_04

SP online requirment = I don't buy.

Nokoryous
Nokoryous

I don't see what the big deal is, I love playing games online only. OH WAIT, I don't. And nobody does. I haven't seen one affirming comment here, and why would I expect to? It's totally absurd how disconnected game studios are to their constituency. 

I have loved Maxis and played so many of their sim games, but they're like a band who is 4 albums deep that suddenly decides to "pop" their sound. It's not the music that gave me reason to listen to you before, and I'm not buying it.

MegaPhilX2
MegaPhilX2

All that overtime to fix those stupid mistakes... Is it paid?  Of course not.

Myst17
Myst17

Good article. Critical but constructive. :)

dark_rage864
dark_rage864

i know this is weird saying this but i think it's a good thing both Diablo 3 and SimCity failed at launch cause it shows other companies the huge risks of doing only-online and the fan-hate, so companies would hopefully keep games single player as well, if it were a miracle.

neobita
neobita

This is the future of gaming, you cannot stop the wheel of fate, however, we can juice it up abit. Instead of going all cerebro sucking all the information into one server, they should send the data region by region, country by country, city by city, packet by packet, heck, in some countries, getting a 1 hour late showing of a prime tv series is considered ok. Warning: I might not know what I am talking about.

3Minotaur3
3Minotaur3

I sense a new Meme trend... Not unlike the infamous Error 37...

Duvdevani
Duvdevani

Ban always on games. nothing else to do about it. let them have it. lose your fan base to stop piracy and you lose potential players.

Elnath10
Elnath10

Finally I read a good article about this... 


Publishin games without an offline way to play is, has been, and will always be stupid.

kelborn3
kelborn3

I can clearly see things going really smooth for EA. Dead Space flop, medal of honor paused, battlefield ending, dragonage and mass effect going str8 to hell and now this. Seriously they are on fire!!!!

Baldurs_Gate200
Baldurs_Gate200

.....and this is why I'll never ever buy an always online game again if it can be played Single Player. Learned that lesson with Diablo 3.


The day that this becomes standard in the industry is the day I quit video games and stay retro.

Angie Thatonegirl
Angie Thatonegirl

I prefer to have a choice to play online, LAN it or play alone so I can control the a-holes I play with.

deathwatch28
deathwatch28

It seems that game developers make what they think we SHOULD play rather than what we want to play. Many years ago when we were given the likes of pitfall on the Atari there wasn't much choice but as game and gamers have developed the end users should get a greater say rather than a think-tank of stuffy old nerds/managers who release any old toss and expect us to buy it. No wonder then the sale of video games has decreased 20% last year as a result of rehashes and badly developed ideas. Pull your fingers out. And not just EA but EVERYONE!

Dave Leach
Dave Leach

Just the option to play offline would be nice. Take a que from Minecraft people

allyc31
allyc31

I rarely agree with Gamespot but this was bang on the money.


Really nice article.

N0madS0uL
N0madS0uL

Typical, EA messes up all the more these days and not just with their servers not keeping up but in general...I hope they straighten up soon. 

eric4kelsey
eric4kelsey

I am not a fan of the "permanently connected to the Internet" to start with but what aggravates me the most is they don’t take into account countries like South Africa where bandwidth is still expensive and connections dropping all over the place due to a dodgy infrastructure

I know this is not really their problem but you would like to think they would at least consider something like that and think of the fans, but again once you have paid for the game they dont really give a .... afterwards

JRLennis
JRLennis

@gouldjw You nailed it on the head.  Contrary to popular belief, the Internet ISN'T forever.

Bloodspectre
Bloodspectre

@ggregd I'm waiting for EA to take their non-refundable sales of SimCity as a sign of their "success" and apply some sort of clumsy patch onto the Sims 3 designed to do the same thing.

Then take down the Sims 3 so people who spent hundreds on expansions for it will be forced to spend on Sims 4. 

ggregd
ggregd

@peteyboi29 Right.  It's not just about DRM, it's also about equally bad things like spamming you with offers for DLC, advertising and if they can ever get away with it, charging you a fee to connect and play.  The thing is the features they seem to be adding to these games (Diablo, SimCity) to claim they're online multiplayer add very little to the experience, unlike MMO's.

waffleyone
waffleyone

@Nokoryous It's EA, not Maxis. Remember how 6 months ago the CEO of EA proudly announced that he hadn't greenlit a single game without multiplayer/social functionality. Maxis didn't decide that these things had to happen, EA did. So while it involves boycotting maxis as long as EA owns them, don't boycott Maxis without boycotting EA as a whole.

waffleyone
waffleyone

@neobita This is the future of gaming only if people are willing to put up with it. People just need to stop giving EA their money, period, and stop giving their money to a company every single time this happens, and it won't be the future anymore.

RoadStar1602
RoadStar1602

@Duvdevani I wish that were true but the mindless masses are buying this crap anyway. They fooled me once with Diablo 3. Never again.

LtReviews
LtReviews

@Elnath10 

The article actually doesn't advocate ceasing to publish online-only DRM games.

In fact, the article basically says "Yeah, we think the online-only requirement can be a good idea, but this time it didn't work well because of the server issues."


Dschadir
Dschadir

@kelborn3 And they don't seem to understand how and why. They just seem to think we all want 13-in-a-dozen games. Dead Space was supposed to be scary, but they chose to make it more mainstream. And don't get me started on those other games. They sell a product, not a game, and just hope to shove it down as many people's throats as possible before people realise what they actually bought.

dexxor245
dexxor245

@kelborn3 Don't forget about Mercenaries 2 which was riddled with bugs not to mention Pandemic studios closed down by EA.

AlwaysRunning
AlwaysRunning

@kelborn3 As long as gamers keep lining up like drug addicts for the latest thing advertised on TV, things will keep going well for them. Stop buying EA products.

TORCEDOR
TORCEDOR

@Baldurs_Gate200 Diablo 1&2 were my favourite games, but I still haven't picked up Diablo 3 for this reason solely . its a sham and its a scam , full price and micro transactions and on top of that punishment for spenders. will not buy sim city this time around. I live in India and because of this reason no importer or distributor is willing to risk getting these types of games in . so who is loosing EA ?

RoadStar1602
RoadStar1602

@Baldurs_Gate200 Thumbs up. I'm building my collection of single player, physical copies of games and systems a little more each week. I'm preparing for the gaming apocalypse. 

Duvdevani
Duvdevani

I hope not, Unless they change