March 4, 2013 marked the release of the latest installment in the SimCity series. Simply titled, SimCity, the game would allow players to further customize their city using the GlassBox graphic engine, giving the game an added sense of realism with city developments impacting even the individual sims residing in the residential zones. It would also be the first SimCity to allow for multiplayer competition online, allowing players to see who has the better city and compete for resources in order to improve a city’s economy.
With all these features, SimCity should have been the best edition in the series so far. Unfortunately with the various one-star reviews on Amazon for the Standard Edition and an average user score of 1.7 on Metacritic, it seems that the SimCity magic of the past faded. However, it is not the added realism to the city simulator that is causing fans to complain about the new release.
The problem deals with two things: Digital Rights Management (DRM) and server trouble. Both of them go hand-in-hand.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for user rights such as internet freedom, explains that SimCity’s DRM requires that the user connects to the internet to play, even in single-player mode. Yet, the server trouble occurring from the game’s release onward makes it difficult for players to actually play the game.
“Even if you connected, the double helping of fail continued: all cities are saved to the cloud, and if the servers bug out, hours of work can go up in smoke faster than Godzilla can decimate a metropolis. No more local saves, lest you manage to defeat the DRM,” EFF blogger, Parker Higgins said, regarding the game’s use of DRM.
Since players cannot save their cities onto their own computers, let alone play offline in single-player mode, the magic of SimCity ends abruptly leaving players with inoperative software.
Now, server troubles are not so much the case since Maxis’s General Manager, Lucy Bradshaw, explains what lengths the development team took in order to get the servers running.
“A combination of optimizing our server architecture and response times, deploying these enhancements on both a series of new and the original servers and issuing a few critical client updates has achieved getting virtually everyone into the game and, once in, having a great time building cities and sharing regions,” Lucy Bradshaw said.
Now with the game up and running online, the features of the new SimCity should change the initial reaction to the game.
But what about the ability to play offline? On March 12, Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo took advantage of the fluctuating WiFi in his house to see how long he could play offline.
“About 18 minutes in, my factories were full. My exports weren’t going out. Because of the lack of an online connection? Or due to my mining facilities working overtime? I’m not sure, because, 19 minutes in, I got the alert you can see atop this story. The game had decided enough was enough. I had to quit to the main menu,” Stephen Totilo said.
While unsure, Totilo suggests that the inability to trade out his exports makes the internet connection vital to gameplay. The multiplayer component seems integral to the game as a whole.
But is that the reason why SimCity is only playable online? In interviewing a SimCity developer, wishing to remain anonymous, Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker reveals while internet connectivity provides cities with trade for additional income and resources, it also serves another purpose.
“So what are the servers doing? Well, alongside the obvious, of being involved in allowing players to share the same maps for their cities, and processing imports and exports between them, they’re really there to check that players aren’t cheating or hacking,” John Walker said.
In a game that has the ability to operate offline, SimCity utilizes DRM to make sure players stray from hacking the game, justified if the player does multiplayer. Players who would rather play single-player do not have the luxury of playing offline, and if so can only play for 20 minutes. Time will tell whether fans embrace SimCity or disregard it as a DRM disaster.