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SimCity offline…the customer is always right?

20 Mar 2014

So, over a year after release, SimCity fans can now play their game in an offline single-player mode.

Happy now?

The introduction of SimCity’s single player mode ends a saga that managed to turn video gaming on its head and, I believe, put it back years.

On paper SimCity must have looked like a great idea to publishers EA Games. Thousands of players all running cities, sharing resources with their regional neighbours; creating a local economy influenced not just by AI but also by the social interactions and relationships between players. An honourable endeavour and one that is harmonious with the modern way we interact online.

But the fans were not happy. How dare EA dictate how and when they shall be connected to the internet? They wanted to play SimCity alone.

In what was probably a bad move the developers, Maxis, tried to explain just how important that internet connection was and how the game’s use of cloud computing was essential.

Come launch day things got worse. As if coaxing the mother of all “I told you so”, the servers couldn’t cope, resulting in players not able to connect and losing progress when they did. It was, without a doubt, a dark time for EA. In order to stabilise the game several key features to be temporarily suspended.

SimCity’s catastrophic failure to launch fueled the gaming community’s collective smugness. It seemed that EA was wrong and they were right. Having SimCity online only WAS a stupid idea.

EA still insisted that the game needed that internet connection. And then someone hacked it and got it to run offline. The response from the developers - which may or may not have been a bit of backtracking - was that it wasn’t impossible to make SimCity run offline, it would just take a lot of work.

It took a year to sort it out and give the players what they wanted. I wonder how many of those furious individuals, right now, still care about the game?

Looking at the debacle now, EA’s only mistake (apart from dropping the ball on launch day) was not putting the word “Online” in the game’s title.

But SimCity’s issues were a catalyst for another controversy, one that we are likely to feel the effect of for the best part of the next decade.

With the bad taste of EA's city-building game still in fans mouths, Microsoft announced their always internet-connected, integrated living room entertainment centre, the Xbox One.

Again, the fans went mad. How dare Microsoft dictate how and when they shall be connected to the internet? They wanted to play Xbox One alone and offline.

Due to the collective wisdom of the gaming community, and the rather dubious gloating of Sony (who sold their new console to fans by basically saying that it wasn’t an Xbox One), the Xbox One that I picked up in November last year was a radically different device to the one that Microsoft had planned to sell me six months prior.

With Microsoft's U-turn discs were now required to play installed Xbox One games and the machine didn't need an internet connection, except to download an essential 500mb day-one patch.

We could have been living in an era of disc-free console gaming, instead console gamers are still slaves to those fragile plastic discs.

For all the complaining, I wander just how many Xbox Ones there are out there that don't routinely connect to the internet. No many I bet. Paying all that money for a top-end console and not going online with it is like buying a sports car and not getting out of second gear.

However, in a masterstroke of irony, this current generation’s biggest game launch so far is the online-only Titanfall on Xbox One. As published by EA Games.

I don’t know about you, but I don't want my gaming experience to be influenced by an angry, outspoken hoard of amateurs; I want video gaming’s future to be written with the sort innovation that you only get by letting talented, unorthodox people do their own thing.