The new SimCity is going to have always-online DRM. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. Even people who probably haven’t even heard of SimCity know it. “The new SimCity has always-online DRM,” a 65-year-old CEO blurts out at his high-powered business meeting, his eyes rolling back into his skull. Everyone exchanges worried looks as he collapses. Paramedics hurry the man out of the room into a waiting ambulance.
For some people, always-online DRM is no big deal — “I’m always online anyway,” they say, checking their email or updating their Facebook statuses. “Why would I even use my computer if it wasn’t online?”
For some people, however, being always-online is basically the worst thing since sliced Hitler. Worse, even. And so, the SimCity beta was Maxis’ big chance to win over these people. To show them exactly why their vision for a persistently-connective shared sim space was a good one.
Crucially, Maxis missed that opportunity.
All stick, no carrot
I had a great time with the SimCity beta. I made grid cities, loopy cities, concentric-ring cities, and even weird crop-circle cities in the hope that it would make an alien invasion happen faster (it didn’t). But the one, over-arching constant of the SimCity beta was the unpleasant reminder that all the cool things are locked out.
Every time you build a building, every time you examine a utility — hell, almost every time you open one of those gorgeous new menus — there’s nearly always a little reminder pointing out how you could be buying coal from another city, or renting your police out to another player’s town, or interacting somehow with another player. Zooming out to region view shows you an enormous expanse of nothingness where, gee, wouldn’t it be awesome if another player’s city was right there. “Let’s all imagine,” murmurs Maxis, holding our hand and squeezing their eyes shut.
“Imagine the possibilities.”
I do. That’s the problem. I do imagine the possibilities, and they sound great. Why can’t I do any of them?
I know Origin’s friend-connectivity is about as reliable as… actually, you know what? I play a lot of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. Origin’s friend-connectivity is awful. I have to literally restart my computer sometimes to make my friends list work properly. But the multiplayer possibilities are there. Even a basic, rudimentary collaborative experience would have been amazing.
Instead, the SimCity beta serves up a consistent series of reminders about just how awesome things might be. Maxis gives you an intuitive kitchen full of delicious ingredients, but any time you try to start baking somebody yells “WHY AREN’T YOU SHARING THE CAKE?!” at you over and over again.
I want to share the cake! Let me. Look, it’s got two sewage plants and everything.
We will log you in at the next available opportunity
With always-online DRM comes the onus on the developer’s part to keep their end of the service alive. Some people had a stable experience — I was one of them — but others didn’t. During the mass influx of players that is the American daylight hours, servers went down. Repeatedly, for some people. The Penny Arcade Report complained of constant disconnections. Reddit threads appeared. Somebody even made a meme.
This, to be frank, wasn’t a good look. Of course it’s a beta and they’re still ironing out the kinks, but for those who had already burned all their old SimCity photos and were halfway through consoling themselves with a bucket of ice cream, it was another nail in the coffin.
It begs the question(s): what happens when the servers do go down? Will there be regular maintenance nights, like a traditional MMO? What happens when EA shuts the servers down? They kill their online multiplayer servers all the time, and while NHL 11 Ultimate Team isn’t exactly as high-profile as SimCity, the spectre of an online shuttering hangs like the sword of Damocles over the whole affair.
A tad dramatic, perhaps, but you get the point.
Of course it’s a beta
I get that it’s a beta. It has the word ‘BETA’ stamped on it in about fifteen thousand different places. I understand that the multiplayer possibly — almost definitely — isn’t ready for public consumption yet. That’s fine. EA’s server team were no doubt working overtime on ironing out the kinks in their connectivity, and a fine job they did too. But the damage, for many, was probably already done.
With its one hour time limit and non-existent online capabilities, the SimCity we saw on the weekend isn’t the one that is going to help Maxis win over the anti-DRM crowd. If anything, it’s just going to push them further into their holes.
And that’s a shame, because the SimCity I played was fun as hell. We can only hope that Maxis release a proper, fully-featured taste of their vision in the weeks to come.
Looking for more SimCity beta impressions? Click here to read our big ol’ preview.