Editorial: The SimCity beta won’t help to win over the anti-DRM crowd

SimCity

By on February 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm

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.

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14 comments (Leave your own)

Another question is if there’s going to be regular maintenance times, will they screw over Aussies (an all too common theme with maintenance times)?

Also, if you think the server connectivity issues are bad now, they’ll be 10 times worse at launch. I’ve been there before with BF3 and BFBC2. Not fun I’ll tell you that.

 

As long as my game doesn’t cut out if my net cuts out, I’ll be fine. My internet has been pretty shabby over the last few months, and if Sim City can automatically reconnect in the background for me, I’ll be happy.

 

Enjoyable read.

Surely this will encourage piracy for anyone only caring about a single player experience?

 

well written article, and an interesting topic.

I didn’t know that there were so many (cool) online features when the over 9000 DRM level was announced, so I take back some of my anger, they actually sound like good additions to the game.

saying that, server troubles, maintenance issues, connection issues and other things are always going to happen. always. always. always. it’s nice EA are trying to sort a few out in beta, but it’s never going to be perfect.

it would be nice to have both offline and online modes available. online is obviously going to be where it’s at, but offline is available for people who don’t care about these features or can’t connect. because let’s face it, undoubtedly the game will be cracked in some way.

it actually reminds me of the whole D3 situation. I was one of the people saying that offline wasn’t that necessary because D3 is allll about online. I still believe that, and think that SimCity is less online-orientated. however, I might be a stupid head and be wrong about everything I just said.

 

It really was a bad time to do one of the public all-in ‘showoff the final game for free Beta’s’ with the whole game not complete issue.

Theyre marketing team should be slapped, this should have been a no-brainer.

 

Been playing some Sim City 4 Deluxe (w/ mods). Still plays well and looks fine for it’s age.

Not really interested in online/multiplayer when it comes to these sorts of games, but the street-level detail of Sim City (2013) could be tempting.

 

f6310,

I’m pretty sure the game does cut out when your net does, I recall from the Reddit AMA it’s set up to deal with a few minutes of interrupted connection and that’s it.

 

Three big problems with always online DRM and forced multiplayer that don’t seems to get a lot of attention.

1. Not everyone plays games to interact with the world, so people interact with the world all day everyday and want to play games to get the hell away from human interaction.
2. EA still own your game even after you pay for it, you continue forever to be at their mercy so long as you depend on their server to play.
3. (similar to 2) Without their server you have no game, if they pull the pin on their servers (due to down time or complete closure) your game no longer exists, they have effectively turned your purchased game into a rental game.

 

PalZer0: Another question is if there’s going to be regular maintenance times, will they screw over Aussies (an all too common theme with maintenance times)?

I’m half and half in each group in regards to the DRM, I don’t really care as much because YES I am always online yet I also understand that why the hell does it need to be a multiplayer game and always be online?

What concerns me the most is exactly what Palzero has mentioned and that due to maintenance it is usually the non-US countries that will suffer the most considering their down times are usually our prime times.

If they learn to do regional based maintenance then I think more people would come around to their always online DRM. When they are maintaining the region servers then we connect to the main server then back to our regions server when the maintenance has finished.

The other thing is Simcity 4 is STILL being played, can EA promise they will support this always online game for another 10+ years or will they cut it the servers when it doesn’t seem to be financially viable anymore?

 

The big question everyone should be asking about DRM and always online is “what’s in it for us?”. People are quick to say that it doesn’t bother them but the thing they forget is that it does them zero good.

 

schrapple:
The big question everyone should be asking about DRM and always online is “what’s in it for us?”. People are quick to say that it doesn’t bother them but the thing they forget is that it does them zero good.

Very true.

This attitude needs to be applied to many more situations too.

 

Bicketybam:
The other thing is Simcity 4 is STILL being played, can EA promise they will support this always online game for another 10+ years or will they cut it the servers when it doesn’t seem to be financially viable anymore?

unlikely. there have been a fair few online services shut down in recent years. the only save would be if they released a patch that negates the requirement of being online. I don’t think there has been a situation where that sort of fix would apply, so it’s hard to tell for sure.

 
Darth Teddy Bear

The sim city drm is about removing the 2nd hand market and forcing new game purchases as they turn off the server for the old version.

This short sightedness caused by a reality distortion field which is a phenomenon associated with anything related to computers and the internet flys in the face all common sense around a free market.

It is almost as if they feel we are beholden to them and that they are not a service industry.

 

The obvious, not-completely-bastard-driven solution would have been to have all of this regional stuff, and either let you play by yourself building your own cities and region, IN WHICH CASE YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE ONLINE OR LOGGED INTO ANYTHING, or to let you play with random gimps on the internet for this purpose (why would you want to do this? I have no idea) in which case you need to be online.

But because EA does not respect your ability to choose whether you want to play Sim City with the 13 year old next door or by yourself, they have not given you this option.

I look forward to a “fixed” version of this game being released by the “community”.

 
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