Maxis’s Lucy Bradshaw Provides “Straight Answers”, Doesn’t Explain Why ‘SimCity’ Isn’t Offline

Posted by on March 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Look at all the strange things you can do!

“Impossible.” – Maxis

Lucy, no one’s asking you to fall on your sword in a response about the always-on DRM mess that your parent company forced you into for that SimCity game you guys did. It’s okay, there’s no hard feelings, we know where the blame lies, but c’mon now, let’s not pretend we haven’t seen the evidence that a different, far less controversial game lies just under the covers. Let’s take a look at your response, an interesting piece of literature that appears to have been quadruple-checked, note by note.

I hate to disturb you when you’re playing SimCity,


..but I’d like to offer some straight answers on the topic: Always-Connected and why SimCity is not an offline experience.

Always-Connected is a big change from SimCities of the past. It didn’t come down as an order from corporate and it isn’t a clandestine strategy to control players. It’s fundamental to the vision we had for this SimCity. From the ground up, we designed this game with multiplayer in mind – using new technology to realize a vision of players connected in regions to create a SimCity that captured the dynamism of the world we live in; a global, ever-changing, social world.

Fine, take the blame, that’s fine. Always-Connected is a big change for SimCity, definitely, but it wasn’t new for Electronic Arts and it wasn’t necessary for a single-player experience. At all. This is a series known for its ability to be handled anywhere. In fact, previous games like SimCopter or Streets of SimCity relied on you knowing where your saved cities were. I know you can dress it up now through Origin, but this is a game that should’ve been available for offline users if all they were doing was playing by themselves.

We put a ton of effort into making our simulation and graphics engines more detailed than ever and to give players lively and responsive cities. We also made innovative use of servers to move aspects of the simulation into the cloud to support region play and social features. Here’s just a few:

  • We keep the simulation state of the region up to date for all players. Even when playing solo, this keeps the interactions between cities up to date in a shared view of the world.

Not necessary for single-player.

  • Players who want to reach the peak of each specialization can count on surrounding cities to provide services or resources, even workers. As other players build, your city can draw on their resources.

Not necessary for single-player.

  • Our Great Works rely on contributions from multiple cities in a region. Connected services keep each player’s contributions updated and the progression on Great Works moving ahead.

Not necessary for single-player.

  • All of our social world features – world challenges, world events, world leaderboards and world achievements – use our servers to update the status of all cities.

Not necessary for single-player.

  • Our servers handle gifts between players.

Not necessary for single-player.

  • We’ve created a dynamic supply and demand model for trading by keeping a Global Market updated with changing demands on key resources.

Available for single-player, so it makes little sense why it would be mandatory for that or multi-player.

  • We update each city’s visual representation as well. If you visit another player’s city, you’ll see the most up to date visual status.

Not necessary for single-player.

  • We even check to make sure that all the cities saved are legit, so that the region play, leaderboards, challenges and achievements rewards and status have integrity.

Not necessary for single-player, or rather, not for non-competitive single-players.

Cloud-based saves and easy access from any computer are another advantage of our connected features. You can pop from work to home, play the game and have your cities available to you anywhere.

This is actually a fantastic feature, especially as I went from playing on my laptop to my desktop after my move, my cities were already ready already. Many games and services have this feature as an option and don’t require you to be online if you elect against it.

Almost all of our players play with connected cities.

Yes, because that’s how you built the game.

But some chose to play alone – running the cities themselves. But whether they play solo or multiplayer, they are drawn to the connected city experience. And Always-Connected provides a platform for future social features that will play out over regions and servers.

No, I guess you’re right, I can imagine someone played SimCity and built exactly one SimCity and then said ‘forget the rest’ and called it a day. That doesn’t mean it should’ve been mandatory.

The game we launched is only the beginning for us – it’s not final and it never will be. In many ways, we built an MMO.

So you’re justifying title updates, but you’re not justifying always-on connectivity, which is what your entire spiel here is supposed to be.

So, could we have built a subset offline mode? Yes. But we rejected that idea because it didn’t fit with our vision. We did not focus on the “single city in isolation” that we have delivered in past SimCities. We recognize that there are fans – people who love the original SimCity – who want that. But we’re also hearing from thousands of people who are playing across regions, trading, communicating and loving the Always-Connected functionality. The SimCity we delivered captures the magic of its heritage but catches up with ever-improving technology.

You’ve explained the game’s feature-set very well, you have not once explained or given a notice to, why, on a code-level basis, the game needs to be always-online.

Look, this is a good customer/media-facing piece in that it’s eloquent and graceful and expounds the value of your label’s biggest release of the year. But for people who wanted real answers about Always-Connected and why SimCity is not an offline experience, you’ve come up real short.

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