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The beautiful irony in SimCity and Diablo 3's Auction House going offline today

On March 18, 2014, two important moments took place in the PC gaming space: Maxis released a patch to enable offline play of SimCity, and Diablo 3’s Auction House closed its digital doors. Blizzard’s giving players a week to gather their unsold items before the little, golden gavel vanishes from the game’s UI altogether, but you’re no longer able to buy or sell items for in-game currency or real money.

First, to Diablo--in truth, this is a day that I never expected to come. Fans and critics decried the Auction House within a few days of the game's launch as it became evident that it had a negative impact on all of the game’s other systems. Blizzard built Diablo 3’s loot around it, and rebalanced the game’s difficulty levels to account for players’ ability to simply purchase items they wanted. Its rippling effects were devastating on the long-term replayability of a game that so heavily emphasizes long-term replayability, and made Diablo a much worse game.

Thankfully, the recent release of patch 2.0.1 (which fixed both the loot and difficulty to exist in a post-AH world so perfectly that I re-reviewed Diablo 3 last week), assured that the feature was no longer needed--the Auction House became a vestigial organ in a much evolved creature.

Like the Auction House, SimCity’s online mode became a weakness that impacted every other element of the city builder. Making it online meant Maxis needed to shrink the maximum city size and rebalance the game to force players to rely on their neighbors instead of allowing anyone to make a sprawling, self-reliant city. The ability to play in multiplayer regions was cool, but it flat-out didn't work as advertised, causing lag issues that persisted months after launch. In the early days, Maxis was adamant about the sheer impossibility of even creating an offline mode for SimCity--since-promoted General Manager Lucy Bradshaw commented that "the game was designed for MP, we sim the entire region on the server so this is just not possible.”

And yet, here we are, one year later, with it not only possible, but it like just happened a few minutes ago. "Originally designed from the ground-up as an always-connected experience, Maxis reengineered the game in order to move the calculations locally to the player’s PC or Mac," Maxis recently explained. "Gains in optimization to the GlassBox Engine allow players to have a similar gameplay experience, whether they choose to play Online or Offline."

Before I move on to a “so, what can we learn from this?” thing, let’s first bask in how absolutely beautiful this day is for PC gamers. Blizzard shutting down the Auction House and Maxis finally releasing the long-promised offline patch for SimCity on the same day? I can’t think of anything more poetic, or ironic--both developers needed to strip major features from their games in order to make them much better experiences.

But is it the right call? Should Blizzard and EA have so unequivocally backed off two of the most forward-thinking, 21st century components of their games due to their audiences' demands? In Blizzard's case, the answer is an easy, "Absolutely." However, Maxis's situation is a little trickier. Gamers fear always-online because of the chance that it might go offline and prevent them from playing, and that's just what happened with SimCity. Though the game's balance issues could have been flushed away with a few updates, Maxis had already confirmed the paranoia of millions of gamers--that wasn't going to be solved by anything less drastic than utter capitulation. Too bad.

18 comments

  • NinjaPopsicle - March 22, 2014 9:54 p.m.

    I don't see why the whole always online thing is considered so bad. Almost everything we own nowadays is constantly connected to the internet in someway, which is fine and even often a selling point, but the moment it's even hinted at from a game or console we just lose our shit. I get the "fear" of not being able to play if we lose our connection, but that's nothing more than an inconvenience, really. I mean, how often does the average person's connection go out every few minutes or for long periods of time, really? Unless you're in an area that only has poor or no internet, I don't see any real reason to hate it with the amount of disdain that we gamers do. Also SimCity failed because they spun it and marketed it as a game for the "true" fans and the dedicated SC players. While decent in it's own right, it was anything but what was offered. It was a watered-down and simplified (but pretty) shell of it's former self. That, and it was broken as shit. Then there was the lies, my god, the lies.
  • Shigeruken - March 28, 2014 9:01 a.m.

    I was playing Diablo last night and Blizzard dropped me from their servers four times in an hour. I had to run through the dungeon each time, as disconnecting in this fashion places you at the town with a portal to the start of the floor you were on. I play Diablo by myself, because that's the way I enjoy the game. Not every country has decent internet. There's no upside to a game like Diablo being always online. If I wanted to view chat or join a community, I could do that whether or not an offline single player mode existed.
  • GOD - March 18, 2014 7:37 p.m.

    They tried to sell their new, always online Sim City spin off game as a true successor to past Sim City games. They set themselves up for it.
  • LordZarlon - March 18, 2014 3:08 p.m.

    In answer to your question about whether EA and Blizzard should have done this, Yes they should have! As much as we want to enjoy the artistic nature of this hobby, the games business is still a business. You make products that your customers want. This isn't rocket science. We wanted a new SimCity NOT SimCity Online. We wanted a new Diablo, NOT "The Diablo Marketplace." We're not entitled, self absorbed gamers who are afraid of change. We just want change that makes sense. It's not political policy, it's entertainment. Disagreeing with these intrusive business strategies doesn't make us morally wrong. The gaming press needs to realize that.
  • TheVoid - March 18, 2014 6:19 p.m.

    Very, very well said!
  • Jackonomics2.0 - March 18, 2014 1:59 p.m.

    Basically they fucked up on potential that could've worked.
  • GR HollanderCooper - March 18, 2014 2:31 p.m.

    Yup. And did so in such a glorious way that it'll be hard to try again anytime soon, even if you won't screw it up.
  • rainn'sgaydar - March 18, 2014 1:37 p.m.

    Didn't even use the haiku I tweeted at you. Shame. I was more proud of it than I should have been, and I knew it.
  • bigwill1221 - March 18, 2014 12:50 p.m.

    Now only if diablo 3 had the good old trade chat of d2... (and ability to trade legendaries in loot 2.0).
  • ObliqueZombie - March 18, 2014 12:35 p.m.

    AWAY WITH THIS RIFF RAFF, I SAY!
  • BladedFalcon - March 18, 2014 12:07 p.m.

    My my, what a lovely change of tune this is in comparison to many of your previous SimCity articles, Mr. Cooper! :P Of course, unable to fully admit that you were wrong to the start, you still tried to justify your stance in the last paragraph, much less stubbornly than before though, so I suppose we ARE making progress ;)
  • PlainLikeVanilla - March 18, 2014 1:11 p.m.

    One step at a time.
  • GR HollanderCooper - March 18, 2014 1:14 p.m.

    Because MMOSimCity still isn't a bad ideaaaaaa. *flies away*
  • BladedFalcon - March 18, 2014 7:36 p.m.

    Never said it was, just as long as it was called SimCity Online or something like that to begin with, and was made as a spin off or side entry to the main series, NOT make the main entry like that... We've been trough this before :P
  • Vonter - March 19, 2014 11:56 a.m.

    I agree, like Zelda: Four Swords, RE: Outbreak, Street Fighter Puzzle game, The misadventures of Tron Bonne, or several Kirby games that experiment with new ideas. I agree spinoffs should be places to take drastic turnarounds on an IP. I mean maybe it'll hit like the Prinny games or being awful like Link's Crossbow training, but in the end it doesn't affect the image of the core series. Although RE:4 was a cool turnaround to the series, although it also was because it strayed from the core lore of the series.
  • BladedFalcon - March 19, 2014 12:56 p.m.

    Exactly! Did anyone make a fuzz over RE: Outbreak being online? no, no they didn't, even when the game turned out to be kinda mediocre, most people were alright with it because it was always marketed as a different thing, a spin-off. Massive negative backlash has only happened when the publisher attempts to do something like this while marketing as an official sequel or follow up, like with FFXI and FFXIV, I remember people flat out booed and groaned when FFXIV was revealed to be an MMO, but I bet you that had it been NOT labeled as FFXIV and instead as FF: Online or something, no one would have minded nearly as much.
  • FoxdenRacing - March 19, 2014 8:39 a.m.

    We've gone round and round over Simcity 5, but that is the one idea that we have always agreed on. I realize now that every time we've gone round and round, one talks theory while the other talks execution, and it leaves us both wondering why we're speaking similar language but not seeing eye to eye. So for the record: I like the theory...but so far as I'm concerned [and I know opinions are like backsides, everyone has one and most of 'em stink...I'm no exception to that] the execution was terrible when it didn't have to be. And if I had to guess, the "when it didn't have to be" bit is the biggest sticking point of them all from those involved in the backlash.
  • TheVoid - March 18, 2014 6:15 p.m.

    I was thinking the same exact thing when I was reading this. It wasn't all that long ago that Coop was lecturing us on our inability to embrace what SimCity was going for with their forced online approach. His last on the matter in particular was full of "for shame" finger waving. And as you pointed out, he still managed to get a dig in at the end of this. As if the point he's been trying to make for some time now hasn't been utterly hammered into our skulls, as further evidenced by his recent response to your comment: "Because MMOSimCity still isn't a bad ideaaaa..." You're right Coop, it's not a bad idea. No one ever disagreed with you on that. In fact I'd go as far as to say it's a GREAT idea, provided (and here's the part you continually fail to grasp) the new SimCity continued to offer a single player experience that the franchise was built on. Or, to your point, they should have named the damn thing MMOSimCity. Or SimCity Online. Whatever, it doesn't really matter as an online-only SimCity is not what fans wanted nor asked for, no matter how "forward thinking" the idea was. All they had to do FROM GO was include an offline single player mode. The new online mode could have been part of that package, and I'm sure many would have embraced it. When it worked, of course. But think of how the inclusion of an offline mode would have lessened the extensive damage to the franchise (and EA) even if the same problems plagued the game's launch: 1. Customer buys SimCity, only to realize that potentially engaging online mode is on the fritz. No matter if a single player mode existed, which probably would have been where most players would have started anyway to get a handle on the new mechanics, buying the developers time to right the wrong. Result: no one feels entirely put out, less harsh reviews. 2. Developer (and you) wouldn't have had to take such a strong position on the new online mode being an absolute necessity for a modern-day SimCity experience. It was never a compelling argument to begin with, so the inclusion of a single player mode would have negated the need for such an entrenched stance, let alone the subsequent "offline mode is impossible...wait, no it isn't" embarrassment. Result: no harsh "you need this because we say so" statements to be uttered, nor any stand-reversing foot-in-mouth fallout. 3. Everyone is happy! Fans of the old-school single player sandbox mode with ZERO interest in an online mode WIN. At the same time, newcomers to the series and/or series veterans excited to tap into the potential of an online mode also WIN (albeit eventually). Fanbase not split by questionable new approach. No "spare me - it's just for DRM purposes" controversy. More copies purchased. Result: Everyone wins, minus those eager to jump into the online mode on day one (or two, or three...) who would have had at least one other way to play their shiny new game until those issues were resolved. That's what we keep saying over here on this side of the argument. We get what you are saying Coop, just not sure how the inclusion of an offline mode could have hurt anything. Although since you've "flown away" I'm not holding my breath for a response. ;)

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