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SimCity owners getting the offline mode they (thought they) want(ed)

Today, nearly a full year after the game's release, Maxis announced an offline mode for SimCity. That's… actually sort of depressing. Taking what is basically a massively multiplayer, social experience and ripping out its online portion is an extremely regressive move. Sure, naysayers might be shouting told-ya-so's from the rooftops, but it didn't need to be that way. The future of gaming, at least for some genres, should be online-enabled, and you should be required to be online in order to take advantage of the new technology. It's the future, and Maxis making SimCity an offline game should be a thing of the past.

But, sadly, it needed to happen, because no one--not the gamers, not the developers, and definitely not the servers--was ready for the future.

First the catch-up: When Maxis' SimCity launched, it made an always-online connection mandatory, enforced because of the game's focus on sharing between players. It wasn't a veiled attempt at DRM so much as it was a go at turning the franchise into an MMO of sorts. But ambition outpaced feasibility, and the SimCity servers immediately shit the bed, leading to weeks of downtime, lost progress, and other disabled features. Maxis' reaction was to double down on its initial stance; in March, the SimCity Twitter went as far as to say that “The game was designed for MP, we sim the entire region on the server so this is just not possible.” The excuses essentially boiled down to "If we don't make you play online, you can't take advantage of the online features."

And yet, here we are, with offline play not only being a possibility, but a reality. The reason isn't actually given in the blog post (though it hints that it's more related to the newly discussed modding elements than the game's prior problems). But the new message is clear: In the game's next update, SimCity's online tethers will be removed completely. All the connectivity stuff will still be functional, but you'll also be able to take your city with you whether you're within Wi-Fi range or not, just like you could in SimCity 2000. Sadly, exactly like you could in SimCity 2000. It's like 1994 all over again--but only now with curvy roads.

What happened to social, connected gaming? What happened to cloud computing? What happened to the future? Well, it was sort of squandered. See, in an ideal world, SimCity's launch would've gone swimmingly--the correct number of servers would've been prepared, people would've found themselves immediately playing online, and the district-based gameplay would've simply worked. We'd likely still be playing it a year later, because online and social play can extend the shelf life of games tremendously, and few people would be worrying about an offline mode.

But you've only got one shot at a first impression, and to say that SimCity botched its forward-thinking method would be a tremendous understatement. By failing to handle the launch (and, more importantly, the unapologetic PR following the disastrous release), Maxis failed to sell gamers on its concept of an always-online future. Instead, SimCity only reaffirmed reluctant gamers' suspicions--there are going to be times when I want to play this game I bought, and I'm not going to be able to. Having it happen at launch, when excitement for a release is at an all-time high, was devastating, and put us in the position we're in today. A position where an always-online game like SimCity isn't to be trusted.

There will, undoubtedly, be a time when always-online gaming is the norm--honestly, it could've happened already, if Microsoft didn't make the same mistakes with the Xbox One that Maxis made with SimCity. Hell, it could still happen this generation if Destiny and Titanfall pull off their launches. But always-online needs to be handled with respect and finesse. Otherwise, history will repeat itself--both in terms of gamers' adverse reactions, and what games will look like in the future.

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49 comments

  • ncurry2 - January 17, 2014 8:54 a.m.

    Man, the second GR article that I strongly disagree with today and it's not even lunch time! Offline mode is 100% what the players want. I, and a seemingly large majority, don't care if my games are socially connected. I don't want to see facebook or twitter or anything else injected into my medium. As far as Sim CIty goes, the multiplayer aspect was stupid anyways. Two of my friends got it and we all tried doing a LAN party of sorts with it. But there's so little interaction that we basically just sat near each other while we each did our own separate things. Having the world economy sounds cool on paper but this could just as easily be completely made up numbers and the user would never know. Being able to play offline means I can save it, have fun destroying my city, and reload without missing a beat. This was always the most fun aspect of sim city games but with the always online, it saved everything you did so it was impossible. And with it being offline, modders will have free reign to increase the most damning facet of the game, the terribly small city size limit. Once we're able to build anywhere in a region and not be restricted to these stupid tiny chunks of land, the game will actually be worth playing.
  • JimbobSonOfRiber - January 15, 2014 2:24 p.m.

    I don't think this is the future; certainly not for SimCity. I should be able to share my city online, sure. But I should, primarily, be able to sit there and build my own personal concrete diorama, in my own time, in my own image, without worrying if some twat in the "neighbouring region" is going to mess up the economy. I know that the developers wanted to make sharing a "thing", but I'm not sure that's what SimCity players wanted. Ignoring the initial technical problems, I'd argue that this proved to be the case. I'm all for social gaming, and connectivity improving the game experience (see Need For Speed's plans, and even A Link Between Worlds' shadow battles), but this isn't the game for it. They shouldn't be making an offline version of this game, they should be starting again.
  • kingkirby7714 - January 15, 2014 3:43 a.m.

    Holy fuck, that is one condescending title. What players THOUGHT they wanted? Like I don't know what's for my own good? Like I think I want it, but I'm just too stupid to understand? A good game dev gives the player options and says, "Do what you want." A bad one says, "Do what I tell you." A good SimCity would have had an offline OPTION (look up what it means, Cooper) for the players who don't have reliable internet or don't want to take advantage of multiplayer features, while not detering any players who do have internet. It caters to both sides. A bad SimCity gives many players the finger and says, "My way or the highway," removing an option that no Sim player should ever have to go without. It only caters to the side with internet. SimCity has never been an MMO and it doesn't need to be one. People have complained about the last Banjo-Kazooie installment being a kart racer instead of a platformer. Resident Evil and Silent Hill fans have also complained similarly about the survival horror elements being ditched for action mechanics. Those games became something they weren't and something the fans never asked for or wanted. If I want to play an MMO, I'll go play an MMO. You're welcome to say that an online-only SimCity is the game you want, but a SimCity with an offline option IS the game that I and many others want. At lease I'm not enough of an ass to imply people with differing options are wrong.
  • el_kazzanova - January 18, 2014 10:25 a.m.

    kingkirby7714 is right an option would be nice is always nice. You shouldnt ever just force your way onto somebody, people dont like change to begin with and on top of that you are going to force them to change their ways? not happening, ask Microsoft and with the Xbox one.
  • Aguatic - January 14, 2014 1:07 p.m.

    Surprise, surprise Cooper coming across as a shill, again.
  • Shigeruken - January 14, 2014 1:50 p.m.

    Hmm?
  • Firepunch - January 14, 2014 7:33 a.m.

    So from what I'm hearing is that the online capabilities are still there but now the game sucks even thou it still is there, mmmmm. So how is always online gaming better than having the option to go online. As a consumer who lives in a country that has its internet shit out all the time what benefit does always on line gaming have for me. That's my major issue is that I don't see how always online gaming can be a benefit (even to people with good internet connections) to the consumer than just having it as a optional thing. Also just because you assume people would be totally cool with Simcity's launch if it went without a hitch is still no reason to say it is for the better. To end off I'm tired of articles constantly defending developers and publishers of their anti consumer bullshit.
  • einhazard - January 14, 2014 6:15 a.m.

    I grew up in an area where the only internet is dialup. In fact, that didn't change until 2012. The idea of being forced to play online-required games will always bother me because of that core reason. On top of that, I game to escape. I don't really like multiplayer, and I enjoy single-player experiences that allow me to create and experience my own story without the interference of gaming's generally terrible multiplayer base. I also have no reason to ever, EVER use a 'share' button. I'm not an anti-social recluse, I just don't like the social aspects of gaming. People need to understand that forced multiplayer is the same as Mattrick's comments about the XBone not being for people without internet. There's still a large number of people out there who don't want/can't play always-online games, and the industry needs to find a way to gradually move things towards online-required rather than making large leaps that they're not technically ready for and gamers don't really want.
  • TheonlyWolf - January 14, 2014 4:24 a.m.

    Reading 1 paragraph in, am now removing gamesradar from my feedly. Such a joke
  • BADBL00D - January 14, 2014 2:20 a.m.

    Sim City built its fan base via a creative, god like, single player experience. To deny players that option from day one was to doom the game to failure from day one. I have no desire to spend days creating a city only to discover that its needs are affected by an idiot griefer or are dependent on someone with the attention span of a goldfish. If the developers had really been interested in what their customers wanted all they had to do was take a look at the long standing SC4 fan sites like Simtropolis.com. With that dedicated player base behind them Sim City 5 would have been the undisputed successor to Sim City 4. Instead it still falls far short of even being as good as the previous title.
  • Tronto13 - January 14, 2014 12:03 a.m.

    I would rather have no limit to city size...
  • The_Tingler - January 14, 2014 4:57 a.m.

    This and the lack of an offline mode (mostly due to the online being unstable) was why I never bought the game. At this point I'm not that interested anyway.
  • winner2 - January 15, 2014 3:35 p.m.

    2nded.
  • Shigeruken - January 13, 2014 11:32 p.m.

    When I used to play SimCity years ago, a significant portion of the fun I had came from building up a huge city and seeing what happens when I introduce a natural disaster before loading the save to fix things. To me, a Sims game being always online without the ability to save and load at will defeats the entire point of a Sims game. It's not real life, it's a video game. I like being allowed to experiment and erase the consequences if I choose to do so.
  • gadjo - January 13, 2014 10:38 p.m.

    Call me a luddite, but am I the only one here who has an undying love for local co-op and competitive games? Sure, online can be fun, but I love most sitting on a couch with 3 friends and running around in Halo trying to teabag each others corpses before someone else shows up, or beating the hell out of each other in smash bros. How does being called an ultrafaggot by a 12 year old improve that experience? I think a lot of games these days have had their singe player modes suffer because online multiplayer was more important. I mean, think about how long games used to be before online multiplayer became so important. I for one enjoy my long single player games, and my wonderful local co-op. So fuck the future. I'm going back to my cave.
  • Leemundo - January 14, 2014 3:21 a.m.

    He'll yeah. I remember playing Gauntlet until 6am with my bro trying to get past the purple sh*t monsters, having a punch up over Sonic 2 with my best mate, playing Golden Eye during lunch hour with four friends EVERY day, having wrestle fests on Smack Down.... and now all this connected online social gaming bonanza.... feels kinda soulless. Thank God there are no infamous twelve year olds in Skyrim who wanna do my mum up the bum and such. One more reporting for the cave, good sir.
  • GOD - January 13, 2014 8:35 p.m.

    The reason this was a problem is not because there were forced online features alone, but because this was an established franchise in which there were previously no online features, and suddenly all the people excited to play the new one, are forced into an always online situation. That's a drastic transition for an already established and longstanding franchise. Just imagine how pissed people would have been if Final Fantasy XI which was online only, was instead the first Final Fantasy that was released after an 8 year absence of any new FF games. People would have reacted similarly, and for good reason.
  • Vonter - January 13, 2014 8:16 p.m.

    The point being that when you promote something it has to work as told. It'll be like making a shooter that has inaccurate aiming, it might hit sometimes but in the end is a flaw the breaks the experience and more so breaks the consumer's patience.
  • Redeater - January 13, 2014 7:52 p.m.

    This article feels a tad too defensive. Regardless of online/offline features EA and Maxis created an unnecessary online mode using broken servers and then lied about it (not to mention the plethora of game breaking bugs).. This was a world class clusterfuck all around and they have a long way to go to earn trust back.
  • Scoob - January 13, 2014 7:30 p.m.

    I loved that the game was online. Me, my brother, and a few other friends had a good region going for a while there. The bit of a lag with what happens in each city and it's effect on the other cities wasn't too big of a deal. Online game problems happen. The thing that burned all of us that the citizen AI wasn't as advertised. One of the things pitched in the hype videos before release was that each one had their own job, home, motivations, and so on. What we got was citizens going to the closest job, and back to the closest house making traffic screwing up the entire system. I never did play the game again to see if they fixed that.

Showing 1-20 of 49 comments

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