First, if you haven’t been following the saga in the gaming press surrounding the release of the new Sim City, please be warned: this is presented without context or references. It might be hard to follow if you haven’t been part of the conversation so far.
My friends are mostly strategy gamers, and this was my response to one asking me to join his group of regional mayors. I decided it wasn’t a nice email to send to a friend who was inviting me to play a game, so I lightly-revised and slightly-expanded it before publishing it here instead.
Last, this is essentially a review-of-the-reviews — a metareview — and I should mention I’ve never actually played the game. Hopefully the reasons why will be clear.
To acknowledge my own bias in all of this upfront: I think EA is one of Satan’s more pustular stinking tentacles. I do not give them the benefit of the doubt.
I’ve been reading the articles about the server issues, the small city sizes, the poor traffic AI design, etc. All that aside, I have three observations:
1) Not doing an offline mode is a terrible PR move. It is technically possible, and simple enough that there’s a fan mod that does it. Refusing to do so, repeatedly, and equivocating as to its technical feasibility is an odd-feeling combination of lying to fans while ignoring them. It’s bad art, bad business, and bad entertainment. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re dictating to your audience instead of listening to them.
It strikes me that a feature-restricted offline client would make an excellent free-to-play version of the game, and that connecting to a server to open up extra features should be what costs money. They compare it to playing WoW offline, while not seeming to understand that WoW is largely offline in terms of content. In WoW’s case you pay monthly to connect your fat client to the server. Warsong Gulch’s geometry isn’t streamed, it’s local. That’s why players need to install game updates instead of just having the changes show up one day on the server.
That nonsense about “moving calculations into the cloud” grates on me every time (Maxis GM) Lucy Bradshaw says it too. “Servers” aren’t “the cloud” — if the game had been built to use the cloud there would have been no traffic problems (because clouds typically scale to demand) but it would have cost EA more. A technical point, maybe, but to me it beggars her credibility.
2) I feel really bad for the software people who had to deal with the server debacle. That must have been a worse, deeper level of hell than the one that incinerated me. Given EA’s reputation they were probably coming off a prelaunch crunch and ended up going straight into a postlaunch firestorm. That’s like being promised you’ll get shot at the end of a forced march but instead you’re forced to build a pyramid — and *then* get shot.
I don’t want to help make death march game development more profitable than it already is. In fact, I’m toying around with the notion of creating a “cruelty free”-type certification for games that would highlight poor treatment of developers (who should unionize).
3) Once again, games journalism has been shown to be fundamentally compromised. It seems EA managed to convince a bunch of writers that server problems shouldn’t effect the review score while simultaneously insisting that the core gameplay experience requires a server. This is clearly jibberish, but hey: why expect people to bite the hand that feeds them?
That said, I hear it looks pretty at night.