Will ghost towns be SimCity’s downfall?
SimCity is almost here and while the excitement is understandable it might be wise to stop and think before making that purchase. Maxis has taken the franchise in a different direction to previous versions of the game, one that focuses on online play, which means that the new game features always-on DRM. A decision that Maxis has had to defend on many occasions just as Blizzard has done with Diablo III.
And we all saw how that game turned out for Blizzard. Despite the financial success of the game – it sold 12 million copies in 2012 – the Metacritic user score is still low at 3.8.
But I don’t want to get into a discussion about Diablo III or rehash my arguments on why always-on DRM is a problem or that it is ineffective against certain unsavory elements. If you want to read about that then I would suggest checking out Boycotting Diablo III: A Threat to Gaming and More trouble ahead for Diablo III. Instead I want to point out some of the issues players will stumble across because of Maxis’s decision to take the franchise in this always-on direction and why the game will be in desperate need of an offline, single-player campaign.
The issues revolve around the fact that players will be unable to reset their cities if things don’t work out. Many uninformed players have received the wrong impression of how the game works when participating during the beta. The beta weekends allowed people to play an hour-long session before stopping and then, if they wanted to play again, wipe the slate clean and start all over.
Such is not the case for SimCity when it is released. You don’t get to start over and try again. So what happens when someone who is new to the franchise suddenly realizes that their city isn’t doing so well? Well nothing! They are now stuck with that city in the same region during a multiplayer game, and then the game is no longer any fun. This in turn will lead to a lot of new players becoming frustrated with the game and eventually giving up.
And then we will start to see ghost towns.
They will begin to crop up making it so that other players can’t utilize those regions for their own benefit. But disgruntled players won’t be the only ones abandoning their towns. Other players might begin to get bored or take a long hiatus. A serious problem considering that SimCity is a multiplayer-only game built on the concept that, according to Maxis producer Jason Harbor, “…real cities don’t exist in bubbles that nobody else has any influence in. City actions affect other cities, and other cities affect them.”
Harbor is right on this point and guess what? This is going to be one way cities will be affected.
There are no plans to deal with the ghost towns that will surface as time goes by, according to discussions with developers by fansite SimCity Hall during a site visit. Imagine it: You are playing with some friends and one of their cities happens to supply power to everyone else. Well, they decide to take a few days off, go on vacation, forget to pay their internet bill, or something else and suddenly their city is no longer providing enough power to yours because you continued to build and expand while they were gone.
You can’t kick that player out of the region and you can’t take over their city in order to build more power plants. Let’s even go so far as to say you don’t even have room to build a power plant in any of your regions because they have all been developed.
Your game is now stalled because someone else isn’t playing, which means their city isn’t providing the necessary power or resources that your own city needs. Even if that weren’t the case, and your city wasn’t dependent on theirs, their cities could be located in regions rich with minerals you could be exploiting yourself but no longer can.
This game will need a single-player campaign that people can play offline. Multiplayer games are fun and all but there comes a time when being at the mercy of other players isn’t all that fun. When it gets to the point where you can’t develop your cities anymore because they are dependent on other people’s cities, you’ll want something else.
Then there will be the standard issues that follow games with always-on DRM. Just like Diablo III (Error 37 anyone?), SimCity will likely suffer from connection issues and downtimes during – at least – the first two weeks as Maxis’s servers are overwhelmed by the traffic. Even after that, Maxis could find itself scrambling to release patch after patch in short order, meaning even more downtime that prevents gamers from playing the game.
Add to that, there won’t be any modding for the new game – a feature I loved about SimCity 4. The lack of mod support means that Maxis will most likely be releasing a ton of DLC packs to milk its diehard fans for every cent it can for a game that could be a disappointment in the long run. Which could also means that SimCity’s shelf life won’t be nearly as long as its predecessor.
(Wouldn’t it be nice if there were modding tools so that the modders could give us some larger maps?)
Saying all this means that I will be boycotting SimCity. I want the developers to know that I do not approve of their always-on DRM and protest their decision to force me to use it in games. There are no benefits to always-on DRM that can’t be done with a regular multiplayer campaign.
But for those of you who are planning to buy the game, or are undecided, then I ask that you wait. Wait until all the server issues are resolved. Wait until Maxis comes up with some ways to deal with the ghost towns. If a game like Aliens: Colonial Marines can be released in such a state without always-on DRM then what about SimCity?
Just wait and see what happens before you buy the game.