SimCity Boss Says Offline Mode Was 'Rejected', Clarifies Server Use

Stop holding your breath for an official offline mode for the new SimCity. It doesn't seem like you'll be getting one, perhaps ever.

In a detailed blog post addressing concerns about server usage and the new game's always-online connection, Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw refined her studio's position and offered a thank you to players who have been plugging away with game.

Read her post now, or perhaps stick around here for some annotations to help put things in perspective.

Bradshaw's blog appears to address the two issues that flared up in coverage on Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun and other outlets this week. For one thing, many of us discovered we could play the game offline. With the standard game, we got 19 minutes of offline play in. But we couldn't connect to other cities networked to ours in our regions.

And then there was a Reddit user who posted a video seemingly showing the game running in an offline debug mode — again, with no connections to a wider region of cities.

So fans are asking: can't we have an offline mode?

Bradshaw's post today:

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 recognise 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.

Note the word "subset". It appears she's saying that an optional side-mode for offline play isn't going to be offered. We've asked EA to clarify and explain how that squares with that video of the seemingly functional offline debug mode.

The other big controversy about the game this week involved the extent to which the game uses EA's servers. This spun from interpretations of earlier comments from Bradshaw that suggested the game's engine needed the servers. But if the game's cities could be built up while the game was offline — and if the game didn't seem to be using its servers to bolster the computing power behind the simulation running in a given city — how could this be? Were the servers really just being used for city-to-city region stuff? And not in-city stuff?

Here's Bradshaw in today's post:

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.
  • Players who want to reach the peak of each specialisation can count on surrounding cities to provide services or resources, even workers. As other players build, your city can draw on their resources.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Our servers handle gifts between players.
  • We've created a dynamic supply and demand model for trading by keeping a Global Market updated with changing demands on key resources.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Almost all of our players play with connected cities. 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.

This surely ends any chances of EA arguing that the game's servers are needed for individual cities. It's clear from tests we've run and from what Bradshaw is writing that the game's servers help players and their cities connect to other players and cities. But the servers don't seem to be used to, say, make pedestrians smarter or buildings build faster.

In a blog post yesterday, SimCity's lead designer, Stone Librande, promised iterative changes in the game's artificial intelligence. With the server-capacity woes seemingly past and these types of tweaks being addressed, EA might be finding their way out of the woods. But that lack of an offline mode is going to dog them, especially when it still seems like a "subset offline mode" would be possible.

We'll keep you posted as this saga continues.

SIMCITY UPDATE: STRAIGHT ANSWERS FROM LUCY [EA blog]


Comments

    i can have my saves anywhere i want to, its called a USB

      Dropbox would make it even simpler, I have my Minecraft saves on there with a symbolic link to the %appdata%\.minecraft directory... I can play Minecraft on one computer, and within seconds it's updated to any other computer I have dropbox and Minecraft installed.

      The same theory would stand true to any game.

    "You can pop from work to home, play the game and have your cities available to you anywhere." Hahaha, who does Lucy think she's talking to?

    The irony of a blog post titled "Straight answers from Lucy" that has more spin than a tornado. And sucks about as much too...

      She opens with the line, "I hate to disturb you when you’re playing SimCity..."
      Talk about setting the tone.
      To the jaded cynic of 2013, it screams: 'Hi! I'm completely fucking out of touch, so I thought you might like a healthy heaping of disingenuous bullshit. Well I hope you do, anyway, because it's all you're going to get, ever.'

    "But whether [our players] play solo or multiplayer, they are drawn to the connected city experience." Of course they are - you built the game so that there is no way to NOT be connected to it. Further, it's demonstrated that some players absolutely do not want to be connected, and have gone to lengths to reverse engineer your game to allow it. Additionally, you and your company have lied, obviously, repeatedly, and knowingly about whether it was possible to have such a disconnected experience.

    Maxis, you've been dead to me since the excellent children's game, Spore, was marketed to me as an adult with sophisticated gameplay. I see your time in hell has really brought out the worst in you.

    I'm very grateful to Ms Bradshaw for clarifying that. Now I know I'll never buy this game, as opposed to keeping an eye out for when it landed in the bargain bin.

      Same for me. I was waiting but if they are going to spin/lie then stuff them.

    Firstly, Maxis/EA were up front about people having to be always connected regardless of the reasons.
    Secondly, there are numerous examples indicating how badly this requirement can play out for early adopters.
    Lastly, the people who are currently playing Simcity either pre-ordered (unwise) or purchased in the first week (less wise).

    What that means is that the very people who are complaining so loudly about this are the exact people who have enabled this behaviour in the first place. If you had complained before giving Maxis/EA your money they might have a reason to listen to you. Now, you're lucky they even care enough to respond.

    I got suckered into pre-ordering Diablo 3. I took that on the chin and decided that, in future, pre-ordering was out and always-on internet connectivity was highly suspect. Both Simcity and Aliens:CM both sorely tempted me but waiting until post-launch to make a purchase decision is clearly paying off.

      What an arrogant prick.

      "the people who are currently playing Simcity either pre-ordered (unwise) or purchased in the first week (less wise)"

      You have no idea what you're talking about. I'm playing Simcity because it's a fun game. So are most of my friends. Except for the first week, the online requirement has not once gotten in the way of us playing. If you want to avoid preorders or avoid SimCity because you don't like DRM, that's your personal choice, but don't pretend that everyone who doesn't agree with you must be either locked in or stupid.

        Agreed. I'm going to buy it cause it's fun. The online mode annoys me a little (difficult to play on my 1 hour commute on the train) but overall isn't a big deal. I disagree with DRM. But I don't think this IS purely about DRM, unlike many others.

        Saying that.....surely it shouldn't have been hard to have an Offline Only mode. Even if only to build a single city scenario.

      This is just straight up blaming the victim (note that I don't have the game).

    So, forced online is only for the persistent world features, most of the others could easily be done on the user's computer, and just have it synchronized if the gamer wants to use online features.

    Also, most of those upgrades gotten from player interaction could easily be done as achievements or as random occurrences in a hypothetical single player mode.

    Seriously, do any of those features use the servers for reasons other than "game runs even when not running the program" or for the social gaming ala farmville? Not to mention cloud saves which many other games manage to have without always online (mostly through a manual save synchronization), or do what gamers did for ages to transfer saves before the internet became easy to get connected to, copy the damn save to a portable media (previously floppy disks, but these days usb stick or sd card).

    So yeah, not a damn thing about the game mechanics inherently require permanent connection to a server, or even automatic connection. They just wanted to compete with the likes of farmville.

    I have owned simcity for over a week, and in general I like it. However, I still very uneasy about the always online DRM side of things, mostly the fact that since its dependent on servers, one day they could stop and I can never play simcity again, whereas I could get my copy of simcity 2000 out right now and play it if I wanted. I also think it's a bit hypocritical of Bradshaw to say there is no way single player mode is possible with our engine and the design of the game. Now she's reworded that to we thought about it but decided against it, as it is slightly different from the primary form of intended play that we were striving for. Hmmm... many games have theyre primary mode, and then extra modes to reach a wider audience, ie. COD is primarily a multiplayer experience, but it also has a singeplayer story to those that want to experience it. SP players of COD would definately be a minority but it doesn't mean they don't make that mode. Theres also zombies and spec ops (Black ops and Modern warfare respectively) on top of this. I think Maxis/EA should realise they can reach a wider audience by including a single player mode. You can still encourage players to use the online mode though, for instance by making achievements and stats only available through online play. I doubt any of this would happen though, but if I have one realistic request for a game change, make the goddamn maps bigger please, I understand the concept of having specialised cities, but with bigger maps, I can just have larger specialised cities.

      I'm sure the map would be bigger once they've tweaked out most of the bugs.....it's called the D.L.C. which will give you a more "wider" and "extensive" experience of the game...for only $15 more! >.>

    "We could have given you offline play but we didn't want to. You also have to be connected to the server for all the reasons I listed which are solely only for the online features and have nothing to do with the offline gameplay that we could have offered, but again, we didn't want to."?

    Why can't EA/Maxis just come out and say that their always online is a DRM? There is no valid reason why it can't have an offline mode. EA/Maxis are very ignorant of the fact that there are some people in the world that can't actually have an internet connection on 24/7, let alone a stable connection. These people would also like to play the new SimCity. If they are so determined for a DRM, just use a one time activation, most people can live with that.

    watch as people can now torrent your game and play in 'debug' mode thus getting a better experience than those who forked out $60+

    I'm basically this games target audience. Loved previous Sim City games, the Sims, Civ 1-5, Alpha Centauri, you name it. I love building (and exploring) games.

    That being said, EA isn't getting a dime of my money for this bull. I'm not going to reward this trend in both useless and inconvient DRM implementations.

    I'm still going to pirate my version.

    Die EA
    LUCY BRADSHAW - liar.

    People need to understand that the game delivery mechanism is changing. You no longer "buy a game" in an ownership kind of a way. You buy the priviledge to play a game based on the developers/publisher's terms and conditions.
    They decide when you play, how you play & how long you can play for...
    I'm not saying I agree with it, but they get enough support from the rest of the gamers for this trend to continue in the foreseable future.

    "W-Well y-you can play offline b-b-but we don't w-want you t-too! P-please buy our DRM!"

    Why do people still continue to support these assclowns? Every franchise that bears the name EA is an absolute atrocity. None of their games are worth buying at all.

    I'm annoyed at this statement because of the fact that while they didn't lie to us they manipulated the truth so casually reading it we all thought that the Cloud would be doing advanced calculations to take the stress off the client machine (your home PC to be clear). What we now find out is that the game needs to be online so that it can work online, which is kind of a massive well d'uh. Now remember that all EA games need to be always online and support Microtransactions it appears as though we're not worrying about what's good for the consumer but what our corporate mandates are.

    I can't see how a Multiplayer only sequel to a traditionally solo series is in the customers best interest? I feel that while it adds tons to the game it should not have been required. If this game had an offline mode would that first week have been so bad?

    I just feel like I was intentionally mislead about this game because they didn't want to outright say the servers are just to keep tabs on you and make sure you have 100% access to all the Microtransactions we put in the game.

    Nice. Not even a single word about DRM, the obvious culprit - not even acceptance or denial. Just hoping it wouldn't come up?

    Heads-up, Bradshaw. Complete disrespect and utter contempt works both ways. And you've earned it.

    Unless they change this, I will vehemently refuse to buy this game. My internet connection goes down sometimes. I still want to play my games when that happens.

    So she's bragging that they spent all this time creating a game that uses all these "features" which I could get in a shitting iOS/Andriod game? K, thats cool. I'll just go play Simpsons Tapped out.

    YOU'RE MEANT TO BE A AAA DEVELOPER MAXIS, WHY YOU MAKE A TABLET GAME FOR PC??

    This AND no Terrain Editor or URK. I am very underwhelmed.

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