Coders Discover 20-Minute Offline Timeout In SimCity

Coders Discover 20-Minute Offline Timeout In SimCity

Last week, two of our writers played SimCity and deliberately turned off their Internet connections, both finding their games continued normally and then abruptly ended after 20 minutes. Someone now has posted what appears to be code for the game that orders a shutdown after a disconnection exactly that long. That allegation further punctures the talking point that SimCity is necessarily an online game, or would take a great deal of work to make it so.

The code is here. “Simply commenting out Line #22 defeats the force disconnect,” says the person who posted it. The removal allows offline play indefinitely.

SimCity‘s launch week was a scandal because gamers simply couldn’t connect what they’d bought to EA servers. It prompted apologies and offers from Electronic Arts and Maxis, the studio that makes the game. This sort of thing had been seen before in launches like Diablo III, and for certain Ubisoft PC games. Gamers resented these lapses as they have always, feeling they had been inconvenienced by a publisher’s antipiracy prerogatives.

The difference is SimCity, per comments from Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw, had said its always-online connection was integral to the game’s functioning. Bradshaw, as far back as December said the game’s simulation engine needed cloud servers to assist with the game’s singleplayer modes. Yet after the launch week debacle, an unnamed Maxis insider told Rock, Paper, Shotgun that an online connection was known, internally to be unnecessary. Then this week, as a slew of embarrassing AI episodes and glitches made their way to YouTube, gamers started wondering where the cloud computing muscle was in a game said to depend upon it.

Bradshaw on Friday offered what she, or Maxis PR, called “straight answers” about the SimCity situation, but plainly avoided the earlier claims that cloud processing — that is, online servers sharing tasks with gamers’ computers — was necessary to make SimCity work.

Yes, SimCity has legitimate multiplayer features, through the regional interactions with other players’ cities. These were repeatedly cited by Bradshaw on Friday. These features necessarily require some kind of online interaction, and one way to look at a forced timeout is that developers wanted to keep a city from going so far out of synch with its neighbours that, once it reconnected to the server, re-pairing their economies, populations and other features took so much work it broke the game.

Another way to look at it is that Electronic Arts wanted to require SimCity players to stay connected to EA servers at least every 20 minutes, because such a requirement is a surefire way to defeat piracy. And to date, nothing in the game’s performance, or in the messaging coming from Maxis or EA has highlighted any gamer benefit equal to or greater than that publishing prerogative.

SimCity code includes 20 minute force shutdown timer for offline play [NeoGAF]


  • I don’t get it?

    Even though it would futher screw gamers – why wouldn’t they have done a 10 second timeout instead – to actually give the illusion that cloud computing is needed?

  • Well now this is known I’m sure a hacker group will have this up in a torrent shortly for a definite offline version; which I’m sure will be pirated more than Game of Thrones in Australia; and rightfully so too.

  • “a forced timeout is that developers wanted to keep a city from going so far out of synch with its neighbours that, once it reconnected to the server, re-pairing their economies, populations and other features took so much work it broke the game”

    THis makes sense, however I still see it as a whole DRM based form of online sync rather than the game actually using the cloud to process requests

  • While I do not like always on DRM I wish they would just own up to it rather than saying there game is so advanced it needs its own servers to do advanced calculations. Stop treating us like idiots.
    Cannot wait for these modders to make the game fully playable and functional without needing to be online at all. Take that Maxis/EA.

    • Wait til that modded version comes out, Maxis and EA are just going to say that the modders actually added new functionality in to allow offline play, when in fact all the developer did was delete a line of code. Something similar to GTA’s hot coffee “mod” fiasco? lol.

  • There probably wont be another AMA because everything EA or Maxis says from now on is proven to be a crock of shit.

  • Great, another patch will come out forcing me to hack my language files from Russian. For the 6th time. Bah, still worth the $12 saving!

  • Moar, Kotaku! I want MOAR!! I’m loving watching this train wreck! This is WAY more entertaining than the TV I’m watching at the moment!!

  • The more they lie the more people are going to dig around and find answers to things that Maxis/EA don’t want answered. If they just came clean from the get go none of this would have happened (Sure people would have still dug around code to find out what does what and how, that’s just curiosity, but it wouldn’t have been blown up like this)

    • Pretty much any conflict I’ve seen escalate has done so because of a perceived lack of respect.

      A couple guys fight at the bar? Someone knocks another one’s drink over, then offers to pay for a fresh one, no fight. Ignore/apologize without restitution? Fight. It’s not ABOUT the drink. It’s about the respect. Someone made out with a girl and her boyfriend finds out? To hell with the woman, so she’s fickle, whatever. It’s the disrespect that needs punishing.

      EA tells us lies about the way in which they want to fuck us, people get mad. Sure, they’d still be mad if EA had said, “We’re trying some always-online DRM,” but what pisses a lot of folks off? They seemed to be saying, ‘You guys are so stupid and gullible that you’ll actually believe this isn’t DRM.’ And THAT has pissed off a lot of writers, who are much, much smarter than that.

  • Sim City is a single player PC game, if they release it without the DRM, people will just pirate the hell out of it.

    I’d rather have to stay online than end up having no Sim City at all.

  • You would think that EA would have learnt by now that there are a lot of gamers\modders out there that have some experience with looking at code and that the internet fact checks all comments made by companies…

    Unfortunately I am all too familiar with the deny all wrong doings\Never apologise culture of the corporate arena… As soon as you admit that you are wrong that’s when the real shit hits the fan, at least that is what is believed in terms of PR\Marketing.

    • I’m calling it within 2 weeks, easy. Week and a half, tops. You reckon the TAB will give me odds on that…? :p

      • Reckon you’ll have to wait til a few patches come out fixing their shitty AI. Patch will, of course, be delayed to improve the DRM component so it can’t just be commented out. And there’s still region-selection to figure out, too. So. I call no pirated version for a couple months yet.

      • The pirates cant tell if the game is crashing or the servers are actualy offline when they test the patch 😛

  • I am fully aware of how naïve and old school I sound when I say this, but does no one in Maxis/EA have the manners to not lie to people? There seems to be a group of people there that were very badly brought up.

  • A lot of the media coverage of the SimCity situation has gone from being a little biased to outright sensationalising. Yes, the online connection definitely functions as DRM, but it also gives added features (like the global market) without which the game would really suffer.

    Also, to people who’re saying this game has asked to be pirated due to design choices…seriously? Pirate it or don’t, I don’t care…I’ve pirated stuff, and probably will again, but don’t try to justify the act with such a juvenile statement.

    • Sensationalising? I don’t understand what you are talking about.

  • I just got this for my 14 year old, told him it was a piece of crap but wouldn’t listen. So purchased physical copy he installed it setup origin went to play it , said no ,update your graphics drivers, reboot system then went to play and he couldn’t see the ground on his cities lol. He read up on it and found out he had to uninstall it and then download the full game from origin to play it with the ground.
    Made me laugh that such a piece of crap exists and also cry at the game I was looking forward to buy before I read that it was always online using origin.

  • You’re behind the eight-ball on this. Rock Paper Shotgun already ran an article a coupla days ago about how the multiplayer interactions are trivial too. You’re not interacting with real cities; you’re interacting with save states of real cities, because obviously you are or it would cause problems if the relevant players aren’t online when you are. There’s thus no in principle reason why the online multiplayer features can’t be directed to local “nearby city” save states instead of online ones.

  • Dear kotaku
    So the game has an always online connection?
    Here is my advice to you is build a bridge and get the fuck over it

    • Dear Gorurk,

      Please learn to read the article. It’s about the false claims made about why the online requirement was there.

      • The game does require to be online for the regional calculations, I don’t think they have said once that the city-level simulation is run on the servers.. Unless I’m mistaken, but I haven’t read anywhere were that is true.

  • This is even better than when Microsoft claimed Halo 2 and Shadowrun could only run on Vista because they required the DirectX 10 libraries and with a tiny patch, crackers got it running fine on DX9.

  • Last week, there was a Kotaku article about this. Weren’t there a bunch of problems that came up in that 20 minutes because the game couldn’t connect to neighbouring cities? I might be remembering wrong… but it still doesn’t sound like the game is meant to be played offline, this line of code notwithstanding.

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