Inside Source Claims SimCity 2013 Always Online Is Not Required

Written by Andrew Moynihan on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 10:44 AM
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In what is proving to be a highly contentious topic, EA, together with Maxis, are continually digging themselves deeper into a hole - this time, they've been tagged as lying to consumers about the Always Online requirement for SimCity 2013.

Maxis's Studio Head, Lucy Bradshaw, has stated outright that there are "significant" calculations occurring serverside; but an inside source claims "[servers] are not doing anything"...

This has been the justification for the Always Online decision for the entire marketing duration of SimCity; that the game was offloading calculations onto the Maxis/EA servers, allowing a much deeper game that was available for many low end computers still in homes.

Following on from that, since the entire game had apparently been built based on these server side calculations being necessary, it would take “a significant amount of engineering work from our team to rewrite the game” for offline single player. Or so we had been told.

Many sites and individuals have been reporting the game working for up to 20 minutes without an Internet connection; already a suspiciously long time given the amount of work the servers are supposed to be doing. And today, an anonymous source (who was verified by the mighty guys over at RockPaperShotgun) has released a statement, making it quite clear that the game servers are not doing calculations. The source details:

“The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities. As well, they’re doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, and all of that. But for the game itself? No, they’re not doing anything. I have no idea why they’re claiming otherwise. It’s possible that Bradshaw misunderstood or was misinformed, but otherwise I’m clueless.”

Understandably, the servers are managing the multiplayer and backing up the save files; we expected no less. The lack of any meaningful data work being done on the server however means there is only one reason for the Online requirement: DRM.

Here at Game-Debate, we're always willing to let new ideas appear, such as offloading calculations. We were not willing to condemn the game just for it's "always online" policy; although it was somewhat distasteful, it was there for a reason. With this new light shone on the situation however, well it certainly starts to sound like marketing spin.

From the source:

“Because of the way Glassbox was designed, simulation data had to go through a different pathway. The game would regularly pass updates to the server, and then the server would stick those messages in a huge queue along with the messages from everyone else playing. The server pulls messages off the queue, farms them out to other servers to be processed and then those servers send you a package of updates back. The amount of time it could take for you to get a server update responding to something you’ve just done in the game could be as long as a few minutes. This is why they disabled Cheetah mode, by the way, to reduce by half the number of updates coming into the queue.”

So what we're seeing is your city data being sent off to other servers. Since the time (as experienced by users) between checks can be as long as 20 minutes, it doesn't seem like this is the calculation stage; it appears to be a check to make sure that you aren't cheating. Now, this is a perfectly understandable step to have once you're playing Multiplayer, with the leaderboards and rankings. These checks however directly restrict your game from using single player Mods, or for that matter casual offline play. So to put this another way that may be a little more familiar to us, these checks are "Always Online DRM".

To top it all off, the source concludes with another counter to what we've been told:

“It wouldn’t take very much engineering to give you a limited single-player game without all the nifty region stuff.”

This directly contradicts the official line that it would take "a significant amount of engineering work" to convert the game to singleplayer.

It does then appear that Maxis, intentionally or not, has been spreading false information about their game. It does appear that the game has the (appropriately) much-maligned Always Online DRM.

Now that this information is spreading across the internet you can expect an official reply will be published pretty soon.

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06:33 Mar-15-2013

Apparently it has been proven that Simcity can completely run fine in Offline mode: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130314/06175522320/modder-makes-simcity-capable-offline-play-which-works-flawlessly.shtml

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01:36 Mar-15-2013

"These checks however directly restrict your game from using single player Mods"
This does not surprise me in the least.. EA is well known to be Anti-modding.. the Sims 3 is a good example.. It blocked ANY official patches or content packs from being install if even just one file didn't match there lists, It wasn't until sales where tanking compared to Sims 2 that they backed off.. They still will not support it and try to make it hard to keep up (to the point some must be redone with every new patch or pack), But at least they do not block it outright anymore

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16:28 Mar-14-2013

I hate EA as much as anyone. It just scares me that if they go down, they might bring down some of the best game devs out there. sigh
So far as I know, pirates are still trying to make it work offline (If it did, it just proves the point that its the paying costumers that suffer) assassins creed 2 had an offline emulator, what made them think that they wouldn't be able to make a work-around here?

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17:53 Mar-14-2013

Let's keep it at that, ok? Let's not turn this into a pirate discussion.

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23:58 Mar-14-2013

The best game devs would just sign up with other companies or make their own. EA going down would call for a big celebration!

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13:08 Mar-14-2013

Ahahahhaa :D

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13:21 Mar-14-2013

I actually made a mistake, I wanted to set up this link here "Does the Games Industry Copy Each Others Ideas".
:D

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15:20 Mar-14-2013

No matter, got the laughs :P

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16:42 Mar-14-2013

Yo , me too :D

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05:03 Mar-14-2013

can i play this with my system FX 6300,GTX 560,8GB DDR3
???

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06:50 Mar-14-2013

It will run on your system without any troubles at all.

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00:42 Mar-14-2013

"official reply will be published pretty soon." of BS BS BS, covering up this, covering up that with a conclusion that we are their best friends in the whole wide world. Now I can't even look at Maxis with respect since they claimed the whole online thing was their idea.

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23:49 Mar-13-2013

I'm not surprised by this the only reason they did DRM is to stop piracy. Bottom line EA just want more $$$$$$$$ FYI I don't support piracy this is just why they did it.

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21:32 Mar-13-2013

I'm so glad I didn't buy the game now, but I am still pissed that EA and Maxis are pulling this crap off.

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01:43 Mar-15-2013

Looking at there past and how open to there gamer community before the EAxis takeover I wouldn't blame Maxis themselves for this... EA is placing our way or no way demands on any and all dev's under there flag..

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19:37 Mar-13-2013

I'll pass :D

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19:01 Mar-13-2013

It's time for new leadership at EA. Get rid of the greedy pigs in charge, and get people that actually care about the customers!

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20:21 Mar-13-2013

In Marxist terms: Gamers of the world, UNITE!

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13:48 Mar-13-2013

This DRM isn't for piracy reasons I think. From what I've read, this uses the same type of DRM that FIFA 13 used, which was cracked in 2 weeks. The only games that can't be pirated are online RPG's, like Diablo III and WoW. They put this DRM so we can blame pirating for forcing EA to put DRM, but the reality is they did this so they can have an excus in case things don't go well, which they did. The game is great, the DRM makes it bad.

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13:52 Mar-13-2013

I don't like pirating either, I like to buy physical copy of the games for my collection, however I understand a part of the "pirates" for not being able to afford buying games, especially in my country, where a big game is about 90$ (games like triple A titles, which cost maximum 60$ in the US)

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12:38 Mar-13-2013

They always have one big scandal per year. It's been 2 or 3 so far :)
Breaking a record, uh, EA?
I am going to ask again: Can you imagine having bought the Digital Deluxe Edition for 80€ and not being able to play?

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12:43 Mar-13-2013

I haven't even bought the game and I'm raging at this news. I bet there are a lot of pissed of gamers out there that would love to have some personal time with the people responsible for all this.

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13:12 Mar-13-2013

I didn't bought the game because I know there might be problems with it :|

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13:34 Mar-13-2013

i was intending to buy it, but when i see all this mess, i think that i will wait for skidrow to crack this piece of **** XD.. allways online!! how genius really

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15:05 Mar-13-2013

All hail Skidrow! xD

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16:55 Mar-13-2013

Please mind the piracy....

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19:36 Mar-13-2013

From what I see, they have already cracked it.

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12:32 Mar-13-2013

Makes you wonder how big corporations really value the end consumer.
News like this makes me a sad panda.
I wonder if there is a different, real reason as to why they make it necessary to have an internet connection for this game. Aside from the obvious counter-piracy motive.

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15:48 Mar-13-2013
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16:03 Mar-13-2013

Meh, I call those fake-benefits.
They could have easily separated singleplayer and multiplayer in this game. Give the people the simcity singleplayer experience they are used to, and make multiplayer an extra for those who just have to show off their cities to the world. Then everyone would have been happy.
The sandbox-mode (only singleplayer mode I think that exists for this game) is a joke, and still requires you to have an internet connection at all times. I understand that there are some games that greatly benefit an all time internet connection, but Simcity is not one of those games in my opinion.
I dislike the direction future gaming is headed towards and I think I'm going to write a column about it.

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16:39 Mar-13-2013

I encourage you to, and I'll surely read it ;). Fact is internet is the future, hell internet is the present. I do understand the companies and gamers' point of view, and I think companies honestly got to much of a bad name of what they would deserve. Still, I'm not approving their system, it's all about prioritizing and putting priorities straight. Hell, I might write a column about that ;). Anyways, if one could explain the gamers situation clear and sound, it would be you!

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17:01 Mar-13-2013

FYI, the sandbox mode is not the only method of single player; its intention is to serve as a 'sandbox' for those who wish to be minimally restricted from finite resources and locks (in-game). I also can see your view of Warmice's column as "fake-benefits." However, if you do think about it, there was some ingenuity as Maxis did their best to mold the game to 'fit' the Online-Only requirement. Not trying to be the devil's advocate here, but I see the online-only requirement, when I can logon and actually play, as a benefit for my friends and I.

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17:02 Mar-13-2013

I also will second the notion of reading your commentary opinion column on the state of video gaming liberties as I find it a very conspiratorial topic.

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12:19 Mar-13-2013

:|, this can't be the Maxis that I know....... Have they been conspiring against the common user???

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14:03 Mar-13-2013

Sounds like it .. But until they pose a counter argument we can't know for sure!

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