The SimCity Reversal: Is Our EA Learning?
So let’s talk about Electronic Arts and Maxis’ surprise-not surprise decision to finally create an offline mode for SimCity, a game which should never have been released without one.
No, actually, let’s talk first about why it took so long for offline mode to happen.
The last several years, since at least 2010, have been defined by a curious arrogance in the gaming industry. Sony’s outright deception over the notorious Playstation Network hack comes to mind. So too does Microsoft’s decision to spend 2013 shoving its foot in and out of its mouth. But Electronic Arts has earned what may be the worst reputation in the business for numerous examples of imperious arrogance.
This behavior — and it’s almost too frequent to bother listing here — has never been as indefensibly dishonest as, say, Sony’s response to (and denial of) the PSN hack. But combined, it has given critics enough fodder that EA has the ignoble distinction of being crowned Consumerist’s worst company in America two years in a row. And much like for Microsoft, 2013 was a bad year on that reputation front. EA currently faces several investor lawsuits over the botched launch of Battlefield 4, and it’s almost certain that investor response to BF4′s launch was made possible thanks to the horrendous drubbing EA took over the positively disastrous launch of SimCity seven months earlier.
We don’t need to rehash just how terrible that launch was here, but I will point out that the simple explanation for this disaster seems to be that EA and developer Maxis made SimCity a multiplayer-only experience, with an always-online requirement which forced players to be in near constant communication with EA servers, and then apparently failed to allocate resources to handle the burden caused by so users trying to access the game at launch. This suggested a lack of proper planning of course, but also a disinterest in what actual SimCity players want.
Almost as soon as it became known it would be an always-online, multiplayer-only experience, fans were asking for EA to release an offline, single-player version of the SimCity. EA and developer Maxis rebuffed such requests, typically with content-free explanations for the decision, like repeating that the game was “designed from the ground up with multiplayer in mind,” and similar such pablum. When the game launched and the aforementioned disaster unfolded, those calls for single-player SimCity only increased.
Alas, EA and Maxis’ response was to double down. Throughout the year, we were told offline mode was impossible, most notably in March of 2013 by the official SimCity Twitter feed. Note that phrasing. EA and Maxis didn’t just use weasel language to avoid committing to an actual position, though they did just that from time to time. Their official spokespersons actually stated in clear, unambiguous language that such a feature just could not be instituted.