Maxis’ SimCity has problematic launch

Entertainment Story. Art by Chris Brockman.

Entertainment Story. Art by Chris Brockman.

Despite selling 1.1 million copies in its first two weeks after releasing, the launch of Maxis’ continuation of the long-running SimCity franchise has been marked by a range of issues, both in the game itself and Electronic Art’s handling of the situation.

SimCity’s requirement of a constant Internet connection made many in the gaming community wary of the game, disappointing those who wished to play the game alone and echoing similar restrictions passed on previous games such as Assassin’s Creed 2’s PC port or Diablo 3. The developers claimed that SimCity was being built as a multiplayer experience, and that much of the game’s simulation needed to be offloaded to cloud-computing servers. Prior to release, the development team at Maxis got together for an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit, where many users expressed concern about the DRM.

Upon the game’s launch many gamers found themselves unable to access or play their new game. The overburdened EA servers failed to handle the influx of players, who were now presented with a connection error screen. Those that did gain access were presented with several other issues. Random disconnection after only a short time of play was common, cities failed to save on the cloud servers and hours of progress would be lost, frequent bugs and miscommunications between the servers caused issues for players in multiplayer regions.

Despite the issues and the outcry of gamers, which even included a Change.org petition to add offline functionality to the game, Maxis repeated their stance that SimCity needed cloud-computing to function.

“There is a massive amount of computing that goes into all of this, and GlassBox works by attributing portions of the computing to EA servers (the cloud) and some on the player’s local computer,” said Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw.

Despite these claims, many gamers have shown that SimCity can be played without connection to the server for upwards of 20 minutes with no signs of trouble including Stephen Totilo of Kotaku.

Rock Paper Shotgun reported that an anonymous Maxis dev contacted them, stating that “The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing,” which would render the constant connection unnecessary. Also drawing criticism is the simplistic AI of the city’s citizenry, who simply file down streets until an open home, business, or workplace is available.

In response to the ailing launch, Electronic Arts has offered purchasers that acquired the game before March 25 a free download from a list of games including Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 3 and, what many fans consider the last good entry in the series, SimCity 4.

Still, despite massive outcry, the developers announced they have no plan for adapting SimCity to an offline mode.

Server problems weren’t the only issue gamers drew with SimCity. Issues with bugs, including inexplicably simple traffic simulation which causes crippling gridlock, have plagued players since release, although the developers have been at work releasing patches in attempts to fix these issues. Amongst changes attempting to relieve load on the servers was the disabling of several features such as leaderboards, the ability to filter regions, achievements and even the fastest speed in the game’s time acceleration.

While Maxis continues its attempts to fix bugs, fans of previous entries in the series have expressed disappointment with the overall gameplay. The amount of space players get to work with is drastically smaller than even the smallest city size in SimCity 4, roads now also connect power and water instead of the city needing pipes and wires, and the individual citizens function like drones filing into whichever building has available space instead of having set homes and jobs.

Amidst the controversy and complaints, EA CEO John Riccitiello announced he would be stepping down at the end of the month.

“My decision to leave EA is really all about my accountability for the shortcomings in our financial results this year,” he said. “It currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued to the Street, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. And for that, I am 100 percent accountable.”

His resignation comes in the wakes of both the beleaguered SimCity launch and the financial flop of MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, which some on the Internet jokingly refer to as the Simdenberg and TORtanic incidents.