EA Finally Admits That Always-On DRM Doesn't Work With SimCity
Good news, everyone! Electronic Arts and Maxis have finally swallowed their pride and decided to incorporate an offline mode into SimCity. Just ten months after the former claimed offline play was impossible without a "significant amount of engineering work," the studio has announced that it will be adding a single-player mode with Update 10, an upcoming patch which will be available free or charge. Apparently, this patch is in the "late phases" of development, and still requires extensive testing before it's ready to launch. They're looking to make it as polished as possible before release - presumably, to avoid a repeat of the title's initial launch.
That launch last March was, to put it simply, disastrous. The game was unplayable for weeks due to server problems, and even then, once they got it up and running again, it was missing at least half the features it originally released with(the development team got things up and running again by disabling what they deemed to be 'non-essential' features). By the team EA actually got it to a playable, acceptable state again, it was too late. The damage to the title's review scores - and to its reputation - had already been done.
Before Maxis and Electronic Arts were even through sorting out the problems with the game's launch, two modders actually discovered that the always-on DRM actually wasn't necessary - knowledge which ran directly counter to what Maxis' General Manager Lucy Bradshaw had informed fans. Initially, Bradshaw tried to claim that the way the game worked required the DRM. According to her, it was necessary to move computations into the cloud. Turned out, she was telling a bald-faced lie.
Yeah. That didn't end so well. It's fortunate that EA's finally seen the light - but more than a little distressing that it's taken them this long to do so. Now....at this point, you're probably wondering exactly why I'm writing about this. It doesn't really seem like the sort of thing one would cover on a video game innovation blog, does it?
Well...actually, it is. You're always going to encounter innovations and inventions that simply don't work...and in this case, always-on DRM is one of them. The fact that EA is finally acknowledging this with SimCity is a good first step, even if there's still a very, very long way yet to go. I've already gone over the problems with DRM at length, so I'm not going to waste your time describing them here. Suffice it to say, it's nice to see they're finally becoming as clear to developers and publishers as they are to gamers.