Editorials

SimCity – The Vanishing Act

With the recent release of the 2.0 patch, SimCity should be better than ever, but the troubles continue for Maxis’ city building simulator.

Ari Margo

Sometimes I feel like SimCity’s last defender. When I reviewed the game I gave it an 8/10, a score which many readers found too generous. Despite suffering through a variety of issues when the game launched, I waited out the storm before writing the review. I came to that score based on how much fun I had with the game when it worked which, when the review was published, was most of the time. Since then SimCity has been patched several times, so in theory, the game should be better than it was. But in my case, things have actually gotten worse. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to defend SimCity again.

SimCity Patch 2.0

The most recent SimCity patch, 2.0, was the biggest yet, and fixed a large list of issues and updated many of the game’s features. There were improvements made to tourism and casinos, education and school buses, and many of the forms of transit available to the Sims in the game. The complete patch notes are available on the EA Forum, but there was one particular fix that interested me more than the others.

I had a city in a region on the Antarctica server. The region had a Pokémon theme, and given the abundance of water in the city, I named my city Squirtle, and provided water to all the neighboring cities. After many hours of play and turning Squirtle into an awesome looking city that resembled a crop circle, Squirtle flourished, and became the place to be for high wealth Sims in the region. Of course, these educated Sims were big on recycling, and upon trying to meet their needs I ran into a big bug. The recycling centers simply broke. They became unable to process the recyclables that were being delivered by the trucks and their storage areas became full. At that point, the trucks couldn’t pick up anymore recyclables around the city, and the high wealth Sims were not pleased at the massive piles that were forming. I did some research and discovered that this was one bug that would be squashed by the 2.0 patch, and so I looked forward to that patch with great anticipation.

The Straw That Broke The Llama’s Back

So did the SimCity 2.0 patch solve the recycling problem? The patch notes say so, but I have no idea, because Squirtle is gone. After I applied the patch, I tried to load the city and I got this message: “Unable to load the city at this time. Please try again.” I tried again, and ended up staring at an endless loading screen. Eventually I had to force the game to close. When I loaded the game again, I picked a different city in the same region. That city loaded up just fine, but when I went to the region view to find Squirtle, instead of seeing the city’s commercial and residential skyscrapers, all that was there was an empty field.

I closed the game and began my search for a solution, but none became apparent. I contacted EA Customer Support and reported my issue, but that’s basically it. All I can do now is hope that Squirtle reappears someday, but I can’t say that I’m optimistic.

I remember the problems I experienced with my original region on the North America West 2 server during the first week after SimCity launched. On that server, a couple of my cities had to be rolled back which at the time I assumed was an issue related to server instability. By the end of the first week, the cities in that region took 10 minutes to load instead of the usual 10 or 20 seconds, and the regional features were not working properly. It’s my belief that the entire region became corrupt, so I abandoned it. In the days that followed, I enjoyed a much improved experience on the Antarctica server, and I was fairly certain that I would never have to abandon a region again. I was having a great time on my new server and felt comfortable giving the game an 8/10 when the time came to write the review. With the problems of the launch behind me, I became very addicted to the game, and had a lot of fun creating Squirtle and other cities in that region.

And yet here we are, more than 7 weeks later, and it feels like launch week all over again. My city is gone, and I may have to abandon yet another region. In the context of these issues, I can’t help but to fall in line with the other members of this frustrated community and ask the question, why is there no way to play SimCity offline? Why can’t I have local save files instead of everything being saved onto the cloud which is prone to corruption?

The answers EA have provided to these and similar questions have been boilerplate and emotionless, and many doubt the truthfulness of the responses given. Claims that the servers are doing a lot of the computational work seem a bit ridiculous considering that the game plays fine while disconnected from them. It’s hard to argue with those that believe this game is always online simply as a form of DRM to fight piracy, which as usual, ends up hurting the paying customers more than the pirates. And things could get even worse.

The End of SimCity Social

EA recently announced that several of their Facebook games are getting discontinued, including SimCity Social. While it’s not unusual for unprofitable games to have their online servers taken down, in most cases (MMOs being the exception), the games can still be played offline. Take Demon’s Souls for example: While the servers are still up and running, if they are ever taken down, players can still play through the game in a single player environment. The game doesn’t require an internet connection to play.

On the other hand, the end of SimCity Social is ominous for several reasons. First of all, the game is less than a year old. It was released in June of 2012. Second, once the game is discontinued, there will be no way for players to play the game at all or to access the cities they have created. Considering the countless hours that many players put into designing their cities, and the artistic merits of their creations, this is particularly jarring. Third, what about all of the money people spent on diamonds (SimCity Social’s premium currency that can be traded for rare buildings and features)? There are players that spent hundreds of dollars on SimCity Social diamonds. When the game is taken offline, not only will they lose their cities, their diamonds and all of the money they have invested, but they will also lose the game itself. It’s no wonder that fans are furious about all this.

Could SimCity be headed in the same direction? Unlike SimCity 4, which players continue to enjoy to this day, there is no guarantee that SimCity will still be playable in the future. While fans have begged, pleaded and demanded an offline version of the game, EA has not budged on the issue. So if a day comes when the income SimCity provides is less than the expense it costs to maintain the servers, it’s quite possible that the servers will be shut down, just like with SimCity Social. And if that happens, every single copy of SimCity could be made unplayable and all of the community’s amazing and creative cities could be rendered inaccessible.

I hope such a day never comes. I know the sting of losing a city firsthand. I’d hate to see the millions of cities players have created in SimCity destroyed. Each city could be described as a unique form of expression or as a piece of art. The end of SimCity Social is like the destruction of an art museum, and if SimCity suffers the same fate, it will be an even greater tragedy.

No Comment

With all of this in mind I logged onto Twitter and asked the following question to @SimCity, @OriginInsider and to several members of the design team at Maxis: “Could SimCity ever be discontinued like SimCity Social? Could players lose access to the game and their creative work?” I was promptly ignored from everyone I asked the question to, despite receiving frequent replies from them on other issues. I can only assume this is a subject they simply do not wish to discuss.

At this point, what choice do I have? How could I possibly continue to defend and support SimCity given these circumstances? The answer to that is quite simple. I introduced a friend to SimCity yesterday, and she had a lot of fun building her first city. As I watched her play, I remembered many of the good experiences I had with the game, like zooming in close on a neighborhood and watching the Sims living out their lives, checking out what businesses have moved into a recently zoned commercial area, or seeing my first skyscrapers built in the heart of my city. I’ve played over 80 hours of SimCity since the game launched, and while there were many frustrations along the way, there is still a very fun and addicting game underneath it all.

But for now, I’m out. I’m giving it a break. With the City of Squirtle having vanished off the face of SimEarth, even I have reached my limit of tolerance. I’ll check back from time to time to see if my city magically reappears, but if it doesn’t, I don’t expect I’ll be playing SimCity again anytime in the near future. I say that with great sadness, as the SimCity series is as important a part of my life as Super Mario Bros. or Final Fantasy. I hope that my worries are unfounded and that SimCity will always be playable or be given an offline mode. But there’s little reason for me to play the game when there’s no guarantee that my city will be properly saved or that the game itself will even continue to be playable in the future.

This is SimAri, signing out.

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  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Alex Inigo

    I think things being “turned off” and having an unclear future are the inherent problem with service based games and services (like Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam) in general. I remember back in the old days of PC gaming when people were able to create dedicated servers and were able to host games on machines. Granted, they’re for shooters and RTSes, but SimCity could’ve supported the infrastructure while ensuring the longevity of the franchise. Based on how Maxis and EA has handled the game since launch, SimCity, unfortunately, will go down in history as one of those games that had great ideas but had very ill-conceived and questionable execution that didn’t account for every single possible scenario.

    I find it funny though that we’re already thinking of “The End” of SimCity’s service while a similar service over at Blizzard, Diablo 3, isn’t being questioned at all in terms of when it’ll potentially end.

  • http://gamerhorizon.com/ Ari Margo

    Given that Diablo II is still playable on battle.net 13 years after its original release, I think Blizzard fans feel very comfortable with the longevity of their products. On the contrary, EA has a reputation for shutting down servers, and their fans feel betrayed. Given the circumstances, why would they have any confidence in the future of EA’s always online products?

  • token420

    So sad! Two wins as Worst Company in America and Electronic Arts still offers no offline SimCity? Wow. Just wow. Glad I did not buy.

  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Ted Polak

    Think about all the MMO’s that are totally gone, and can never be played again. Star Wars: Galaxies. City of Heroes. That one sci-fi game with Lord British in it. These games are completely GONE.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1038256722 Patricia Rivero

    So very true! I play WOW, and have been doing so for years. I have never once been worried about it closing or me loosing my game. However, I now go through the heartache of loosing my SCS, and i will never trust EA again. Thanks to that I am now not playing SIMCITY 2013,even though I own it since launch.

  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Alex Inigo

    I think what I’m trying to say is that the closure of some of these services put into perspective what the value of our time in these games are other than temporal. Unlike games in the past that we can still enjoy in the future, service based games have a time limit and while they may play good or bad, won’t be functional after the service drops.

    The only medium of entertainment is temporal that I can think of is live musical performances and/or plays.

  • Adam Kerkhecker

    EA take note: Until the day comes that this game has an offline mode, I will not be spending my money, and I don’t think I am alone.

  • gweed123

    Me too. Haven’t bought it yet. Don’t intend to until they feature a 100% offline mode, and add larger city tiles.

    Without those 2, EA isn’t getting a dime from me. And this is coming from a guy who still plays SimCity 4 for several hours every week.

  • http://twitter.com/HHorstick Horace Horstick

    I really feel like I wasted my money on SimCity. It gets boring really fast, and I always have much more fun with The Sims 3 and SimCity 4, which are far richer gameplay-wise.
    I sort of wish I could get rid of it by selling it or something, but the DRM crap keeps that from happening, which is pretty unfair. I actually sort of feel ashamed for supporting EA by buying this broken game that is honestly not worth 60 dollars. If there’s ever an offline mode (which would shock me) then maybe I’ll come back to it, but until then…Minecraft, I guess.