I’m not here to pile on and watch SimCity burn, and Jesse did a superior job of encapsulating the new urban planning sim’s hellish first week in North America than I ever could anyway (I don’t know how he manages to be so gleefully florid without trading in any accessibility); nor can I imagine the stress the folks at Maxis have been under over what sounds to me like a corporate bean-counter decision: Let’s make our customers play on-line so we can beat the pirates.
Like Jesse said, of course we all get that video game producers and developers want to best the pirates – and sometimes that means sailing close to the wind. EA and Maxis did just that this week and ended up floundering.
That will change. What is at the heart of the new SimCity sounds engaging enough, even though new design choices are proving divisive among fans (“SimVillage” many are calling it in talkbacks and reader reviews around the internet). When all the server problems are sorted out it will get the wind back in its sails, no doubt.
But I won’t be playing. I love the series, but I’ve thought it over and we’re through. SimCity is indicative of a trend in the industry that I just can’t tolerate: Video games as services you buy rights to rather than something you own.
Read along after the jump for more, and to tell us what you think.
The always-online thing is not new. Ubisoft tried it and quietly sh*t-canned it. Players hated it. Many Diablo III fans also hated it, and it was a first-day disaster – but Blizzard pledged to stick it out.
According to EA, it will take a significant amount of engineering to make SimCity playable offline, no doubt to ensure that the pirates are held at bay as far into the future as possible. But it also means that players don’t own SimCity. Players have paid for the rights to access a service through EA’s servers that allows them to play SimCity - a game that they bought most of when they picked it up in store or downloaded it. As many have seen over the past week, “most of” is not enough. What SimCity players actually own, the product they have purchased, is useless without the service that goes with it.
That’s my problem; that’s what I’m here to complain about. I’ve been playing the series since it came out on the SNES in the early 90s. I was just a kid, and it was one of my formative gaming experiences. Hell, I still own it and it’s still fun.
I don’t expect to be able to play any game 20 years later – that’s a ridiculous standard (though upon thinking about it, I can’t imagine that SimCity‘s servers will still be running in ten years) – but I do expect to own what I buy. And so it hurts me to have to say goodbye to a series that I love, but I’ve thought it over and we’re through.
MMORPGs have been doing one form or another of this always-online thing for ages, and I’m fine with them. I didn’t play Final Fantasy XI looking for a single-player experience, though. I understood that it was a curated, moderated experience, a game that could only exist online and that was as much a service as a game – and that was the experience I wanted. SimCity is different.
I don’t want to play it with friends or strangers. The service part isn’t integral to the enjoyment of the game; it doesn’t free me to play however I want. It feels like a constraint. It feels like a game that’s been shoe-horned into a form that’s not right for it, and which I don’t want: I can’t return it if it’s broken; I can’t play it if my internet goes down; I can’t play it myself without logging in; I can’t throw it on my laptop and play it on the go; and I dread the thought of this model spreading to other franchises that I love.
I can’t own a copy of SimCity. EA owns it, and people pay for the right to play it. Some may call that a cynical way of looking at things, but it’s how it is.
EA is welcome to do what they want – like I said, I get why they’re doing it – and by all accounts there are lots of people willing to pay for it.
I’m just not one of them.