Today is a great day in the world of computer games. 10 years after the previous SimCity franchise game, SimCity 4, was released, a new instalment is being launched in the US of A. Simply titled “SimCity”, the new game brings a lot of changes from SimCity 4: Up-to-date 3D graphics, multiplayer, finite resources simulation, curved roads, a brand new simulation engine and much, much more. Many of the things SC4 players complained about have been addressed and the feedback from the closed beta tests and previews of the new SimCity have generally been positive.
The original SimCity game was one of the first simulation games I played as a kid and I can still remember having vivid dreams about it the night after I’d created my first city. What I’ve read about the game itself makes me want it and I want it bad. But I will not cave and give publisher Electronic Arts and developer Maxis my hard earned cash. No matter how much I want to lock myself in my man cave for a week to create the perfect utopian city, I will not buy SimCity. And here’s why.
SimCity uses an always-on DRM system. This means that you are required to have an active internet connection to be able to play the game. This is not a one-time activation DRM scheme, like some games use, but a requirement that your internet connection is stable enough for SimCity to regularly communicate with Electronic Arts’ servers. This even applies if you want to play a single player game: You need an active internet connection. If your internet connection is down for some reason, you will not be able to play at all, and if you have an unstable connection, you might run into another problem: If the game is not able to communicate with the DRM servers for a while, you will simply be dropped to the main menu and all your progress since your last save game will be lost.
But even though your internet connection might be fine and dandy, there’s another potential problem: The servers the game communicates with. Right now, on launch day, they are totally swamped with requests from eager gamers who have just bought SimCity and want to play. But many of them are greeted by a screen telling there’s a half an hour queue to even log on. This is, of course, a temporary problem that will solve itself in a couple of days when the worst rush has died down. But what happens in a couple of years, when EA decides to shut down the servers? Will you still be able to enjoy your $50 game or will you be unable to play even single player games because the DRM servers are offline? You can always hope that a patch that allows single player games without the need to communicate with the DRM servers are released, but there’s no way to tell if this will happen or not.
Another feature of the new SimCity is cloud gaming. Your save games are not saved locally, but instead they are in the cloud. The cloud can be a wonderful place. DropBox is a great example: You upload your files to the cloud and BAM! they are available practically everywhere, on every device with an internet connection. Problems will arise, however, if you need your files and you don’t have an internet connection or DropBox is offline. You better hope you have the file stored offline somewhere!
The cloud used in SimCity is a fragmented “cloud”. If you start to play on, say, one of the North American “clouds”, but then decide to, for some reason (maybe your favourite server is offline) to play on another one, your save games will not be transferred. And what happens when EA turns off the servers you were playing on? Will your save games be lost for ever?
Always-on DRM and cloud gaming without local copies are a major pain. Together with pay-to-win downloadable content, they are the god damn plague of the gaming industry.
If you share my opinions on always-on DRM and cloud gaming and think they are bad for the future of gaming, do like me: Talk a language publishers and developers actually understand. Don’t buy their games. I’ll leave you with the words of the one and only TotalBiscuit and his thoughts on always-on DRM: