Earlier this week we brought you details on the digital rights management scheme that SimCity publisher EA and developer Maxis have programmed into the upcoming city-building video game. You can find full details in our earlier piece, but the most crucial point is that the game will require players to have an active Internet connection simply to save their progress in the title. There seemed no mechanical explanation for this requirement, but EA believes that this hurdle will go a long way toward preventing widespread piracy of the currently PC and Mac-exclusive SimCity.
Given its ongoing, collective hatred of any DRM scheme (which, it should be stated, is based on the numerous times that seemingly innocuous DRM schemes have done little to quell piracy while drastically hindering the gameplay experience of many legitimate players), the Internet masses immediately decried this decision, claiming that EA is purely motivated by profit. While the publisher has yet to address these complaints directly, a new blog post written by Maxis head Lucy Bradshow appeared this morning that attempts to explain to prospective buyers why the decision for this particular DRM scheme is, in fact, beneficial to all those hoping to enjoy the latest sequel in what is undoubtedly one of EA’s longest running, most intensely beloved franchises.
“Creating a connected experience has always been a goal for SimCity, and this design decision has driven our development process for the game,” Bradshaw writes.
“Perhaps [SimCity creative director Quigley] Ocean said it best when he said that real cities do not exist in a bubble; they share a region and affect one another,” Bradshaw states. “[SimCity's new] GlassBox [game engine] does more than just segregate computing tasks, it also allows us to make it so that you can create specialized cities that are visually unique and personalized, and that can be economically integrated into a larger region. You’re always connected to the neighbors in your region so while you play, data from your city interacts with our servers, and we run the simulation at a regional scale.”
“For example, trades between cities, simulation effects that cause change across the region like pollution or crime, as well as depletion of resources, are all processed on the servers and then data is sent back to your city on your PC. Every city in the region is updated every three minutes, which keeps the overall region in sync and makes your decisions in your city relevant to any changes that have taken place in the region.”
“Running the regional simulation on our servers is something we also use to support features that will make this SimCity even more fun. We use the Sim data to update worldwide leaderboards, where you get to see your city or mayoral standings as compared to the other cities in your region and between all of the regions in the world. And since SimCity is a live service, we’re also using the data to create weekly global and local challenges for our players that keep the gameplay fresh and surprising,” Bradshaw adds.
In closing, Bradshaw states that SimCity is the best entry in the franchise to date and that due to how interconnected it is, the gameplay itself requires an omnipresent Internet connection. It simply wouldn’t be possible to achieve the level of regional interconnectivity Maxis has planned for the title without players being constantly connected to one another. Yes, this requirement does make it slightly more difficult to pirate the title, but if Bradshaw is to be believed, the decision to require an always-on Internet connection was not made by cynical bean counters, but instead by the creative types who designed the game’s inarguably impressive feature set.
Whether you’re apt to believe Bradshaw or not is another question entirely, but her words do make a lot of sense. It may simply be that long-time SimCity players have to adjust how they think of the game. No longer is SimCity a simple single-player attempt to turn the arduous task of city building into a compelling game; Instead, the latest entry in the franchise is akin to a massively multiplayer online game. We’ll leave it to you to decide if this is a positive or reason enough to avoid the title when it hits shelves in March of 2013.