Electronic Arts said from the start that SimCity, the upcoming sequel to Will Wright’s seminal city building game, needs a persistent Internet connection to play. With just months to go before the game’s spring release, though, it’s becoming clearer just how stringent that online connection will be. Developer Maxis has confirmed that players won’t even be able to save their game without being connected to the developer’s servers.
Members of SimCity’s development team engaged in a question and answer session about the game on Reddit last Sunday. One player concerned about the connection restrictions asked what would happen if they abruptly lost their connection mid-game. “What will happen to the game if I am playing and lose my Internet connection—Will the game still be playable and update the servers when my Internet connection resumes or will it pause and wait for the connection?” asked Reddit user human-error.
Maxis responded that players who lose their connection mid-game will be allowed “to play for as long as we can preserve your game state” a period that will “likely be minutes.”
Put another way, if a user is playing SimCity using an unstable web connection, they are at risk from losing progress in the game simply because their connection dropped out.
In March, Maxis’ Stone Librande said that SimCity needed a constant Internet connection due to multiplayer features of the game, in particular the global Sim economy that reflects every player’s city. The rigid nature of the persistent connection, to the extent that the game can’t be saved if the player loses their Internet connection, suggests that EA is also trying to prevent SimCity from being pirated.
Piracy is no laughing matter for Electronic Arts. To put things in perspective: The video game industry generated $50 billion in revenue worldwide in 2011. PC gaming in particular was responsible for a significant chunk of that revenue, more than $18 billion to be precise. Electronic Arts is a leader in the field, developing games to pull revenue from both the console and PC space. Battlefield 3, Crysis 3, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age III—Most of its marquee titles are meant for both the living room and the PC monitor gamer.
SimCity on the other hand is a PC-only title, and even though sales are expected to be good, Electronic Arts doesn’t want any revenue to slip through the cracks. A Cowen & Company analyst pegs SimCity’s retail sales at around 500,000 copies this spring in addition to digital sales through EA’s Origin and other outlets like Steam. If EA isn’t careful, though, it will alienate players enough with these restrictions that they’ll simply seek out readily available older editions of SimCity to play, meaning less revenue for EA in the short term and a missed opportunity to re-establish a major PC brand.