Insider claims EA lied about SimCity requiring online servers

At Rock Paper Shotgun, John Walker hears from a "Maxis insider" who claims that Electronic Arts lied about how SimCity works in order to avoid the obvious solution to its launch troubles: disabling the "digital rights management" (DRM) system that locked paying customers out.

Maxis’ studio head, Lucy Bradshaw, has told both Polygon and Kotaku that [Sim City] “offload a significant amount of the calculations to our servers”, and that it would take “a significant amount of engineering work from our team to rewrite the game” for single player. A SimCity developer has got in touch with RPS to tell us that at least the first of these statements is not true. He claimed that the server is not handling calculations for non-social aspects of running the game, and that engineering a single-player mode would require minimal effort.

SimCity's spent much of the last week in a state of near-unusability. If the source is telling the truth, it means that EA could have fixed it, but instead preferred to keep it broken, with customers locked out and lied to, all to maintain the credibility of its DRM system.

That SimCity was built to require "server-side calculations" was daft to begin with. Expecting players to believe this setup is instrinstic to the game rather than merely a DRM hook? Pull the other one, it's got a dongle on it!


  1. EA are clever bastards though.

    I’d like to boycott them, but after noticing that over half of the games I own are either published or owned by EA it reduces the pool a little.

    Even the new SimCity, which I’ve been waiting for for a decade, is requiring quite a lot of will power to avoid, and it doesn’t even work properly.

    *Shakes fist at EA*

    1. I find it quite easy to boycott EA, as they tend to turn the IPs I care about into steaming piles of crap.

      1. Yeah, it’s not uncommon that the best version of some game was the one put out right before the company was acquired by EA.

    2. Tropico 4 went on sale for a week at Steam. Picketd it up with all DLC for only $10. Getting my empire-building fix in, and probably have a bigger island than SimCity’s square mile of “fun.” :)

  2. DRM isn’t even the worst part of the game anymore. As millions of nerds have spent days banging away at the engine trying to figure out how it works, fundamental flaws have been discovered that reveal how the bulk of SimCity is a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

    The game lies about population, pathfinding is atrocious, agents are about as intelligent as a coin sorting machine, freight trucks “lose” resources in certain situations, and mass transit is a complete crapshoot.

    I still think the glassbox engine is really cool, but as an idea or research project. As a game we’ve been waiting 10 years for, it’s pretty bad.

      1. Where’s the problem?  Users can just write a mod, like NAM, to fix those issues, right?  …Right?

        1. Sure they can. And then EA can bad them for life for using a mod that isn’t EA approved. Not like they can go offline and run the mods either, because ‘always online’ means ‘always watching’.

          Than you EA for becoming the Big Brother of the gaming world.

          1. If the developer is telling the truth, and there’s no reason to think he isn’t, it is theoretically possible to make a crack for the game which allows it to be played SP without having to check in with Big Gamer. 

            In this instance I would say it’s not only morally acceptable to do so, but a moral imperative to.

    1. Yeah, the game turns out to be, in no respect, what they claimed it was.
      So it turns out that it would be possible to simply patch out the online aspect with a hack, but the game is so broken that I’m not sure why anyone would expend the effort.

    2. The new SimCity seem to me to be more like The Sims writ large than a proper SimCity game.  There’s a ton of focus on each little person but tremendous limits on the scope of the game as a result. 

    3. They spent so much time and effort on DRM they probably didn’t have time to make a decent game.

  3. I’m just assuming the usual suspects have it running as a single-player already and cracks are there for those that want them as per night following day. A quick google seems to bear me out, but I haven’t investigated further.

  4. It was clear from the start that the online play was only added as a form of DRM. Claims that the game was doing processing on the server because there was too much going on for people’s PCs to handle it all were obviously nonsense.  What’s surprising is that there’s nothing really going on in the servers – if they wanted it to work as effective DRM, they should have had some gameplay (besides the multiplayer elements) running there to prevent the game from being copied.  
    The game is pretty much a complete disaster, with descriptions from players of such inept simulations being done that I find it hard to believe it was deliberately designed that way (certainly it doesn’t match the functionality that had been previously described by EA). EA must have cut some serious corners in the development process to not have caught the problems here.

    1. oh, you mean like having a 1 hour beta test? they clearly knew they had a broken simulation. the problems really don’t start to manifest until you’ve played for about an hour because your city is too small til that point.

      they willfully deceived every single person who preordered the game, limited the beta test to an hour so no one would notice, and now are refusing to issue refunds. they should be sued.

      1. And that’s what doesn’t make sense to me – although there are plenty of stupid, horrible things that the industry does, publishers with the resources to avoid it (such as EA) do not knowingly create games that broken and do sneaky releases intended to only get pre-order sales.  That’s the perfect way to destroy not only the sales of the game and of all subsequent games of a beloved and lucrative franchise but damage the whole company’s reputation beyond repair – and for no reason.  They lose far more by not fixing the problem than they would have spent resolving it, and they certainly had the resources required to fix things.  The reason why most broken games get released is because the company simply runs out of development money and has to release what they have just to stay afloat.
        Either things aren’t working the way they intended (i.e. there’s a bug somewhere that took them by surprise), they knew it was broken but thought they could patch it out before everyone else noticed, or they didn’t realize just how broken it was by not having done proper testing.  I suppose it’s possible that it was designed in a way that didn’t work but that only became known late in the production process, and f*cked-up internal politics either caused someone to hide the problem or prevented the problem from being fixed.

    2. Funny, I remember you telling me that it wasn’t just magic tokens being sent to and from the server, but that actual math was being offloaded into the cloud. Then again, that was before a Maxis insider revealed the hidden magnitude of EA’s and Maxis’s lies, so I suppose you can be forgiven for taking them on face value. ;)

      This is possibly the best part: Editing the UI (which is written in fucking javascript) code allows debug mode, and UNLIMITED offline play, as well as some other goodies.

      1. Well, it isn’t just magic tokens being sent from the server.  Their claim that gameplay processing was going on on the servers turned out not to be true (something which I assumed they added as purely a DRM feature if nothing else, as that makes sense).  That they claimed it was being done because the player’s computer couldn’t do all the computations locally was clearly nonsense.  The game is, however, still doing more than sending tokens back and forth over the internet – the saved games are online, and the player’s small chunk of city interacts with other players’ small chunks as well.  You can’t simply crack an authentication server or switch to offline mode and have the game work – people have already done that, and it’s only a partial game.  The game save feature can be reproduced without the difficulty that trying to recreate online play would have posed, however.
        Although strictly speaking, it’s not actually true that the game doesn’t require online servers, as apparently the game has been designed around the interactions of the various chunks of city being run by different players.  You could patch that out, but it would change the game.  That may be tolerable for many players, however.

        1. Well, yes, the game is doing everything you would expect it to do online for multiplayer, cloud-only game saves, and message routing for chat and friends presence and such.

          But debug mode quite happily worked with unlimited offline time — albeit without saving because one of the few things EA and Maxis have said that’s true lately is that the game does only save to the cloud.

          It’s not purely magic tokens to keep the DRM happy, but it sure as hell isn’t anything we haven’t seen before with any online multplayer game, as it turns out. And those have fallen to the pirates before.

          Edit: Looks like Reddit found the offline savegame cache, where the game writes your progress to disk so it can sync up with the cloud when you’re back online if your net goes out. Sooooo… SimCity already does save locally.

          Keep digging, EA/Maxis.

  5. Well… if this Maxis insider is telling the truth than I’ll pirate the game once the cracks are out! (I’d buy it but I don’t give money to companies that intentionally ruin the experience for paying customers – remove the bullshit DRM and we’ll talk) 

        1. To be fair, strong DRM leads to copying* while weaker/non-existent DRM also leads to copying.  Strong DRM encourages cracking of games, but the game’s popularity is what encourages copying.  Game copying is, and always has been, an integral part of the game industry, regardless of the level of DRM.  (Which is an argument against DRM that has any sort of inopportune effects on players.)

          *I think it’s important to distinguish simple copyright violation with no commercial intent from product piracy, wherein someone copies a product in order to sell it themselves.

      1. What are you suggesting as a viable alternative? That people actually buy the game and give more money to EA to further reward this sort of toxic behavior?

        I like Maxis. They’ve made interesting games over the years. But they got into bed with EA, and they are suffering for it. I can’t buy SimCity in order to support Maxis alone. Any money I try to give to Maxis via sales will in majority go to EA instead. And the last thing I want to do is support the scumbags at EA who imposed this DRM nonsense in the first place.

        So, sorry, Maxis. You’re my friend, and we’ve known each other a long time. But until you stop hanging around with EA, we can’t hang out any more. EA is bad for you, and I won’t just stand here and watch you do this to yourself. I’m not buying any of your games so long as EA is involved.

      2. I’m afraid that this time I must copy that floppy. Maxis is welcome to try again. I’ll be enjoying my (legitimately paid for!) copy of SimCity 2000

  6. Meh.  They lost me when I found out how tiny the game play area is.  Even if they fix all the bugs and put out an offline patch, I still don’t think I’d get it.  By the sounds of it, the simulation is so complex that the area has to be kept small, so I’m assuming a patch for that just isn’t possible.

    *sigh*  Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 10 years for Sim City 6.

  7. E. A. 

    GO. F___. YOURSELVES. (It’s about time for some change, isn’t it?)

    MAXIS! What are you people doing? Get the hell out now while the getting is good. Start over and do it right this time. Need some help, I’m sure you could find all you need and more here and in like minded spaces. I’m half tempted to start a kickstarter to save Maxis from its grossly inept masters. Any takers, I swear I’ll do it. I’m just that damn fed up with this horse-shit.

  8. Even Notch noticed this, and so now (in theory) so have his 1.1 million followers.

    EA/Maxis, what… the… fuck. How is this even possible? How did you let this game get released?

    Maxis, how could you let this happen to you? You were the good guys.

  9. This game is broken on so many levels, I don’t even think its fixable. This DRM debacle PALES in comparison to the broken game mechanics. Its a completely broken game.

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