Sorry, EA Was Never Obliged to Make SimCity a Single-Player Game

Can we have a calm conversation about SimCity for a moment?

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EA Maxis

Can we have a calm conversation about SimCity for a moment? If not, by all means take your preformed opinion to the comment section below and hammer away (I can take it). But if you’d like to have an adult conversation about what’s been happening here and why channeling your outrage measuredly matters, keep reading.

First, to those of you furious with EA for not making SimCity a single-player game, I get it, I really do. You didn’t get the game you wanted. Neither did my boss — a devoted SimCity fan who’d been skeptical of EA’s ability to pull off always-online from the start. I’m sympathetic. When Seal released a cloying club-ready paean to Heidi Klum in his 2010 album Commitment, I didn’t get what I wanted either. I hear you.

And more importantly, when SimCity met the world on March 6 with all the grace of a freight train rocketing over half-collapsed trestlework before plummeting into the abyss below, I condemned the company’s lack of preparedness. SimCity didn’t work at launch and continued not to for days thereafter — a catastrophe by any measure exacerbated by the fact that this was SimCity, one of the most beloved PC game franchises of all time. What’s more, while EA claimed the problem was essentially resolved early last week, TIME Tech’s Doug Aamoth continued to have difficulty finding a stable server. Anecdotal reports suggest people are still have intermittent issues queuing into servers or getting the game to run consistently as we near the close of the game’s second week. Two weeks is an eternity in gaming-dom. If you haven’t yet returned the game for a full refund, this is me raising a glass to both your patience and tenacity.

EA Maxis’ Lucy Bradshaw has been working to mitigate player backlash by penning regular blog updates on the status of the game’s retooling as well as to address assumptions about what the game could (or should) have been in terms of its design maxims. Whether she’s been successful is for you to decide, but I want to focus on one dispatch in particular: Last Friday Bradshaw published a post titled “SimCity Update: Straight Answers from Lucy.”

In that post, Bradshaw defends EA Maxis’ decision to make SimCity an “always online” game, noting that “[in] many ways, we built an MMO.”

So, could we have built a subset offline mode? Yes. But we rejected that idea because it didn’t fit with our vision. We did not focus on the “single city in isolation” that we have delivered in past SimCities. We recognize that there are fans – people who love the original SimCity – who want that. But we’re also hearing from thousands of people who are playing across regions, trading, communicating and loving the Always-Connected functionality. The SimCity we delivered captures the magic of its heritage but catches up with ever-improving technology.

This is causing virtual paroxysms with diehard SimCity fans, especially the allusion to SimCity being MMO-like. One blog called it “tone deaf.” Another hyped it with a provocative (and, for the record, irresponsibly presumptive) headline: “EA lied about SimCity not being offline-capable.” Even Joystiq jumped in with its “MMO Week in Review: You keep using that word.”

Joystiq makes a reasonable point about over-broad application of genre descriptors (though I get nervous when the word police come out — ask 100 people what an “MMO” is and you’ll get 100 different answers), but the rest just reads like nerd-rage. EA was never, ever obliged to make SimCity a single-player game, nor do these accusations (accurate or no) from modders that the existing code is just a few steps away from being a single-player game hold much water when it comes to EA’s obligations. So what if the game could have been a single-player game. EA made its design intentions clear over a year ago and hasn’t wavered since — love it or leave it.

You can ask, you can even petition, but I’d like to think we’re not at the point where we’re now telling painters, musicians, writers and artists of whatever stripe — game designers included — what they have to do.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t shake your fist indignantly and shout “but games are art!” then hold game designers to a different standard. SimCity may not be the game you wanted, the game my boss wanted or the game I frankly wanted, but accusing EA of lying and double-dealing and speculating like a bunch of anti-government conspiracy nuts just makes us seem petty and juvenile. No one’s forcing us to buy the game or making our sense of self-satisfaction contingent on SimCity conforming to our personal tastes (the latter’s all us).

Didn’t we just go through this with Mass Effect 3? Where does this entitlement mentality come from? Why isn’t it sufficient to vote with our wallets? Where did artists or designers releasing games that aren’t tailored precisely to our standards morph into a mandate to launch vulgar, ad hominem-laced screeds?

I’m not defending EA’s train-wreck of a game launch, nor on a conceptual level defending their decision to make SimCity an “always-online” game. But I can say “thanks but no thanks” and walk away (or just go back to playing earlier versions — GOG’s offering SimCity 2000: Special Edition for $6, for instance). Hurling churlish accusations, hopping on mob-bandwagons, using rhetoric like “EA lied” — it says more about us than the object of our scorn, in the end.