There Must Be A Better Solution Than SimCity Style Server Dependency

Single player server. That is a bit of an oxymoron of a statement and yet we now live in world where they exist. While no game company is actually using that term, it doesn’t mean that gamers aren’t having to deal with them.

There have been three major titles that have had this issue;  Assassin’s Creed II, Diablo III, and the recently released SimCity. The shambles that has become the SimCity launch has been widely reported on, so I’m not going to really go into detail on that. Suffice it to say a lot of people are angry and annoyed at the fact that you have to be connected to a  server to play a game.


Sure you can play, but not on your terms.

It’s certainly worth noting that the same problem plagued Diablo III’s launch, with Error 37 proving the bane of many a gamer, and those who bought Assassin’s Creed II on PC had to be constantly connected to a Ubisoft server to play the single player. After a lot of backlash from players, Ubisoft eventually switched those DRM servers off.

The Assassin’s Creed II debacle should have provided a major insight into just how people would react to any such measure. It seems that Blizzard and EA Maxis did not heed the warning signs and ploughed ahead anyway.

Launch issues are to be expected in any game that relies heavily on server activity, but the difference between games like Call Of Duty and titles like Diablo III, ACII and SimCity’s ilk should be obvious; the former has become focused on the online multiplayer, while the latter titles have been games that had historically focussed on the single player and players were forced to deal with multiplayer issues.

I don’t take issue with the likes of Diablo III and SimCity having multiplayer. One of the original things that interested me about the latest Maxis game was the concept of interconnected cities and how they could affect the global community and cities in your region; an exciting, new element that I assumed would be optional.

You see the main reason SimCity appealed to me was because I wanted to build a city and run it my way, play it my way, save it my way. If I felt ready then I would have taken my city online to interact with everyone else. However, the decision was made to force an always online existence, force connectivity and even force saves to be made on the servers and not locally. There’s not even a way to take a private region you’ve been playing by yourself and switch it into a public region later, although people from your friends list – who are on the same server as you – can be invited to join your private region.

The fact that most of what you do is not locally controlled makes, in my opinion, both Diablo III and SimCity nothing more than glorified rentals. It’s even worse if you take into account that SimCity may be able to work without the servers, at least according to one source.


Seems people didn’t really learn from the Error 37 debacle.

Right now I could install my disk of SimCity 4 and play that with very few problems. I bought that ten years ago. Or I could hook up my Mega Drive and play the original Sonic game, which I received some 18 years ago now. Some of you reading this probably weren’t even born then. Can the same be said for either Diablo III or SimCity? Will they still work ten or even 18 years into the future?

A few years down the line either Blizzard or EA could decide that their respective games aren’t generating enough money to continue sustaining the servers and they’ll shut them down. That’s hardly an unprecedented scenario either, EA shut down the servers for their MMA title just 18 months after the game’s launch for similar reasons, and that game had an online pass system many had paid for.

Though the servers were shut down for MMA, the entire game wasn’t rendered completely unplayable as the single player didn’t require any server connection. Diablo III and SimCity don’t have that separation. Instead you’re left with an all or nothing situation. You could equate the online pass in this case to the full price of the games, which leaves a situation where you’re never fully in control of the product you paid for.

I can see why companies are putting these restrictions in place, they’re clearly combating piracy, but that doesn’t mean they should treat every customer like a potential criminal, one who must constantly be monitored lest they start waving the Jolly Roger and take without paying. If you ever get that desire I recommend a quick bout of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, after you’ve paid for it of course.

[drop2]The first thing game developers and publishers must accept is that there will always be piracy. It happens in the music industry, it happens in the movie industry, and it happens in Somalia, though that’s less to do with getting entertainment for free and more to do with a failed nation that has become anarchic, but I digress. People have been stealing things since time immemorial, that’s a necessary risk of dealing with people.

Once companies accept that they’re simply not going to beat the pirates, a better way to stem the tide can be implemented, one that doesn’t require the constant surveillance of Big Brother. A potential approach that I feel could work is something similar to Steam Guard. Steam Guard basically allows you to log onto your Steam account from any device that supports it, as long as you authorise access from that device.

A similar system could be adopted by other developers if they insist on having some kind of DRM. Essentially someone would buy a game, enter their email and an initial activation code. Now that computer should have unrestricted access to the game. To activate another device you just download the authorisation client, enter your email, receive the authorisation code and away you go again. Much better than sitting in a queue for 30 minutes to play a game solo.

There was a time when there was faith between publishers and consumers, a time when a server wasn’t needed to play a city building game that allowed volcanoes to erupt in the city centre. To put it simply, I don’t want to be treated as untrustworthy by someone I give money to, and I’m glad that thousands have voiced that same opinion.

And, if for some reason the trend of single player servers continues then at least I’ll still have my Sonic games to play.


  1. I personally think its a disgrace all this with this game. EA need to start listening to their customers, because there is already a building up of resistance of gamers against them. I’ve stopped buying their games for over a year because I think they are a disgraceful company, on many levels.

    But there you go, they will carry on unless people stop purchasing their products. Stop buying something even when you know its faulty hoping it will get fixed.

    • Totally agree. And yes, as long as the games are selling enough, they’ll carry on as normal. EA have been releasing big games for long enough now to know what demands are likely to be on launch day.
      They should be providing enough servers to comfortably cope with demand, not crossing their fingers that they do.

  2. Good article and absolutely correct. I wasn’t aware of the issues with ACII but surley EA have seen what happened with Diablo 3 and the outrage that you couldn’t play the single player offline.

    EA should have heeded past issues and put in an offline single player for those who prefer to play by themselves. Forcing people online who may not have the best connection or simply don’t want to is not going to do you any favours.

  3. It really is counter-productive.

    Makes more sense now to wait for the inevitable hacked & cracked single player torrent…

  4. I don’t think there has ever been a point where companies trust their consumers, barring the occasional oddity.

    First there were the colour coded grids on the backs of manuals to prevent people copying floppy disks and photocopying manuals. Then there were encrypted strings of letters and numbers on manuals to be input during install, alongside the requirement to keep the disc in the drive. Then SecuROM and other heinous forms of DRM to make sure you weren’t bypassing the requirement of disc in drive.

    Steam was also once considered horrible DRM, and even though there is the offline capability, it is still a fairly loose form of always online DRM. They just give you the ability to log in wherever and sell you games cheaply enough during sales that 95% just don’t care anymore. However, heaven forbid that competitors should offer similar services!

    But EA and Blizzard have taken note of Ubisoft’s failures with AC2, and incorporated some rather forced online components as loose justifications for people to have to play online. It’s not pretty, but people will generally get over it… for now…

    It’s a shame that GoG’s business model is by and large being ignored.

  5. I hope this doesn’t come in across the board as most of the time, the games i play are yonks old due to my backlog & me being a tight-arse. For example, last 3 games played are Dead to Rights, Brink & infamous 2

  6. I’m finding it very difficult to understand the reasoning behind these online SP servers. Piracy? As in copying the game and selling it, or giving it away? How does saving the game on an external server stop this? They will still load it up and play right, unless it’s coded in such a way that that game/disc/download only works once… in which case it is simply system locked/download locked or any other limitation that doesnt require online servers.

    Simply put. Im stupid and don’t understand.

    • The game has to be associated to an Origin account to get online with a legitimate key, which they can obviously check when you enter it. If its fake or has already been used, no activation, no game. If it worked offline, then sure, it could be cracked to not need Origin. But by requiring a connection to a server to even save the game, then cracking this would be much more difficult.

  7. The problem is? It works. Diablo 3 was criticised like mad for this, and yet its sold over 10 million copies, and there aren’t any pirated copies around as far as I can see, because they can’t do it. Now SimCity 3 has sold a load on launch, as its chart position shows and, whilst this shows signs that it might be possible for someone to make it work offline, there’s no way so far of pirating this either.

    So lets get ready to see more of this, as the games still sell and the piracy is stopped. Its the PC DRM holy grail, because people still buy it despite the vocal opposition to it, and no-one gets it without paying.

  8. The best means of stopping a person from pirating your game is to make it good enough to buy it. If every developer lived by this then gaming would be a much better place.

    • Well, you’d think so, but that’s sadly not the case. Look at Android apps and games… they cost pennies, yet people still pirate them relentlessly.

      No matter how good or low-cost you make something, there will always be people too cheap to pay money for it.

  9. I don’t want to buy the game purely because its dependant on when EA turns off the servers – I can’t then play the game I technically own 100%. I’ve been suckered in with PSN, Steam & Desura and I’ve often thought – what happens to all my games if someone just said one day “sorry – company closed – bye”. Nothing feels like its 100% mine more than a physical copy. I’m more than happy to use a platform program but when someone tells me I can’t play the game in 5 years time as its no longer profitable for them – that’s where I draw the line. I refuse to buy a purely online only game.

  10. I’ve decided not to get Sim City at all. I was really looking forward to it but aside from the connection issues there are so many bugs in the game. For example sims in game complaining about there not being any commercial or medical even when there are 3 clinics and 2 commercial centres in the town. These sims don’t stop complaining for years and years and years. There is something fundamentally wrong with the game if the infrastructure of your city is not connected to how people of your city interact with it. I was looking at this on my mates laptop few days ago and he’s filing for a full refund and I don’t blame him. One of the worst game releases of all time IMO.

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