Lucy Bradshaw, General Manager of Maxis, has been talking a lot since the disaster that has been SimCity's launch; possibly too much. She has been very open about the failure that was the server preparation, claiming they simply did not have enough servers in place to be prepared for the initial roll-out. This week she is being candid about another topic near and dear to my heart: the decision to not offer offline play.
Maxis has been very clear about the reasons since they announced it a year ago: the entire world, single player or multi-player, would revolve around calculations performed by the server. One of the major changes to the new game is the free market concept implemented for resources. Clearly, when playing multi-player, you would need the ability to calculate global resource pricing and availability. However, in single player mode, there is no world, so no need for universal calculations, or so I have maintained since the beginning.
Well, Bradshaw confirmed my suspicions this week. In fact, her comments are in response to the fact that a few minor tweaks to the game from some crafty hacker/developers has fully enabled offline play for single player mode. Her comments, however, are not fully in alignment with the facts at hand. She said,
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.
The problem with this statement is they DID build a single-city isolation mode, they just required it to be played with an Internet connection. That is, by definition, always-on DRM and not server-based rendering or calculations. Bradshaw has maintained, time and again, that to enable the ability for offline play would require "significant engineering." However, a single individual has enabled it for himself and claims the tweaks are "very minor and easy."
Any developer worth anything could have told you this a year ago, but it is nice to have my suspicions about DRM requirements confirmed so readily.