Dear SimCity, You're Almost There, But Not Quite

It’s been a week since SimCity was released, and while most of the server strains have been calmed down, there were just some minor quirks about the game we had to deal with.

I didn’t want to have this on my review of SimCity, because frankly the game was built up to be pretty awesome and the server woes the game faced has been promised a resolution by EA and Maxis which they have been working on. That aside, the game could have been a little better. SimCity was born an offline PC game and the fact that its new iteration needs to be online all the time has brought a bit of irk to the thousands of gamers who bought the game expecting it to be smooth sailing.

No Preloading For You
The one question I had in mind before 11pm last Monday was whether the folks who pre-ordered SimCity could download what was expected to be 10GB worths of game in advance. Not only did that not happen during its launch worldwide, it turns out that the download off Origin was a swift 280MB installer, leaving all the excited masses to scamper online to face the dreaded “Processing Large File” progress bar.

I consider myself one of the fortunate ones who managed to get into the actual game after an hour and a half of waiting, worried if my game would even run with an unsupported graphics card (it did. Phew).

Building Cities in the Cloud
SimCity puts all of your cities in the cloud (or more realistically, in a server farm somewhere) and nothing is saved locally except your video captures and screenshots. Players have lost progress and even whole cities during the start. I myself had trouble claiming a city in my region after the game would lose its link to the servers. Most recently is the “city is not processing properly” issue I’ve been facing, which forces me to roll back to my city’s last working sync and lose my work in city development.

And pretty much because your game is synced with the servers and your progress is synced with the friends who join you online, there is no turning back. Gone is the SimCity when you could experiment with whether your city could do better with a streetcar system instead of a bus network. Lay down a hospital now and you blow 120,000 simoleons you’ll never see again (until you earn it back). Sure, this hasn’t been a problem since my prosperous city has millions of dollars in funds, and there’s also the sandbox mode that allows you to add funds to your city treasury and explore the entire game from the get-go, but you’ll lose out in toppling the global trade market and earning achievements.

Your City is in Another Cloud
During the initial server strain, the use of other servers were recommended, especially since a couple of servers would be filled to the brim. Trouble is, the city you already have isn’t saved locally and it doesn’t transfer over servers. So heading to another server just to get another city started from scratch made the purpose moot. However, EA has fixed this somewhat and you can access “Full” servers if you already have an existing city in there.

So if you want all your friends to join you where you are, make sure the group decides on an available server. It did ease up strain on the servers, though, once all the players were spread out by Friday.

The SimCity Server Apocalypse
Another worry I had before handing Origin my money was the thing about always-online games. Running servers are expensive and EA closes plenty of their servers for online features affecting several games a year. While these are mostly sports games, you can’t say that other regular games won’t be switched off when its user base slips in numbers. What will become of our precious cities when the plug is pulled?

Just this year, The Sims 2 community had their online content exchange servers shuttered. Although technically in no way an online MMO like SimCity, there will come a day when SimCity’s moment in the sun will end. Maxis has already reported that some serious reengineering is required to make SimCity playable offline (since disputed by a Maxis insider).

Making Things Right
EA has always been pointed as the bad guy when it comes to taking all our good money, but at least they’re trying to make things right with SimCity. EA and Maxis has since apologised for the rough start we all had despite a few bouts of public beta tests, promising the early birds a free game off Origin for their troubles by March 18th. They’ve been working hard at getting it up and running to players’ expectations. The bad server weather is heading past us as all current SimCity servers are being upgraded.

I stand by my review saying this has been a really good game despite all its hitches and perhaps unwelcome changes, but maybe somewhere along the line there could’ve been some decisions that could’ve made the game less of a frustration magnet.