Since the launch of Diablo III everyone and his uncle voiced a strong opinion on the always-on debacle which was recently highlighted again by the launch of SimCity (5). The game experienced the same criticism as D3 had before it. Namely that the gameplay could easily accommodate an offline mode and also the fact that servers were less than stable in the weeks following launch, making the game inaccessible to those who bought a legitimate copy.
I don’t doubt that EA and Maxis have made a lot of soul searching lately in order to understand where their failing lie (hint: consumers hate draconian drm measures dressed up as game enhancing features). The point that they often seem to bring forward when discussing how this whole issue could have been handled better is a failure to communicate the vision of the game with the players. I can see how that is partly true. Many players still do not fully understand the implications of an always on requirement. It is a relatively new concept for most people. When I decided to buy Diablo III I did not give the idea of an always on requirement much thought. In retrospect I should have. The fact that I was shut out of the game because of server issues really aggravated me. While I did see the benefits of being connected I could not see how it was essential to me enjoying the game on my lonesome. Blizzard was telling me – You need a connection for this feature even if you are not going to use it.
Once bitten twice shy. I never considered buying SimCity even if its a game that totally appeals to me. I will definitely get it if the always on requirement is removed.
But going back to the ‘failure to communicate’ issue Maxis seem to have found a solution to that. Quoting from Eurogamer:
‘…Maxis said it should have better communicated the fact that SimCity is, in the developer’s eyes, an MMO…’
Yeah, right. The same way that I am, in my eyes, a Greek God.
I can see how Maxis would benefit from marketing SimCity as an MMO. The majority of consumers understand the always-on nature of an MMO and by selling the game as such they would not have to explain the always-on requirement. In fact they could go one further and sell us the idea that this MMO requires no subscription fees. However there is one big fat hair in Maxis’ soup. SimCity is NOT an MMO as currently understood by consumers. There isn’t a persistent world with thousands of players inhabiting it – which is the hallmark of the MMO genre.
The term ‘MMO’ has already gotten some bad rep by being used inappropriately to justify having a monthly subscription. I am sincerely hoping this does not usher an era where it becomes a cleaner, more consumer friendly alternative to DRM. In the meantime Maxis – my wallet says no