Blog / Old Ben on the mountain

With respect, I think gaming has found its Andy Rooney. Ben Kuchera has been unleashed from the Penny Arcade Report to write scathing opinion articles for Polygon that sound like grammatically correct forum screeds. While I find myself agreeing with Ben on most counts, his latest volley against SimCity is slightly too much. Slightly.

Remember the rebooted SimCity from 2013? The one that consumed me utterly? Maxis is patching an offline mode into the game so you can play by yourself. Save and load individual cities. You know, the sort of thing we’ve taken for granted in the last 20 years of computer gaming. People are livid to read an official announcement without a mea cupla.

Those are hard to write, you know? Maxis made some huge gambles on the future of their franchise with multi-city regions, being always online, the whole individual simulation model. With multi-city regions leading to restrictively small lots; epic server downtime at launch; and the traffic and individual simulation shown to be illusory‚Ķ how would you write a letter admitting those failures to your customers? Blizzard shows us one way, by treating it as a gameplay feature that didn’t work out rather than some moral cavity. Note how the word “sorry” or “apology” doesn’t appear in the actual text.

Pictured: the truth raining down on the simulation's facade

Maxis phrases their announcement similarly, although Patrick Buechner does apologize‚Ķ for not starting the post by wishing everyone a happy new year. The rest of it is the standard “we care about modders so long as they play by our hilariously restrictive rules” baloney. Patrick finishes by linking to his Twitter account, reminding me so much of how Tony Stark ends impromptu press conferences.

I agree with Ben that Maxis should say something about why they’ve gone back on their previous decisions, but in some cases he’s putting words in their mouth. Lucy Bradshaw said “It wouldn’t be possible to make the game offline without a significant amount of engineering work by our team” which is not the same as “offline modes would never be offered.”

Maybe the reason EA and Maxis don’t seem to care so much about this “breach of trust” is because, like all companies run by human beings, they don’t see themselves as bad people. Apple doesn’t think it’s wrong to organize a price fixing conspiracy or cheat consumers out of warranties on two continents.

Besides, software development takes time! Maxis can’t just clap their hands and materialize these features. They have to be carefully written and thoroughly tested. Writing game code is hard, and part of game development is shipping that code. It can be challenging to tell “when it’s done,” and you could spend forever adding features and fixing bugs. But if you’re going to continue to exist as a studio you have to put that game in the hands of consumers and face the music.

For what little it’s worth, I adored SimCity. Fundamentally broken but still fun. Maybe it’s fixed now. I’m glad to see these new features and look forward to whatever the modding community comes up with. You know, assuming Maxis approves your particular reskin.