Makers of SimCity say the game’s 2013 release was “heartbreaking.”
My heart belongs to SimCity (2013). Even though its construction was severely flawed, the game was still enjoyable to play and looked great.
The RPS’s Upbeat Fanzine PC Recently, Gamer spoke with members of the development team to learn more about the design choices that were made, why they were made, and the impact that the subsequent backlash had on the series.
You may have forgotten, but SimCity’s initial release was a disaster. Even if you were playing alone, you needed a “always online” internet connection, and if your connection or SimCity’s servers went down, you’d have to log out. The SimCity servers experienced frequent downtime, especially in the first few days and weeks after its release, when millions of players were trying to access the game at once. The launch was “heartbreaking,” according to Stone Librande, who was in charge of design.
EA’s Lucy Bradshaw claimed at the time that online play was “a creative game design decision,” though it now appears to have been implemented to discourage piracy and direct customers to Origin, EA’s new digital storefront.
The SimCity series was extremely popular among pirates, so the question “How can we make this un-piratable?” was issued. In an interview with PC Gamer, Librande revealed the following. “One way to do that is to store most of the data on the servers, where it can’t be easily hacked, and where validation from the servers is required even if a local copy has been compromised.”
‘Origin is the storefront in consumers’ machines,’ says Ocean Quigley, SimCity’s creative director. “So the motivation was to make SimCity online and use it to push Origin. If the necessary facilities had been in place, perhaps it could have been successful.
To be fair, Librande does mention that “at that time every game had multiplayer components,” and that it was a “personal goal” of his to play SimCity with his two sons. However, despite EA’s explanation at the time that the ‘always online’ requirement was in place to offload part of the simulation to their servers to improve performance, nobody PC Gamer spoke to has ever experienced this.
Despite these concessions and launch problems, the article touches on the reasons why I find SimCity compelling, namely the simulation it offers and the design philosophy it embodies. “Cities are people, not buildings,” Librande proclaimed on a sign that hung above his desk. “The words came from a source of urban planning. You shouldn’t consider a city to be nothing more than its buildings and roads. You should picture actual people travelling through these systems, stopping off at various locations along the way.”
Both Librande and Quigley left Maxis shortly after the release of SimCity, and EA ultimately shut down the company. Jellygrade was a studio that Quigley and another SimCity developer co-founded, but they never put out any work. Quigley is currently the director of creative development for virtual reality at Meta, and Librande is a designer for Riot Games.