Sim City’s Online-Only DRM Launch Disaster Recalls D3’s Troubles

As everyone who was around last year remembers, Diablo 3 had a very rough launch, in large part because of the online-only requirement. As happens with most game launches there was a rush of fans sufficient to clog the online play options, but unlike when the same thing happened with Diablo 2 back in 2000, there was no offline mode for Diablo 3. This focused the rage of everyone who couldn’t play, and gave the hordes of people who hate any type of DRM extra ammunition for their attacks.

Well, Error 37 is back in the news this week, not due to anything related to Diablo, (which has had generally excellent up-time since the first 2 or 3 days after release) but thanks to the disastrous launch of the new Sim City title. That long-awaited game came with great fanfare and anticipation, but two “features” that mixed like oil and flame: an online-only requirement and woefully-inadequate server capacity.

SimCity fans were against the online-only requirement from the start; a Reddit chat back in December turned into an inquisition over the online-only DRM, and the feature remained quite unpopular, though not enough so to stop the game from selling well. Too well, as the influx of players crippled the Sim City servers much worse than anything we saw during the first week of Diablo 3. It’s been so bad that Maxis had to disable some of the game features and stop marketing it, Amazon suspended digital downloads, and the Metacritic user ratings are even worse than those Diablo 3 racked up. (For more on the SimCity launch, check out the most recent IncGamers podcast, or this article on Kotaku that details in painful length all of the different forms of failure SimCity has demonstrated.)

The parallels to Diablo 3’s own launch are manifest, but at least with Diablo 3 there was some argument to be made for the online requirement. After all, most of us played most of our Diablo 2 via, both since Diablo 2 is better with other players and since we wanted secure character storage and a (largely) hack/cheat-free gaming experience. SimCity had a much tougher sell to make, since while some players were interested in playing it online and comparing/competing their cities with other players, the SimCity series has been largely a single player experience.

I didn’t follow SimCity pre-launch, but as the disaster unspooled this week, I grew curious about what the developers said pre-game. Did they do as the Diablo 3 devs did, and cite every reason other than anti-piracy as the reason for their DRM? Yes, of course.

Lead designer Stone Librande confirmed that SimCity would be an internet-dependent experience. Players will need to be online on Origin while playing, even if that wasn’t the point of purchase. The always-on connection becomes necessary with the game’s emphasis on multiplayer and regional impact, and the use of a global economy that all players can influence.

Naturally, fans are launching online petitions (which are doing exactly as much as they always do) asking for a single player mode, and the developers are stalling for time, denying refunds, frantically adding more servers, and just basically hoping things will blow over once the initial rush of players drops down to a more normal concurrency rate. Which they probably will, though SimCity will (like Diablo 3, and fairly or not) be forever known as the game with the horrible launch and the online-only DRM. Whether the devs will live with that since the online-only DRM stopped piracy and got them 2 or 3m more in sales… I dunno. As long as industry types cite figures of +90% piracy rate, and DRM features other than online-only prove ineffective, I suspect we’ll keep seeing online-only DRMs, regardless of the potential for launch week disasters.

So here’s the big question — in light of the news that the DiabloWikiDiablo 3 console will have an offline play option (SP only, or multiple players on the same machine) how do you guys think fans would have reacted to an equivalent of that at D3’s PC/Mac launch back in May 2012? (Or say, in November 2014 when D3X launches?) If there had been a Single Player option for D3 (no TCP/IP or LAN, just a way for you to play solo on your machine), in addition to the MP option, would that have quelled the anger over Error 37 and the lack of a SP option? Would that actually have helped Error 37 not exist since many of us would have played offline and not added to the server load? Or were most of the people raging about that just haters, of Blizzard, or Diablo, or DRM in general, and we’d have seen much of the same rage anyway?

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50 thoughts on “Sim City’s Online-Only DRM Launch Disaster Recalls D3’s Troubles

  1. If there had been an option to play offline, there would not have been a problem (aside from the inadequate game that was released, but that is besides the point). Much of the game is tied to the “onlineness” and the auction house. Without those “features”, the game may have been designed to be good, with the online being looked at as a bonus.

    Unfortunately, a good Diablo III is something that anyone is unlikely to see, just due to the nature of its design.

    • Interesting, I’ve always felt that the “always-online” requirement was the weakest of Diablo 3’s failures. It was a catalyst to the internet fueled nerd rage, sure.

      Had the game stood on its own and provided an exceptional game experience after the first couple days of intermittent downtime, people would have shut their mouths. For me, the game fell flat on its end game and diversity of character features that didn’t even rival its predecessor.

      I, of course, played continuously knowing that these would “eventually” come. But Blizzard months are like dog months and change comes rather slowly.

      • The problem is that “online feature” was in place only because of the auction house. Which all of the drops were “balanced” around. Which the gear-check walls of Inferno were based around. The online-only feature was tied to the core gameplay experience of “kill monsters – collect loot”.

        The online only does nothing to help multiplayer, which is you know, supposed to be the point. They reduced team sizes, gave shitty chat options and have no real multiplayer support in character design, or gameplay options. Thus the online-only was a joke from the beginning, because there was no gameplay reason for it, and yet if you want to play any other way “it’s the wrong way to play” (according to the devs).

    • I already saw a pretty good D3 at launch and one that got improved big time after patch 1.04 and 1.05.
      Improvements that (in size comperatively) took years for Diablo 2 to arrive.
      Now onto the expansions which will hopefully be such a major impact/change that you couldn’t, just with Diablo 2, immagine someone ever playing it without the expansion.

      • Where did you see a pretty good D3 at launch (or even now)? I must have played the wrong game.

  2. I don’t know what you mean by saying ‘generally excellent up-time’ as most people I know are plagued with latency issues. The fact that D3 is completely unplayable every Tuesday is also an issue that their fanboys tend to forget about simply because Blizz already does this with WoW.

    Also please refrain from making such bold and blatantly untrue statements about ‘most people playing Diablo 2 online’ this is definitely NOT the case as the majority of multiplayer experience tended to be through LAN (A feature Blizz has apparently forgotten about in their greed) and the single-player community has thrived through mods. D3 won’t endure even a tenth as long as Diablo 2 for that simple reason that nobody likes being Blizzards little bitch and playing on the woefully inadequate B.Net 0.2.

    • must be your internet, or the people you know…. as other than the first few weeks i have not been disconnected even ONE time in over 300 hours of play… nor do i EVER have lag that is anything other than from my own pc cause i like my settings too high.

      • I don’t like the always online aspect and I don’t see why there needs to be weekly down time but the up-time outside of that is excellent. I only ever get disconnects when my personal net connection goes down.

    • In the midst of all the “D3 sucks and Blizzard is literally devil” posts I would like to add that I, and few other people that live near me that also bought D3 on day 1, had virtaully no problems in playing it, even in the first week. I say virtually because we were unable to play it for an hour on the first day but, after that, there were no issues with disconnects or busy servers for me. There is occasionally some lag, yes, but that is mostly on my part since I run D3 on an older computer. Whereas, when, with Sim City, people that I spoke to about it that bought the game (I don’t really care about SimCity) said that they’ve been unable to play since the launch. Yes, this is an anecdote, but it is as valid as all the “I haven’t been able to play D3 for a week” anecdotes which are largely what led to the whole D3 is unplayable debacle.

    • I liked the part where I say most people played D2 via and you said that I shouldn’t make strong opinion statements that weren’t backed up by evidence, and then immediately stated your opinion that most people played via LAN. (Based on zero evidence.)

      Everyone has different experiences, but given that I spent the big years of D2 working on this website, I bet I knew more daily d2 players than you did, and the vast majority played mostly on, with some SP players who were mostly interested in modding. (I was included in both groups.)

      As for D3 LAN, maybe some tiny fraction of players can’t easily Internet from their location would play with friends on a LAN in their house, (Bliz is targeting them with the console?) but that’s not a complaint I’ve heard much of with D3. Not many people with LAN availability don’t also have Internet ability. Thus most of the bitching about online only was people who wanted a real offline, SP version. (And maybe modding.)

      • of course. Personally, once I beat D2 solo offline, I never played it outside of except maybe a few years later when I got my gf hooked and we played through the whole game on 2 comps on a LAN.

        While I do understand that some people may prefer to just play the game by themselves peacfully offline, I don’t really see the point of playing outside of for an extended period of time.

        And the connectivity has been stellar for a very long time.

        • Apparently you have never used some of the better mods like MedianXL that are out for Diablo 2: LoD

    • How do you know the single player community was greater than the multiplayer community?

      The majority of my d2 game time was spent online, though I agree 2.0 experience is lacking such as the tuesday downtime and the weak social interface.

  3. Frankly speaking, I do want to play all of my games online. It is always satisfying for me to be able to compete or play with other random players across the globe. This is the reason why Skyrim started to bore me. It is an stellar game, no doubt. But at some point in time, I realized that it is pointless to play any further if my actions in game will not impact other players. In short, no matter how awesome it is, you are still playing alone and no one would care about your achievements.

    But it is just me though, and my opinion doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. So if given the opportunity, I want D3 to have offline mode as well. BUT give the online-only players the full benefit of the game. Ladder mode, specific game contents, in-game events etc.

    If you wanna play offline, that is fine. But consider that you are separated from the online community. I just don’t want people to be jumping between online and offline mode with one character. I want D3, or any games for that matter, to have a clear distinction between playing alone and playing online.

    • I’m all for there being online and offline mode as well, however, I strongly disagree with the idea that people playing online should get exclusive content. Ladders are fine (although I never liked ladder only items in D2), but events and content that you only get for playing online just shows the entire. You should get bonuses for playing online, you should not feel that you are compelled to play online. Any time content is released that is available only for a specific portion of the player base, no matter how large or small that portion is, it becomes a divider that segregates the players. Making things easier to get online, fine, but nothing should ever be exclusive in my opinion. It’s the same reason they do not include hardcore only gear for D3, they want hardcore to be an option, not mandatory, and in a loot game the mode that has more loot automatically becomes mandatory to most people.

  4. Flux, you know what bothers and boggles my mind? The people on these online forums KNEW that Sim City would be online only….so why did they waste their energy buying the game? This isn’t a subscription based mmo, so it’s not like they’re mourning the loss of money. It’s like the classic example of someone eating at the restaurant called “Shit filled hamburgers” and then complains about it. Your patronage just earned them cash and then you complain about what was offered…you as the consumer have the option to choose your entertainment, so please stop complaining when there was information available on the internet. I get that people want to play games, but there comes a point when Little Jimmy has to decide between playing with his friends and supporting online only drm.

    As for online only in Diablo 3, I’m sure Blizzard had mountains of data regarding percentages of players on battlenet and singleplayer, so it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision to disregard singleplayer. Seriously, pre launch videos, to the extent of my knowledge, clearly stated online only. Single Player enjoyable in D2? Please do not support companies by BUYING first then complaining.If you don’t like that, you’re able to vote with your money. Don’t buy shit like that….it’s that easy. AND PLEASE don’t be that person on metacritic giving garbage a 0 when you haven’t bought the game….

    • i chose not to buy the game because of the online-only, however, this article isnt specifically about it being online only, but the debacle that has come of it. EA couldve easily done a much better job in quite a few of the things they did with the release of SimCity, and as much as i’m not a fan of the online-only, it doesnt mean that anyone who bought the game deserved all the GOD AWFUL service that came with their release.

  5. The fail of Simcity goes way beyond launch woes. The game has become a series of small cities crammed into glass boxes then forced to interact with each other in the dumbest ways imaginable. This game was clearly desinged to promote their online only multiplayer. WHen I play SImcity I want sit down relax and just sculpt a metropolis. That’s it. Not be force feed this garbage.

    ANother online only feature gets PUSHED into the game though so that players feel there is no other way to play the game unless they are always online. Total BS and it’s ruining games with both shoddy launches and bad design decisions. To make matters even worse the game has been pirated and playable offline since launch. The pirates are even claiming to have less trouble with the game than the people who bought it legit. How sad is that?

    Anyway to link this game to D3 I think that the D3 auction house is a good example of this online only encouragement by use of bad game design.

      • If they didn’t force the online only and force the small glass box multiplayer multi small city thing on people I think it would be a great game. In fact I’d be willing to pay double for a version without those two things. After all why should the pirates get to be the only ones that are able to play this offline? Offering a refund is a great move but I’d rather them not have to do this and the fanbase not be put through it. If it’s all in the name of beating pirates they really have to ask themselves at this point… “What exactly have we accomplished here?”

        • Having just lost my first weekend to Sim City (after promising myself I wouldn’t) I can say it’s definitely a good game. I had no connection issues from their end but I did on my end with 2 powercuts – only for a second but enough obviously.

  6. Jay Wilson must of had a celebrity shot in Sim City’s development. Fuck that loser.

  7. Well. I guess offline single player would help with a launch. I myself play SP exclusively and I bet there are more people like that. At launch I wouldn’t even bother to log-on to – more space for multiple players on the servers.
    I do hope they will implement offline mode in expansion but I don’t really believe that. And while I’m dreaming I also want a pony… 😉

  8. I like the part where the costumer service can and will not reverse purchases and give no refunds on completely dysfunctional games and threatens said player with the ban of the Origin Account If they try retrieve the money for said purchase via Bank-order.

  9. Curious that NOBODY refers to the disastruous launch of the most successful game of this century: World of Warcraft. LOTS of server problems at that time: a total disaster compared to today’s problems in D3 or now Sim City.

    But apparently it was accepted that WOW is an on line game only. The problem with D3 and SimCity is that these games are CLEAR on line games from a DESIGN point of view, but not accepted as such as on line games by the PLAYERS.

    The problem is that MOST players have zero knowledge about game design and how a game with multiplayer interaction AND economy can NEVER be an off line game experience (due to the local copy of the client)

    Due to hacks, exploits, cracks etc…

    The sad problem is that players have no grip on the newest technology to control these exploits and piracy.

    If you are home banking and your bank is off line, well it is just a small invonveniance for a couplr of hours. Gamers screamm Hell and curse when they need to wait for a few hours.


    • Except that the developers aren’t saying “We have to keep it online for security reasons”. If they just came out and said the truth, I really think players would be more accepting of it. But don’t fee me the BS lines like Blizz did about how it’s all for my own good. Blech.

    • I think if a game like this launched with no server issues, there’d be no backlash to online DRM. It’s not that the game is online that people are upset, it’s that they can’t play it, which is ridiculous. If players could just play the game when they were supposed to, they’d have no time to get in a huff and post angry Metacritic reviews.

      • I’m much less certain of that than you are. I think there’s a considerable segment of haters out there who just want to bitch about something/anything and will seize upon whatever excuse is available.

        After all, what % of major PC game launches, especially MMOs, have had connection issues or server overload the first day(s)? I don’t have statistics, but it’s pretty much expected, is it not? All the recent big MMOs had that, and D3 certainly falls into that category. Everyone *knows* there will be overcrowding the first few days/weeks. So what separates fans who have some patience (if bitterly) and those who go into full flame mode and post 0-star Metacritic ratings and then continue bitching for the next 6 months?

  10. It’s EA,. don’t play their games PERIOD.
    Dont care its online or offline,. it’s EA,. boycott the stuff from the “turd of the year” award winner.

    • I stopped when Mass effect 3 required me to install origin. I regret nothing – when i heard about the day 1 dlc it was pretty clear that Bioware was more about making money than making good games – i also heard nothing good about the story so i guess I’m better of not knowing.

      • The story was actually quite good up until the last 5 minutes. Literally, the last 5 minute cutscene of the game was the bad part. It was a bit of a letdown, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the other 20+ hours or so of the game. The internet is full of entitlement hate, so take that into consideration.

        Friends don’t let friends use Origin, thought. I wholeheartedly agree with you there.

    • As much as i agree with the all boycott EA. For the 10 years of Battlefield, they sold BF3 for 10 euros, which i bought. And i don’t regret it, definitely not worth 60 euros but 10 euros is fine in my books.
      Though i’m never buying an EA game (or Blizzard’s) for 30+ euros anymore.

      • The guys i know who bought battlefield, informed me that there’s a weapons pack, and a level pack, and various other DLC contents which create an unfair balance in the game vs those players who haven’t bought those dlc packs.
        So, it still holds up. EA is evil, always.

        • Actually, the M16A3 and AEK, both of which are considered the top weapons in BF3, are from the vanilla versions, as DICE didn’t want to make DLC weapons stronger than their vanilla counterparts. Some people may even throw in the AN-94, which is, not surprisingly, a vanilla gun.

          I’m not saying EA isn’t an awful company, but saying that BF3 is pay to win is just false.

          D3 is honestly more play to win with it’s money grubbing AH system and drop rates that were ruined to entice people to use the AH.

          • Oops, typed “Play to win” instead of “Pay to win” … D3 is clearly not “Play to win” because every time i loaded that game up I felt like I lost.

  11. single player=no hacks unless the PLAYER choose to hack

    multiplayer= hacks and cheats all over the place because other people are idiots

    MMO= massive duping, currency hunting via bots and black markets, cheats and exploits. Only the developers attempt to curb the hackers leave the player that does not cheat with a somewhat enjoyable experience.

    If diablo 3 came with sp only blizzard would only know i existed due to my purchase of diablo 3 because i sure as hell would not go near battlenet

  12. ” If there had been a Single Player option for D3 (no TCP/IP or LAN, just a way for you to play solo on your machine), in addition to the MP option, would that have quelled the anger over Error 37 and the lack of a SP option?”

    If there was a offline option I wouldn’t have asked for a refund, living in South America with no blizzard servers anywhere near me just kills the experience, playing with constant 200ms lag, peaking to 1000ms when 20+ mobs are on screen, on a machine that costed me a lot of money, just doesn’t make any sense. I can play battlefield 3 at 90fps with 64 other people at 20ms connection lag, but I cannot play d3 solo at anywhere that performance.

    I visit this site weekly waiting for news of when blizzard will actually care about the southern players and give us a local server, to us and to out brothers in Australia, meanwhile, Blizzard will never again have a cent from my pockets, neither will EA until they fix BF3’s issues.

    Big publishers are killing gaming, I’m wasting a lot more money buying games from other companies now than those so called AAA titles by activision/ea.

  13. It is not the online only thing I dislike about SC, it is Origin and the small cities (didn’t buy it, after wasting 20E too much on D3 to be able to play on launch day, I told myself I will never preorder a game anymore)

  14. I have been playing sim city for the past couple of hours, no issues. The end of the world has ended and we can move on. 🙂

  15. Online only is going to kill gaming as we know it. (It already has, for the most part.)

  16. Agreed Adest!

    Blizzard could have easily increased sales by having two modes of play, both offline and online. Look at the d2 single player forums here, more peeps viewing than any other forum on a consistent basis, this for years and years. Single player is way more popular than most here realize.

    After a decade or more gaming, I personally have had more problems with D3 than any other game playing online. A close family member was hacked in D3 and that same family member and myself have both been banned for no reason by WARDEN. My other family member has not begged for his access back via a ticket yet and might not ever.

    But apparently people who still have their original d2 cds and have never hacked or pirated anything in their life are threats to a series of games they love.

    Your touts of security fall on deaf ears my friends, your money grab is shining in broad daylight. The gold bots and hacks salute you!

    • Is the active single player forum indicative of how popular single player is, or does it show that people who play single player still want the social experience that multiplayer has via chat?

      Multiplayer allows you to chat freely in game. You do not ‘need’ forums in multiplayer as much as you do if you just play offline or singleplayer.

      I do like singleplayer games, but diablo was from the beginning a multiplayer game. Going online only made sense, but like anything, the decision has some drawbacks.

      I haven’t played sim city in years, mainly because it felt like solitaire after a while. Multiplayer games are always more compelling experiences for me. The competitive aspect is a big reason to keep playing even after the game has lost its newness.

  17. If there had been an offline mode I had played it offline since I always played the Diablo-series as a pure solo-experience. So there would have been at least one less player to stress the servers and to rage when they collapsed.
    I would still have hated the game after a short while for its numerous shortcomings and horrible design desicions and stopped playing though. -.-

  18. i don’t care for online-only DRM, and the launch problems are bound to happen, (even in SP games it happens that there are some gamebreaking bugs that prvent you from playing till patch is out) just give it a week or two. My problem iS EA and Origin, i will never install that that s$1t.

  19. Interesting reading on the growing Simcity debacle.

    Employee takes apart the exec’s for their part in this;

    Public service announcement not to buy until it’s fixed;

    EA asks their partners to stop promoting;

    Amazon goes further and actually pulled the game;
    Then finally put it back.

    EA tries to fix by disabling some features;
    but it isn’t working;

    Got so bad they withdrew their initial refund offer;

    And are offering a bribe with new games instead;
    and cheap excuses;–248186.phtml

    Needless to say, it isn’t working;–248159.phtml
    And the best review yet;

  20. When did this “largely hack/cheat free experience” on d2 occur? d2 is a cesspit of hacks, cheaters, and spambots. It’s one of two key reasons I to this day am still a dedicated d2 sp player.

  21. Since I was a kid, and my dad got our first home computer (Mac SE30 black and white), he always stressed “you never buy version 1.0.” To this day, I follow that sage advice. Online launches are exactly the same. Everyone KNOWS Diablo or StarCraft or SimCity is going to have a big launch. Wait a month for the servers to stabilize. What’s one month on a game you plan on playing for years (hopefully?) Now, I’m not getting SimCity b/c EA has a terrible, terrible reputation for dropping servers ASAP. Blizzard is still running SC1 and D2 and WC3 servers. EA drops Madden or FIFA servers after two years or so.

    • Oh yeah, and they haven’t patched in support for cities bigger than 200k. 200k is like two college football stadiums, for crying out loud.

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