SimCity’s problems go from bad to worse as always-online servers called ‘unnecessary’

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for SimCity developer Maxis (a division of Electronic Arts). After days of trying to get players access to the servers necessary for the always-online game, there’s now the suggestion by an unnamed insider and Maxis that the burdensome servers that have been the cause of so many headaches aren’t actually necessary.

According to an anonymous source interviewed by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the servers aren’t handling calculations for the non-social aspects of running the game. EA representative Lucy Bradshaw had told gaming news websites Polygon and Kotaku on a previous occasion that they “offload a significant amount of the calculations to our servers,” and it would take “a significant amount of engineering work from our team to rewrite the game” in order to run it in single player mode, RPS reports.

Several people have tested out playing the game offline, including one Kotaku writer, and found that the game currently will play for about 20 minutes before realizing that it isn’t syncing with the EA server and preventing players from continuing.

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The RPS source says that the first of Bradshaw’s claims isn’t true and that the servers aren’t an integral part of the calculation process:

“The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities. As well, they’re doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, and all of that. But for the game itself? No, they’re not doing anything. I have no idea why they’re claiming otherwise. It’s possible that Bradshaw misunderstood or was misinformed, but otherwise I’m clueless.”

The primary role of the servers and the necessity of being always online, according to RPS, is to prevent cheating or hacking of the game. Digital rights management (DRM) is a serious concern for EA. And while they have done their best to reassure gamers that the servers have a larger role in the overall gameplay experience, this claim from RPS’s unknown informant is likely the fuel for which frustrated players were on the look-out.

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While the debacle is not unlike what took place when Blizzard launched Diablo III as an always-online game, the backlash from furious gamers has been much more forceful for SimCity. A petition has been started on by angry players, demanding that EA remove the “always online” DRM from SimCity and any future games. At the time of writing, over 68,000 supporters had signed the petition and it had received over 415,000 page views, according to Forbes. For comparison, several similar petitions were started by upset players fighting the always-online requirement of Diablo III, but the most successful one only gathered close to 4,000 signatures.

And it seems that the drama isn’t over yet. A recent post from BGR comes out critically against the AI lacking much of the promised independence that was initially promised in the game. It points to other reviews of the game that have called it ‘claustrophobic’ for the limitations on how big people can make their cities. As more users continue to finally get access to the game, chances are good we’ll hear even more of these complaints going forward.

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