Maxis: SimCity could have had "a subset offline mode" but the idea was rejected

Tyler Wilde

Maxis GM Lucy Bradshaw has responded to criticism that SimCity could have featured an offline mode, saying that yes, it could have, but Maxis "rejected that idea" for a different vision.

"So, could we have built a subset offline mode? Yes," writes Bradshaw. "But we rejected that idea because it didn't fit with our vision. We did not focus on the 'single city in isolation' that we have delivered in past SimCities. We recognize that there are fans—people who love the original SimCity—who want that. But we're also hearing from thousands of people who are playing across regions, trading, communicating and loving the Always-Connected functionality. The SimCity we delivered captures the magic of its heritage but catches up with ever-improving technology."

This is a direct response to the ire Maxis has drawn for previously implying that an offline mode is unfeasible. For instance, in an interview with Polygon last week, Bradshaw said:

"With the way that the game works, we offload a significant amount of the calculations to our servers so that the computations are off the local PCs and are moved into the cloud. It wouldn't be possible to make the game offline without a significant amount of engineering work by our team."

The second statement may be true now that the existing engineering is in place, but our question has always been, "Why couldn't an offline mode have been planned from the start?" As I wrote in an editorial yesterday, Maxis has been leaving out the caveat: it is possible to play some form of SimCity offline, but not as Maxis intended it to be played. Bradshaw's statement today is that caveat.

I like shared regions, but being connected isn't SimCity's biggest attraction.

In the post, Bradshaw explains why SimCity was designed as a connected experience, saying it wasn't a corporate decision, but a means to "realize a vision of players connected in regions to create a SimCity that captured the dynamism of the world we live in; a global, ever-changing, social world."

"The game we launched is only the beginning for us—it's not final and it never will be," she continues later. "In many ways, we built an MMO."

I understand what Bradshaw means: we don't criticize MMO developers for not making single-player RPGs instead, and like an MMO, SimCity is designed to be a multiplayer experience. However, while Bradshaw makes many arguments for multiplayer, she offers no arguments against singleplayer. Unlike Guild Wars, for instance, SimCity has a history of being a single-player experience, and while the multiplayer and social features are interesting, I'm not convinced that the option to play a subset offline mode undermines Maxis' vision. SimCity is fun by myself, too.

To editorialize even further, I think being able to opt in and out of a connected experience at will would only have increased SimCity's value, and holding up social features as the most precious and integral vision for SimCity was a mistake. But that's it: SimCity was designed to forever be a connected experience. At least it's nice to have it all out in the open!

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