Update on the live servers
Tuesday: I played a retail copy of SimCity Monday night from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. (it will do that to you). I experienced one problem: I tried to create a region and it failed. I tried again, and it worked the second time. I then played with no further problems, and a few people from around the world joined my region. One annoying thing: if you switch servers, it starts the tutorial again. I couldn't find a way out of it, but I'm told you can escape to the menu. Anyway, given the launch problems other always-online games have experienced, SimCity has been pretty successful so far.
Wednesday: It got worse. I've been able to play for hours at a time, but it's been frustrating. Last night I was stuck in a queue for my chosen server for about two hours. I could have played on a different server—the Oceanic server has been smooth sailing—but that's not where my friends and cities are. Starting new cities is plenty fun, but if I can get anything positive out of the always-online requirement, it should be playing with my friends. That was a challenge. Even when the server let me in, adding friends took hours, and invites to join my private region either failed on the spot, or claimed success but still required multiple attempts.
The launch day rush is a unique situation, and I think it's fair to let it settle down before judging the overall quality of service. We often compare it to seeing a big movie opening weekend: you'll have to wait in line, and you probably won't get great seats. Even so, it presents long-term problems. We never buy a game with a guarantee that we'll like it—we trust that we will, and sometimes we're let down—but EA can't even guarantee that we'll be able to play SimCity when we want to. The requirement also removes it from ideal playing situations, like on planes.
SimCity is not an MMO. Multiplayer regions are fun, but the bulk of the experience is solo. I'd love a solution which enables off-line play by putting neighboring multiplayer cities in temporary stasis and updating the region when the server is available. I don't have any deep knowledge of the game's back end infrastructure, so I don't know if that solution is possible, but I expect it's irrelevant.
I won't write the final review as an activist or cheerleader for the anti-DRM sentiment, as I don't think reprimanding EA and Maxis for their business and design decisions is valuable in that context. These frustrations will affect the verdict because I'll analyze the whole experience critically. Now back to the fun stuff...
On the next page, the tale of a one-road metropolis