Maxis Insider: EA Lying About Needing Servers For Single Player SimCity

from the EA-needs-some-new-talking-points dept

Throughout Simcity’s massive public flameout last week, questions were raised (repeatedly) about EA’s claims that an offline, single-player mode would be a massive undertaking because of the amount of calculations being done server-side. As many people pointed out, this seemed to be a choice EA had made in order to prevent piracy, rather than a necessity due to the (shoehorned-in) social aspects of the game.

Minnesota Viking’s kicker, Chris Kluwe, was one of the many voices finding EA’s claims dubious:

The fact that EA requires an “always on” connection is ostensibly because so many operations are taking place server side that your computer won’t be able to handle it (which is a blatant falsehood, since when I was streaming the other night, the only times I DIDN’T have latency was when I was disconnected from their servers and my computer had to run all the game operations), but in reality it’s to try to combat piracy.

John Walker’s recent Rock Paper Shotgun piece on SimCity’s “inherent brokenness” (and why gamers shouldn’t let EA walk this one off) echoed this sentiment.

SimCity, of course, could be a single-player game. Ignore the utter nonsense about how some of its computations are server-side. What complete rot. As if our PCs are incapable of running the game. I’m sure some of the computations are server side! But they damned well don’t need to be, as all of gaming ever has ably proven.

EA, however, continues to claim otherwise, somehow expecting PC users to believe that without its valuable servers picking up the computational slack, the game would be unplayable. (Or, more so, I guess…) Unfortunately for EA and its “talking points,” a Maxis developer has stated exactly the opposite.

A SimCity developer has got in touch with RPS to tell us that at least the first of these statements is not true. He claimed that the server is not handling calculations for non-social aspects of running the game, and that engineering a single-player mode would require minimal effort.

Our source, who we have verified worked directly on the project but obviously wishes to remain anonymous, has first-hand knowledge of how the game works. He has made it absolutely clear to us that this repeated claim of server-side calculations is at odds with the reality of the project he worked on. Our source explains:

“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.”

So, it’s exactly as many players (and unhappy customers) believed. SimCity’s always-on requirement does little more than any other always-on requirement: attempt to prevent piracy. Demanding every player always be online throughout the entirety of their single-player game is ridiculous. The Maxis insider who spoke to Rock Paper Shotgun says that not only is a single-player version SimCity possible, but that “it wouldn’t take very much engineering” to make it a reality.

Players elsewhere are also discovering what Kluwe had: that the game runs, at least temporarily, without an internet connection, something that shouldn’t be possible, according to EA’s claims that its servers handle a “significant amount of the calculations.”

Kotaku ran a series of tests today, seeing how the game could run without an internet connection, finding it was happy for around 20 minutes before it realised it wasn’t syncing to the servers. Something which would surely be impossible were the servers co-running the game itself. Markus “Notch” Persson just tweeted to his million followers that he managed to play offline too, despite EA’s claims.

The Maxis insider points out that the Glassbox engine running SimCity processes the actual simulation client-side, before sending out updates to EA’s servers. These updates are then queued in the regional server until they can be processed, which (depending on server load) may take several minutes. This helps explain why gamers are able to run for a limited amount of time without a connection.

EA has remained adamant that a single-player SimCity is logistically impossible, but that claim is suddenly holding a lot less water. This revelation doesn’t bode well for EA’s leaky Claims Waterholder or any future endeavors it had planned that might have relied on its “our supercomputers do the thinking for you!” rationalization in order to force more “online-only” requirements down users’ throats. This online-only requirement is no different than others before it. It may battle piracy, hacking and cheating, but makes onerous demands of its paying customers every step of the way.

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Companies: ea, maxis

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Comments on “Maxis Insider: EA Lying About Needing Servers For Single Player SimCity”

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Anonymous Coward says:

So, it’s exactly as many players (and unhappy customers) believed. SimCity’s always-on requirement does little more than any other always-on requirement: attempt to prevent piracy.

Incidentally, since all the calculations for the game itself are run on the client’s computer, this will do little more than any other always-on requirement in actually preventing piracy: almost nothing. It’ll be much easier than expected to crack now that it’s clear new code won’t need to be written to make up what the EA servers were doing.

A. Nonymous says:

On their own blog, they say that they’ve recently upgraded their server count to 24:

http://www.simcity.com/en_US/blog/article/simcity-update-5

I work at a hosting company that turned up a couple thousand servers to support an FPS game a couple years ago. It is hard to imagine that SimCity is doing any significant server-side computation with such a small server count.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

But the colony dictates the important functions of the ant. What EA wants, it gets. For example, EA wanted SimCity to use Origin. So it does, regardless of whether “Maxis” wants it or not.

Maxis cannot operate independently of the desires of EA. They are, effectively EA. That they are a subgroup given some degree of autonomy doesn’t affect this truth, as that autonomy can be modified or revoked any time EA wants it to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is why I have not bought a sim city game since Sim City 3. ANY SOFTWARE that contains DRM is a RENTAL! You will NEVER own the game or play it on your terms! Anyone who bought this game got just what they deserve. STOP giving these bastards your money. NO GAME IS WORTH IT!

BOYCOTT DRM Software – Digital Rental Media!

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have to admit, I got the latest Sim City. In my defence:

1. It came free with my shiny new (and on special) Nexus 7.
2. Everyone who signs up on line by the 18th gets another free EA game.

If you go by content industry thinking, I just deprived EA of two sales. I consider that a win. But I’m sure they’re going to record it as two actual sales just to prove that people don’t mind the always-on DRM. So… umm… everybody wins?

Now, where is that “don’t need internet” mod…

Anonymous Coward says:

EA are lying?

I’m shocked and disillusioned. The last dev of the really old guard, that all of us here on the internet held in the highest regards and have repeatedly (on an alomost daily basis) held high as THE prime example of integrity, customer appreciation and, most of all, honesty and fairness… is lying?

This is not the world that I grew up in, hoping for EA to become a political party and, after spreading its message and kindness all ovetr the globe, form a world government that leads every single one us to eternal peace and ubiquitous wealth and happiness.

As long as you registered your Origin account. Otherwise they’ve got this lovely ‘mass-residence camps’ with high-density work schedules they’d like to give you a tour of…

Anonymous Coward says:

no game should be ‘on-line only’! all games should be playable ‘off-line’. i buy a game and cant play it because i dont have internet, limited internet or unreliable internet means i am being discriminated against. EA can say ‘dont buy the game’. quite true, i dont have to buy it. nor does anyone else. how long would it then be before EA (or any other game manufacturer) started moaning that they weren’t selling enough games? that their business was in dire trouble? that more had to be done because ‘piracy’ was crippling them? this is pure bull shit! a shame that people still put up with it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Gone is League of Legend, Ultima online, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft and a lot of other games then. EA has already pulled advertising for Simcity 5 so it is a very serious blow they have taken! Unfortunately they have already sold a lot and since most of the consumer hatred will shine at next game in the series, they may mistake a good pre-sale for a good game and see the frustration as a sign of server-problems only.

So for single player games you are right and when it comes to their scapegoat, I think you will be completely correct. It might take up to 6 months for pirate servers to pop up and then we will see the “piracy is destroying the world as we know it and politicians are just standing there watching it happen”.

It is how the game of big business works: Scapegoats are needed as a negotiation-tool. Strawmanning piracy is a good wrench to throw at politicians to get other deals through.

Designerfx (profile) says:

two word answer

anyone who buys from EA is just buying into stockholm syndrome. How many times do we have to go through EA being openly hostile towards gamers before people realize this?

we have: EA devs crying out for being mistreated
Origin system created explicitly for DRM
battlefield DRM systems breaking constantly and not being reliable (punkbuster since original battlefield)
servers being made reliant on EA for no reason back then too. Hell, they were even sued for it. http://www.gamespot.com/news/ea-sued-over-spore-drm-6198136

it amazes me that people would even tolerate considering EA games at this point. I’m proud to say I will never look at their games anymore unless I download them via torrent so I can play them the way I want. I’m permanently burned by their garbage attempts at looking like they care about customers when they don’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: two word answer

Unfortunately many many people have been buying this game, maybe they hate it, but EA gets their money regardless. As long as this keeps happening EA is under no pressure to change anything.

If you absolutely must play it, wait for the cracked version, otherwise forget it. Do not give these people your money, they don’t deserve it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Umm… no.

First of all, you never own the game anyway. You bought a license to play the game. If you bought this license in a brick/mortar store, they also give you (free of charge, as sum pubs put is) a lovely box with a flimsy manual and a DVD that contains a copy of the software that you have just bought a license for. Otherwise, you couldn’t run it and your license would be worthless. I don’t think this is ideal, but your claim that you do not ever really ‘own the game’ because of DRM is bullshit. It’s because you buy a license, not ‘the game’.

The second point: I have lots and lots and lots of games (or to put it in unison with the paragraph above: digital media containing software that I have bought licenses for) ranging from the mid-80s to today. Almost all of them have some sort of DRM, ranging from primitive copy-protection over code-wheels to online-activation.

The overwhleming majority of said ‘licensed software’ has been developed by studios and published by… well, publishers, that have long since closed their doors. Nobody came round my place to take the diskettes, cds or dvds away from me, nobody presented me with a bill for the time that I’ve had them in my posession. No renting took place.

Online-activation and/or always-on-DRM does present its own new set of problems, I’ll grant you that. And even though this would be the right place to make some kind of conclusive statement, my pizza’s done so – who cares, I’m hungry.

Lord Binky says:

If the game can run for 20 minutes without the servers, it can be cracked, hacked, and pirated to function as a single player game. With enough time the pirates can (and will) emulate the server responses to the game. The pirated version will allow for the core functionality of the game to work, while the superfluous and trivial aspects such as social interaction and whatever dynamic world market crap will likely be static.

Without real work being done on EA servers, there is nothing new inhibiting the pirates from getting to this game.

The stupidity in EA?s reaction to piracy is similar to the stupidity of your house being broken into by way of a window, and responding by trying to prevent it from happening again by adding more locks to the door.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

Anyone taking odds on whether EA will find a clue and use it to create a playable version of this game?

Not that it will matter to me – since I’m very selective about what I give them money for. I’ve noticed a significant focus-shift on their part – they used to focus on making great games but now they seem to think that making stronger DRM will make their games better.

They fail to realize that the best copy protection in the world won’t matter if no one wants the game in the first place.

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’ll only happen when Simcity hits the bargain bins at your local game store as a “silver collection” edition. Or perhaps a GOTY-edition.

Until then, EA will double down on their stupidity. And to this day people are supporting them, by buying the crap that EA shovels out the door.

I’m sorry, Maxis developers, but you won’t be getting paid from my money. Nor will I play your game, because I refuse to be used as an anti-piracy statistic.
I will not ‘pirate’ this, I will not pay for this.

Anonymous Coward says:

I stopped buying EA games a long time ago. I disagree with the way they treat their employees like slaves. I get angry when i buy a game and only discover after the fact that it’s an EA game. Case in point – Plants versus Zombies.

That said, perhaps this issue, ongoing for weeks now, will lead to either some real changes at EA or the downfall of EA.

Either way, if you don’t like their business practices or the quality of their products then stop giving them your money. Its as simple as that.

Tom (profile) says:

Here are some ideas that might help EA:
– Recognize playability and quality impacts the amount of both paid purchases and piracy for any game, but high quality causes paid purchases to increase at a faster rate.
– Diminishing the playability and quality of your products in an attempt to reduce piracy usually results in a more dramatic impact on paid purchases.
– DRM doesn’t cause potential players to switch from being pirates to being paid purchasers.
– Paying customers recognize and resent you for taking away important playability characteristics from the games they enjoy and will think twice before purchasing additional titles from you in the future.
– An important segment of the buying public (i.e. the educated ones) recognize that you are placing more focus on manipulating market behaviors instead of building quality, playable games. The rest just think you are incompetent crooks who took their $60.

Anonymous Coward says:

Online for Games

Their are only two reasons for a game to require an omline connection.
1) DRM
2) Multi User.

In the latter case the servers are coordinating players and objects in the world, and most of the calculating is still done in the users machine.
For a server to add significantly to a single user game the company would need to provide more computing power per on-line user that a gaming machine. This is EXPENSIVE, requiring lots of machines, large buildings, and lots of electricity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Reason it out: of COURSE they're lying

It follows pretty readily if you just think about computation and data communication. Consider:

In order for one of EA’s servers to perform significant amounts of computation to support the game, it must have significant amounts of data: otherwise there’s not much work for it to do. In order for one of EA’s servers to have significant amounts of data, significant amounts of data must be uploaded from the game instance on a local computer to EA’s server. In order to upload significant amounts of data, significant amounts of data must exist.

But it doesn’t. If you want to verify this for yourself, then look at the size of the local game instance and compare the size at startup to the size when a large/elaborate game is loaded. We can presume that, to a first approximation, the size at startup is “overhead” — a relatively fixed constant regardless of the state of the game. We can also presume, to a first approximation, that the different in size at startup vs. the size once a game is loaded provides an estimate of the total size of the data required to represent that game.

Hint: it’s not that much. You could perform some very elaborate computations indeed on such a small corpus of data using a processor from the last century.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Reason it out: of COURSE they're lying

NO game developer is going to generate a video stream over the Internet to a PC with a very powerful video card already on it. Even MMORPGs do not do this. It would be asinine.

Game developers might not be doing this… yet. Other companies have been experimenting with it, though.

OnLive has been doing this for nearly 3 years now with some limited success.

nVidia recently announced their new GRID technology that would provide this capability.

As of right now, the biggest hurdle is latency from the server to the end-user. It may never be suitable for first-person shooters, but I can see it working for casual games like Sim City.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Re: Reason it out: of COURSE they're lying

While I agree that the servers doing massive processing is bogus, I have a few problems with your argument.

First you’re relating client memory footprint to server data size. In a simplified model, the client is a viewer. The only thing it needs in memory is the pretty pictures it puts on the screen. It doesn’t need to know the specifics of every building, just that they exist and what they look like.

Second, you’re saying that computational complexity is related to the amount of data. While that’s true, there are many other factors in play. Some other factors include: simulation resolution, simulation complexity, and simulation speed.

In the end I think a rewording of an old meme works great. Fast, Small memory footprint, ease of coding. Choose two.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Reason it out: of COURSE they're lying

You make a number of excellent points (original poster here, btw). But let me suggest that in case since we know, a priori, that the game functions (in the sense objects can be manipulated and rendered) without an Internet connection, then we also know that all of this is being done on the client side. (That is, this isn’t a case where the only thing on the client is state information, that state information updates are uploaded, that state is tracked on the server side, and that the server is using the current state to generate video that’s sent back to the client.)

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Reason it out: of COURSE they're lying

But let me suggest that in case since we know, a priori, that the game functions (in the sense objects can be manipulated and rendered) without an Internet connection

But we don’t know that by reasoning it out as you suggested, we know it because an employee said so. Without that piece of information, I don’t think your chain of reasoning would lead to a definite conclusion that EA is lying (unless you take the view that EA said something, therefore is lying ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

By measuring the amount of data going up and down and correlating that with in game activity you could make a pretty solid conclusion. Without either of those pieces of data though I don’t think you could conclude anything, unless there is something I’m not thinking of.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s sad what they’ve done to SimShitty which is why I refunded my money and told them to go fuck themselves. I’ll never buy anything from EA again.

I buy a game to play it, not to be booted within 10 fucking minuets then not being able to get back on for sometimes hours…

The next anything EA I get will be pirated.. At least with pirated software you don’t have to deal with absurd DRM..
I would rather support games I like but not if their fight on piracy is causing them to make insane decisions that only HURTS LEGIT USERS…

Damn it I am really pissed off about this ๐Ÿ™ SimCity is one of my favorite games.
They should fucking fire whoever came up with the idea for online only game play for a goddamn single player game.

All I can say to that person is up your ass with broken glass. Thank you for ruining one of the greatest game series of all time.

DanZee (profile) says:

Just make the games!

It’s amazing that the video game industry is still fighting the piracy wars. How many times has it been shown that games without DRM make more money than games with DRM? Remember how DOOM! became an overnight sensation and ID made a ton of money by allowing people to share the game? Everyone was playing it, and even though only 1 in 10 people bought the game, that 1 in 10 represented MILLIONS of purchasers!

The problem the video game industry has to come to grips with is that people are playing more and more on their smartphones and have less and less time to play on PCs. (Game consoles are holding their own but are starting to slip.) Every game should have the ability to be played in single player mode so you can play them on the go and not be tied to WiFi! I think EA shot themselves in the foot with this one.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Seriously…that is the best you can do?

You do realize that there is a HUGE difference between (more or less) static web pages and an interactive video game?
I totally can view Techdirt without an internet connection. Its called going into offline mode, or simply copying and pasting the text into a word processor. Obviously, if I’m offline, I can’t get the newest articles, but that’s a natural limitation, not an artificial gateway slapped on top of it.
If I were to disable my net connection right now, I’d still be able to read this article as many times as I want. Would I be able to do the same with SimCity? No.

Kindly fuck off and come back when you have some actual grey matter, something that you can use to try and point out logical fallacies.

By its very nature, Techdirt is meant to be viewed online, because that is how you obtain the articles. SimCity was artificially designed to be online only, when the nature of the game doesn’t need it.

AJ says:

Gamer

I’m about as hard core of a gamer as one can be and still work for a living. As such I have come to the conclusion that pretty soon, you will have basically two choices. Either you don’t game, problem solved…. Or you change your gaming habits so that your purchases make since.

Since a growing number of new games are going to require you to be online, and there is pretty much nothing that can be done to change the producers minds, why not take advantage? If you only buy games that are constantly online, with a very deep online experiance being the centerpoint of the game itself, then being online only makes since. Now you have feature instead of failure….

Example; Guild Wars 2.. any idea of how boring that game would be single player? I would loose interest in the first 20 hours. But because the game is designed around the cooperation and communication between players online, every thing you do feels like a unique experience and is the reason the game is so good… it’s worth always being online… because being online is what makes the game work.

I think the problem comes into play when game producers use always online as a weapon/drm instead of a feature.

Basically, if they want to have you always be online, then they need to make you WANT to be online…anything else makes the gamer feel like a criminal, and usually delivers a half assed experience.

Ben S (profile) says:

Re: Gamer

I partly disagree here. Some games that truly use online as a feature for connecting to other players are great, and definitely worth encouraging. There are, for example, some great mmo’s out there. But there will be times when your internet connection fails. Having something that works when your connection is down is invaluable. It means you have something you can do until the connection is back up. For people who live in areas where the connection is NOT stable, single player becomes even more important. We need games that work offline for when your connection goes down.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Gamer

I see your point and I agree that having something that works when your connection is down is important. I guess I just think that either your all in or all out. Either I will buy an always online internet/multiplayer/awsome online experience, or a totally single player/no internet conection required game. Getting anything in the middle ground area is asking for trouble.

akp (profile) says:

Re: Gamer

I think if they’d called it “SimCity Online,” people would be less mad… They’d have the proper expectations about what the game actually is. And then everyone who was interested, but hadn’t done any research would have known instantly from the title that it was going to have MMO-like launch issues.

Everyone who wanted a new single-player SimCity would have known to stay far, far away.

The DRM is stupid, but it’s really one of the smallest issues making gamers mad.

Aliasundercover says:

Re: Gamer

Either you don’t game, problem solved….

Sadly this, don’t game, well, mixed but much of it is sad. Sad because I do like computer games, have money to pay for them and it would please me to know people can earn a living making and selling fun games.

What I don’t do is expend a lot of effort finding vendors who treat me fairly. It is simply too much trouble getting an x-ray machine or one of those nude TSA scanners to discover if there really is a pig in that poke or a scrawny old cat. They are nearly all cats with nasty DRM and spyware infections. Yes, I regard that thing World of Warcraft does as spyware since it would search around on my computer and phone home what it finds.

EA and the rest of the scum have poisoned the whole game market. It is spoiled for me as a player and customer. It is spoiled for starry eyed developers who might make a living selling me and others like me games without the DRM and spyware abuse.

JohnnyRotten (profile) says:

The numbers just don't add up

Requires large amounts of server resources? Nope. From a [url=http://www.simcity.com/en_US/blog/article/simcity-update-5]Simcity web site blog post[/url], posted by the Assistant Producer Kyle Dunham:

i[…we?ve begun upgrading several of our servers to both increase their capacity and mitigate connection issues. This process has been going well and we successfully upgraded 10 servers yesterday: NA West 2, EU West 1-4, EU East 2-3, and Oceanic 1-2. Today we?re working on upgrading our remaining servers, so bear with us as we take them offline one-by-one to perform these upgrades. While this is going on, we also released the new server South America today, bringing our total server count up to 24, including our Test server.]i

24 servers (NOW), including a test, so 23 production. It’s hard to tell what they started with, but digging through the 5 updates, I get:

Update 1 – Added 4 new servers (EU West 3/4, EU East 3, Oceanic 2)
Update 2 – No mention of new servers
Update 3 – 1 new server (Antarctica)
Update 4 – No mention of new servers
Update 5 – 1 new server (South America)

So it sounds like they started with no more than 17 production servers, and added 6 over the last few weeks.

So 23 servers are running everything (registration, authentication, cross player interactions, region stuff, etc) but the item that interests me the most is the region work. Which, even given the most beneficial “looking through a glass darkly” interpretation of EA’s claims, must be done server side. It requires to many horses or something.

Taking away the overseas servers that I know about (EU East 1-3, EU West 1-4, Oceanic 1-2, Antarctica 1, and South America 1), that leaves 12 US servers.

I’m having a hard time running a solid number to ground, but update 3 mentions “Tens of thousands of new players are logging in every day”, and update 4 says “…8 million hours of gameplay time”. Both updates may include all players (US, Europe, etc).

But these numbers seem to indicate hundreds of thousands of players, and potentially tens of thousands playing at once.

The region processing cannot be very CPU and/or RAM intensive at all. How could it be? 23 servers CPU’s and RAM for tens of thousands (at least) of players at once. The amount of CPU/RAM slice per player must be very thin indeed for this to work at all.

And if the thin slice theory – (TM) is correct, than once again, I circle back to how come this couldn’t have been done on the client? The client whose available resources in CPU and RAM are almost certainly going to exceed the very small amount available per player on the server?

Again, I come to the conclusion that the server component is completely about control, and not in the least about offloading processing power.

Like everything I post, everything above is my opinion, and not a statement of fact.

Aliasundercover says:

Too Obvious

Why would EA pay for servers when they can use the customer’s computer? Hardware cost, electricity, space, administration, money, money and more money. It simply isn’t believable.

The server connection exists to control customers. Claiming it is needed to give the game enough computation power is an obvious lie, too obvious to believe for even a moment.

Why do people pay EA good money to be treated like this?

Corwin (profile) says:

They're doing DRM wrong

If it was true that their servers were doing much computation, then the game would be basically uncrackable.

It’s not.

That is SO MUCH FAIL that I can’t put it in words. They could have made a game for which producing the crack would mean re-programming all the server-side parts, which is flat-out impossible in the kind of time frame crackers release their warez. Unless their crack does hack into the EA servers directly itself, or is basically a standalone server (which means copying the server software from EA if they don’t release it which they wouldn’t so it means hacking EA or getting it leaked).

So EA just had an occasion to make the first DRM to ever work, and they blew it. So much fail.

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