SimCity’s development studio, Maxis, announced yesterday that the most recent iteration of the game will soon be available in an offline version, which is a big deal in light of SimCity’s online-again, offline-again history. When plans for the new SimCity were unveiled in 2012, its highly networked Internet online networkings were touted as an integral part of the game’s vision. “Real cities don't live in bubbles, real cities are connected to each other,” proclaimed Ocean Quigley, the game’s creative director. A vice president at Maxis likewise defended the online-play requirement by arguing that “this design decision has driven our development process for the game.” Thus in the lead-up to SimCity’s release, Maxis and its publishing partner, EA, tacitly cast offline players as anti-social troglodytes whose provincial minds couldn’t perceive the all-encompassing greatness of The Cloud.
Then SimCity launched—and crashed. A hot mess of server failures and frantic bug fixes rendered the game virtually unplayable for days. Although it was temporary, the meltdown put a dent in the notion that SimCity’s cities-in-the-cloud design was a necessary improvement to the game. That dent grew into a gaping hole as players noticed that their cities seemed to keep bustling just fine even if they lost their Internet connections—at least until a hard-coded timer kicked the player out of the game for spending too long off the grid. And when an anonymous Maxis developer disclosed that there’s no inherent design reason for this version of SimCity to be connected to the Internet, it reinforced widespread suspicions that the online requirement existed mainly as a ham-fisted piracy-prevention tactic.
Thus Maxis finds itself in the strange position of announcing SimCity Offline, whose selling point is that it lacks what was supposedly SimCity’s most essential feature. The offline version, which doesn’t yet have a release date, is in the “late phases” of development, according to Maxis manager Patrick Buechner, and it will be free to anybody who owns SimCity. Once it arrives, the cities that you build won’t have to be part of a vibrant online ecosystem, nor will they be ranked on a global leaderboard. Instead, they can be personal playgrounds in a bubble of their own—an idea that suddenly became an affront to Maxis two years ago and now, just as suddenly, is fine again.