Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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Iris Rants: EA/Maxis Backtrack on SimCity's Unfair Modding Policy, But The Ill-Will Remains

Spark_2013-03-05_19-11-32
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Just when you thought it was safe to finally forget about SimCity, EA and Maxis have announced the game that had one of the most disastrous launches of 2013 will finally be receiving an offline mode. Offline mode will (obviously) allow players to play SimCity without a connection to the internet in offline single-player regions. That's good news, but better still with city/region data now stored locally, the door is officially open for the modding community to put in the work necessary to make SimCity a desirable product again. 

That is, if EA and Maxis haven't already alienated those modders altogether.

SiMCIty Server Queue

Now look, if I seem unduly harsh it's because, like most people who pre-ordered the game and have dealt with the various knots and twists since then, I feel entitled to be. I'd consider myself duly harsh. I wrote about SimCity several times; with glowing enthusiasm from the beta period and with hands on hips mere days later when the servers failed to meet the most basic expectations for the always-online game. Throughout the debacle customers were told that offline mode wasn't part of the game's vision, even that it would be very difficult (if not impossible) to implement even though a modder proved that claim to be false. Those who had purchased through Origin, EA's online storefront, eventually received their choice of a free game from a list of selected titles, but by the time the tumult had died down, so had interest.

That's not been particularly conducive to selling expansion packs, the bread and butter of the other key sim title in the Maxis/EA stable, The Sims 3. Actually, expansions are the bread; mods are the butter. But how do you mod a game like SimCity that stores a good portion of its information remotely? It's possible, but not easy, and the fact remains that the modding community for SimCity hasn't flourished compared to its more appealing (and admittedly older) cousin, The Sims 3. Attribute that to whatever factor you like.

And so it goes, after an expansion that earned a lukewarm reception at best, offline mode has miraculously been made possible. Let's not ask any questions about how (because no one is offering those answers) [Update: This incredibly vague post that went up today tries to] but if you want to know why, it's probably safe to point towards modding. A strong modding community could be SimCity's Hail Mary, one last chance to get back in the good graces of its players.

But here's where it all went to hell (yet again): Along with the announcement of offline mode, they shared some guidelines for prospective modders, which initially included a clause that would allow EA to use your mods and your name in an official capacity without any compensation. Unsurprisingly there was an outcry and EA/Maxis backtracked and removed it. What they didn't remove were any of their other highly restrictive guidelines which in essence limit modding to reskins and largely superficial changes. I looked for any similar guidelines for The Sims 3 but came up empty handed, even though the list for SimCity seems informed by The Sims' modding community -- particularly the section about donation and pay-based mod sites, which have been a staple of Sims modding for nearly a decade.

Even though it's been nearly a year since the game's release, it's never too late for a couple of outstanding mods to renew interest.But while a modder might buy into SimCity as a fixer-upper, are they really going to be happy just putting a fresh coat of paint on its cracked and crumbling walls? As always, let me know what you think in the comments below.

Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.

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Ajax Manatiso

And then again people like me passed on the game altogether because it required connecting online. I, and others, were just happy to play old versions of the game that did not require you to be online. If I see "online version" on a game box, I automatically pass. Game designers should take note - I'm not the only one.

Arcadia Codesmith

The single biggest factor that tanked The Sims Online was the lack of a plan to integrate and support player-generated content. It's fine to profit off mods and other content, but you've got to share with the people who are doing the work. Otherwise, you're just a common thief, regardless of how much legal boilerplate you have insulating you.

I love the SimCity series, and this step makes me more likely to come back to it. But Maxis is behind the curve in serving the creative community, and they really need to step up their game in that respect. I wouldn't bust their chops if I didn't think they had the capability to do a much better job.

Adeon Writer

The pirated version can be played offline (not that I advocate it, it's just proof)... Nothing about the game needs to be online, it's just DRM. Any claim otherwise was either misinformation or just a plain regular lie.

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