As of the latest update, you can play Simcity offline.
Originally designed from the ground-up as an always-connected experience, Maxis reengineered the game in order to move the calculations locally to the player’s PC or Mac. Gains in optimization to the GlassBox Engine allow players to have a similar gameplay experience, whether they choose to play Online or Offline.
Players will automatically receive the Update the next time they log-in to SimCity. From there they will have the option to play either way; the new Single-Player Mode, which enables Offline Play, or continue to play in the Multiplayer Mode. The Single-Player Mode retains the same expansive feel of the core SimCity gameplay while adding more control over when and how their progress is saved. Multiplayer Mode continues to deliver the SimCity experience that includes SimCity World, Leaderboards, Achievements, dynamic pricing of resources in the Global Market and Cloud Saves.
Electronic Arts, being a ginormous publicly traded company, is very careful with their use of language. For instance, like any big company, they love throwing around capital letters to show how Important stuff is. Update, Single-Player, Leaderboards, Online, the city in SimCity.
In the above announcement for the new offline mode, EA’s language carefully implies this latest change is a matter of single-player or multiplayer. It’s not. Online-only gaming is generally an anti-piracy measure, and as such, I completely understand. Like Diablo III, Anno 2070, and pretty much every game on Steam, being online isn’t a matter of whether I’m going to play with other people. It’s a matter of how easily I can play a pirated copy. As someone who understands that companies must protect their property, I’m mostly okay with this. Because I’m also someone who doesn’t travel a lot, who isn’t stationed overseas, and who pays enough every month for a fast reliable internet connection. Not everyone is so lucky. Companies like EA have counted the beans to write them off as acceptable losses. That’s just how math works. If there’s one thing big companies do well, it’s math. Never mind the careful bending of language. Just watch them work those numbers!
But the problem with Simcity was never the online-only gameplay, especially once the launch issues were stabilized. The problem wasn’t even the design, which is based on the intriguing idea of large cities as a network of interdependent smaller cities. Here in Los Angeles, we can certainly relate to that. Sometimes sprawl can consist of discrete boxes rather than larger maps.
The real problem with Simcity was unfortunately buried under crusades against DRM or map sizes. The real problem was that it simply didn’t work. Over successive updates, or Updates, this has certainly gotten better. I haven’t played it in a while, because I’ve been spending my city builder time with games that worked as advertised, such as the superlative Children of the Nile, Simcity Societies, and Anno 2070, which work offline and as intended. But now that Simcity is offline, it will be that much easier to see how close Electronic Arts has come to finally implementing the game as it was designed.
Furthermore, this is an encouraging development for a company that is notorious for yanking online support when games are no longer popular, effectively killing good games. Maybe now they can retire them gracefully with an offline mode instead of just pulling the plug with a shrug.