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EA continues race to the bottom with unexplained SimCity offline reversal

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Maxis has announced the upcoming release of an offline mode for the long-troubled SimCity, and the announcement isn't notable for what it offers, but for what it fails to address.

The official statement from Maxis' Patrick Buechner didn’t address how the addition of offline mode was possible, and that may be the most infuriating aspect of this sudden reversal. All the seemingly insurmountable technical details that were supposed to make this close to impossible have been hand-waved away, although the company did state that it was exploring the possibility of an offline mode as early as last October.

It’s hard to understate how maddening this is, and it’s more evidence that EA and its collective studios don’t know how to communicate to the customers who are out very real money and time due to the mistake of purchasing these products.

The online requirement meant that many people were unable to play the game at launch, and of course refunds were refused. Why should they have to give your money back just because they sold you a non-functioning product? This is video games, where your product doesn't have to work as long as a mealy-mouthed excuse is published on a corporate blog.

Offline wasn’t part of their vision, they said as the servers crashed. The game requires the cloud to operate, they claimed as they offered a "free" game as some kind of compensation for selling a broken product. An offline mode is not possible without substantial work, they said as their player base demanded it.

The company line was that offline modes would never be offered, that was all but impossible, and the idea violated the very spirit of the game.

EA and Maxis would like it if you could just forget about all that. It’s in the past. What’s important is that modding is coming, although the company is aggressive in what you give up when releasing a mod, and how they can use your content and name. From the rules:

Distribution of your Mod in any form constitutes a grant by you to EA of an irrevocable, perpetual, royalty-free, sub-licensable right to use, copy, modify and distribute that Mod (and derivatives of that Mod), and use your name if we choose to, for any purpose and through any means, and without obligation to pay you anything, obtain your approval, or give you credit. You also agree to promptly execute assignments confirming this license upon request from EA.

This mirrors EA’s hackathon policies that forced participants to give up almost every right to their own work, in possible exchange for a tour of an EA studio. Those rules were hastily taken down, and ultimately edited after EA COO Peter Moore was made aware of the issue on social media.

No explanation, no remorse

The company is contradicting itself with the announcement of an offline mode, and the fact that they feel this didn't need to be addressed from the jump is more evidence at how ineffective EA has become in dealing with its own frequent and boneheaded mistakes.

The most frustrating aspect of these blunders is that they don’t need to happen. The original vision of SimCity wasn’t terrible as much as it was based on a number of flawed assumptions and non-functioning tech. Neither issue is rare in gaming or software development, but EA and Maxis doubled down on their approach and the constant reminders that offline play would never be offered. There never seemed to be communication that offered realistic explanations or apologies, even when a modder released evidence that many of the company's statements were falsehoods.

There is no mea culpa here, no evidence that EA nor Maxis understand or care how badly this sudden reversal hurts the already broken trust between the publisher and the people who buy their games. We’re past the point where EA should be wondering why players rush to vote EA the worst company in the world. We can point to situations like this, piled on top of situations like the inept handling of the Battlefield 4 fiasco.

This is why people don’t like or trust EA: It’s not that it looks like the company lied to players or at least actively misled them, it’s that the company doesn’t see anything wrong with suddenly going back on everything it said without any attempt to explain itself or clarify what may have changed

What they can’t do is glaze over these problems, although this has always been EA’s plan when it comes to consumer-hostile practices. Key creatives are fleeing the company, two of the publisher’s largest franchises have suffered massive harm due to terrible launches, and communication on these issues remains murky, if not non-existent.

The company is rotting, the cracks aren’t exactly well-hidden, and upbeat, impersonal PR isn’t fooling anyone. Don't be mad that it looks like EA and Maxis have been lying to you for ten months, get upset because they don't seem to care enough to say why.