SimCity was brought crashing down at launch by its always-online requirement, this we know. However, EA Labels president Frank Gibeau has sworn blind that the requirement was a result of the designers' MMO visions, not a DRM mandate handed down to Maxis from EA. He's ragged on DRM a fair bit too, decrying it as "not a viable strategy for the gaming business." Honest.
"It started with the team at Maxis that had a creative vision for a multiplayer, connected, collaborative SimCity experience where your city and my city and others' were [working together]," Gibeau told Games Industry International. "The lead designers and the producers and the programmers felt like they wanted to tell us a multiplayer, cooperative city story around SimCity."
Gibeau insisted, "At no point in time did anybody say 'you must make this online.'" He added, "You don't build an MMO because you're thinking of DRM--you're building a massively multiplayer experience, that's what you're building."
The EA veteran railed against DRM pretty hard, saying "DRM is a failed dead-end strategy; it's not a viable strategy for the gaming business. So what we tried to do creatively is build an online service in the SimCity universe and that's what we sought to achieve. For the folks who have conspiracy theories about evil suits at EA forcing DRM down the throats of Maxis, that's not the case at all."
It's certainly a change of tune from 2008, when complaints over activation limits in Spore and Crysis Warhead lead Gibeau to declare DRM "essential to the economic structure we use to fund our games." (Side note: activation limits! Remember when it was the most frightful form of DRM? My, how innocent we were.) A lot has changed in five years, and it's become increasingly clear that no, draconian DRM isn't a good solution.
Now, side-stepping the issue of whether this account is true, he has a point. We know that a game's DRM is cracked often before it even launches. We know that the mindset which drives people to pirate isn't stopped by having to find a crack and perhaps suffering a few disabled features. What we know can help is creating an online element compelling enough that people will want to experience it, and will pay to be sure they can.
Whether SimCity's online bits are actually exciting enough, well, that's a separate matter.
Gibeau noted he was "disappointed" that EA "didn't do a better job communicating" SimCity's online nature ahead of release, which was an unpleasant surprise for many.
Still, it's a good game, and it sold over 1.1 million copies in its first fortnight. People who bought early have been offered a free game from a respectable selection and hey, if you're one of them, remember that you only have until Saturday to redeem it.