Electronic Arts announced today that it intends to license Blizzard Software’s LocalServer™ technology as soon as it becomes available. EA has taken a beating in recent weeks over its decision to make SimCity—an essentially single-player game—require online access as a condition for play. The decision mirrors the approach taken by Blizzard in the development of Diablo III, which also required networked access despite focusing on an essentially solitary experience.
Since Diablo III‘s release, Blizzard has devoted much of its internal technology effort to the development of a network-free single-player experience, a technology it refers to as LocalServer™. Insiders report that progress has been slow but steady. “Most of the GPU code now runs purely on the client machine,” said a source who wished to remain nameless. “About half of the physics calculations are still server-side, but pathfinding is purely client-side and most of the user interface—buttons, sliders and whatnot—never touch the server.” Blizzard’s public stance on when the technology might be available is their usual “when it’s done.” Our sources tell us, however, that despite some setbacks, the process of de-networking the game code is making significant strides. Best estimates say that LocalServer™ should be ready in mid-2015.
Electronic Arts is banking on an earlier release for the technology, however. “It’s no secret that we’ve had difficulty making the single-player experience of SimCity truly single-player,” admitted Chuck Upton, EA’s newly-appointed Technical Advancement Research Director. “It has taken some soul-searching to admit that we needed help with the technology to remove the game’s network dependencies. But we feel that what Blizzard has been working on is just the thing we need, and we’re willing to put up our hands and accept some help on this one.”
The question is one of time. Players who regret purchasing SimCity as well as players who haven’t purchased it yet are anxiously awaiting a solution. For them, Blizzard’s mid-2015 release date for LocalServer™ may come too late. “Uh, yeah—no, that’s stupid,” said player Andreas Bilestode when told about EA’s intent. “In a week or two everyone will have moved on from SimCity to some other amusing trifle, probably published by Rovio or Chillingo. Nobody’s waiting a whole month much less a whole coupla years or whatever. EA needs to strip out the network code today, patch the game tomorrow, and be done with it.”
EA TARD Chuck Upton laughs at this suggestion. “How naive—technically speaking, I mean,” he explains. “You don’t just ‘strip out’ network code. This is the latest in cutting-edge networkless game code. People have earned their doctorates in mathematics working on the problem of removing these dependencies. You don’t just ‘strip it out’.” He laughs heartily.
Independent gaming consultant James Thomas Gelatinous Cube agrees. “Two years ago, the very idea of a game running without a network connection was virtually unheard of outside of a few niche gaming platforms. What Blizzard is working on is absolutely state-of-the-art stuff.” When asked whether he thought that 2015 was a realistic date for the release of a new wave of server-free games, Mr. Cube rolls his eyes. “EA should count themselves lucky if they can run their games server-free by 2015. I’ll feel lucky if I’m driving a cold fusion-powered car by then, and EA should feel lucky if their games can run without an Internet connection. This is difficult stuff.”