Robert Maxwell wrote:
The only reason an Internet connection didn't become a requirement sooner was because the financials didn't work out--not enough people had the required connections to make it viable. But now, there is plenty of broadband penetration in the major markets where games are sold, and requiring a connection serves multiple business needs: it thwarts piracy, enables various social features that wouldn't otherwise be possible, permits purchasing of in-game content, and allows the publisher/developer to unilaterally "retire" the game and push people to buy a newer version (or another title entirely.)
There's another big advantage to this system: preventing user mods. Why let people download free mods when you can charge them for DLC instead (and SimCity has a big ad for DLC packs right on the main menu). By making SimCity an online game they can justify banning modders for "hacking". I think it's pretty telling that this SimCity has a global leaderboard, which is weird in a game that's ostensibly about the challenge of designing the city of your dreams, not competing with other players.
EA may not choose to do this with SimCity if players find a way to mod the game. But I have little doubt that this is the direction EA is planning to go long-term.
I think that may be a premature assumption. User-generated content is a major draw for games like this, so I don't see EA getting rid of modding entirely. What they would likely do, if anything, is provide a supported means of modding the game while keeping the social playing field (e.g. global leaderboards) level. If you engaged in unauthorized hacking of their files, however, I would not be surprised if they detect this and consider it a "compromised" client, going so far as disabling the game entirely. Things like that are trivial to do with an always-connected game. But since there are good business reasons to have a user-driven modding system in place (such as the value it adds through user-generated content for very little expense on the business side), I don't think the industry is poised to eliminate that just yet.