SimCity Social is a disgrace

This is how a pyramid scheme works. Playfish and EA seem to have it in their heads that if a game is on Facebook it’s gotta be shit. Maybe someone at Playfish suggested they create a fresh and innovative Facebook game like Firaxis did with CivWorld and then John Riccitiello walked into the room, “what the fuck are you saying? This is Facebook, make it atrocious.”

The SimCity brand has been through a lot. The last good SimCity was SimCity 4, released back in the start of 2003, but even that wasn’t a true step up from SimCity 3000 until the Rush Hour expansion. Future expansions were theorised but never eventuated, leaving the game’s enthusiastic modding community to push the game engine to it’s theoretical limits and polish SimCity 4 into a kind of modern society simulator come digital train set. Since then, EA have kept original developer Maxis distracted with Spore while conspiring with Tilted Mill Entertainment to ruin the franchise with SimCity Societies and forcing their Japanese affiliates to badly port remixes of SimCity 3000 to DS and iOS. Apparently they also got the work experience kids to make a unique SimCity for Wii but no one actually played it because, you know, it was a third party game on the Wii. EA’s latest betrayal of Will Wright’s legacy is assigning Playfish to develop SimCity Social for Facebook.

SimCity had been rumoured to head to Facebook since May last year, around about the time CityVille stormed past FarmVille as the most popular game on the ubiquitous social network. It was officially announced last month at E3 with a cheeky trailer and entered open beta last week. The trailer really positions SimCity Social as a progressive, inventive game, set to demolish CityVille. Last week’s press release was almost as exciting; this was my favourite quote:

“This isn’t your typical drag and drop city-building game. Players don’t just build a city – they choose the kind of city they want and watch its soul come to life as it grows and reacts to their decisions. With SimCitySocial, we’ve taken the best in social gaming design and married it with unprecedented depth to create an all-new deeply social experience.”
– Jami Laes, Vice President of Playfish.


Jami Laes is a filthy liar. SimCity Social is exactly like CityVille. Every single bit is the same. You place buildings individually, clicking on them to acquire money and resources, with the chance for a special item drop. You place parks and other city ‘decorations’ to increase the bonuses these buildings give you. You send trains away every day or so to get extra resources and need land permits to expand your city borders. You even have to staff your civic buildings with other players you’ve befriended. It is disgusting and disgraceful for Playfish, Maxis, and EA to deliver this game three whole weeks after they slammed CityVille in their announcement trailer. This is a company that knows no shame and a company that looks especially pathetic when you consider that almost the entire board for Zynga is comprised of former EA staff.

It gets even worse, too. SimCity Social has, by far, the most invasive and insidious spamming of itself to your Facebook friend lists yet seen. The game gathers your friend list and periodically has one of them move into a house in your city and encourages you to send them a gift to help with their city, which the game leads you to believe they play. They’re don’t play this shit though and the ‘gift’ is a Facebook notification that they should join the SimCity Social open beta, too. Every award and achievement you amass, and you’ll knock them over every minute or so, demands to be shared on your Facebook wall or requires invites to half your friends list. This is how a pyramid scheme works. Playfish and EA seem to have it in their heads that if a game is on Facebook it’s gotta be shit. Maybe someone at Playfish suggested they create a fresh and innovative Facebook game like Firaxis did with CivWorld and then John Riccitiello walked into the room, “what the fuck are you saying? This is Facebook, make it atrocious.” Making a game terrible doesn’t take less effort, either. SimCity Social looks and sounds fantastic and these stupid gameplay mechanics, the ones that keep progress just out of sight or requiring money to buy, take careful balance to design and test. If the rumours are correct, this game was in development for well over a year.

Facebook Timeline users like Lily here, experience only moderate levels of SimCity Social‘s obnoxious self promotion. Users of Facebook’s old Wall are not as lucky.

I mentioned CivWorld before because it’s an example of moving a brand into the social space without just reskinning FarmTown. SimCity‘s situation is even more depressing because the foundations of a social, networked SimCity game have existed since 1996’s SimCity 2000: Gold Edition. Imagine a SimCity 2000/3000 type game where you could see just beyond your city borders and, in real time, you could see a city operated by another mayor. You could contact them, make friends, negotiate linking your transport systems, share resources, and perhaps even specialise your cities to each other’s needs. Maybe your neighbours won’t be friendly and you try and outcompete them, spurred on by a leader board that ranks all the cities from your friends list and greater region on a number of different criteria. The game could be monetised by offering aesthetic changes for a fee or offering you the chance to start second and third cities closer to your friends. You know, the way multitudes of other free to play games remain healthy and profitable without resorting to pay-to-win or skinner box mechanics. The game would even serve as a functional and effective advert for 2013’s real SimCity game – exposing the long forgotten and tarnished SimCity brand to millions of potential new players.

I will never understand EA. They are a company that appear to be committed to destroying the value of their intellectual property and chasing away all their talented staff while making life miserable for their customers. While they’re making money now, these business practices simply aren’t sustainable in the mid- to long-term and if they don’t turn around soon they’ll be in the shitter. It’s sad, too, because EA own some of the greatest and most beloved gaming franchises, games that still have enormous untapped potential. They have some of the industry’s most intelligent and creative people from all over the globe. They have the finances and power to implement incredible and groundbreaking gaming services. But what the don’t have is the respect of gamers anywhere; the disgracefully derivative nature of games like SimCity Social won’t win them any more kudos.

Author: Roland

Opinions expressed by this author do not represent this author. Please understand.

19 thoughts on “SimCity Social is a disgrace”

  1. Who cares about what you think? We play the game, and we like it. You’re more disgraceful for acting like you’re the only person in the world the game should cater to.

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    1. You think you like this game. but you don’t. What you like is the little serotonin synapse in your brain snapping every time the game pops ups new windows with stars and balloons to inform you that YOU have unlocked a new colour of flower bed! Just take your money to the pokies you tragic waste of space and stop clogging up the internet’s bandwidth with SimCity gift notifications.

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      1. I agree and I hate EA. I too loved SimCity and these assholes have shit all over it. Now I’m addicted to this waste of life in facebook. Now I’m a junky for these types of games and I need to get better. I just got over Sims Social last year and now they put this new blue stuff on the market.

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      2. hahahahahahaha.
        I needed a good laugh like that. Thanks.
        And I completely agree with your review by the way. This whole social gaming fad is highly embarrassing. The notifications might as well say “Scorpy pulled out the ol’ gimp mask for some bdsm but couldn’t find a ballgag. Help Scorpy by sending him a ballgag!”

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  2. Poor aussie QQing about internet bandwidth…

    I don’t spam my friends, and I didn’t pay anything. You mad? Be mad.

    It’s a game. Get real.

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    1. It’s not a game, it’s a collection. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the gameplay dynamics? Where’s the skill? Where’s the fun? You just endless click on your shops until you have enough money to buy a new shop. It’s a disaster.

      Grrr. if you were my neighbour on SimCity Social, which you can’t be since we will never be friends, why I’d go over and uproot all the flowers and hassle the bank managers and litter all over your town. Then you’d hate it.

      I had to lookup what QQ means and I don’t think you even used it right mate. Go back to school and get an education. Oh shit, that reminds me of the great missed educational opportunity of this game. Fuck you EA, curse you Playfish!

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  3. Jami Laes did not lie. It’s that stick-whacked head of yours which can not understand. EA made it very clear since the beginning that the game is meant for casuals. It’s a social flash game for Facebook. They even showed gameplay previews before the open beta. They have blatant cartoon characters as models..

    What were you blindly expecting??

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  4. If you can’t see the challenge in the game, then it’s you who need to go back to school.

    I bet you can’t even progress through the game without paying real money.

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  5. Let’s look at Jami’s words.

    “unprecedented depth”
    This skinner box is as shallow as it gets. We don’t get rewarded for reducing traffic congestion. We don’t have to manage power or electricity supplies. We don’t do anything other than arrange houses and parks.

    “[Players] choose the kind of city they want and watch its soul come to life as it grows and reacts to their decisions”
    Nothing of the sort happens. You only have to click on your neighbours’ cities to see that everyone’s city looks eerily similar. The landscape is identical, the train line unmovable and everyone follows the same goals that are unlocked in the same order, creating eerily similar cities. That’s my city in the screenshot. now take a look at Ben Kuchera’s. Our mayor’s house and pond are practically in the same place. I’ve just filled mine out more because I plonked down a few more houses. There are almost no decisions to make other than do I want to grow corn or tomatoes, which, like CityVille and FarmTown before it are decisions you make soley dependent on how long you expect to be away from Facebook. The only possible ‘reaction’ the city offers is houses grow into apartments to more parks you surround them with. While this gives the impression that the game plays fundamentally different to CityVille, it’s just an illusion because whereas SimCity grows your population, CityVille gives you bigger payouts by placing decorations near houses. The end result is the same. God. in real SimCity games we placed parks to lower density, improve public approval ratings, reduce pollution and increase our Sims’ life expectancy. None of those fundamental elements of SimCity games even get a look in in SimCity Social. They could’ve, but Playfish had no ambition to offer anything more than a CityVille clone. And that is disgraceful because The announcement trailer, released only a month ago, openly attacks CityVille. But now I’m just restating myself.

    And now let’s look at your words.
    “If you can’t see the challenge in the game, then it’s you who need to go back to school.”
    Or, I find the game so blindingly easy and mindless that I recognise it doesn’t require a single thought to progress. I’m hamstrung in my progress because I can’t convince 5 people to work in my city museum. I can’t convince anyone to play because I told everyone about how terrible this game is when I apologised for accidentally spamming them.

    So tell me, what is the appeal? Is it the pretty graphics?

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  6. Laes was talking relatively to FACEBOOK (Don’t dodge it). If you were to compare Social to Ville, it’s defnitely better in many aspects. Such as utilities and competition. Like I said it’s a flash game. Do you really expect every aspect of a full SimCity to be included into a browser game? You can’t be serious.

    Let’s look at your words… “SimCity Social is exactly like CityVille” …. Now that is what I call a lie.

    And please don’t brag about your minute-made miniscule towns. I and my friends already have arcologies. Not a cent paid.

    SC4 can’t ever do that. If you know the rules to that game by heart, you could easily fill up a medium sized tile in a couple of hours and have it fully self-sustainable. Or even unlock everything within a day. Now tell me where’s the challenge in that?

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    1. The challenge in this game is to not tear your hair out from the roots when you inevitably get stuck in the bottleneck and can’t expand your city, without pumping in tons of real life cash or begging for essential items from people who I am led to believe are playing the game as well!

      I couldn’t give a shit about he said this, she said that, and that man’s a liar. I just want to be able to grow a city without spamming/relying on my mates to help me build a bloody fire engine to progress 2XP points, only to then find that I have to get someone in, or ‘acquire’ even more diamonds to man the bloody thing.

      Perhaps if I was 13 and still at school, with hordes of school mates all playing this, I might think differently. As I am not. it only leaves me disappointed.

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  7. I outlined what I imagined the game could be like. It could be like SimCity 2000: Gold Edition. A 1.5 megabyte game easily emulated in flash. Of course I wouldn’t expect it to be exactly like it, concessions for the Facebook crowd have to be met but it could’ve offered real social interaction, physically linking cities and string resources instead of just patting dogs and smelling flowers for a coin reward.

    How do you have arcologies? Is that the final expansion for residential lots? That almost sounds cool if it didn’t involve playing a bunch of SimCity Social to unlock.

    And it sounds like you’ve never played SimCity 4 properly. The beauty of SC4 was that the challenges evolved over time. A city might be sustainable for a while but soon the demographics would change and new issues would arrive, or you might try to aim for one branch of reward buildings that lock out another branch. There’s nothing like this in Social. You can even put trees of friendship and turbines of terror or whatever next to each other.

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  8. This game is exactly like all the other “create a farm/city/ranch/whatnot” games there are in Facebook. The only thing that differs is that it seems to spam more, want more money and well, it looks prettier. I’m ashamed to admit I spent 5 bucks on it thinking it’ll get better but it didn’t.

    I so much wanted it to be good, or atleast as good as simcity 4. It was just an another FB moneygrabber.

    Don’t bother with it.

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  9. This game is such a money-making scheme it’s not even funny. I do like it, I’ll admit, and I play it daily, but if they think I’m going to keep blowing $20 on Facebook credits cards just to get diamonds, they are sadly mistaken. I would rather remain stuck than give EA more money than they deserve.

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  10. Indeed this is a very interesting article, and the following thread is very amusing. The author is right in all he says, no objections at all. I have been playing the game since the beta was released even though I was disappointed from the very start. In the beginning you could not even identify the SimCity Social players in the request dialogues (built for spamming). To PlayFish defense I have to mention that it seems like they managed to keep the code clean from severe bugs (compared to The Sims Social). The game engine sucks how ever big time: [a] income is not parametric (tax income upgrades stepwise when the city grows to reach a max lvl 11 at 300k population, and it never downgrades even if you tear down each domestic real estate). When I was playing the real SimCity, citizens, businesses and factories moved to a neighbor city if the mayor raised to taxes too much (income tax, business tax and value added tax were all set manually by the mayor), or failed to keep the crime rate or pollution down, or failed to provide enough health care, fire protection, or public transportation . Factories and businesses stood still if the number of citizens was too low to provide employees enough, hence the Industry had to be in balance with the population. All these rules in the original game engine are either totally erased from the game or replaced with very basic dittos. When it comes to social interaction the game is very basic (visit cities and click about, and post in-game requests plus wall-post requests). Adding trading abilities, allow players to form trusts, to smuggle goods to avoid customs and VAT (with a reasonable risque to get caught), et c would tremendously increase the game experience. Neural networking and artificial intelligence could even let the game engine improve itself over time – that would be really exciting!!!

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  11. Pro golfers may say minigolf takes no skill. People play minigolf anyway. And park football. And cul-de-sac basketball.

    Live and let live, and get over yourself.

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    1. A terrible and irrelevant comparison. Street soccer is still soccer, just played more casually by less skilled people. It’s still fun. SimCity Social is nothing like SimCity, SimCity Social is a click, collect and spam your friends bullshit-a-thon while SimCity is a proper game with real game mechanics underpinning it. Pickup games of basketball in the park celebrates basketball, SimCity Social disgraces SimCity and urban planning in a wider context.

      Like

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