Playing the city.
A visit to the Californian town of Emeryville reveals that straightforward reality can spawn visionary fiction. With its 10,000+ residents, this stopover between Berkeley and Oakland might seem tranquil and innocuous – yet while major global construction often takes years or even decades, an Emeryville-based company conjures up new buildings and metropolises almost every minute. It was here, in 1989, that local computer game developer Maxis came up with the ur-edition of SimCity, a true classic in digital entertainment and empire building. Ever since its inception, this construction and social interaction simulation has been capturing our imagination with many variants for almost any platform, sharing ultimate cult status with seminal titles like Pac-Man, Tetris or Super Mario Bros. by now.
One of the game’s most striking characteristics: From Day One, social factors like education, traffic or even crime played a major role in shaping the city’s and protagonists‘ futures beyond the obvious city building aspects.
An entirely new dimension.
With a new PC version scheduled for early 2013, fans are now invited to bridge the gap until the next release with SimCity™ Social, playable by anyone with a Facebook account. According to Pete Lake, producer at Maxis, this expansion by nearly a billion potential users takes the game to an entirely new level and dimension. “In real life, there is often a gap of days and weeks between the event and the following decisions. Playing simulation games allows people to try out their ideas and see what would happen if it was all down to them. In SimCity™ Social we can visit each other’s cities and even gift each other unique surprises based on our actions.”
Visible cause and effect.
While previous instances of SimCity™ were mostly populated by made-up objects and structures, a cooperation between the game’s publishing company, Electronic Arts, and Mercedes-Benz now adds a new level of reality to the mix. Until September 2012, SimCity™ Social users are invited to spruce up their personal realms with a car factory, special billboards and their very own Mercedes-Benz showroom featuring the latest A-Class models. “Our SimCity games allow everyone to try their hand at running their own city and the key to our simulation is visible cause and effect,” adds Pete Lake, obviously proud of his creation. “This experience teaches us about the day-to-day issues involved with running a real city.
How quickly does a fire engine put out a factory fire? How do I make my city more inviting to new residents? Excellent cars can be one example.”
A glimpse into the future.
Beyond its in-game ramifications and possibilities, this cooperation between Electronic Arts and Mercedes-Benz also provides a welcome glimpse into the future of the computer game industry itself. After all, conventional retail and social games differ greatly in one factor: their reversed development pyramid. While it takes three to four years to perfect a regular game (usually with few changes or expansions after release), social games only come into their own some time after publication.
Thinking big every day.
Development of the SimCity™ Social framework, for example, took less than a year as part of a cooperation between Playfish in Beijing and Emeryville’s Maxis. Here, most of the real work (and world) starts only after the official release with a focus on user interactions. Over time, analysis of direct feedback and daily player data shapes the altering landscape of SimCity™ Social. Looking to add a new factory, your own race course or a parking structure? Emeryville’s small-town developers are used to thinking big every day.