SimCity Social Casts Net Wide, Ends Up Simple

By Nathan Grayson on June 26th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Roving herds of giraffe are, of course, quite common in suburban America.

SimCity Social‘s open beta first really started bothering me when I stopped playing it. And not for the reason you might think. Someone called me on the phone while I was poking around and still mourning the fact that “OppressionVille” was too big for the city name field, so I looked away from my burgeoning burg for, oh, 15 minutes. When I returned, nothing had changed. No tornadoes had struck. Nothing caught on fire. Yes, SimCity Social is a turn-based game, but that only partially robs it of the gleeful insanity that so characterizes’ Maxis’ most-famed of llama-loving city builders. After all, that structure could work if given proper treatment.

Here, though, it’s symptomatic of a much larger problem: SimCity Social is about as easygoing as they come. There have been (at least, after a few hours) no downsides to my actions – no tension or intrigue. Sure, neat things (like a UFO crash) occasionally happened, but they largely served to stuff more Simoleons into my jingling mayoral pockets. Well, until typical social game stuff took center stage, anyway.

First, though, let’s start with why SimCity Social fails to live up to its series’ legacy taken on its own terms – seeing as, these days, spamming your friends with invites on Facebook is simply an ugly, unavoidable reality. So let’s use the UFO example. It began – as most meaningful things in SimCity Social seem to – with a quest. The giant metallic space frisbee careened into my city’s front lawn, and then my adviser immediately handed me a series of tasks. Build businesses (to “educate people” for some reason), upgrade things, make more houses, etc.

I didn’t have to discover these things for myself, nor did it really matter how or where I placed them. Sure, I might make a bit of extra cash if my bakery ended up near hungry, hungry humans, but – at the end of the day – my city would continue to be a sparkling utopia regardless. Same went for roads placement and general city structure. This is, in other words, basically SimCity on autopilot. I’m less mayor and more assembly line worker. They tell me what to do. I press the big shiny buttons.

And goodness, there are a lot of shiny buttons. Businesses spit out money. Factories cough up supplies (and, curiously, no smog). They bounce and gleam and glitter like coins clattering to the floor. So one of my main duties as mayor is clicking on each individual magical pinata building every few minutes. The sights and sounds make it oddly compulsive, but these actions also use up energy – easily SimCity Social’s most prevalent resource, yet also it’s more precious and scarce. Once it runs out – which generally happens in a flash, seeing as building construction consists of three stages, each of which uses one unit of energy – it’s time to pony up either time or money.

This very quickly ground my UFO recovery process to a halt. I didn’t particularly want to spend real money on diamonds – which, given sufficient funds, can bypass just about any obstacle – so I had two options: wait (one unit of energy recharges every few minutes) or pester friends to lend a hand. I opted to wait, and at the time it… wasn’t so bad. I did some pitiful real-life non-mayor work for 20 minutes or so, gained enough energy to perform seven actions, and – in doing so – leveled up, which recharged my energy meter fully.

But then I encountered a social roadblock that nearly sent me swerving right off my non-curved roads. I needed to hire a team to investigate the UFO, and Simoleons were completely out of the question. So it was either spend diamonds (read: real money) or attempt to subjugate my friends – modern day monarchs on their own soil, but puny, dirt-speckled laborers on mine. Unfortunately, SimCity Social made it very difficult to tell who on my friends list was actually playing the game and who’d prefer that my tiny, notification-powered town be stricken by a fiery plague tornado. As a result, I probably bothered a few non-playing friends on accident (sorry, friends!), but eventually assembled a formidable five-person team of interdisciplinary mayors, and it all worked out. Between all the waiting on responses and general awkwardness, though, I wouldn’t exactly call that part of the experience pleasant.

Also, uh, this happens sometimes.

Granted, some of the social features are actually pretty neat. I toured friends’ cities, for instance, and either acted like a pleasant human being or made a general nuisance of myself en route to establishing friend or rival city status. Here, SimCity’s trademark brand of quirk was on display. As a giant jerk of a rival mayor, I – among other things – visited corporate plazas and “scoffed at progress,” slipped rats into bowling alley shoes, put glue in fire helmets, and switched soup labels at a supermarket. Sure, the rival/friend system is a dumb, quick, and silly little thing, but it’s also something most social games definitely aren’t: fun.

Even so, SimCity Social doesn’t really feel like a SimCity experience to me. Instead, it’s a quick, extremely straightforward, and occasionally exploitative distraction. Thus, the search for a truly substantial social game continues. And unfortunately, it seems like this particular quest has no qualms with making us wait truly exorbitant amounts of time before we’re able to reach our goal.

, , , , .

44 Comments »

  1. phelix says:

    Bah. This game stinks of unoriginality.

    • HoosTrax says:

      Looks and sounds like every other microtransactioned “-Ville” mobile game clone out there, just with the Sim franchise name slapped over it.

      • cpy says:

        Exactly, i was thinking i was playing another boring social game, when i hoped for sim city goodness, i hope new simcity wont be such fail.

    • PearlChoco says:

      Indeed.

      I tried two social games on facebook, Indiana Jones adventures and Castleville, and they play *exactly* the same as this description of Simcity. Even the “energy” icon is the same in all those games.

      Let’s stop spending attention to these marketing tools, this is a gamessite after all.

  2. Stardog says:

    It’ll probably be shut down within a few years.

  3. Koozer says:

    Sounds like the free to play Sims 3 on Android. You just follow the prompts, click on the pointless roadblocks of floating Simoleon icons, and…that’s it. Your Sims have no free will and follow your every command without question. Saying that, it still took me a few days to realise how little I was actually doing and uninstalled.

  4. Daniel Klein says:

    News at Nine: beloved franchise has Facebook game, turns out to be boringly oversimplified “social” game.

    • Shandrakor says:

      ^^ This.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I am so confused why anyone who has played a real computer game could spend more than a few days playing this genre of games. You played one you played them all, and there is no “there” there. My friends long ago badgered me into a few of them of them, but I never played more than one or two sittings, and each review I read just makes the play experience seem even less fulfilling? Who are the lemmings who find these a good investment of time?

      Is it 10 year olds? Or 60 year olds? Who plays something like this?

  5. Fwiffo says:

    Those two big, blue ‘Get More’ buttons on every screen say more about the intent of this game than any article could.

  6. tlarn says:

    These social games always seem to have the same HUD. Is it just me?

    • Shuck says:

      That’s because they share the same monetization mechanics. Since the “games” are otherwise functionally a turn-based “Progress Quest” that advances by pressing a button, there are no other mechanics to alter the UI.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        I should fire up some progress quest! Such a great game. So good it doesn’t even need me!

  7. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    Here’s hoping the new Sim City’s social interactions are somewhat more social and interactive then, if we’re putting up with always online for it.

  8. abandonhope says:

    The pay-money-or-suffer-the-shame-of-harassing-friends model could easily skew more toward just paying money as harassment acquires a greater stigma, after which the social aspect of these games will evaporate and people will be left playing solo games tailored to their lack of skill.

    My mom plays all the usual suspects (big surprise). I tried to introduce her to Tropico, but I don’t think she made it past the main menu. If older people want to play Farmville, oh well, I get that. But I really hope younger people aren’t, because these games tend to foster an utter disinterest in challenge and skill improvement. By design, they lead only to themselves; there is no graduation to increased complexity. It’s just endless masturbation. I don’t want these people’s warped expectations influencing the rest of the games industry.

  9. The_B says:

    In fairness, you do get some diamonds for free by levelling up. It is an incredibly slow process though – you only get 2 or 3 per level, and the UFO quest for example requires at least 30 of them if you don’t have enough friends playing.

    • pakoito says:

      That is the excuse you always get “nah, but if you grind you get past”. Well, the game is built around that premise. No excuse, premise. You either have to suffer or you pay. You are being tri….

      Too pissed to write.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        I think the problem with these games is not so much that you can get by simply by grinding. That’s fine. The problem is that you have to grind incredibly stupendously ridiciously completely humongous amounts of time to get anywhere that way.

        • SiHy_ says:

          Indeed. There is little to differentiate this model of play from the free-to-play market that’s growing so popular. Grind and earn stuff or pay and get it now. It pretty much all preys on our need to find a shortcut, to take the quickest and easiest route. However the large amount of grinding required here for such tiny rewards is breathtaking.
          I guess once a person has put enough time into their world that ‘GET MORE’ button becomes extremely tantalising. They could get that new clown mortuary and all it would cost is a few pennies. Then BAM! They can now pay with a single click and they’re buying their way to world-building bliss. Even if they get bored of it it’s now an investment of both money and time so they must keep going to justify that investment otherwise they’re just throwing it away.
          But I suppose it’s a hobby just like any other. As long as the people who play these things are happy and not hurting anyone good for them.
          I ain’t touching it with a 10 foot clown pole, though.

  10. yxxxx says:

    Im rather enjoying it. yes its pretty standard facebook fair but its still pretty well put togher for a facebook game.

    I do hate the bug friends quest blocks and i really wish they would not include them or offfer a non pay way to get around them but i guess they do need to try and get some money from somewhere.

    I hope that one day these games will allow non freinds to play with you without having to have people see your facebook account.

    Cafe world did something like that not that it actually works that well and as is usual for zynga is a feature that is broke and forgot about.

  11. nemryn says:

    If there’s no way to fail, then it’s a toy, not a game.

    • Shuck says:

      Will Wright described the original Sim games as toys. Since this isn’t even comparable to that, I’m not sure what to call it.

      • Arglebargle says:

        A bad toy? A poor toy?

        I call it dismal, awful failure….

        • RegisteredUser says:

          I’d call it a girl’s game, but I’m worried I would make some girl cry and another get uptight and start a docu series about my comment and everything that is wrong with male comments, and costing the kickstarter/donation crowd another 2 x 150.000 is just more than I think we can handle right now in this economy.

  12. TechnicalBen says:

    EA killed the Sim City game. Wow. I’ve not seen a game so poor outside of Zinga, and I glimpsed C&C We want Your Wallet Wars.

    • Xardas Kane says:

      Ummm, let’s wait at least until SimCity actually ships before we declare the franchise dead, m’kay?

  13. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    More importantly, I wish the verb form of “gift” would stop being overused so much.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      I love the fact that gift literally means poison in german.

      Considering the concept of self-ruinous potlatch and what these “social” POS are doing, very fitting.

  14. faelnor says:

    Obligatory mention of this must-read insertcredit writeup.

    • Toberoth says:

      Good stuff. Well, sorta interesting stuff anyway. Not well written, but definitely thought provoking stuff.

  15. Xardas Kane says:

    I’m still so mad at social games because of CivWorld that I don’t think I’ll be touching another one this decade or so. Shame though, an actual SimCity game would work quite nicely as a Facebook app. Just waisted a lot of potential.

  16. InternetBatman says:

    It’s a shame this model still exists. I think it will keep going for another five to ten years by which time pretty much everyone will be inured to it, it’s already loosing ground to ad-supported cooperative games like Draw Something or Words with Friends.

  17. Tei says:

    From my time playing eRepublik (a interesting webgame) I have made some friends. And I usually check the games that are playing.. most of then are like this, but as pretty as this. Sim City Social is specially overflow cute compared to others (even these where you take care of pink ponies).

    I am a real gamer, so is hard for me to get addicted to any of this games, but I managed to play one very long. Something about a forest-fair, or something like that. It was interesting to remove the trees and build more and more atractions.

    But yea. Why people make games withouth any game in it? perhaps this is what no-gamers want, something that feel more like work than joy… ??.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Sam Atkins says:

    This is annoying because I’d quite like a casual, browser-based city-builder to put a few minutes into now and then. But they all seem to fall into this trap of becoming generic “social” games. I know they need to make money, but a game where they put long waits in just so they can convince you to hand over money is horrible.

    Put adverts in it, fine. But when the “game” revolves around waiting, it’s no longer a game.

  19. Neurotic says:

    Well I’ve been playing it all day, and I can say that it’s about 1,000 times better than anything else I’ve played on FB. The only drawback is, of course, that you need a bunch of friends also playing to help you with various things. Other than that, it really is a Good Quality Game.

  20. RegisteredUser says:

    “I’m less mayor and more assembly line worker.”

    Welcome to facebook.

    You lost points with me for becoming part of the problem by not just playing, but forcing others into it.