If You Build It: Maxis Testing Waters On SimCity Modding

By Nathan Grayson on October 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 am.

Testing waters, but still not putting out fires.

Believe it or not – despite EA and Maxis’ insistence on constant connection – SimCity has mods. Due to a lack of official tools, they’re not particularly elaborate, but people have managed to tinker around under the simplified simulation’s hunkered down hood. Before now, however, Maxis didn’t really acknowledge, well, any of it. But now, it appears that the developer has had a change of heart. It’s hoping to open up a dialogue with modders on its official forums, which is good news! Er, kinda. Problem is, there are still no plans for mod tools, and Maxis has no intention of letting modders change whatever they want.

Maxis appears to be both encouraging modding and sliding a leash around its neck. If you’re hoping to add features you feel Maxis so very wrongly omitted, well, you might be disappointed:

“We would like to have a discussion with our fans regarding user-generated content and the creation of mods in SimCity under our new forum section called ‘User Generated Content’. Our goal is to ensure that we provide a place for all of our players to have fun while assuring them that the gameplay experience is safe and has integrity. It’s difficult to determine what makes a ‘good’ or safe mod and what mods cross the line. Clarifying guidelines for UGC will help players understand where that line is and protect both our UGC and non-UGC community. Ultimately we want everyone to have fun with the game, no matter how you play it.”

The developer also posted a few explicit guidelines. Here, unfortunately, is the big one: “UGC that effects the simulation for multiplay games and features are not allowed.” Unfortunately, SimCity doesn’t have single-player in a traditional sense, but there’s no word on how this will work with private regions or sandbox mode at the moment. Maybe those could give modders a bit more wiggle room?

Right now, however, Maxis mainly seems to be interested in “encouraging the creativity of its players” through asset swapping and other cosmetic changes. That’s a very limited spectrum of creativity, but then, this is the new SimCity we’re talking about. I guess I don’t really expect much better. And that – still, somehow – makes me distinctly sad.

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28 Comments »

  1. ViktorBerg says:

    So only cosmetic mods, eh? Yeah, the game is a definite must buy now.

    • Grey Poupon says:

      It’s probably EA that’s the naysayer on mods and modding tools. In their dictionary “mod” redirects to “DLC”. They don’t want to offer for free (even if it’s made by someone else) something they can sell.

      • maximiZe says:

        EA is Maxis.

        • Shaun239 says:

          You’d think they’d be all over Mods these days, after DayZ gave Arma 2 a whole second wind of sales (a considerable amount, I believe.) and mods have no doubt encouraged a lot of sales for the Stalker series and of course Elder Scrolls.

          The Elder Scrolls games are even a good example of DLC co-existing with mods…

          I think this really comes down to EA/Maxis not wanting some modder to somehow undermine their DRM.

          I was never able to play this game since I had no internet at the time (so there was a definite lost sale there.) but since I have internet now I thought I’d look at getting the game if it was cheap…holy crap, 44 quid for the basic edition! And after all the negative PR!? Insane.

          • aldo_14 says:

            The thing is, they don’t look at DayZ… they look at COD:Zombies instead.

          • Bull0 says:

            £31 on amazon. Don’t buy it though, it sucks.

          • noizy says:

            If they let modders do whatever they want, they might actually do a better job than EA/Maxis and put them to shame. Can’t let than happen.

        • Grey Poupon says:

          To my understanding Maxis is a studio (owned by EA) and EA is the publisher. Maxis probably wants to make the game as good as they possibly can while EA dictates what they can and cannot do.

          • zeekthegeek says:

            The studio called Maxis closed right after Spore permanently. EA has since slapped the profitable label for ‘guys who make sims games’ onto an internal team.

      • ViktorBerg says:

        I’ll be honest. As a consumer, I do not really care about the inner workings of a company and its subsidiaries. If a game released by this company is bad, as a customer I am dissatisfied, and any excuses of “the publisher is making us add day 1 DLC and always online” do NOT fly with me. Because regardless of what they’re saying, I just wasted my money on a bad game!

        • Grey Poupon says:

          But it should matter. If a company has a scapegoat for all their ill deals, they can just drop the scapegoat and clean the slate. If EA would sack the guys from Maxis that’ve gotten most of the flack from Sim City’s failings, people would think it’s all “OK” now. When in reality it’s been EA that’s dictated all the DRM and modding decisions. IF EA’s rep doesn’t suffer from their bad decisions then they’re less likely to change their ways. They’ll just find a new scapegoat.

          Obviously this is assuming you care about the state of the industry, not just about the product you already purchased that ended up being crap.

          • hitnrun says:

            No, it doesn’t matter. EA purchased Maxis a very long time ago. They are one and the same company. “Maxis” is a brand name EA keeps around to play Good Cop/Bad Cop for PR purposes.

            There is no criticism of Maxis that could be invalid because “EA” was actually responsible at this advanced point in their assimilation.

        • Smuckers says:

          ^This. Ea sucks, but it’s not like Maxis should be left off the hook. At the end of the day, it’s their name on the box. If they wanted to make a game to please simcity fans that’s what they should have done. Do people forget already how it was Maxis who lied to consumers about how the always online requirement was necessary? As far as i’m concerned Ea and Maxis are equally culpable for the mess this game is, and this new “modding” program is BS if people aren’t allowed to actually fix their shitty game.

          • Lev Astov says:

            Amen to that. If Maxis were anything more than a shill for EA at this point, they’d quit and reform as an independent studio, Respawn style.

          • Baines says:

            I wonder how many pre-EA Maxis employees are still at Maxis now, anyway.

  2. ahac says:

    They talk about stuff people actually want…. “Hey, want bigger cities?”, “Hey, how about mods?”
    But they announce a futuristic sims-like expansion that doesn’t add anything to gameplay…

  3. Bull0 says:

    Anyone else read “assuring them that the gameplay experience is safe and has integrity” to mean “ensuring that you don’t cannibalise our expansion pack sales”?

  4. HisDivineOrder says:

    Looks like a trap to me. They give these people a place to go with their “mods” and then as soon as you talk about them, then they can locate and destroy them more easily.

    So as a famous calamari once said, “ITS A TRAP!”

    • Universal Quitter says:

      An oldie but goodie (on YouTube): watch?v=oQljzQ_FpUE

    • Baines says:

      It splits and controls interest in modding the game.

      Before now, anyone who went looking for any kind of SimCity mod would also stumble across the kinds of mods that EA and Maxis don’t want users finding out about. By making an official outlet for “legal” mods, people will start looking there, and stop if they find what they want. It splits the modder community itself a bit as well, as the people who are willing to play inside EA/Maxis’s lines will support EA/Maxis’s official channel.

  5. UKAzzer says:

    They didn’t like my modding I did at game launch, they even kept deleting any posts I made about it on their forums;
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/03/16/simcity-modder-tells-us-offline-regional-play-easily-done/

    All they really want is skins and theme packs, they’re definitely no Bethesda.

    • The Random One says:

      That’s the one mod I’d be interested in.

    • airmikee99 says:

      Seconded.

      I wonder if I’d actually stop playing SimCity 4, or if I’d play it along with the new SimCity if they allowed offline play.

  6. P.Funk says:

    And so the consequences of “always online” continue. The deliberate renaming of mods to UGC implies their desire to closely moderate the ambitions of anything that ends up officially on their list of “approved” mods.

    Typical of what I expect from them, but tragic all the same.

  7. chiablo says:

    They should just abandon the game and do the community a favor and release the source code.

  8. engion3 says:

    This and Unreal Tournament 3 are tied for the two biggest disappointments in my gaming history, in case anyone was wondering.

  9. hitnrun says:

    At this point, the only people playing are suffering from cognitive dissonance at having paid a chunk of currency for it.

  10. Fataleer says:

    As a long time Sim City enthusiast, when Sim City 5 was announced I was so happy. Sim City was like driving to me, only for more complex ideas. But my happiness stopped after first (!) video I had seen about the game.

    It was first glass box presentation from 2011 or early 2012, not sure about the time. In this video you would see that every entity runs from a to b, and all there is visible. So you could actually track everything in the city. People, people in their jobs, economy of phÿsical goods. But even from this first video two major problems arisen and one problem mayhaps occured to some.

    Firstly, these are not people or goods, these are unified agents. Okay Sim City. But that means that one agent “lives” exactly for one route. Which basically means that there will be no long term effects. Think city desertion after super-inflation in Sim City 4, because you created new super-modern centre, and people who lived there remember the time, where little bought much. This scenario will never happen in Sim City 5. So, that was like — why would they do that?! This complexity is why I love Sim City 4!

    Secondly, after realizing what non-persitent existence of inhabitants would do the simulation, I thought that maybe this is only a temporary stuff (hint: later, still pre-launch, they were saying this was their intention. I fail to see why they wanted that.). So I was looking for other rational ideas behind the simulation that would sell me it. Has anyone thought about these “agents” in real life terms? Your electricity is delivered by car. By CAR! As is your water. It was there on the first video and I was shouting at the screen that they are not serious. So that basically told me (well before launch or pre-orders) that new Sim City would be everything BUT simulation.

    And the last thing, the creepy thing in behind. Maxis, or EA manager, or their manager, or anyone without any idea how city works greenlit this. You will be asking why. And there is this thing. The managers were sold this pitch — “You will see every actual point of simulation. In Sim city 2/3/4 what you see is representation of the Simulation which is calculated in behind in Engine. Now, you will see it all, because what you see is what is calculated.” It is cool, is it not? There is actual virtual reality down there and you interact with it in real-time (or cheetah or whatever).

    So, what basically was visibile in 2011 was this — Simulation is what we see. And what we see is mess of ilogical decisions, which has nothing to do with simulation of a city. It is obscure mathematic equation, where someone thought that it would be cool to make it more interacitive by binding the actual caluclation to a model. Which would be awesome, had it been done well. And all I believe now about the Sim City DRM and stuff, is that online only and lockdown of modding is just another sales pitch and marketing scheme to sell broken product, mystify customer with online component and say that most problems come from internet connection issues and ban modders from discovering it and spreading the truth about the model.

    I am sorry I was right back in 2011. I would really enjoy good successor to Sim City. Maybe one day there would be proper Sim City 5. :)

    Note – I am basing this on my observation, few things I noticed when I was reading about decompiling Sim City and from the research which made offline Sim City possible for warez. (Yeah, it somewhat works — it is still broken as official one.)