SimCity Social On Facebook Builds On EA's Previous Sims Online Attempts


Posted July 17, 2012 - By Matt Swider

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SimCity Social On Facebook Builds On EA's Previous Sims Online Attempts

The SimCity Social beta launched just recently, kicking off a Facebook-wide meeting of virtual mayors for the top-down city planning franchise. This, however, isn’t the first game in the Sims universe in which you could interact with other Art Vandelay wannabees. From last year’s The Sims Social on Facebook to 2002’s The Sims Online for the PC, EA has been tinkering with Will Wright’s creations to mixed results for years. SimCity Social brings a more “core” franchise to the casual gaming platform and, more importantly, demonstrates that the company has learned from a few of the mistakes of its past online Sims games.

Doesn’t Bulldoze Core SimCity Gameplay
The first thing that SimCity Social gets right is that it keeps intact the gameplay mechanics of 1989’s SimCity and its colorful sequel SimCity 2000. You’re still building a small town that, over the course of many hours and several hundred mouse clicks, can turn into a bustling little city.

You’ll begin by building roads, houses and farms and eventually work your way up to erecting museums, stadiums and iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. Your power as mayor is only limited by your imagination and game-essential resources like materials, money, and energy. EA, like Zynga, encourages you to purchase these resources with real-life money when you're low or just want to speed up the wait times. Thankfully, with enough time and a little bit of help from friends, you'll never feel compelled to take the easy way out if you can handle classic SimCity gameplay.

This is something The Sims Online failed to do for the franchise ten years ago. Its transition from a single-player sandbox game to a character-focused MMO fundamentally changed the PC game, and not for the better. Players assumed the role of one character, so the intriguing idea of controlling a virtual family from an ant farm-like perspective and interacting with other user-created families online never ended up happening. Likewise, the promise of creating your own content was missing throughout the life of The Sims Online. There were multiplayer bonuses for performing group tasks, but the in-game money earned from these un-fun chores didn’t add up to anything worthwhile.

The Sims Online was retitled EA Land in April 2008, but it was too late. The revamped game closed within the same month, as everyone realized this was a poor man’s Second Life.

SimCity Social On Facebook Builds On EA's Previous Sims Online Attempts

In SimCity Social, Being Evil Is An Option
SimCity Social not only enables you to be evil, it downright encourages it -- although it’s in the cutest sense possible. On neighboring maps, you can tamper with the elevators in office towers, swap doll heads in toy factories and grease doorsteps in the apartment buildings. Yes, it’s juvenile and the there are no real consequences, but the names of these mischievous actions are creative and fun. On the flip side, you can have a peaceful meeting in the office towers, help stuff animals in the toy factory, and have a sleepover in the apartment building. It’s not as fun to increase your “fame” meter this way, but the choice to be good or evil is an entertaining touch.

The ability to be good or evil is another SimCity Social improvement over The Sims Online. That’s because while almost all other Sims games have given players the option to be as nice or as naughty as they wanted, the series’ first online counterpart shied away from what could be viewed as harassment. In the age of cyberbullying, this change made sense. However, it’s just another example of how the transition from a single-player world with NPCs to an online environment with a vulnerable community gimped The Sims Online of another Sims staple. SimCity Social found a way to make it work, even if it’s to the tiniest degree.

Facebook Friends Needed FTW
Interacting with friends in SimCity Social isn’t just effortless, it’s pretty much unavoidable thanks to Facebook. With your always-handy list of friends, you’ll be able to effortlessly visit their cities, trade gifts back and forth, and “hire” them for municipal jobs if they’re playing the game. Even if they’re not playing SimCity Social, random friends will move into homes that you build. It’s sort of like when the Miis stored on your console populate the sidelines of Mario Kart Wii. Most of the time it’s neat because your neighborhood is filled with the names and photos of people that you would normally game with. At other times, however, it’s odd to see your parents or non-gaming friends you haven't talked to in years act as NPCs moving into a new home. And remain there. For the entire game.

SimCity Social does a good job of warning you when you’re about to invite friends and send requests, but it happens at almost every turn. Tragically, it’s your full list of Facebook friends that pops up. You don’t want to SPAM everyone you know, especially people who have made it a priority to say that they despise game notifications. And while there is an “Add Recommended” button above this list of unchecked boxes, that option doesn’t seem to discriminate against those non-gamers who would be less than pleased to see your non-essential notification.

What SimCity Social offers is in stark contrast to The Sims Online, which had you interact with a lot more strangers than friends in the pre-Facebook era of social gaming. There’s no enjoyment of having to sign-up for a separate service these days, which typically ends up being a ghost town. From StarCraft II to SimCity Online, it’s great to see developers embracing Facebook as a useful contact list. This game just needs to give everyone a better idea of who is willing to accept invites and who will be tempted to unfriend you upon receiving one of them.

SimCity Social On Facebook Builds On EA's Previous Sims Online Attempts

Still More Growing Up To Do
SimCity Social demonstrates that the series has grown up since The Sims Online a decade ago. There’s an emphasis on interacting with friends without penalizing you for doing the minimal amount of good neighboring. There’s at least some degree of mischief going on between towns. Whether you choose to be a rival or a good citizen is your call. Best of all, the game doesn’t strip away most of what made SimCity such a great game over the past two decades. That’s the complete opposite of what The Sims Online did, which makes us want to play The Sims 3: Katy Perry's Sweet Treats before ever stepping foot in that condemned online world.

Micromanaging an online city and peering into the towns built by your friends makes Facebook the ideal platform for a game like this. It still needs to point out which friends are actually playing (of course this is part of EA’s annoying, but effective strategy to have you recruit as many new users as possible) and it’d be great to see more consequences of emergencies and natural disasters if left unchecked.

There’s also no penalty for uprooting permanent structures and moving them around the map. All of these changes can still be implemented, as SimCity Social is in beta. But it may be another clever strategy to a keep casual audiences playing the game and paying to level up. More dedicated core gamers would rather play than pay, and therefore may not be the target audience. If that ends up being the case six months from now, that’s about the time when we jump city-building sims and pick up the amazing-looking SimCity reboot in 2013.

SimCity Social On Facebook Builds On EA's Previous Sims Online Attempts


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