The unexpected realism of SimCity Social.

Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting you play SimCity Social. SCS continues the same crappy gameplay you’ve come to expect from all “social” games. For those not familiar with the business model, social games are “free,” and in lieu of making money on the frontend, developers make money on the backend by intentionally throwing up roadblocks to gameplay which must be overcome by spending real money, spamming your friends with requests for items, or just waiting a few hours until your “energy” refills. A game like this is only really worth playing as an occasional timekill when you’re already logged into Facebook.

That being said, there is some uncanny realism in SimCity Social that has not been reflected in any prior SimCity release.

Businesses pay out more in higher-density areas

In every other SimCity game, land development is a function of demand and land value. Land value, in turn, is a function of proximity to amenities – mostly parks and recreation. If there is a lot of demand for retail, then zoning commercial in low-value areas will result in small shops while zoning commercial in high-value areas will get you mega malls. You can stick all your commercial zones over in a far corner of the city at the end of a long highway and as long as you build enough tennis courts, it’ll all be high-intensity development. This is not true in reality – try to develop retail adjacent to parks but far from the urban center and about the best you can shoot for is Houston Premium Outlets.

In SimCity Social, though, commercial buildings have a radius of influence, and the payout bonus is directly proportional to how many people reside in that radius of influence. Population density is still affected by proximity to amenities, though. So while a park won’t make your restaurant any richer, it *will* serve as a catalyst for higher-density development, and proximity to that will lead to a higher payout. Among other things this encourages Inner Loop style mixing of uses over the strict Euclidean setup rewarded by the other SimCity games.

Waterfronts are a premium for both residences and industry

Proximity to water creates a “bonus.” This bonus, in turn, applies to both industrial production and population density. Suppose a section of waterfront has a 100% bonus. Then a lumber mill with a baseline production rate of 405 units will instead produce 810, while a condo site that would develop to hold 163 residents instead holds 326. This sets up a natural tension between high-density residential and working industrial uses which is common to almost every port city.

You always need freeway access

Other SimCity games start with a blank slate, into which you build everything from scratch, including the transportation. Your city can have no connection with the outside world if you don’t desire one. But SimCity Social has a little freeway off in the corner of the map and a main road that interchanges with it. Everything must connect to the highway. You can develop out on the far fringes of the map, but you need a connection. Cut off a thriving city from any connection to the outside world, and your businesses and industry while cease making money while your gleaming condos downgrade to run-down shacks.

The railroad was there first, and you can’t move it.

When you start SimCity Social, the railroad is already there, cutting across your otherwise pristine and uninhabited landscape. As the city develops, you can build near the railroad, or far away from it. What you can’t do is move the railroad, close the railroad, or otherwise modify it. If you’ve ever been privy to negotiations between a commuter rail operator and Union Pacific, you’ll know that this is about as realistic as it gets.

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4 responses to “The unexpected realism of SimCity Social.

  1. Also, the railroad is going to need a couple billion in capital improvements before you can run your passenger train. You know, full double track, all new signals, new grade crossings, new yard outside town… :)

  2. And yet SimCity Social looks more like SimCity than the new “SimCity 2013″ does. *weeps*

    It is interesting that SimCity Social is a bit more realistic in a few key parts.

  3. Pingback: Simcity Sucks, don’t buy it. | Keep Houston Houston.

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