It’s been a few weeks since E3, but does anybody remember EA’s conference? Probably not, because most of it was completely disappointing. There was, however, one aspect of EA’s conference that actually got me excited. Even before E3 started, we here at G33k-e were pretty happy to learn about a new Sim City coming out (just check out our PRE3 podcast if you don’t believe me). That excitement grew tenfold for me when they announced at E3 that the game would be multiplayer, with players being given the chance to build their cities near their friends cities and join in on other activities. Along with this revelation came the announcement of a new social game for Facebook entitled Sim City Social. It didn’t look too bad at first, and the prospect of a social game based on Sim City was actually pretty appealing to me. Garbage Gamer wasn’t nearly as swayed, but then that tends to be the case; He’s usually a much better judge of games in these situations than I am. It begs the question why we don’t see more video game reviews from him. Maybe I should get on his ass about that.
Nevertheless, I came out of E3 expecting something at least a little entertaining out of Sim City Social. I knew it wouldn’t be as good as the official new Sim City game, but I figured it might at least be an interesting diversion. Boy, was I wrong. Only a few weeks later, EA and Playfish have released the open beta of the game, and it is immediately clear that this is the absolute worst kind of social gaming. What have we been saying about Free-to-Play games for years now? They only work as a business model when you don’t force the player to continue paying for the privilege of playing the game. Nobody wants to have to keep paying into a small and unimpressive game day after day, month after month, when they could just go out and buy a brand new game for less than it would cost them to continue playing this. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that the entire game should be free, just the base gameplay. Being intentionally halted and kept from progressing in a game simply because you aren’t paying any money to play it is one of the greatest sins that a company can make against the gaming community.
This might not entirely be the case with Sim City Social, as you are often given the opportunity to invite more friends to the game instead of paying for more in-game cash. However, that doesn’t make the tactic any less greedy or underhanded. Social games like this are no better than pyramid schemes. You can’t advance in the game without pestering your friends, and if they actually decide to start playing the game with you, they will eventually be forced to pester their friends as well. Most social games have some kind of a dynamic designed to get you to bring your friends into the game, but few force you to do it just to be able to continue playing. Sim City Social is one of those few games. Granted, this is only the open beta, but something tells me that this aspect of the gameplay isn’t going to change.
So how exactly does the game force you to pay to play? Well, you’re given a decent amount of land to build on to begin with, and every opportunity to get everything you need in the game to progress further. Each business you build will earn you Simoleans, which are one of four forms of currency in the game. You’ve also got a train station which you can use to send for materials. Materials are another form of currency in this game. Getting them via train takes a while, but you can also build factories in your town that will create materials much faster. Visiting other towns will earn you Fame, the third form of currency in the game. Fame can be used for special properties, but you usually have to earn quite a lot of it in order to use it on anything. The fourth form of currency is the Diamond, which cannot be earned. Oh, for the first 10 levels they’ll give you a seemingly random and sporadic amount of Diamonds as a reward for leveling up, but past the 10th level you will not be able to earn Diamonds for any task whatsoever in the game. The only way to get Diamonds past this point is to pay for them.
Okay, so they have one form of currency that can’t be earned. So what? Well, that form of currency just so happens to be the one you need in order to progress in the game. My city is currently about as full as it can get, and I just built my first police station to handle all the crime in the city. Unfortunately, I can’t complete construction, because I either need to recruit three friends to be “cops” at the station, or pay 5 Diamonds each to hire in-game staff for the police station. Being that I’m not the type of person to pester my friends, who usually hate these types of games, I’m not about to do that just to advance in the game. The only other way to advance is to pay for Diamonds. Okay, so that can’t be too bad, can it? Wrong. The price of Diamonds is exorbitantly high. They have 5 packages that you can purchase, each one offering more than the last. The first package includes 12 Diamonds for the price of $2. Not bad, until you consider that I’d need 15 Diamonds alone to finish staffing my Police station.
This isn’t even the only time this kind of thing happens in the game. There are several properties which require you to “hire your friends” or pay to continue, and even little side quests thrown into the mix which require you to hire even more friends. Early in the game, a UFO crash lands near your town and you have to send a team of scientists to check it out. I still haven’t sent that team of scientists, do you want to hazard a guess as to why? They need 5 scientists, and each one costs 5 Diamonds. It would cost $6 to be able to continue that side quest, and that is not going to happen. Sadly, this isn’t even the worst offense that Sim City Social commits against gamers. In addition to being forced to either pay or pester in order to continue building certain important buildings in your city, if you ever want to expand your city you’ll need land permits. These permits cannot be obtained through the game, and they cannot be bought. The only way to continue expanding your city is to pester your friends to give you land permits. If you don’t want to do that, you can pay between 5-15 Diamonds to skip the process altogether.
In the end, the result of all this money grubbing and forced pestering is a highly confined game where your city is not allowed to continue blooming beyond a certain point. For a game in the Sim City franchise, this is an absolute travesty. The idea of the Sim City games is to expand your city as far as it can go. Being shown a lot of land and refused the opportunity to build on it is entirely demeaning to that original vision. If you’re like me, you’ll eventually end up with a small, cramped city that cannot expand much further, with a completely built police station just waiting to be staffed and plenty of every form of currency except Diamonds. I suppose it’s a somewhat fun little excursion for a day or two, just seeing how much you can build your city with what is given to you for free. However, being forced to pay in order to continue playing the game has completely soured me on the experience, and I’m most likely not going to spend much time playing this in the near future. Take my advice: Don’t even bother. Wait for the actual Sim City to come out, and hope that it is way better than this pile of crap.
Sim City Social