Experienced Points

Experienced Points
SimCity vs. Cities: Skylines - Who Wins?

Shamus Young | 24 Mar 2015 15:00
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SimCity earthquake

3. Multiplayer Features

SimCity had a terrible online system that couldn't handle the player load, locking most players out of the game for days on end or sticking them into hours-long queues. And when EA finally got their act together, it turned out that the multiplayer was shallow and stupid and lacking basic multiplayer features.

Cities: Skylines is designed to be a single-player experience.

So which is better? A game that packages broken DRM as a multiplayer "feature" that locks people out, or one that just focuses on building a stable and fun single-player experience? It turns out that no multiplayer is better than multiplayer that locks you out of the game.

Advantage: Cities: Skylines.

4. Modding

SimCity screen

SimCity was designed to be a multiplayer DLC vending machine. You can't mod the game world for the same reason you can't mod World of Warcraft gameplay: If you're going to share a world with other people, everyone needs to be playing by the same rules. You can't edit your own stuff in. You can't edit terrain. You can't change the gameplay.

Instead, EA offered free "DLC" that was basically a cross between in-game advertising and a blatant cheat item. It was an electric car charging station that generated happiness and used no electricity. The best thing you could say in defense of it was that players weren't forced to use it.

For contrast, Skylines has supported mods from day one. New buildings. New maps. Mods to give you new road-drawing tools. Mods to change the rendering style. Mods to change the gameplay. Mods to make the game easier, or harder. As of this writing there are over 18,000 mods on the workshop that you can download and activate with a single click. (And as I discovered yesterday, often without even needing to exit the game.) While some of them are no doubt trash, I've found a lot of stuff that's just as good as the assets in the core game. And if you're more of a do-it-yourself kind of person, the game comes with a handy level editor. Knock yourself out.

Advantage: Cities: Skylines.

5. Everything else

cities skylines_7

SimCity retailed for 60 American Dollars at launch. (High for a PC title, and absurd for a PC title with this many problems.) Cities: Skylines launched for $30. SimCity limited your cities to 4km2. Cities: Skylines lets you build on 36km2 of a whopping 100km2 map. (With the ability to mod the game to use the full map, assuming you've got a computer beefy enough to handle it.) While platform exclusives are generally a bad thing in my mind, SimCity is exclusive to Origin while Cities: Skylines is exclusive to the less-despised Steam platform.

Advantage: Cities: Skylines.

6. Best of all...

Cities: Skylines is the work of just 13 people. All it took was 13 enthusiastic people to overcome EA's horrendous bungling and make a product that's superior in every way. And apparently they did it in just two years.

If even one executive at EA had any clue about either their products or their customers, the SimCity 2013 we know would never have existed. If they had simply released the game we all wanted and expected, they would have avoided months of bad publicity. While I'm sure SimCity made money in the long run, think of how much more they would have made if EA hadn't needed to pay for a massive server farm. How much money did they waste pushing the square peg of Maxis developers into the round hole of large-scale multiplayer? How much of a boost would it have been to Origin to have an exclusive game that the public actually wanted? What is the long-term cost of the damage to the SimCity brand?

Consider the fact that after driving this brand into the ground and pissing away a fortune in potential revenues, EA has closed the doors at Maxis, thereby punishing the peasants for the incompetence of the princes.

"They're making money, so they must be doing something right!" I can never accept that excuse. A monkey could make money if given access to EA's assets. That's no excuse for gross mismanagement and wasted potential. If EA ever takes another crack at the city-building genre, they're going to be coming at it from the position of the underdog. And they have only themselves to blame.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. Have a question for the column? Ask him! [email protected].

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