I feel weak to SimCity (2013). It was beautiful and fun, even if its design was severely compromised.

PC Gamer of the Cheery RPS fanzine recently spoke some of his design team about these compromises, the reasons for them, and the massive backlash that led to the series being killed.


If you don’t remember, SimCity had one horrible launching. It requires an “always online” internet connection, even if you’re playing solo, and players will be booted out of the game if their internet or SimCity servers go down. SimCity’s servers went down a lot, especially as millions tried to log in in the first days and weeks after release. Lead designer Stone Librande describes the launch as “heartbreaking.”

At the time, EA’s Lucy Bradshaw said that the internet connection was a “creative game design decision”, although it seemed more likely to be about preventing piracy and attracting users to EA’s then-new digital storefront, Origin.

“SimCity was one of the most pirated (series) of all time, so the directive had to be, ‘How can we make this pirateable,'” Librande tells PC Gamer. “One way to do that is to keep a lot of data on the server so there’s nothing to really hack, and if you hack your own copy, you still have to check the servers.”

“Origin is a storefront on consumer computers, so the motivation was to make SimCity online and use it to promote Origin,” says Ocean Quigley, Creative Director of SimCity. “Maybe it would work if the infrastructure was there.”

Librande also says that “at the time, every game had multiplayer components” and that he had a “personal goal” to play SimCity with his two sons. No PC player I spoke to said that the “always online” requirement was there to move some of the simulation to EA’s servers for performance reasons, although it was another excuse EA gave at that time.

Aside from these compromises and launch issues, the article has some discussion about the reasons why SimCity remains fascinating to me – mainly its simulations and the design philosophy from which it arose. “I had a sign above my desk that said, ‘Cities are people, not buildings,'” Librande says. “It was a quote from urban planning. You don’t want to think of a city as a collection of buildings and streets. You want to think of it as people moving through these systems from place to place.”

Shortly after the release of SimCity, both Lybrand and Quigley left Maxis, and EA closed the studio soon after. Quigley and another SimCity developer founded studio Jellygrade, which never released anything. Today, Quigley is Meta’s creative director working on VR, and Librande is a designer at Riot Games.