I’m a lifetime SimCity fan. I played the original on an Amiga and every sequel and remake since. I have been looking forward to the new SimCity game coming out in 2013 and I thought that playing SimCity Social would be a nice distraction until then. I thought, at best, that it would be a fun SimCity game and, at worst, it might end up being something I could just ignore. I was wrong. It’s neither the fun SimCity game I was hoping for or something I can ignore. The blatant greed behind the design of this game has made me very wary of even buying the full SimCity game that I have so looked forward to and yet, somehow, I can’t seem to stop playing SimCity Social.
When I first started playing, I was immediately charmed by the visual style of the game. It certainly looked like a proper SimCity game. But I was simultaneously disgusted by the greedy and occasionally dishonest methods the game employed in order to force the player to do one of the following:
A. Spam friends
B. Play with strangers
C. Pay real money
Progression in the game is quite impossible without resorting to one of the above three methods.
An innocent quest early in the game asks the player to send a balloon gift to a single friend. That seems fair enough! I don’t find it unreasonable for a game with Social in the title to require playing with a friend or two. But eventually, the game stops offering objectives that require only one or two friends and, instead, demands many. There is a quest that requires having at least 10 friends and having a rival relationship with all of them. Most players will have both friendly neighbors and rival neighbors; so really, the quest necessitates the player to have more than 10 friends playing the game.
It is clearly a case where most players will be forced to spam their friends repeatedly until more of them start playing. Either that, or they will have to rely on adding strangers to their Facebook friends list, or utilize Diamonds, an in game currency that can be spent on skipping quest objectives and which can be earned occasionally in game or primarily by spending real money. A, B or C?
SimCity Social also includes many quest objectives that can only be completed if the player chooses to post a help request on their Facebook wall for their friends to click on a certain number of times (ranging from 1 to 7 or possibly more). If that isn’t forcing the players to advertise, I don’t know what is. Game progression comes to a halt while the spam machine does its work. If no one clicks, the quests basically stop, unless of course the player forks over the cash for some diamonds to skip the quest objective. A, B or C?
It only gets worse from there. Many of the buildings in the game cannot be utilized until they are “staffed” by other players. The player has to either spam friends for staffing clicks or skip ahead with diamonds. To make matters worse, there are item collection quests that depend on these buildings, but only allow 1 item to be collected per building. So imagine a building that requires 5 players to staff, and a quest that requires collecting an item from 5 of those buildings. That’s 25 players that have to be spammed, or a heck of a lot of diamonds that have to be spent. A, B or C?
When the game first launched, things were really bad. The game allowed players to spend their real money (in the form of diamonds) without so much as a confirmation prompt. Fortunately a confirmation prompt has since been added to the game, providing one relieving respite from the greed.
Other problems remain unfixed. The game offers items to players at a discounted diamond cost whenever the player increases the level of their city, but performs a bait and switch by severely reducing the discounts provided by those offers as soon as real money has been used to purchase diamonds. For example, when the game first launched, the level 21 offer for non-spenders was 80% off the Dino Skeleton decoration (an item that can only be purchased with diamonds). For those that had spent money on diamonds in the past, that offer was replaced by a 30% discount on a comparatively worthless stack of overpriced building materials (which can be acquired quite easily without using diamonds).
Unsurprisingly, the official forums for the game exploded upon discovery of this bait and switch. The most popular thread on the subject now has 242 replies, including an official response from the developers on Friday the 13th of July basically saying that they are making the difference in offers between spenders and non-spenders less drastic. That doesn’t exactly resolve the problem though. Forum posters have continued to complain, but there has been no further update since.
So why am I still playing? Honestly, despite all of the above, things could be worse. I recently found out that there are two quest objectives towards the end of the game that can only be completed by spending diamonds, but it’s not impossible to earn enough diamonds to complete them without spending money. In fact, during the Olympics, there was a special in game event that allowed players to earn a significant number of diamonds for free. I was able to earn about 150 of them (a $20 value, according to what they try to charge for them). If the developers continue to provide such opportunities, the need for A, B and C will be somewhat diminished.
And beyond that, there is plenty of fun to be had building a city. SimCity Social certainly isn’t a true SimCity game, but it does scratch that grow-a-city itch. Residential buildings flourish when attractions and decorations are placed nearby. Commercial buildings earn more income when placed near highly populated residential areas. Players start with suburbs and end up with high-rises. Fires break out, criminals hide out in buildings and pollution spreads from factories. And, on a small scale, players do get to interact with friends when they visit neighboring cities to perform friendly or rival actions (like polishing a door knocker or misdirecting a mailman at some apartments).
Slowly but surely over weeks and months, a city appears. So against my better judgment, I continue to play. I have spammed my friends. I have added strangers on Facebook.
…I have not purchased Diamonds.