Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 08, 2013
Next sequel of the SimCity saga

I've been playing some SimCity last night, but at the end apparently my new city wasn't saved and I'll have to start over. Not that I mind, I had trouble putting roads in the right distance from each other anyway. The residential, commercial, and industrial "zones" are in fact lines, parallel to a road, and you don't know what depth you need. Build two roads too far from each other, and there is lost space between the two rows, build them too close and the second row never builds anything due to lack of space.

But for a game that is basically still unplayable, SimCity is sure producing a lot of news. Even fake news now, like the claim that EA hired hundreds of Chinese spammers to post positive reviews of SimCity. This being the internet, the fake news is sometimes taken for real and reported elsewhere. You'd feel sorry for EA if it wasn't for the nagging feeling that it is their own fault for having a reputation which makes a story like this believable.

The one thing that proves that EA didn't pay hundreds of Chinese spammers to get good ratings on various sites is that their score for SimCity on sites like Amazon or Metacritic is still so low, in spite of there having been only between one- and two-thousand negative ratings. The Chinese spammers would have done a better job than SimCity having a user score of 1.6 on Metacritic and a 1-star rating on Amazon.

Interestingly the critics review score of SimCity is also dropping severely. On release day Metacritic still reported a 91 average critics rating, yesterday it was down to 82, and today down to 79. And that is without taking into account that at least one of the early highly positive reviews was subsequently downgraded from 9.5 to 8.0 and then to 4.0. It is still counting as 95 on Metacritic.

Now before you accuse those early reviewers of having been paid by EA, the truth is much more trivial: They got to play SimCity before release, and thus based their review on a version which was working. Gamespot, having waited with their review, summarized the situation as "SimCity (the game) ... is super fun. SimCity (the service) is a disaster."

Interestingly game companies use Metacritic scores to determine bonus payments for developers. I don't know if Maxis does that, but I'm pretty sure that 91 would have been bonus-worthy, and 79 not. At which point it then becomes debatable how much of the blame should be directed at the game developers. If management told them to specifically develop SimCity as online-only game and then whoever is responsible for the EA and Origin server architecture messed up, the aggregated score on Metacritic might not reflect the quality of the work of the game developers. But then, I sure do hope that the bonuses of the upper management of EA depend on the Metacritic score of SimCity.

Oh well I fell in the trap too.

BUT... EA is well know for having done something similar in the past. That's why no one is surprised.
If my bonus were tied to metacritic scores, then I would get far more "bang for my buck" if I spent money on hiring metacritic reviewers rather than merely spending money money on developers.

I suspect that making something that appeals to people with the motivation and ego to do an online review may make it more niche but a worse mass-market game.

I read somewhere that the city size limit is really a population limit because all inhabitants are treated as, well, sims, instead of mere cyphers. Strange, as the average SimCity player is probably not at all interested in this level of detail?
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