Is anyone still playing SimCity? Between its notoriously disastrous launch and the subsequent realization that it wasn't actually all that good when compared to past installments of the long-running series, a lot of people abandoned it shortly after launch.
There are things it does well, though, and while it's not as good as past SimCities, it still has a certain element of fun about it. There have apparently been enough active players persisting with the game in the last seven months to make it worthwhile for Maxis to continue active development on it since that time, with seven major updates over this period helping to improve the game, most notably with regard to the questionable traffic simulation.
In a recent blog post, Patrick Buechner, general manager of the Maxis Emeryville studio, notes that the team is continuing to listen to player feedback and paying particular attention to those who have constructive criticism -- "players have high expectations of what goes into our games," he says, "and we have an obligation to deliver."
There are three main things the core SimCity team are looking into at present: user-generated content (UGC); an offline mode that does not require players to connect to EA's server to play; and larger areas in which to build cities, since many players felt unnecessarily constricted in the available spaces in the new game.
To the first point, Buechner notes that the team is engaging in a discussion with players over what they want from a modding facility. The main concern at present is how to allow players the freedom to mod while ensuring that this does not break the game's online multiplayer aspect. "It's difficult to determine what makes a 'good' or safe mod and what mods cross the line," writes Buechner. "Clarifying guidelines for UGC will help players understand where that line is."
To the second point, the oft-requested offline mode, Buechner says there is a dedicated team "exploring the possibility" of an offline mode. He makes no promises, but is conscious of the fact that many players have been asking for it. He also notes that an offline mode would provide complete freedom to modders without interfering with or breaking the multiplayer experience.
As for the third point, however, players are out of luck: Buechner straight-up says that Maxis will not be providing bigger city sizes. It's not a decision the team has made lightly, apparently; Buechner claims that "months of investigation" have gone into trying to make it work, but the performance challenges have proven too great -- the engine simply isn't built to simulate larger areas than are currently available.
"We've tried a number of approaches to bring performance into an acceptable range, but we just couldn't achieve it within the confines of the engine," he says. "We've chosen to cease work on bigger city sizes and put that effort into continuing to evolve the core game and explore an offline mode. Some of the experiments we conducted to improve performance on bigger cities will be rolled into future updates to improve overall game performance."
It's not all good news, then, but at least Buechner and his team are looking into one of the biggest complaints people have had since the game's launch: the lack of any sort of ability to play offline. This latest update also makes one thing clear: Maxis acknowledges that the launch of SimCity was not what they or the players wanted it to be, and that players appreciate openness and honesty. One commenter even notes that "other than crowdfunded games I've never felt so involved" -- so even if the game itself will never attain the sort of audience EA and Maxis were originally hoping for, one would hope that something has been learned from this whole experience with regard to community engagement.