My Love/Hate Relationship with SimCity.

I love SimCity BuildIt. I hate SimCity BuildIt. At the same time. Which is weird. But not hard to understand, really. Let me explain…

I don’t really have much time for games. If I play one, I either have to REALLY like it, or it has to be for a reason – research, customer evals, competitive matrix work, et cetera. I downloaded the “free” (more on that later) SimCity BuildIt, because I wanted to research that kind of game, a design common to things like World of War, SimCity, et cetera. I’m enjoying it, and hating it at the same time. Why? It’s fun…but the game play experience is seriously flawed – and could be so much better with very little effort on the part of the developers.

For the uninitiated, you are the “Mayor” of a SimCity. You zone properties and provide materials for Sims to build buildings, then move in and live in your city. They pay taxes (in “simoleans,” naturally) that allow you to buy things you need (that you can’t make yourself). The game unfolds gradually. You start by just zoning for residences. As your population grows, you must add things like power plants, water towers, garbage and sewage facilities, and expand the roads to handle more traffic.

As with most “freemium” games, SimCity requires and investment, either in time, or actual, real, cash money. If you want to keep your Sims happy (and paying the highest tax rate) you must provide amenities, like parks, schools, and such, and services like fire, police and hospitals. Like most games, they ‘encourage’ you to spend money to make the game play easier. However, I’m stubborn, and I wanted to see if the game is playable without making a monetary investment. It is. Sort of.

If you’ve got a LOT of patience, you can play without spending cash. (Your results, patience-wise) may vary. But you have to have have massive amounts of patience. Part of the reason is the dichotomy between the brilliant user interface for navigating the aerial view of your city, and the absolutely suckish way you deal with buying and selling materials and goods.

The flyover view is in 3D. It’s perfect. Really. Amazing. The “store” metaphor they use to trade goods is…not. It it horrible. Virtually unusable. Why? They’ve made some really stupid choices in how they allow you to buy things.

Imagine you need to buy some cement, required for upgrading a building. You can make your own, but let’s say you need so much that it would take far longer than you want to spend, to go through the process. So you want to buy some. You start by visiting the “Global Trade HQ.” There’ you’ll see ‘ads’ for products. 24 of them, to be exact. Now you might expect to be taken to the Sim equivalent of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or the NYSE trading floor, where you’d see the going price for an item, and bid on how many you need at what price. Nope. You get 24 ads. Here’s the kicker: the sales are in real-time, as you play against the rest of the real world. So if you want to buy, say that sack of cement (or ten of them) and find an ad for cement, you then have to click on the ad, where the software takes you from your city to theirs, where you see a rack of what they have to sell.

Nine times out of ten, the item you wanted to buy is marked “SOLD.” Too bad. But if it isn’t, click on it quickly, for at least half the time, someone else has bought it while you were about to press “BUY.” Essentially, system latency screws you. Almost. Every. Time.

A much smarter way to deal with this would be a mercantile exchange, where you’d bid on something, against the computer, which would track supply/demand.

Selling your excess merch is equally stupid. You determine a price (which is capped, by the way), put up ads, and…wait. And wait. And wait some more. Eventually, your stuff will sell. Eventually.

Did I add that if nobody’s selling what you need or want, you’re completely out of luck?

SimCity does teach some valuable lessons on managing resources, growth, and expectations. But it could be so very much better. And I hate that. But I kinda get what my teenage daughter talks about now, when she says she has some “frienemies.” Sigh…

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