Electronic Arts is finally unveiling a long-rumored Facebook game, SimCity Social. And with it begins a great experiment: Will fans who enjoy this free-to-play online game also dish out $60 when the full-fledged SimCity remake arrives for the PC in 2013?
The game is the first major Facebook title that EA has launched since it debuted The Sims Social last August. And it is EA’s big counterattack against Zynga’s CityVille, which has been the largest game on Facebook for more than a year. EA announced SimCity social at its press event at industry trade show Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, Calif.
Lucy Bradshaw, senior vice president of EA’s Maxis label, said in an interview with GamesBeat that EA will clearly separate the two experiences between a lighter, more social Facebook experience and a deeper, full throttle simulation with the PC version. She noted that when The Sims Social came out, it actually increased interest in the overall Sims franchise across multiple platforms. The same could happen here.
“We think the core appeal of the SimCity brand will be a big draw,” Bradshaw said. “It is an interpretation of SimCity for Facebook. It is a quick and fun experience while the full SimCity on the PC will be deeper.”
Bradshaw said the game is a collaboration of EA’s Maxis studios in Redwood Shores, Calif., Emeryville, Calif., and the Playfish studio in Beijing, China. They have created a city-building simulation for the masses. Cities will come to life and “push back at the player,” said Jami Laes, vice president of global studios for Playfish, in an interview.
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“Facebook gamers have been waiting a long time for the original and best city-building game to come to the platform,” said Laes. “This isn’t your typical drag and drop city-building game. Players don’t just build a city – they choose the kind of city they want and watch its soul come to life as it grows and reacts to their decisions. With SimCity Social, we’ve taken the best in social gaming design and married it with unprecedented depth to create an all-new, deeply social experience.”
Facebook has more than 900 million users, and about half of them play games. Many of those players are casual fans, and as Sean Ryan, head of game developer relations at Facebook, and Mark Pincus, chief executive of Zynga, have said in the past, they aren’t likely to pick up a game and pay $60 for it.
SimCity Social has no set linear paths. Cities evolve as a consequence of the choices that players make. The point of that is to allow for more creative freedom, Laes said. As the mayor, the player has to deal with issues like crime, fires, and pollution, and he will also make decisions that will help the city take its unique shape.
“We want you to find surprises on every street corner,” Laes said. “We want it to have a wow factor.
The developers have tried to give the game great graphics for a Facebook title. Its look and feel resemble the original SimCity from 1989, says Bradshaw; although, the visuals more so evoke SimCity 3000. At any given time, from the highest view, you might be able to see 150 buildings at once. When you zoom in, you might see 10 to 30 buildings. Social interactions go beyond just visiting your friends’ cities. You can do mean things to your friends or be nice. You can cooperate with them or compete. The new SimCity will be able to add different kinds of events that affect the city over time.
EA has had a large team working on the game for a while. It’s not clear how it will do against the entrenched CityVille, which has 34.7 million monthly active users and is the No. 2 game on Facebook, behind Zynga Poker.
“For EA, there is a huge advantage in brands that have appeal in multiple audiences,” Bradshaw said. “What we can do is broaden our reach by doing different experiences. We apply our brands to Playfish, bringing our history and reinterpreting the games for the new markets. EA is thinking broadly about our strategy and being in every segment where the growth is. And we bring our triple-A quality.”