Although EA and Maxis won’t come out and say it, I would venture to guess SimCity is not currently in a healthy place. After rave pre-release reviews and strong initial sales, the game went on to experience a terrible launch period and to be savaged by many post-launch reviews and much of the community discussion. The overly small city plots, the discovery of numerous previously unknown simulation limitations, the lack of meaningful and bug-free multiplayer interaction, the “always-on” server requirement, and the appearance of straight up dishonesty in EA’s communication all paint a pretty disastrous picture for the future of the game.
So I when I opened my email today and saw an email from “SimCity@ea.em.com” with a request for a survey, I wasn’t very surprised. I decided to go ahead and fill out what I assumed would be a brief, dumb survey, just in case I was able to give any useful feedback. However I quickly became shocked by the scale of the survey… this thing was massive. I don’t know how many people they think are going to stick through this survey, it took me nearly 30 minutes to complete it. I stuck with it in the hope that I may be influencing the future of a game that despite all my criticism I do want to see succeed. I feel like I should get an achievement or something after finishing it though!
A lot of the survey is demographics, with a heavy emphasis on how you purchase games, whether or not you play and spend money on free-to-play style games, and why you play games (some of these questions became surprisingly philosophical). What was much more interesting to me, however, was the many pages of questions related to features. EA seems determined to find out why the game has been so poorly received and their questions indicate that they have some pretty good hints already. The small city plot size came up frequently as an option for criticism or requested future changes, as did the “always-on” server requirement.
Players taking the time to fill out the survey were also rewarded with what appears to be an outline of the first official SimCity expansion features. The survey asked my opinion of an expansion featuring even m0re city density options as well as some further city specialization options. Later, many possible feature additions to the game were listed and I was asked to rate them and I will admit that while a few were lame, many of them were simply awesome.
The most interesting question in the entire survey, though, was a simple “pick one” question: either a gameplay expansion or double city sizes. That was a very difficult choice that I briefly agonized over… more gameplay choices would be great for the game, though they wouldn’t address any of the core community concerns. In the end I selected “double city sizes” because that would at least address one of the key problems. Later I was asked to rate the idea of having flexible city sizes which sounds even better and would allow cities to more naturally fill in the regions. Obviously there are performance and simulation issues with larger cities, though EA has been pretty quiet as to the details.
I have to admit the survey gave me a remarkably optimistic idea of where the game development might be headed. If even half the features suggested end up in the game eventually end up making it in SimCity will be a radically improved game that will be much closer to what the community wants as a true successor to SimCity 4. I can only hope that others are filling out the survey as seriously as I did.
If you get the survey request in your email, I would definitely recommend you make the time to fill it out. Not only will you get to see a whole lot of interesting information about the possible future of the game, your answers may even help shape that future.