Let’s take a moment to commend EA on expertly following my prediction. In an earlier article I’ve coined this phrase: “EA is now the Facebook of games,” claiming that they weren’t marketing anything to consumers but rather to sponsors with big ad money. A mere 10 days later, Vice President of ‘Global eCommerce’ has gone ahead by implying a comparison of EA being the Facebook answer towards Steam’s MySpace on MCV. Now, a short few weeks later, they’ve come full circle on my prediction and added their first batch of obtrusive advertising in SimCity Social, which offer Dunkin Donuts and Mercedes Benz buildings. I don’t want to say I called it like a boss, as even I did not predict how the Sim brand would fall victim to this, but it was still scarily accurate.
Thank you, EA, for being superbly obvious in your corporate appeal that happens to involve games in the process. Unfortunately for us gaming chumps, it means that the once revered SimCity franchise has been reduced to a peddling marketing scheme. At least The Sims spawned a highly successful (and exploited) franchise by some merit of gameplay, regardless of your personal taste towards the genre. SimCity Social is not even that; it’s a constant plea for your ad time and/or money.
It starts innocent enough. Just like lighter SimCity versions, such as those on Nintendo DS, you get objectives through some of the city’s characters. With an amount of energy, it’s possible to do actions and build until all resources are depleted. As this is a social game, it’s not meant to be played continuously; that’s fine. Soon enough, another city pops up and offers a visit for mutual benefits. These visits are simple and just revert to clicking, but again, don’t expect the world from a free browser game on Facebook.
One of the more despicable notifications.
The problem starts there though. Quickly, these visits will become an objective and before that’s even an issue, SimCity would like you to invite friends. In fact, it will probably already have mentioned this about a dozen times before the first hour of play. Just about any action in the game gives a popup that’s ticked on to share automatically and needs to be clicked off twice before not flooding people with notifications. You name it: Visit someone, get visited, build an important building, level, do something; it’s all there and requires numerous notifications.
If only it stopped there. It doesn’t. Slowly but certainly, the regular objectives that allow for any progression get sidetracked for those that involve friends. This means the recruitment has begun. If no one is playing on your feed, you won’t get as far as 3 steps into SimCity Social. Recruitment of others is pivotal in this game and that for a very good reason: Everyone is ad space or a cash cow.
It’s not enough for SimCity to force our hand into adding to the user base; no, that would be simple. Other objectives will quickly also use special items. Any guess why these are special? They require either money or more friends. Oh, but no worries, these unreachable goals can also be skipped, for money. The same goes for building space or the large majority of actions in the game. The money shortcut is always there and sometimes necessary. So, in a rather sharp turn of events, two things have happened: You’re either helping EA advertise their products or feeding them directly. Essentially, you’ve become their slave. Boy, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?
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It’s foolish for anyone to think that SimCity Social would retain the management gameplay that has spearheaded it to become the paragon of anything ‘Sim’ related. Doing so would imply that EA would use the Maxis flagship as a vital part, rather than just name branding. Unfortunately, any fan thinking of receiving a lighter version of a city builder will be left wanting. More so, those that would want to play alone or with a select amount of people will need to put up with a ton of annoying messages. Even if no people are around, the popups will be ever present, as a constant reminder to feed the machine. It’s a foul reality in the most colorful packaging possible; a wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will.
Yet, there’s one more detail worth noting in this mockery. Even if it’s pretty clear that this insult towards gamers is being crucified, there’s one more thing. In an attempt to ‘get us’, EA also smears the game in as many buzzwords void of any context as they can. No matter what your poison is, SimCity Social will make some non sequitur towards it, for no other reason than to have it in there. This is the game’s ‘fun’ factor that rewards you for being its mule: A few “nerdy” terms, sprinkled here and there, like the topping of a delicious Dunkin Donut.
Lest it be redundant, no one was expecting this game to exceed expectations of a traditional game, though that doesn’t mean it should be a bad thing. In fact, it could’ve been a major step forward in social media games. Instead, this husk of a brand is painfully obvious in its mission: Cash in. Whether it’s through big business or through the consumer directly, the only big corporate management available in SimCity Social isn’t found in your game, it’s the overlapping trade EA has pulled you into. In some strange ironic twist, that makes you the Sim. Isn’t that what you always wanted, instead of living vicariously living through a puppet? Just don’t be surprised if EA one day decides to set fire to the house and remove all doors once it has had its use with you.
While Electronic Arts gets some needless hyperbole in general for being ‘the worst’ company in America, it does make some great titles. Still, do they really have to phone in their total disregard for consumers like this? For those that don’t believe me, I refer back to my opening statement. It’s the circle of life.
My thanks to colleagues Amaya Ai and Megan Bethke for willingly putting themselves in harm’s way by playing this game with me. For the love of all that’s holy, don’t send any more requests.
Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed. (@Daavpuke)