Looking back at SimCity, five years after its disastrous launch

SimCity, Maxis’ 2013 reboot of the hugely successful SimCity franchise, will long be remembered as one of the most severely botched product launches in history. After a couple of reasonably successful beta tests in January and February 2013, the game was released to the general public on March 5th. It didn’t go well.

SimCity shipped with an ‘always online’ feature, which supposedly allowing for better trade, region-wide crime and pollution, and “performance benefits due to the engine using EA’s servers to perform gameplay calculations” — a statement later revealed to be a lie. Maxis significantly underestimated the resources needed to support hundreds of thousands of players and their servers crashed. Since the game was online-only, the server trouble made the game completely unplayable.

The first few weeks of SimCity’s existence were marred by long loading times, disconnections, crashing, and loss of saved game data. Then, once the dust settled and the game became somewhat playable, people started noticing that the game was buggy rubbish. The traffic AI was a joke, the economic simulation was broken, sewerage didn’t work, multiplayer features didn’t work as advertised, the maps were (and still are) tiny, Great Works ironically didn’t work, and the game would crash annoyingly often.

Maxis responded with patch, after patch, after patch to fix reported bugs and even gave away a free game, in a feeble attempt to restore some of their tattered reputation. 10 patches and a full year elapsed before SimCity became an enjoyable, reasonably stable game that could be played without an internet connection.

Five years from the disastrous launch, SimCity 2013 has largely faded into oblivion. SimCity 4, released 15 years ago, still has a more active fanbase online. Modding never took off, demand for expansion packs and sequels never materialized, and there’s no indication that EA is planning to take another shot at creating a decent city builder. SimCity’s legacy will be defined by the considerable damage it did to the franchise and to Maxis’ brand.

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