It appears that Maxis plans to reboot the SimCity franchise:
Enter SimCity. No really, just SimCity, like when you remake an old-school movie and crib the name unadorned — simple, straightforward, unambiguous. Only this isn’t a remake, it’s “a true rebirth of the franchise,” according to publisher EA and developer Maxis’ press release.
There’s obviously still going to be a drive to make it as accessible as possible, but EA and Maxis claim the reboot “brings the depth of simulation that has been the series hallmark for more than two decades and marries it with next generation accessibility and a robust multiplayer mode, giving players the power to change a world together.”
The emphasis this time appears to be on multiplayer, judging from the initial info-dump. Imagine building “a world that co-exists alongside friends,” in which the choices you make in your city have “long-lasting repercussions that will extend beyond [your] city limits.” You’ll be grappling with “real global challenges such as climate change, the search for renewable resources and natural disasters,” and have to choose “whether to compete or collaborate” with your fellow metropolitan masons.
“Everything you see in the world we sim,” writes EA/Maxis. “Sims in each city will have jobs or can lose them, buy homes, be prosperous or be an economic drain on the city. SimCity is the city builder in which every choice powers real change that affects the character of your city, the state of your region and fellow players within the entire SimCity world. Original fans and newcomers alike will relish the opportunity to build visually and functionally unique cities that take on the character of their choices.”
You can watch the SimCity 5 trailer at the link above.
I grew up playing a lot of SimCity, particularly SimCity 2000 (though I have played plenty of all the other versions). For my money, that version was a great blend of complexity and gameplay. I think the trick for SimCity in the future is rediscovering or updating this balance: making it fun but also making it realistic. To me, the real genius of SimCity was taking real-life situations that we all know (we all live somewhere) and making an interesting game out of it. Along the way, a player would learn some principles about city planning. At the very least, you would learn about different zones and how to connect basic infrastructure (electricity and roads/trains in the original, later including water/pipes and mass transit) to all of the zones. At a more complex level, you could create intricate arrangements of land uses, mixing in civic structures like schools, city hall, parks, stadiums, marinas, and other goodies while having to balance a city budget. All of this could give a player feelings of creativity and control.
I know that people today talk about the “Madden effect” for football fans. The idea here is that through playing a realistic football game, fans learned about the intricacies of the game in a way that they wouldn’t get by watching games on TV or watching highlights on the news or on SportsCenter. For example, Madden players know the difference between different zone schemes in the defensive secondary or different pass routes. Is there a similar effect from SimCity? Would players know the different between a vibrant city and a disjointed place? (This makes me wonder: how many SimCity players built a whole map of suburban sprawl? You could do this in the game but it wasn’t really the point and the maintenance costs, usually per road piece or square of pipes or losing water pressure if it is pumped too far, would make it costly. Were the makers trying to make a point?) Going even further, are SimCity players better civic and social actors after learning more about how the urban world is put together?