SimCity was one of the first computer games I ever played. It was also the first PC game I owned (yes, I did copy that floppy). It was the first computer program I put on the hard drive of my 486/25, though only after a lengthy argument with my father about doing so. SimCity and I go way back…we both grew up together. Into SimCity 2000 and all those that came after. I loved designing my cities and trying to figure out a system that would yield me the best results. SimCity gave me the best of both worlds – I was able to flex my creativity while also having to figure out patterns and systems.
And then there’s SimCity BuildIt. It should really be called “SimCity TapIt” because that’s all you do.
I was excited to see SimCity finally come to my iPad but couldn’t have been more disappointed when I dug in to find this was not the SimCity I fell in love with all those years ago. This is a SimCity game in name only.
My first attempt at playing SimCity BuildIt led to immediate failure because I approached playing like I did every other SimCity game. You design out your basic roads and then put your industrial zone over there, your business over here and then your houses way out there. Throw in a few public services and then expand as you collect taxes.
But in BuildIt you don’t get to design anything and you expand at an absolute snails pace. It’s so slow and frustrating that you’ll give up no less than twice before you feel you finally understand what’s happening. Of course, maybe I’m just too old. Perhaps this “just tap” game model makes sense to everyone under the age of 30 and they get it. But I don’t.
In SimCity BuildIt you start with some basic zones, some coins and some cash. Coins are used to unlock other new building types whereas cash is used to avoid waiting. And therein lies the biggest issue with SimCity BuildIt. Waiting.
Play. Wait. Play. Wait.
SimCity has historically been a game that you can dive into and spend hours without even knowing it, not unlike Minecraft. I love that type of experience and I want that type of experience from any SimCity game, but BuildIt makes you wait. You want to upgrade that building? No problem, you just need a hammer. Don’t have a hammer? You can make one but you have to wait 10 minutes for it to finish…unless you spend cash to skip the wait. And, of course, you can use real money to buy more cash through IAPs.
SimCity BuildIt might be the straw that breaks my back. To have a franchise I love so much stoop so low as to make me spend money to have an even halfway enjoyable experience is just too much to suffer through. I’m not going to spend real money to avoid waiting to play a game. It’s an awful model that turns a game about building cities into a game about how to avoid spending real money.
I would have been much (much) happier if they had simply ported SimCity classic or SimCity 2000 to the iPad and made it a $10 purchase. SimCity shouldn’t need microtransactions to get players. It’s an established brand that millions of people love. Just pick a full-game price and then offer DLC updates as IAPs. Don’t nickel and dime me, just let me play your game!
Outside of having to wait to play the game, SimCity BuildIt also fails at being balanced and communicating what you need to worry about. I had a city that was going pretty well in the early stages. I didn’t have many coins because I spent them on building materials to upgrade houses. Seemed pretty fair and standard…then I leveled up and suddenly I have to worry about a fire station. Out of no where, my citizens start worrying about fire safety and demand a fire station. A dinky fire station costs 6000 coins, which I don’t have. Very quickly people start leaving my city while I have no real option but to wait while I try to earn coins – because I’m not going to buy any with real money. Welcome to the Wall of Frustration.
It’s those things that make SimCity BuildIt an exercise in dealing with frustration and anger. Everything about the game is designed to remove any sort of satisfaction or accomplishment from the game. Every few hours you’ll come back to the game, tap on some items, tap again to use those items, then have to wait a few more hours. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Tap, tap, tap.
SimCity is a game about creativity and economics that is fun to play and stood the test of time. SimCity BuildIt is anything but worthy of the SimCity name. Yeah, the game looks good and is easy to play, but it’s little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing designed to frustrate you to the point of paying. If you like tapping, then by all means, get SimCity BuildIt. If you want to grow the perfect city in your own vision, stay away.
But you know what the real sad thing is? If they had released SimCity BuildIt as a full game without all the waiting, it would be fun.