Six weeks later: SimCity Social deep dive

It’s been almost six weeks since EA brought SimCity Social to Facebook. The game is the second “Sim” franchise to make it into the social games space and it received a lot of attention when it first launched, but how does the game play this far after and what kind of new content has EA provided for the game’s users? We take another look at the game, having played it on a daily basis since launch.

As we noted at the time of launch, it’s easy to play SimCity Social without hitting a paywall for at least an hour, building a town up to a population of roughly 2,000 people. In fact, this seems to be the case until players reach of a population between 3,000 to 4,000. At this point, paywalls begin to appear, with users being presented the option of getting five friends to help pass a milestone, or spending diamonds to proceed. We opted to play the game without buying any diamonds, but one of our friends took the opposite approach, optimizing for speed of progress. While it took us a little over a week to reach a population of 10,000, it took this friend two days to do so, though they said they spent somewhere between $30 and $40.

After six weeks of two-to-three daily visits, our city’s population is approaching 40,000 and we’ve completed one of the game’s major milestones: constructing a Launch Arcology. Although we haven’t bought any diamonds, we’ve hoarded those we received from leveling up and daily rewards, so we could spend them on certain premium buildings or to skip milestones. Several friends are near the same population point and confirm spending no money either, though another friend tells us they monetized early and spent roughly $65 or so. That said, they also note that the game’s been fairly generous with diamonds of late and more people began playing with them over the past few weeks, so they’ve been able to continue progressing at a fast pace without spending more money.

Part of the reason we’ve been careful about spending diamonds is that it’s often not worth the cost to complete a quest. When a player doesn’t have all of the necessary items (or needs to hire five friends) to meet a milestone or finish construction, the game provides them with the option of buying each good individually or lumping them altogether for a single purchase. The problem is that the cost to complete a task is often rather expensive, as demonstrated by the below graphic which shows how finishing a project that’s already halfway done would cost a player nearly $8 in hard currency.

EA seems to be incorporating lessons learned from The Sims Social, particularly implementing time-sensitive events based around completing themed quests. With The Sims Social, this kind of content helped offset the game’s sagging numbers in July, bringing it from 2.6 million daily active users to 3.3 million. So far in SimCity Social, we’ve seen EA launch events like Food Frenzy  (where players build and interact with special restaurants), the SimCity Social Championships (sporting events timed to take advantage of Olympic fever) and the new Luxury Living (which seems based around blinging out a city with high-price housing). When one event ends, another is launched immediately afterwards.

Within the game, these events and the content they provide seem to be  doing a lot to keep players engaged with their own cities and visiting their neighbors’ burgs, but some of the core content is still lacking. Early on in the game, there’s a chapter-spanning quest centered around a U.F.O. that crashes near the player’s city, requiring users to unlock territory, construct certain buildings and visit friends’ cities for special items. Once the quest is complete and the wreckage is converted into a Launch Arcology, though, there’s no similar item or event to drive players to progress. Likewise, things like new housing zones and farms still haven’t arrived; nearly two months after launch, the game promises that such new content is still “coming soon.”

At the same time, SimCity Social also seems to be turning potential players away with the number of Timeline posts it generates. At the Game Developers Conference in March, EA Playfish Creative Director Ray Mazza gave a talk where he noted The Sims Social didn’t receive nearly as much traffic from spamming Facebook users endless notifications as it did  from “meaningful” posts with comments from players. It seems that EA’s opting for quantity over quality this time, though, because SimCity Social generates a lot of posts and we’ve actually received several complaints from our friends asking that we stop spamming them with game posts.

During EA’s recent earnings report, it was repeatedly pointed out how SimCity Social has accumulated over 10 million monthly active users, but company executives didn’t mention daily active users. MAU is a good measurement of a game’s overall reach on the social network, but DAU provides a more accurate view of the title’s core audience. Since mid-July, the game’s DAU hasn’t moved much past the 1.5 million line; on July 29, traffic levels peaked at 1.8 million DAU and began to fall to the current point of 1.4 million. As it stands, SimCity Social is the No. 2 game in EA’s lineup but it still has a smaller DAU audience than The Sims Social, which launched in June 2011. The Sims Social showed slow, steady growth until August 2011, when numbers began to spike and peaked in September with 11.3 million DAU. However, The Sims Social was a unique product on Facebook when it launched, whereas SimCity Social only recently debuted in a very crowded genre, so EA probably shouldn’t expect the same kind of discovery and rapid growth this time around.


You can follow SimCity Social’s progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.