EA reveals SimCity Social for Facebook

Twenty-three years after it established the city-building genre in the video game industry, the SimCity franchise is coming to Facebook with SimCity Social. Electronic Arts announced the title today during its E3 press conference.

SimCity Social is being co-developed by EA Playfish and EA subsidiary Maxis. The game will feature the same core gameplay of SimCity, which is a management sim where players are cast as the mayor of a newly-established town. Players are encouraged to build their cities in an open, nonlinear manner and have to deal with issues like rising crime rates, demand for different types of properties and making sure the city has enough power to keep everyone’s lights on. EA is promising the game will deliver a deep gameplay experience, but it will have a simplified user interface to ensure the game is simultaneously appealing to both core and casual gamers.

The game will include the usual social feature for city management titles where players can visit their friends’ cities and interact with parts of these settlements. However, this feature can provide a kind of light player-versus-player mechanic where users can negatively impact others’ cities. Playfish VP of Global Studios Jami Laes tells us players visiting other cities will be able to trigger events like the iconic disasters from the mainstream games. Laes also says some of the events included in the game will be based on real-life events — much like how SimCity 2000 included the Oakland Hills Fire — but won’t say much else about this feature.

The last time EA brought one of its “Sim” titles to Facebook was with The Sims Social, which proved a major hit on the social network. At its peak, the game had 11.2 million million daily active users and was giving Zynga’s CityVille competition for the largest title on Facebook. Traffic’s fallen off since then and The Sims Social is currently treading at 3 million DAU.

EA, meanwhile, is struggling to maintain its presence as a social game developer, has recently shut down titles like Dragon Age Legends and Restaurant City and now sits at the No. 4 spot on our Facebook game developer leaderboard by DAU. SimCity Social may very well get lightning to strike a second time for EA, based on how well-known the SimCity brand is: the original SimCity launched in 1989 and 13 sequels have been released for PC, Mac, consoles and iOS devices and the series became one of EA’s best-known series.

The biggest obstacle facing SimCity Social, though, is that interest in city-building games seems to be waning. CityVille peaked in March 2011 with just over 21 million DAU, but that number’s dropped to 4.9 million in the year since. After CityVille, there aren’t any other titles in this genre with over a million DAU. The next largest English-language city-builder on Facebook is Playrix’s Township, which recently has been gaining traffic and is up to 270,000 DAU now that it’s published under 6waves’s banner. While SimCity is known to mainstream gaming audiences, it’s likely that many CityVille players have no familiarity with Maxis’s series and may not be interested in another city-builder.

SimCity Social doesn’t have a launch date yet, but EA says the game is in closed beta and promises it will arrive on Facebook soon. In the meantime, interested users can check out the game’s official Facebook page for trailers and screenshots; Liking SimCity Social will unlock special content when the game launches.