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Today’s sim games create market perfection

...And on the eighth day, He created 'God games'-slang for the simulation games that have flooded the interactive market since 1989. Who knew that when Maxis, a California-based entertainment software company, launched an obscure multidisk game called SimCity, that it would...
January 1, 1999

…And on the eighth day, He created ‘God games’-slang for the simulation games that have flooded the interactive market since 1989. Who knew that when Maxis, a California-based entertainment software company, launched an obscure multidisk game called SimCity, that it would begat a whole new genre. In the original game, players built entire cities (complete with adequate housing, hydro, waterworks and industry) on a barren landscape setting in the 1900s-all with an inflexible budget. A strategy challenge to manage the allocation of scarce resources, SimCity was marketed strictly to adults as its producers felt children would quickly bore of such a brain-flexing game.

However, Sim City’s retail success spawned a whole slew of spin-off products, including a line of less complex kids titles featuring SimTown, SimPark and SimAnt that have helped boost the worldwide sales of Sim games to over 7 million units.

Today’s simulation games have been simplified somewhat to appeal to a broader audience, but the draw of eventually mastering the art of creation hasn’t changed at all. ‘The appeal of God games is that you’re always learning new techniques that improve on previous designs,’ says Barry Jafrato, senior VP of global business development at Hasbro Interactive. ‘Also, there’s a tremendous satisfaction in laboring to build something that, when it’s complete, is absolutely flawless.’

Hasbro’s hoping this satisfaction-draw will pay off in the spring when it launches RollerCoaster Tycoon, a sim for ages eight and up that centers around the construction of an amusement park and its various rides. Hitting retail in March or April with a price tag of US$39.99, RT is the second title developed by Chris Sawyer, the man behind 1995′s simulated railway design hit, Transport Tycoon, which has sold in excess of a million units globally. Jafrato expects RT to outsell its predecessor by a landslide; in fact, Hasbro’s sales projection for the title is over 600,000 copies worldwide by the year 2000.

Walter Walker, Simon & Schuster Interactive’s VP of marketing and sales, posits another theory as to why simulation design titles do so well. ‘These games appeal to the fascination our culture has with building models-a fascination that drives a huge industry,’ he says. ‘There are great opportunities within the PC world to. . .capitalize from the digital incarnation of this trend.’

To meet this end, Simon & Schuster recently released Star Trek TM: Starship Creator, a CD-ROM for ages nine and up that gives players the title of Starfleet Admiral, responsible for building, staffing, arming, launching and maintaining a fleet of spaceships. Each craft can then be printed out in full 3-D form before the intergalactic armada is sent on a mission of rescue, military aggression or scientific exploration-the success of which depends on how well the ships are constructed.

Since its October 20th release, the title has already outsold the Star Trek Interactive Technical Manual, the first digital product based on the sci-fi property. Selling at US$29.99, at press time Simon & Schuster was projecting gross 1998 revenues of US$3.7 million for Starship Creator.

Long-term endurance is what achieves success of this magnitude in the sim market, says Walker. ‘With traditional modeling, ultimately you’re left with a mediocre end-product that sits on a shelf, untouched for years. Starship Creator offers players 200 different mutations to work with, so you can keep on building and improving your designs.’ In fact, Simon & Schuster is looking to expand the scope of the CD even further in late first quarter or early second quarter, when it will ship a US$20 add-on pack with extra missions, crew components and ships.

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