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20 Jan 2015

What Makes A City Builder Fun?

Players are hungry for city builders. With EA’s Sim City massively flopping in 2013, the appetites among most city builder fans has yet to be satisfied. The potential is there for an indie developer to make a killing with an awesome city builder too, whether that be on mobile, PC, or heck – maybe even a console (after all, Sim City 20000 on SNES did well so it’s possible). But what makes a city build ‘fun?’

I can’t provide a universal answer for everyone, but I’ll do my best. People love city builders for different reasons, and why wouldn’t they? The best city builders whet the appetite of all types of players simultaneously; it’s one of the reasons why the genre has stuck around for over 20 years. One player may love the micromanagement of a city, while another hates the micromanaging of cities but loves building. See what I mean? City builders fulfill the wants of so many players, that it’s easy for anyone to get lost a city building game and find something to love.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at what makes this staple genre of the industry so much fun.

Live and die by the sword

If a city fails, it’s all on you. It’s related to the reason why people love roguelikes. City builders allow the player to craft their own plan, put it into practice, and if they fail, it’s because they didn’t plan enough, the plan wasn’t concrete enough to work, etc. City builders take the safety net away from the player and allows them to figure out how to create a thriving city on their own; and it’s awesome.

Creation comes to life

Speaking of awesome, it’s always awesome to see your city come to life. Back when Sim City 2000 wasn’t the ancient dinosaur it is now, I would spend way too long zooming out and exploring the city I had built. There was something satisfying about seeing the fruit of my hard work, too. Knowing that I had transformed a small town with a coal power plant and a few blocks of residential, commercial, and industrial sectors into a metropolis with stadiums, airports, and archologies was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

That’s why so many people love Minecraft: you get a sense of accomplishment when you step back and take a look at what you have created. It’s a reason why I’m so hopelessly addicted to Banished at the moment. I’m constantly reminded of my humble beginning and how far I’ve come in each game, and it makes what lies ahead even more exciting.

The tinkering

You also get to learn what makes your city functional. If you have ever played a city builder, you know that it’s impossible to build a city and let is coast on its own (especially if you want it to grow). You have to get in there, tinker with your city, figure out where it is lacking and where it is flourishing, and tweak it in a way where it allows your city to blossom. Maybe that involves raising taxes and angering your citizens, maybe that involves cutting back education – you are the deciding factor.

Going back to Banished, tweaking how my city operates involves figuring out how many people are working on a farm during the spring/summer months. It also involves figuring out how many laborers I need to gather logs for firewood so my citizens don’t freeze to death in the winter versus how many builders I need to build houses for new citizens to enter my community so I will have new hands for next year’s crop.

  • But will I have enough food?
  • Maybe I need to plant another farm?
  • Will I stretch myself too thin?

See what I mean? City builders like Banished and (most) of the Sim City games forces you to balance the positives and negatives of your city in a constant struggle to just make it all work. If you have been thinking about creating a city building game, please keep this in mind. Do you have any questions or comments about city building games? Let us know in the comments below!

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