Cities: Skylines’ early success in community involvement


A decade ago, the city simulation genre was fully blooming with the PC game-series ‘Sim City’ taking a large majority of the market. The most recent edition of Sim City, released in 2013, was received with a large disappointment with even the most critic person stating that the game is not as sustainable and fun as its previous editions.

Fortunately for city simulation lovers, they were in luck with this years’ Cities: Skylines release. The game was developed by a significantly smaller team and distributed digitally only resulting in a lower price point in the market. On top of that, the biggest change Cities: Skylines made in contrast with its competitor was its refreshing take on communities.

The previous versions of the well-known Sim City series are still played today thanks to their unofficial modding communities. In short, modding extents the lifetime of a game by an unspecified period of time with developers adding functionality to an official release. In most cases, the Sim City series were not easily moddable out of the box, hence the unofficial nature of the communities. With the most recent release of Sim City, there was a big loss of functionality (including the infamous reduction of playable mapsize) and an outcry of the relatively new community to add official modding support in order to enable them to ‘fix’ the game to a playable state. The communities’ for change was never answered, and despite the outstanding graphical display of city simulation the studio of the Sim City developer ended being shut down in 2015.

Colossal Order addressed the desire for a playable game handsomely, with their game being launched with ‘built-in community support’. The market gap was answered by providing modding tools in the first version of the game, and steam workshop support out of the box (providing a platform to effortlessly share and download in-game content and see community user-provided ratings [Hong & Chen, 2013]. The contrast with the relative community failure of Sim City with the currently flourishing Cities: Skylines is stark.

The largest part of the community provides their content for free, and a very interesting development can be found in the case of Brian Shannon. He provides content to all of the community for free, and at the same time accepts ‘donations’ via a service very similar to broadly known crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, and accepts a committed donation per user per built add-on. With the current commitments in place, he effectively made an income out of nothing by providing add-ons for free. The kicker? He used to be part of the developer-team behind the failed Sim City 2013, and got laid off in 2014 during a restructuring.

Although the game is relatively new, it’s bet on community-provided content via already existing distributing platforms (steam, workshop) seems to have provided an early success [Hong & Chen, 2013]. The interesting part to see where future innovations lie: will new forms of communities flourish, now others start to notice that someone in the existing community is making an honest income by providing new content for free? Perhaps we can coin a new term: crowddonating? Only the future will tell us.

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