SimCity BuildIt Q&A With EA VP Jason Willig

In the wake of the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 rollouts, EA made some intriguing mobile product announcements. We’ve seen one of those games, FIFA 15 Ultimate Team, already, but it was another of the upcoming titles that piqued our curiosity the most: SimCity BuildIt.

The initial announcement revealed precious few details except that it would be built specifically for mobile, would be “bigger and better” thanks to the capabilities of Apple’s latest devices and launch sometime this fall (an Android version is also in the works). Fortunately, Jason Willig, Vice President and Group Manager for EA Mobile, kindly took some time out to answer a few of our questions and give us a clearer idea of what to expect.

App Trigger: From the early screenshots, SimCity BuildIt looks like it takes its visual cues from the most recent SimCity game on PC. Does it owe more to that game, older SimCity games, or a mix of both?

Jason Willig: SimCity BuildIt captures the stunning visuals of the SimCity PC game and incorporates iconic/classic elements from the franchise, but in a completely new, mobile-first design, built from the ground up to engage and delight a new generation of mobile gamers.

AT: Is there an overall story to the game, where you are building your city to complete certain scenarios? Or is it more of sandbox affair where you can build a city in whatever fashion you’d like?

JW: SimCity BuildIt unfolds using what we call a “user-generated narrative,” unique to each player. The game has a mix of directed and open ended play, but no specific, structured scenarios to complete. There are Boat Missions and city Specializations which represent more directed activities, progression and content paths for mid-stage players. There are also Disasters for late-stage players, and there is a lot more coming!

There are certain sandbox elements in the game but they’re decidedly different than the PC version, tailored instead for mobile players in shorter sessions. Players can really design and operate their city how they want, and make important choices but within certain constraints…those aspects are streamlined & balanced with more traditional mobile design elements consistent with shorter session play, etc. Sandbox games can be intimidating (they are to me anyhow) which we want to avoid. There are trade-offs here and we think we found a good balance.

AT: The first press release included the phrase “feel your citizens’ wrath” if you aren’t meeting their needs. How does ignoring your citizens affect the gameplay?

JW: Quite a bit. If your citizens aren’t happy, they won’t pay as much in taxes (which is “soft currency” in the game). Also, if their needs aren’t met relative to any number of basic Services citizens require they’ll let you know “loudly” and ultimately they’ll move out if you can’t keep them happy enough. And their houses will catch on fire if there aren’t any fire stations. Or raw sewage will start flowing into your streets if sanitation isn’t handled properly.

AT: How about social features? Will you be able to help and/or hinder your friends’ cities and vice versa?

JW: Social features will be light at launch (you will be able to visit friends’ cities, buy/sell items with them) but we’re excited to explore more once we get into the market and understand how folks are playing. Players told us repeatedly that they don’t really want competitive or multiplayer as a big element. We’ve listened and focused in other areas.

AT: Are you able to share any info on monetization? Will SimCity BuildIt be F2P with IAP or one price to play?

JW: The game will be free to download and play, like most mobile games. Everything in the game can be earned by playing, but players do have the option to spend real money on IAP if they want to progress faster. We want the game to be fun for everyone, even those who never give us a penny, but we also have to respect the financial investment some players make by giving them even more awesomeness. Like any aspect of great game design, it’s about balance, and it’s something we think about every day.

AT: SimCity BuildIt was mentioned in conjunction with the iPhone 6/iOS 8 launches as part of EA’s new wave of mobile games to take advantage of the increases in power, screen size, etc. Have those things enabled you to do more in this game than you would have been previously able to do?

JW: Definitely. We feel like we’re taking great advantage of the hardware — with cool visual treats like the ability to rotate your cities 360 degrees — while also ensuring folks with lower end devices also get a great experience, too.