The new Sim City: an economist's take

Eric Crampton

As the hit game SimCity seems a training ground for future urban planners, here are a few features I'd love to see incorporated in the new edition:

  • Real-time play with an unstoppable clock. You could wind it down to be as slow as the real world, but never pause it. Dithering over zoning decisions interferes with the simulated individuals' plans and has them leave in frustration. The clock should keep running, at real-world-time, even during saved games.
     
  • Bulldozing houses without above-market-value compensation makes residents unhappy. You should have to weigh these costs against whatever it is you're trying to bulldoze into existence.
     
  • Inertia costs: building up a tighter regulatory structure and more prescriptive zoning rules causes delayed implementation of future changes. So if an earthquake hits and you were running a tight smart growth policy ex-ante, it takes you longer to change any of your zoning. If you've only been running the policy for a couple of years, maybe you get a month's delay. If you've been running it long enough that that's the only thing your bureaucrats know, change is almost impossible unless you fire them all.
     
  • The new edition embeds intercity effects, at least according to the reviews. I'm really curious to see how they handle investment and mobility flows. Are simulated residents homogeneous in amenity preferences? How does Tiebout work in this world?
     
  • I really hope that the new edition doesn't assume that stadiums could never exist but for local government financing.

The reviews of the new SimCity look great. Once they've added enough servers or added an offline mode to make the thing playable, or maybe once a cracked version without the mandatory-online-DRM-downgrade is widely available, I'll likely give it a shot. I hope at least a couple of these are in there.

Dr Eric Crampton is a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Canterbury. He blogs at blogs at Offsetting Behaviour.


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You do know the game is fundamentally broken. You don't need to have anything but residential to build an entire city. How is it realistic that you can build a city without shops, business, jobs, etc. How is a broken game going to help city planners again.

Another thing they lied about is residents being simulated. They will find a new job every day (the closest job to their location). Then they will find a new house to live in every day (the closest house to their job). The AI is extremely broken and has a very low path finding ability which means they will make massive traffic jams on one street and not use an empty street.

The population figures are also fudged. If you have a population of 100k the city is really only holding 15k population. There's a lot of other problems as well. The problem is all the bugs didn't start to show until people cites were quite large. Just don't go into SimCity expecting a simulation. You won't find it.

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Silly Bob, what do Economists know about video games? The new game is an unplayable piece of garbage, but you'd have to have played it in order to know that.

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Note to previous commenters:

I must have missed something - I thought this was a clever, satirical piece bringing out some of the frustrations and idiocies encountered in the real work by reference to a popular computer game.

My mistake.

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just a quick one... you can pause it. The game is broken but it can be easily fixed and patched, be patient!

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As an economist, I'm sure you'd love how mobile labour is in the new Sim City.
Each of the "agents" (another great economic term there) currently goes to the nearest job each morning and returns to the nearest available home at the end of the day, complete with a brand-new family!

And you'll be happy to hear that Sims have nothing better to do than go to the stadium (there's an effectively infinite source of migrant audience members), provided you can get the traffic working so they get there on time, meaning stadiums are an easy way to make a ridiculously profitable city.

Of course, the ultimate in mobile workforces means uneducated plebs go to work in the nuclear plant (since the real estate near them isn't particularly valuable), with entirely predictable results.

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