I Can't Quit You: EA's Odd SimCity Social Friends and Neighbors Policy Makes Zynga Look GoodS

Here's a story about a very strange way to run a multiplayer game and the effects it might have on friends. Well, "friends" in the Facebook sense, at least...

I got a Facebook message from my ex-boss' ex-boss the other day. I hadn't heard from him in years. He thought he'd detected a glitch in Facebook. After all, why was some SimCity Facebook app sending him messages, daily, from me?

I'd tried so hard not to annoy people with SimCity Social. As I do with all Facebook games, I regularly declined the game's suggestions that I share my in-game accomplishments to my Facebook wall. I skipped quests that required me to beg for in-game goods on my wall. I requested help only through messages sent to people who, according to SimCity Social's in-game filters, are already playing SimCity Social. I do the same for FarmVille 2. (If I, uh, spammed you by accident, please inform me nicely).

So how in the world did my ex-boss' ex-boss get a SimCity Social message from me?

It's because he has SimCity Social installed in Facebook. In fact, he doesn't just have the app, he ran one of my neighboring cities. That means he'd actively agreed to link his game to mine. Except, he hadn't. In a follow-up message, he told me that he thinks it was a family member who played. I have several dozen Facebook friends who play SimCity Social. Several of them play regularly. We send materials back and forth and help our cities look more awesome. To the extent that this kind of simple, asynchronous multiplayer can make a game more fun, it works. It's low-intensity and results in cooler-looking, better-functioning cities. The easiest way for me to put in requests with these fellow players is to just click SimCity Social's option to send any of my in-game help requests to all of my Facebook friends who have SimCity Social installed... including my ex-boss' ex-boss.

I didn't want to annoy my ex-boss' ex-boss any longer.

I didn't want to annoy my ex-boss' ex-boss any longer. I also didn't want to have to start manually picking and choosing who I was requesting in-game help from. I looked for an option to unhook my city from his. I couldn't find one. I Googled and found a bunch of threads on SimCity Social forums. People had been asking for this feature for months! Some people had maxed out their number of neighbors and wanted to un-neighbor some friends in order to connect to some more productive people.

The problem is that SimCity Social doesn't just fail to give you an in-game option to de-link friends from your city... it's that the alternatives that moderators have had to suggest are strange and extreme. They amount to:

  1. Ask your friend to delete the game. (Really! They might be enjoying the game at their own pace, but tell them to delete it.)
  2. Alternately, unfriend your friend from Facebook. (Huh? Are they kidding?)

I asked an EA rep what the deal was. Was I missing an option to de-link a neighbor? Maybe the option was coming?

Here's the response from the game's creators at EA's SimCity franchise studio, Maxis:

"With many social games, players' success is tied to the interactions with their friends. Designed from the beginning with that in mind, players that become lapsed or don't log in as often still provide a benefit to you. Additionally, it makes it easier for lapsed players to begin playing immediately with their friends and not have to re-invite them. It was a game design decision to remove the ability to unfriend neighbors within the game, giving the active player the most benefits possible."

EA: "It was a game design decision to remove the ability to unfriend neighbors within the game, giving the active player the most benefits possible."

It is true that my ex-boss' ex-boss' city was able to provide a benefit to me. I could visit the neglected city, click on some buildings and collect some materials in the process. That's not a benefit I needed.

One might suspect that another reason you can't de-link accounts in SimCity Social is because maybe EA wants to keep the app's user-count as high as possible. Better for them to have my ex-boss' ex-boss being bugged by me every day, in the hopes it might compel him to play the game, then to have him forget the app was ever on his Facebook account? I guess.

I contacted Zynga, the Facebook gaming company that people really love to hate, to see if they did the same kind of thing. Well, no. Google had shown me that they recently added de-linking of friends to FarmVille 1 and a rep pointed out that the more recent CastleVille has that feature, too. Zynga's biggest, newest game FarmVille 2 does not, however. Maybe it will some day. Maybe it won't. But here's what it does do: if a friend who you are connected to doesn't touch their version of the game for more than 60 days, the app will give you a chance to disconnect from them. They might even change the inactivity period if players show they want that window to be bigger or smaller.

Back to SimCity Social...

What did I do?

Well, my ex-boss' ex-boss didn't delete the app. I know how to get in touch with him if I need to. I like playing SimCity Social with active players. So I unfriended him on Facebook. Yes, I let EA win this one. No, their policy makes no sense to me.

Way to make Zynga look good on this one, EA.