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Simulation video games

Construction and management simulation games (or CMSs)[1] are a type of simulation game in which players build, expand or manage fictional communities or projects with limited resources.[2] Strategy games sometimes incorporate CMS aspects into their game economy, as players must manage resources while expanding their project. But pure CMS games differ from strategy games in that "the player's goal is not to defeat an enemy, but to build something within the context of an ongoing process."[1] Games in this category are sometimes also called "management games".[3][4][5]

SimCity represents an early example of success in the genre. Other games in the genre range from city-building games like Caesar, pure business simulation games like Hollywood Mogul, and or true CMSs like Theme Park. Sometimes strategy video games such as Age of Empires combine aspects of CMSs with wargames.[6]

CMSs are often called "simulation games" for short. Although games can simulate many activities from vehicles to sports, players usually deduce the kind of simulation from the title of the game.




Economic challenges

Economics play a primary role in construction and management simulations, because they allow players to build things while operating within economic constraints.[6] Some games may challenge the player to explore or recognize patterns, but the majority of the game challenges are economic in that they focus upon growth.[6] These games are based in a setting where an economy can be built and managed, usually some kind of community, institution, or empire.[2] The player's role seldom corresponds to a real life activity, since the player is usually more involved in detailed decisions than a real manager or administrator.[6] Players usually have two types of tools at their disposal: tools for building and tools for managing.[1]

Construction mechanisms in CMSs tend to be one of two types: plan-and-build where the construction is completed gradually, or purchase and place where the construction appears immediately.[6] Random disasters can also create new construction challenges,[1] and some games impose constraints on how things must be constructed.[6] But usually the act of construction is quite simple,[6] and the main challenge of a CMS is obtaining the resources required to complete construction.[1] Players must manage resources within a growing economy, where resources are produced, consumed, and exchanged.[1] Resources are drawn from a source, such as money from a bank, or gold from a mine. Some CMSs allow players to convert resources from one type to another, such as fermenting sugar into rum.[1] Common resources include money, people, and building materials.[6] Resources are utilized in one of two ways: either construction, where players build or buy things to serve some purpose, or maintenance, where players must make ongoing payments to prevent loss or decay.[1] Sometimes demolishing a structure will cost resources, but this is often done at no cost.[6]


CMSs are usually single player games, as competition would force players to eschew creativity in favor of efficiency, and a race to accumulate resources.[6] They typically have a free-form construction mode where players can build up as they see fit, which appeals to a player's sense of creativity and desire for control.[6] As such, many CMSs have no victory condition, although players can always lose by bankrupting themselves of resources.[1] These games emphasize growth, and the player must successfully manage their economy in order to construct larger creations and gain further creative power.[6]

Unlike other genres, construction and management simulations seldom offer a progression in storyline, and the level design is a simple space where the player can build. Some games offer pre-built scenarios, which include victory conditions such as reaching a level of wealth, or surviving worsening conditions. But success in one scenario seldom has an impact on another scenario, and players can usually try them in any order.[6]


Because the player must manage a complex internal economy, construction and management simulations frequently make use of a windowed interface.[6] In contrast to genres such as action games, CMS players are given computer-like controls such as pull-down menus and buttons. Players may also understand the game economy through graphs and other analytic tools. This often includes advisers that warn players of problems and describe current needs.[6] As such, CMS games have some of the most complex interfaces of any game type.[1] These games can be quite popular even without the latest graphics.[1]

The player in a CMS is usually omnipresent, and does not have an avatar. As such, the player is usually given an isometric perspective of the world, or a free-roaming camera from an aerial viewpoint for modern 3D games.[6] The game world often contains units and people who respond to the players actions, but are seldom given direct orders.[6]


Utopia was released in 1982 for the Intellivision, and is credited as the game that spawned the construction and management simulation genre.[7] Utopia put players in charge of an island, allowing them to control its entire military and economy. The population had to be kept happy, and the military had to be strong enough to thwart attacks from rebels and pirates. This game required complex thought in an era where most games were about reflexes. The game sold fairly well, but it had an influence on games of all genres.[8]

Utopia had a notable impact on SimCity in 1989,[8] which is considered the first highly successful construction and management simulation.[6][7] The game allows players to build a city from the ground up and then manage it, with challenges such as balancing a budget and maintaining popular opinion, and was considered a sophisticated simulation of city planning when it was released.[9] It appealed to a wide audience in part because it was not a typical high-speed violent game,[6] and was notable for shunning a traditional win-or-lose game paradigm.[9] SimCity has spawned numerous successful sequels and spinoffs,[10] is credited with inventing the city-building subgenre.[11] SimCity also led to several other successful games in the same mold such as SimTower and SimFarm,[6] and launched its designer Will Wright into a position as one of the most influential people in the game industry.[12]

Construction and management simulations also went on to influence the god game genre, including Populous. This title is often credited with inventing the god game genre.[7]

The various Tycoon games are also an important part of the genre.[6]


Several more specific genres have developed over time.

City-building games

City-building game is a subgenre of CMS where players act as a city-planner or leader. Players normally look at the city from a point-of-view high in the sky, to grow and manage a simulated city. Players are only allowed to control building placement and city management features such as salaries and work priorities, while actual building is done by game citizens who are non-playable characters.

Evolution of the subgenre

The city building game genre was established in 1989 with SimCity, which emphasized continuous building versus competing to win and "blowing stuff up". Players followed personal preferences in design and growth. Indicators of success were maintaining positive budget balance and citizen satisfaction. Subsequent SimCity titles soon followed when high sales of the game demonstrated its popularity.

The first Sim game, Utopia (1982) covered many of these same elements, but the primitive screen resolutions of its era meant that it displayed two islands because the detail necessary to show cities was not possible. Unlike the thousands of individual spaces possible a few years later in SimCity, each island held approximately 16 "buildable" spaces for schools, factories, etc. The players' score was based on the well-being of their people.

A second boost in genre popularity came in 1993 with the publishing of Caesar, which modeled cities in ancient Rome, replacing electricity and mass transit with aqueducts and roads. Subsequent titles in the City Building Series followed, all modeling cities in past civilizations.

Also in 1993 the Dungeons & Dragons PC game Stronghold appeared, which was advertised as "SimCity meets D&D in 3D." Elves, humans and dwarfs each built neighborhoods with unique architecture within the player's town. The title also had elements of real-time strategy games when enemies attacked the city, and the line between city-building and RTS games has often been blurred with this kind of hybrid title. True 3D graphics were not yet possible in 1993, and the advertised 3D was actually a clever use of 2D graphics with mathematically-generated terrain and overlaid bitmaps and sprites.

Business simulation games

Business simulation games are a subset of CMSs that simulate a business or some other economy. These games typically involve more management than construction. Rather than investing in physical buildings, construction can be abstract, such as purchasing stocks.

The closest example of a 'pure' economic simulation may be Capitalism, the goal of which is to build an industrial and financial empire. Another highly ambitious business simulator is Transport Tycoon.

God games

A god game casts the player in the position of an entity with divine or supernatural powers, and places them in charge of a game setting containing autonomous mortals to guard and influence. Populous is considered the game that inspired the genre.

Government simulation games

Sports management games


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design. New Riders Publishing. pp. 417–441. ISBN 1592730019.  
  2. ^ a b Wolf, Mark J. P. (2002). The Medium of the Video Game. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-79150-X.  
  3. ^ "Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom for PC". GameSpot. Retrieved 2007-11-16.  
  4. ^ Beers, Craig (2004-03-18). "School Tycoon for PC Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2007-11-16.  
  5. ^ Butts, Stephen Ward, Trent C. (2000-10-02). "IGN: Zeus: Master of Olympus Preview". IGN. Retrieved 2007-11-16.  
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2006). Fundamentals of Game Design. Prentice Hall.  
  7. ^ a b c Edge Staff (2007-11-01). "50 GREATEST GAME DESIGN INNOVATIONS". Edge. Retrieved 2008-12-28.  
  8. ^ a b T. Byrl Baker (2000-09-11). "Unsung Heroes: Ground Breaking Games from Computer History". GameSpot. Retrieved 2008-12-29.  
  9. ^ a b Julie Lew (1989-06-15). "Making City Planning a Game". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-29.  
  10. ^ Dan Adams, Steve Butts, Charles Onyett (2007-03-16). "Top 25 PC Games of All Time". IGN. Retrieved 2008-07-29.  
  11. ^ Alex Navarro (2006-11-28). "SimCity Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2008-12-29.  
  12. ^ Gamespy Staff (2002-03). "GameSpy's 30 Most Influential People in Gaming". GameSpy. Retrieved 2008-12-29.  


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