Cities: Skylines developed a vibrant community, and came about as a direct response to a certain other city builder that went down the opposite path, making it our Community Champion of the year. We'll be posting the rest of our awards and personal picks daily as we approach the end of the year, which we're collecting on our main GOTY page.
Chris Livingston: 2013’s SimCity was an ugly exercise in what not to do. With online-only play, strict limits on city size, and no mod support, EA frustrated and angered fans of the city building genre. Thankfully, the tiny development team of Colossal Order stepped in carry the torch while deftly avoiding all of EA’s blunders. Offline play means no worrying about servers or connections, yet there’s still a communal feel to Skylines thanks to extensive mod and asset support, which means players can easily download the custom creations of others (now 60,000+ in number) including a mod that expands the already large buildable area. In fact, there’s even a mod in the works for multiplayer support! See, we like online play, when it’s optional.
Colossal Order also listened to player feedback, later adding a much-missed day/night cycle (alongside paid DLC) and the ability to tunnel underground. Most importantly, they understand what still seems to elude some publishers: mod support is healthy for both sides of the equation. It extends the lifespan of the game, keeps people talking about it months after release, can increase sales, and lets players fix problems, tweak gameplay to their liking, and contribute and share their own work and creativity with others.
The game itself is one I’ve kept dipping back into months and months later, in part because there are so many new mods and assets every time I pop into the Workshop, and in part because I find it incredibly enjoyable and satisfying to play. I’m not a great city manager or a master builder, and the game is definitely tipped in my direction, difficulty-wise. None of my cities have failed, really, and I understand that many players want a bigger challenge, but for me it’s about the enjoyment of watching something continue to grow, albeit a bit crookedly, even if I’m not watering it in all the right places.
Tyler Wilde: I spoke to Cities: Skylines lead designer Karoliina Korppoo earlier this year, and she told me that the dev team uses popular mods as inspiration for official updates. What a lovely, symbiotic relationship: modders make the game more fun for everyone, and Colossal Order can direct its update efforts toward the most desired changes and additions with that feedback.
The whole thing—the game, the mods, Colossal Order’s patches and After Dark add-on—is about as PC gaming as you can get. On an open platform, no one has to settle. If we want to add something to a game, we mod it in. If we think it’d look nice with a bluish tint, we inject one. And if it just isn’t the game we want (and launches about as well as my first Kerbal Space Program rocket), a small developer steps in and makes the game they wanted to play. If there’s passion for something, it’ll find it’s way to the PC, the way Xenonauts recalled classic X-Com, and Black Mesa brought us back to Half-Life 1, and Cities: Skylines gave us a city simulator without overzealous online aspirations.
And aside from how well Cities has served a community hungry for a better city builder, it’s just a good game. It’s not especially challenging—you might try Prison Architect for that—but it’s full of little details to manage and soothes me into a creative rhythm of balancing and designing and building that can last hours. It’s exactly the feeling I want from a city builder.