Maxis Emeryville dev talks closure, always online and working with EA


When Electronic Arts announced the closure of SimCity 2013 studio Maxis Emeryville last week, many felt that part of their childhood was in jeopardy. While the publisher will consolidate Maxis' IP development to their Redwood Shores, Salt Lake City, Helsinki and Melbourne studios (therefore confirming Maxis as an entity is not under threat) the safety of the SimCity series in particular has come under scrutiny.

Reddit user 'Vertexnormal' – later confirmed by Reddit to be a legitimate former Maxis developer – has opened up about his experience working under EA. In a Reddit thread about the closure he discussed the circumstances around SimCity's 'always online' functionality, and how slow sales for a SimCity 4 expansion affected development for the 2013 edition.

Answering to queries regarding the gap between SimCity 4 and the 2013 edition, Vertexnormal was blunt.

"Money. It all comes down to money," he wrote. "EA as a corporation doesn't share our sense of obligation out of sentimentality. Hence today's announcement.

"The long gap is probably caused by several factors. First was that the expansion for SC4 didn't print cash like The Sims was at the time. Sure it made money, but The Sims had a HUGE (I remember reading 16x) return on the investment. So it got de-prioritized to make The Sims 2. Which again made huge returns."

Despite the circumstances, Vertexnormal was diplomatic on the subject of EA itself, and his experience working with the company.

"EA is actually a great place to work these days," Vertexnormal wrote. "In the past there were difficulties (I was part of the EA Spouse/class action) but a lot of that has turned around. They really do want to retain talent and minimize layoffs.

"Not everyone shares this experience, but I haven't worked back-to-back weekends in almost a decade. EA has a really good benefits package, competitive pay, and a strong sense of progressive public responsibility. Maxis, in particular, the Sims side has what is probably the highest level of gender equality in the industry."

Meanwhile, SimCity's much derided 'always online' functionality remained due to internal policy, according to Vertexnormal. Forecasts made based on EA's greenlight gating process – and the marketing resources engaged to promote it – mean that it's very difficult for the studio to make structural changes to the game once the features have already been announced.

"At some point you go into production, which means you know what you are making, how you are going to do it, how they are going to sell it and hard numbers to back all of that up," Vertexnormal wrote.

"Some time after that, when marketing thinks it is right, they will announce the game to the public. From that point on nothing changes from the public facing. Once locked into 'online-only' there was no way of changing it. People complained that the cities were too small but there was no way to address that without compromising the numbers and forecasts when the game was sold to EA's corporate overseers. EA can't be negotiated with at this level, you can't change their mind, you REALLY have to fight to get dates changed etc."

The full post is over here, and is well worth a read for more details on EA's greenlight process and more.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.