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Ambitious Cities XL looks to change the model of gaming

By on December 18, 2008
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Close up view of a Cities XL cityOK, so that’s perhaps a little grandiose.

But Cities XL from publishers Monte Cristo is shaping up to a be a business-model-busting game.

At heart, it’s a sim game in the vein of Sim City 4. Take control as mayor, build a thriving city in a fully 3D world with direct control of public utilities such as hospitals, schools and roads and indirect control of the private sector, which will increase if your city is good, and fail if it isn’t.

So far, so yesteryear. Although I’m sure that Monte Cristo will make a great city-sim.

It’s the online elements that Monte Cristo are doing something interesting. And they are experimenting with *lots* of different models.

1. Games Extension Modules (GEMS). These bits of downloadable content add a completely different game to Cities XL. In the main game, you play a mayor running an entire city. In the GEMs, you are a tycoon running, say, a ski-resort or beach resort, but attached to your city. So in effect, having learnt the mechanics of the core game, you can buy “Mini-tycoon” games through digital download.

2. A persistent world, based on a low subscription, where you can run up to 5 cities on one of many different planets. This requires players to co-operate – for example, your garbage has to go somewhere, so you might want to find a player who runs a recycling-focused city and pay him to take your garbage so that your version of Cannes remains pristine and beautiful.

My big fear was whether Monte Cristo have put enough thought into the social networking elements of the game. They have a website that will be integral to the game, publishing news and statistics on the game. But when games companies talk about “meeting your friends online”, my heart usually sinks, because it is bloody difficult to get people to invite friends into something at the best of times, let alone in the very specific environment of a city sim.

My initial thoughts is that Monte Cristo have addressed this issue deep in the gameplay. There will be online trading via the website, the need for players to co-operate with other nearby players and an easy and flexible website.

The game isn’t due for release until Autumn 2009, but it looks like a fascinating hybrid between boxed product and digital download, citybuilder and social gaming platform.

I’ll definitely be watching Cities XL closely.

Close up view of a Cities XL city

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com