Only days after Federal Government Greenhouse Office called for the banning of LCD and Plasma TVs in Australia, Electronic Arts, the No. 1 video game publisher, plans to announce today that it has collaborated with petrol Company BP to develop the latest installment of the hit SimCity computer game series.
Since its debut in 1989, the SimCity franchise has sold more than 18 million copies, thanks to its addictive and somewhat educational game play, which focuses on building and managing a modern metropolis. Coping with environmental pollution has long been part of the series.
But for the latest version, SimCity Societies, due in stores on Nov. 15, Electronic Arts and BP worked together to build what the companies describe as a more nuanced power generation and pollution simulation. The companies say the game is meant to show the trade-offs among three aspects of electrical power: cost, power output and pollution.
For instance, for most players the most economically efficient way to power their virtual cities may be with coal plants, which produce 500 units of electricity and cost 3,000 simoleons, the game’s currency, to build. Coal plants, however, produce large amounts of pollution, which can lead to natural disasters like droughts, and they also reduce the happiness of the city’s nearby citizens, which in turn causes them to produce less tax revenue.
On the other hand, a solar farm in the game has no negative side effects and also costs 3,000 simoleons but produces only 100 units of electricity, a mere fifth of the coal plant’s output. (A nuclear plant costs a whopping 30,000 simoleons, produces 1,500 units of power and zero emissions, but reduces the happiness of nearby citizens nonetheless.)
“If you put a home or entertainment venue next to a big, nasty power plant, it’s going to take a long time before people want to go there,” Rachel Bernstein, the game’s producer, said in an interview. “It also has the effect of making people sick, and they will need more health care. So the game is really about managing those sorts of choices and figuring out what kind of city you want to create.”
One wrinkle in the game’s marketing is that relatively clean systems like wind farms, natural gas plants and solar farms are branded with the BP logo, while the dirty options like coal are not. Gas stations in the game also carry the BP brand.
According to Carol Battershell, vice president for strategy and policy at BP’s alternative energy unit, BP approached Electronic Arts last year about a game revolving around power generation and climate change. In particular, BP was interested in emphasizing the idea that electrical power generation has a greater effect on the environment than transportation (like cars).
“We want people to understand the climate issue a bit better and understand that there are twice as many greenhouse emissions from generating electricity than from all forms of transport combined,” Ms. Battershell said in an interview. “This particular educational program targets the next generation to help them understand that when playing a game.”
Steve Seabolt, Electronic Arts’ vice president for global brand development for the Sims label, said: “We said we were interested, but we are an entertainment company. We are not fundamentally in the educational games space. We went back to BP and said rather than doing a separate game we could incorporate this into what we were then calling SimCity 5.”
The executives said that BP engineers had consulted with the programmers in designing the power and pollution models in the games and in attempting to make them reflect real trade-offs.
Game companies have been exploring opportunities for in-game advertising for years, though advertising remains a small part of the industry’s overall revenue. In its separate Sims series, which focuses on families rather than cities, Electronic Arts has struck product placement deals with companies including Ford and the retailer H&M.
With SimCity Societies, the executives said, BP paid Electronic Arts to have its logo included in the game, though they would not disclose the amount. BP will also help distribute a demonstration version of the game online and possibly at BP gas stations.