The Challenges of Launching Simulation Games: Lessons from Cities: Skylines 2

Simulation games have captured the hearts of gamers worldwide with their immersive experiences and intricate mechanics. One such game, Cities: Skylines, gained immense popularity for its realistic city-building simulation. Fans eagerly awaited the release of its sequel, Cities: Skylines 2 (C:S2), hoping for an even more impressive and refined experience. However, the launch of C:S2 was met with disappointment and frustration due to various issues, highlighting the challenges faced by developers in the simulation genre.

In this article, we will explore the troubled launch of Cities: Skylines 2 and delve into the complex nature of developing simulation games. We will examine the reasons behind the game’s performance problems, the pressures faced by developers during the fourth quarter, and the perpetual challenge of testing and perfecting a simulation model. Through this analysis, we can gain valuable insights into the intricacies of launching successful simulation games.

The Troubled Launch of Cities: Skylines 2

Performance Problems and Technical Debt

Cities: Skylines 2 suffered from serious performance problems, which were acknowledged by its developer, Colossal Order. These issues affected the gameplay experience, frustrating players who had eagerly anticipated the game’s release. Compared to its predecessor, C:S2 had a rough-draft look, lacking the polish and refinement that years of fixes, DLC, and mods had brought to the original game.

The technical debt accumulated during the development of C:S2 prevented its underlying strengths from shining through. Without the necessary time and resources to address these issues, the game was released in an unsatisfactory state. Even players with high-end systems struggled to run the sluggish game, further exacerbating the frustration among the fanbase.

The Pressures of the Fourth Quarter

The decision to release C:S2 despite its shortcomings can be attributed to the pressures faced by game publishers, especially during the fourth quarter. This period, encompassing the holiday season, is a crucial time for game sales. Companies strive to capitalize on the increased demand for games as people purchase them as gifts for others and themselves.

For publicly traded companies, the fourth quarter also holds financial significance. Meeting or exceeding their financial targets for the year is essential for reporting to investors and shareholders. Therefore, releasing a game during this period becomes a strategic decision, even if it means compromising on its quality to meet the deadline.

Lessons from Robert Zubek

Robert Zubek, a game designer and developer, offers valuable insights into the challenges faced by developers during the launch of a simulation game. Having worked on titles such as CityVille and FarmVille 2, Zubek understands the competing pressures of testing and meeting financial targets.

Simulation games are inherently complex, and achieving perfection is an ongoing process. No simulation game is ever truly finished; it is continually refined through testing and player feedback. However, at some point, the game must be released to the public to gauge how it performs in the real world. This delicate balance between perfection and practicality is a constant struggle for developers.

The Nature of Simulation Games

The Complexity of Simulation Models

Simulation games aim to replicate real-world systems and phenomena, requiring intricate models and algorithms to create a believable experience. The underlying complexity of these models poses significant challenges for developers. Balancing realism with playability is a delicate task, as too much complexity can overwhelm players, while too little can undermine the simulation’s authenticity.

Developers must strike the right balance by carefully considering which aspects of the simulation to prioritize and how to represent them in an engaging manner. This process involves extensive research, testing, and iterative refinement to ensure the simulation is both accurate and enjoyable for players.

Endless Testing and Iteration

Testing is a critical aspect of developing simulation games. With countless variables and interactions to consider, developers must conduct thorough testing to uncover any potential issues or imbalances within the simulation. This exhaustive testing process involves exploring every edge case and scenario to ensure the simulation behaves as intended.

However, testing simulation games can be a never-ending endeavor. The complexity of the models means that achieving absolute perfection is nearly impossible. Developers must make difficult decisions about when to release the game, understanding that some imperfections may persist. The feedback and experiences of players become invaluable in further refining the simulation post-launch.


The troubled launch of Cities: Skylines 2 sheds light on the challenges faced by developers in the simulation genre. Performance problems, technical debt, and the pressures of the fourth quarter all contributed to the game’s disappointing release. The complex nature of simulation games, with their intricate models and endless testing requirements, further compound these challenges.

However, despite the difficulties, simulation games continue to captivate players with their immersive experiences. The lessons learned from the launch of C:S2 can guide developers in navigating the complexities of developing and launching simulation games. By striking a balance between realism and playability, conducting thorough testing, and leveraging player feedback, developers can create simulation games that truly resonate with their audience.

Simulation games may be fraught with challenges, but they also offer immense opportunities for innovation and creativity. As the industry evolves, developers must embrace these challenges, learning from past experiences and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of simulation gaming.

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