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Game On for OLPC: EA to Put 'SimCity' on Low-Cost Laptops

Game On for OLPC: EA to Put 'SimCity' on Low-Cost Laptops

The classic game "SimCity" -- now nearly 20 years old -- will find its way onto the low-cost laptops being manufactured by the One Laptop Per Child Foundation. Electronic Arts has donated the rights to the game to the OLPC Foundation for use on their computers. In the game, players start, build and manage a city, taking into account economic and environment consequences of their decisions.

Children in developing nations who receive the XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation can exercise their imaginations and build their own cities with the original "SimCity" video game.

Electronic Arts (EA) announced Thursday that it has donated the game, originally released in 1989, to the OLPC Foundation for the organization to include on its laptops, which sell for around US$200 each.

The non-profit's mission is to design, build, manufacture and distribute inexpensive laptops to children in developing nations. Providing these children with laptops, the OLPC believes, will help give them the opportunity to receive a "modern education."

Including "SimCity" on the XO laptop will help young users become familiar with their new computer while at the same time giving them a creative outlet that can help them develop their decision-making skills, according to EA.

"'SimCity' is entertainment that's unintentionally educational. Players learn to use limited resources to build and customize their cities. There are choices and consequences, but in the end, it's a creativity tool that's only limited by the player's imagination," said Steve Seabolt, vice president of global brand development for the Sims label.

"The game should prove to be an incredibly effective way of making the laptop relevant, engaging and fun, particularly for first-time players. We are thrilled to be making this contribution to OLPC to help meet their goal of educating the children of the world."

Simulated Worlds

"SimCity" was the first in a large franchise of "Sim" games, which grew into simulations for building everything from ant colonies to entire planets. In "SimCity," players assume the role of mayor of a new municipality. They are responsible for building and maintaining their cities so their citizens can work and live happy lives. Mayors must make choices such as choosing the best power sources taking into account consequences like pollution.

Town leaders also have to exhibit an understanding of the economics involved in leading a city. Taxes cannot be raised too high or business growth will stagnate and the citizens will leave town. In the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood or fire, they must be able to immediately respond to the situation and minimize fallout from the catastrophe.

S.J. Klein, OLPC director of content, put the call out last March at the Game Developers Conference asking game developers and publishers to help create games that will help inspire children to explore what they can do.

"Kids without games can certainly learn, but the first way children learn is through gaming by seeing how things work and remaking their world," he said.

"It would have raised a few eyebrows if they had included something like 'Grand Theft Auto' but something like 'SimCity,' I can understand that," said Mukul Krishna, global manager of digital media practice at Frost & Sullivan.

"You can build a municipality, and it's like day-to-day things that people in developing countries are much more aware of than people in other countries.

"Trying to teach young very impressionable minds technology skills in an interactive and fun way, you're able to help them with complex decision and so on," he told TechNewsWorld. "They learn not only how to make decisions but also have some limited exposure to what it takes to build a city they want."

EA will have to be careful, however, that the XO-version of 'SimCity' is adapted to take into account the cultural and political differences in countries buying the laptop, Krishna noted.

"Players should be able to relate [to the game]. If you're somewhere in Africa, China or South America, you may have a different form of government, it could be a socialist government and a different way of interacting. EA needs to tailor the game to make it relevant for everyone."

Heeding the Call

Although OLPC has developed or puts its own spin on a number of games, EA is the first major publisher to donate a game, in particular one that was such a huge seller.

"This is the first time a major game company has completely given away a game. Granted, it's a very old game, but still this is an amazing aspect of OLPC that they are able to get major game developers to open their software to be put on the XO," said Wayan Votan, editor of OLPCNews.com.

"[That EA has created an open source version of the game] is an amazing concept, and they have actually done a lot of work to make it work on the XO," he told TechNewsWorld.


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