Roughly 30 years ago, SimCity was making waves as a fun new simulation game. Players could build out an entire city and watch it spring to life — or die a horrible, fiery death. Fans had loads of fun with the games until the franchise (and its developer) more or less fell flat by the mid-2010s, but they might not know that Maxis once made business games, too.
Gaming website The Obscuritory did a deep dive into these strange creations that came out of Maxis work on making fun games. The most popular title by far was SimRefinery, the first project of Maxis' business division that aimed to create useful simulations for the private sector.
As it name implies, SimRefinery was all about teaching the player a better understanding if how an oil refinery works. Running on "the guts" of the original SimCity code, this game wasn't the world's most accurate simulation, but it did give players a "big picture" idea of the operations involved with keeping an oil refinery from working. And, you know, not exploding and launching fiery hot death into the air.
The genesis of Maxis' business-oriented games was ultimately a result of SimCity's popularity, and not in the way you might think. You see, they kept getting bugged by companies who saw the city-building game and had wanted a similar software product for their own industry. Maxis had been inundated with so many calls about these products that they eventually purchased Delta Logic and formed Maxis Business Simulations.
Maxis Business Simulations worked for two years, producing SimRefinery and working on other projects before being split off from the company once again. It didn't die there, though; it kept chugging along until the end of 1998, under the name Thinking Tools. In that time, it had produced a number of strange games for specific purposes ranging from explaining the American justice system for college courses to detailing the basics of military logistics to United States Air Force cadets.
What Happened to These SimCity Business Games?
An unfortunate quirk of these made-to-order simulation games was that they were used in a very narrow focus. Only the geekiest of simulation game geeks would be interested in playing a game about simulating the telecommunications marketplace or explaining how project management works. As a consequence, it's nigh-impossible to actually find copies of these games.
SimRefinery is one of the earliest examples and perhaps one of the most robust, but even this strange blip in gaming history can't be found despite having been in the hands of multiple major corporations. As far as anyone knows, no copies of the game survive; even if one is found, the magnetic floppy disks it was stored on may long be dead.
We've just touched on the basics of the weird world of business training games here. Take the time to read up on the extraordinary detail and research in The Obscuritory's article on SimCity business games — it's well worth a read.
What do you think of Maxis dipping its toe into the world of business? Do you think games like these would be useful today? Let us know in the comments below!