Inside The Simulator

How the Simulator Works and Strategies for Using It

Many factors influence the chance of your city's prospering or floundering: both internal factors (the structure and efficiency of your city) and external factors (the regional economy, disasters, etc.).


Your city is divided up into three primary zones: residential, commercial and industrial. These zones symbolize the three basic pillars upon which a city is based: population, industry, and commerce. All three are necessary for your city to grow and thrive.

Population -- Residential

The major factors controlling residential population are birthrate, availability of jobs and housing, unemployment, and quality of life within the city.

Birthrate as used here, is actually a combination of the birthrate (positive) and the deathrate (negative). Within SimCity there is always a positive birthrate.

Availability of jobs (the employment rate) is a ratio of the current commercial and industrial populations to the total residential population. As a rule of thumb, the number of commercial and industrial zones together should roughly equal the number of residential zones.

If there are more jobs in your city than residents, new settlers will be attracted. If the job market declines during a local recession, your people will migrate away in search of jobs.

Housing for your residents is built in the residential zones. These zones must be powered and connected to the places of employment by roads. The structures built in residential zones are influenced by land value and population density.

Quality of life is a measure of relative "attractiveness" assigned to different zone locations. It is affected by negative factors such as pollution and crime, and positive factors such as parks and accessibility.

External Market -- Industrial

There are thousands of variables that influence your city. All these variables can be influenced by your actions with the exception of one.

The external market (the economic conditions that exist outside of your city) is controlled by the simulation -- there is nothing you can do to change it. In many ways, this external market is the original source of all city growth. Towns frequently begin as production centers (steel towns, refineries, etc.) that service a demand in the surrounding region. As time passes, the external market grows to reflect the regional growth going on around your city.

The industry in your city will attempt to grow as the external market grows. For this to happen there must be room for expansion (more industrial zones) and an adequate labor supply (more residential zones).

Internal Market -- Commercial

The internal market is completely influenced by the conditions within your city. Internal production, created in the commercial zones, represents all the things which are purchased and consumed within the city. Food stores, gas stations, retail stores, financial services, medical care, etc. -- all depend on a nearby population to service. Within SimCity, the size of the internal market determines the rate at which commercial zones will prosper. Commercial zones need enough zoned land to build on and an existent, sufficient work force to employ. The structures built in commercial zones are mainly influenced by land value and population density.

Commercial zones grow and develop to serve the expanding internal market. Commercial growth will usually be slow at first, when the population is small and needs very little. As your city grows, commercial growth will accelerate and the internal market will become a much larger consumer of your total city production. This accelerating effect, when the external/industrial production is overtaken by the accelerating internal/commercial sector, can turn a sleepy little town of 50,000 into a thriving capital of 200,000 in a few short years.

Tax Rate

The tax rate you set controls the amount of income generated by your city. As taxes are collected each year (simulation time), the Budget Window will appear, giving you the fiscal details of your city and a chance to adjust rates. The simulation determines the amount of revenue collected by assessing each zone an amount based on its land value, current level of development and the current tax rate.

The tax rate has a global affect on your city's growth rate. If you set it low (0%-4%), growth will be brisk but the city income will be low. If you set it high (10%-20%), you will collect a lot in the short run but in the long run tax income will decrease along with the population. You must keep tax income high enough to invest in new development, but low enough not to scare off residents and businesses. A high tax rate is one way to control city growth, should you want to experiment with "growth control measures."


City budgeting affects the way your city grows. City infrastructure cost is represented by three departments: police, fire, and transportation. You may set the funding levels separately for each. All three departments will request a certain level of funding each year. You may supply all or part of the requested funds, in the attempt to balance safety needs and budgetary concerns.


Electrical power makes modern cities possible. Efficient and reliable power transmission to all zones is the goal of good "power management."

The entire power grid of your city is periodically checked in the simulation for links to power. If a zone is connected (by other zones or power lines) to a power plant, the zone is considered powered.

Zones must be powered for development to occur. Many things (such as fires, tornadoes, earthquakes and bulldozers) can knock down power lines and cause blackouts in parts of your city. Development will stop in unpowered zones, and if power is not quickly restored, the zone will decline back to its original state of emptiness.

Redundant power plants and power connections can make your power grid more reliable, but running more line adds construction costs.

Transportation -- Traffic

One of the most important elements of city structure is the transportation network. It moves Sims and good throughout your city. Roads typically occupy as much as 25%-40% of the land in urban areas. Traffic along these roads indicates which sections of your road system are used the most.

Traffic levels are simulated by a process known as "Trip Generation." Over time, each populated zone in the city will generate a number of trips, depending on the population. Each generated trip starts at the origin zone, travels down the road, and if a "proper destination" is reached, ends at the destination zone -- otherwise, the trip fails. Trip failure indicates inaccessibility of a zone and limits its growth.

The majority of generated trips represent people commuting to and from work. Additional traffic is generated by residents traveling to shopping, recreation, etc. When analyzing traffic, the simulator tests the following traffic routes:

Traffic Patterns

When Sims drive away from an origin zone, they have a limited "trip range" in which to find a destination zone. Heavy traffic decreases the trip range. If the destination zone is too far away, the trip is unsuccessful. Repeated unsuccessful trips will cause the Sims to move out of the origin zone.

Each road has a limited capacity for traffic. When this capacity is exceeded traffic jams will form. Traffic jams drastically lower the capacity of a road, compounding the problem and frustrating drivers.

Traffic conditions fluctuate quickly. Avoid traffic problems by providing several routes for the traffic to take.

A road must be adjacent to a zone for the zone to be connected to the traffic pattern. Zones do not conduct traffic the way they conduct power.


Pollution levels are tracked in all areas of your city. This is a general "nuisance level" that includes air and water pollution, noise pollution, toxic wastes, etc. Pollution has a negative impact on the growth of residential areas.

The primary cause of pollution is industrialized zones. The level of pollution created by an industrial zone increases with its level of growth.

Traffic is another cause of pollution. There are limited means of combating the pollution level. Lowering traffic density, limiting industrial development, and separating the pollution from the residential areas will help.


Crime rates are influenced by population density, local law enforcement, and land values. As population density increases in an area, the number of crimes committed increases. Crime will also increase in areas of low land value.

The most effective way to deal with high crime rates is to introduce a police station into the area. Based on its level of funding, the police station will reduce the rate of crime in its sphere of influence. A long-term approach to lowering crime is to raise the land value of the area. One way to do this is to demolish and rezone (urban renewal).

Land Value

Land value is one of the most fundamental aspects of urban structure. The land value of an area affects how that area is used. In this simulation the land value of an area is based on terrain, accessibility, pollution, and distance to downtown.

The farther the residents have to go to work, the lower the land value where they live, due in part to transportation costs. The value of commercial zones depends greatly on accessibility by the populace.

Land value is also affected by surrounding terrain. If land is closer to water, trees, agricultural areas, or parks, its value will rise. Creative placement of zones within the terrain, with little bulldozing, can make good use of this natural advantage.

Land value and crime rate have a feedback effect on each other. Lower land values cause crime rates to rise. Higher crime rates cause land values to drop, and can cause "transition areas" near your central city to rapidly decline in value.