In 1987, Will Wright created SimCity, an entirely new type of game that allowed players to create a town and nurture it into a thriving metropolis. There were no set objectives, no victory conditions, and no opponent. Your score depended on a series of city attributes, including population and your mayoral public approval rating. The game also didn't require any kind of combat to win. According to Wright, the Sim games are "more like a hobby - a train set or a dollhouse. Basically, they're a mellow and creative playground experience."
SimCity broke down many preconceptions of what a computer game could and should be. It was the first game to successfully capture the joy of system simulation, and it proved that there was a market for games that emphasized construction over destruction. Time magazine published an article on SimCity, and this brought the game into the mainstream media. As a result, sales of the game increased far beyond anyone's expectations. Some schools even began using the game as a teaching tool in the classroom.
SimCity spawned what can be considered one of the most successful game series in computer game history. There are Sim games today that simulate everything from a tropical island to a high-rise building. The series now includes SimCity, SimEarth, SimAnt, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimFarm, SimHealth, SimIsle, SimGolf, SimTower, SimThemePark, The Sims, and many more.
But you can find SimCity's influence in far more than just the subsequent Maxis spin-off games. Game designer Sid Meier said of the game, "SimCity was a revelation to most of us game designers... SimCity served in many ways as an inspiration for my game Railroad Tycoon and, subsequently, the Civilization series." Civilization and the Civilization series that followed then went on to become best-selling games as well, selling well into the millions.
The idea of games that emphasized construction and city-building soon spread through the strategy genre and directly inspired games such as the Caesar series, the Settlers series, and even Age of Empires. Even strategy games that didn't primarily focus on city-building, such as Star Control 3 and Imperium Galactica 2, included building features that resembled those found in SimCity.
The influence of Wright's creation extends beyond the reach of ordinary computer games. SimCity noticeably reshaped the entire game industry and demonstrated the mainstream appeal of city-building games - and it spawned a popular subgenre of system simulations. It inspired numerous spin-offs, sequels, and other games, and it influenced the creation of the popular empire-building game Civilization.
For more information about the history of SimCity, take a look at GameSpot's SIMply Divine: The Story of Maxis Software.