Tips for specializing in ‘SimCity’

Now that the SimCity servers are stabilizing, more players are putting down their torches and pitchforks and getting the chance to play the game. Veteran SimCity players know you have to plan both for the short-term and the long-term when building your city, and that’s definitely true with this latest entry into the series.

One of the most important decisions you can make early on is if you want to specialize your city, and how. SimCity has six specializations to choose from, and knowing how they work together can help make those early decisions easier.

TrafficJam Tips for specializing in SimCity

  • Mining digs coal or ore from the ground, then allows you to smelt it into metal or alloy.
  • Drilling pulls oil from the ground, and later upgrades let you refine it into fuel or plastics.
  • Trading lets you import or export materials to and from the Global Market.
  • Electronics turns other materials into processors, and later into consumer electronics.
  • Culture gives you landmarks and expo centers to draw in tourists and run special events.
  • Gambling also brings in tourists, sitting them down at slot machines or blackjack tables.

Before investing a ton of time into a city, consider creating a region with the Sandbox setting turned on to experiment in. You start out with a lot more money, all the building upgrades unlocked, and the ability to instantly generate cash through cheats. You can’t complete achievements or show up on the leaderboards (whenever they get fixed), but it’s a great way to try things out without winding up with a big, costly mess on your hands after several hours of work.

SimCity: Location, Location, Location

Oilfields Tips for specializing in SimCity

Of the six specializations, only Mining and Drilling actually require special resources to be present in order to work. However, where you build your city can be just as important for the other specializations as well.

When you get to the Region map to look for city locations, first check out the resource bars to see what’s available in each site. High concentrations of oil, coal or ore are necessary to make a long-lasting Mining or Drilling city, and if they happen to have multiple sources you could be looking at a potential gold mine in raw materials. If there are minimal traces, you may want to pick a different site since those resources are finite; once they’re drilled out there’s no going back, so investing in a short-term mining operation could be a waste of time, space and money.

Transportation options and access are important for every specialization, but they’re very important for the tourist-heavy and traffic-intense Culture and Gambling. Both require outlets to the region to bring in more paying customers, so try picking a city that gives you rail and water access to take advantage of later mass transit options. If you want to build a Trading and Electronics city without having access to mines, you’ll also need lots of transportation options to import the raw materials necessary for your Electronics factories. Airports can be built anywhere in a city, bringing in tourists and giving another place to ship freight out, but they also require a huge amount of space.

Expocenter Tips for specializing in SimCity

Once you’ve selected your site and specialization, always build with your future goals in mind. Production buildings like mines and oil fields take up a lot of space, so don’t place a ton of roads or services on land you’ll just have to bulldoze later. They also require room for trucks to deliver all the resources they’re gathering, either to your neighboring cities or out to the global market. Traffic is one of the most common problems once you reach the middle game, and after you’ve built a few cities you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. For instance, putting your Trade Depot on the other side of a chronically-busy portion of town will really slow down your ability to make money because they won’t be able to get out to the region and sell your products.

A common tip from players on the forums: build slow and steady, always watching your advanced population panel to balance exactly how many Sims, jobs and other resources your city has. The type of road you lay out determines density, or how big your buildings attached to them get. You can control that by starting with small roads and upgrading only when you’re prepared to, one section of city at a time. Trying to get super-dense skyscrapers quickly can leave you with traffic snarls, soaring unemployment, or unfulfilled freight orders which can cripple entire sections of your city and make it harder for you to focus on your specialization.

Teaming Up

Smelter Tips for specializing in SimCity

As I mentioned earlier, some specializations have to work together in order to reach their full potential. Trading goes well with Mining, Drilling or Electronics because it provides Trade Depots and Ports to sell all your goods on the global market; it can also stock and sell freight, which is produced by industries and consumed by commercial buildings. It’s not strictly necessary if you just plan on using the oil and coal you dug up in your local region, but it’s the best way to get Simoleans and also import supplies you don’t have access to.

It’s also the only way to reach the upper tiers of the specialization outside of Sandbox mode, because the game relies on you reaching a certain threshold of daily profit to unlock them. Without Trading facilities to bring in those sales from the global market, you’ll never get off the ground floor. Place these buildings close to your production sources to keep them filled, and make sure there’s a clear path and plenty of delivery trucks to get the goods out onto of your city.

Casinos Tips for specializing in SimCity

Culture and Gambling can complement each other, at least at the start. Both need attractions to lure tourists to your city and places for them to spend money. Gambling Halls are the base Gambling building, and have modules like the Comedy Club to generate more tourists; Landmarks do that all on their own, so having a combination of both will help really bring people in. Unless you have a burning desire to play traffic cop, though, trying to reach the heights of both specializations in the same city can be asking for trouble. Tourists need massive amounts of mass transit to keep from overwhelming your city’s streets with cabs, and if you try to schedule an event at your Arena while the streets are at a standstill you’ll lose a lot of money to refunds.

The two things to remember in traffic management are that high-wealth Sims won’t ride the bus, and lots of intersections lead to far more stopped traffic than curves do. The Park and Ride bus stops are much more effective at taking Sims’ cars off the roads than regular bus stops, so consider using those if you can afford them near high-population areas. Streetcars will convince wealthy Sims to leave their Jagu-Sims and B-Sim-W’s at home, but they need special avenues to travel along. Create loops when possible, and if you’re focusing on a very traffic-heavy specialization like Gambling plan those loops out very early in your city’s development: there are few things more painful than bulldozing entire stretches of revenue-producing neighborhoods and essential city services, but it may be necessary to prevent gridlock without proper planning.

WashingtonMonument Tips for specializing in SimCity

Tourist Sims also need a lot of commercial buildings to shop at or stay in; commercial zones near tourist attractions eventually turn into motels and hotels, and casinos also have hotel modules you can add to help encourage your tourists to stick around. However, commercial zones also require a ton of Sims and freight at higher density levels to function, leading to more traffic concerns as you add on Industrial or Residential zones to compensate. This can lead to a wicked spiral later in the game, as you try to cram in more Commercial zones to keep your tourists happy, then more Residential zones and Industrial zones to try and support their need for workers and freight, creating further traffic issues and resource drains that take away from making your city profitable and successful.

Good Neighbors

That’s where the other teamwork element comes in with specializations: working together between cities in your region. Cities run by other players can provide you with those extra Sims you need to fill the jobs in your casinos and hotels, or focus on turning your oil-based products into processors, TVs and video games. It’s possible to create bedroom communities with lots of Sims and bus stations to ship them to other cities, or service-heavy cities that can help provide the rest of your region with plenty of power, sewage or garbage collection, freeing up space and plugging gaps in your specialized cities. Once that level of cooperation and communication gets rolling region-wide, it’s not long before you could turn your individual specializations toward a Great Work which boosts them even further, like a Space Center to create a well-educated workforce and boost industry tech levels region-wide or an International Airport to bring in more tourists for everyone.

Maxis designed SimCity so that this cooperation is necessary to reach the highest heights of the game; without it, individual players are left trying to run whole regions, or find themselves faced with obstacles they can’t overcome on their own in their individual cities. If you find yourself with a similar problem, perhaps it’s time to look outside your borders for assistance.


About Russell Jones

By day, Russell works in local TV news. By night, he plays and writes about video games for VGW and his personal blog, The Gentleman Gamer. An avid RPG fan, Russell can also be found plotting the demise of adventurers from behind a Dungeon Master's screen. He can be heard weekly on the "Geek In Review" podcast (GiRPodcast.podomatic.com).


  1. Can you explain how I send oil from my oil drilling building to my trade depot?

    • Russell Jones says:

      Sure! Delivery trucks from your oil field deliver to any Trade Depot with an Oil storage lot. If you’re not getting oil in your Depot, it may be because you haven’t built any lots to store it in, or have enough trucks at your field to get them there (if you only have one it may be delivering them instead to your oil power generator, if you built one). Every depot starts with one freight lot as well, so if you don’t need it you can bulldoze it to build the max of four oil storage lots.

  2. Thanks for the article, will help a lot. Two questions I have though, is with regards to working as a team.

    Say I was specialized in drilling oil, and a friend’s city in the region was wanting to specialize in turning that oil into plastic. Wouldn’t my friend have to also be a driller to unlock the petroleum HQ upgrades? Or is my drilled oil profits shared to him?

    Second question, how would I get the drilled oil to him? Through the trade depot, if I kept it as ‘Use locally’, is that again shared to other cities in the region? Or is it kept for your own city? If I enable export through the global market, that kind of defeats the point of working together in a region.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Gareth:

      Yes, if you want to refine oil into plastic you need to unlock the Refinery from the petroleum HQ. However, you can also get plastic by Recycling, which requires a much-easier upgrade at one of the City Halls in your region (I think Utilities). Recycling gives you plastic, alloy, and metal, but depends on how much your Sims recycle (which is great in an Electronics city, because educated Sims recycle more), or how much you can recycle from other cities you’re connected to.

      Handy sub-tip: coordinate with neighbors who’s going to purchase which city department in your region, since they unlock the same buildings across the entire region. For instance, if you plop a Utilities department, one friend plops a Department of Education, and another plops a Department of Tourism, you all get access to the buildings those three unlock. It allows you to get upgrades MUCH faster than on your own.

      Second question: you can gift commodities between cities. Go to your Region screen, select the city, and look for the gift-wrapped box icon on your toolbar. It lets you gift any resource, including Simoleans, so you’d be able to give your friend the oil they need to refine. It may take time for the gift to show up, depending on the server you’re on: one of the complaints post-launch was that gifting was taking a long time to complete, but with their other upgrades Maxis has said these should be happening quicker and more reliably.

  3. Is there any way to focus on trade without specializing in anything else? (Being a profitable middle man) I’ve been trying to see if it was possible without much luck it doesn’t seem like global prices shift rapidly enough if at all.

    • Russell Jones says:

      Hey Andrew: if you pick up Trading without focusing on other specializations which produce trade-able items, you will either have to get the items from someone else in the region (they gift them to you, you sell them), import them yourself, or you’ll have to produce them yourself through other means.

      Importing doesn’t seem to be a feasible way of making money the way you seem to be suggesting, buying low and selling high and acting as a middleman. I don’t know if that’s because they just haven’t got the global market working that way yet, or if that’s intentional: I’m betting it’s the former, but the forums might have more info.

      You could act as a middleman for your region. People gift you resources like alloys or metals, you sell them, and then either you gift them back Simoleans or provide them with another service they want. Right now gifting seems to still take a bit to fully process between cities, which is something Maxis is still working on.

      You could also use trading to sell things produced outside of the other specialties. Your Industrial buildings should produce freight, which can be stored and sold: I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but IIRC they’re not worth much. Recycling will produce plastics, metal and alloys which can be sold, and alloys from what I’ve seen sell for quite a bit. So you could be a Recycling fiend with a lot of alloy lines and enough trucks to recycle from nearby cities, and then sell what you process out of them.

      Hope that helps!

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