Cities: Skylines II developer Colossal Order has a uniquely close relationship with its community. The original Cities: Skylines came out in 2015 and gobbled up the audience that was left behind by EA’s SimCity, which came out in 2013 and was a busted mess. Cities: Skylines scratched that urban-planning itch, plus it cost just $30. The game came first to PC, Mac and Linux with modest hardware requirements, and it hit consoles within two years. Critically, Cities: Skylines also supported mods through the Steam Workshop, allowing players to add their own tools to the game and share those features with others.
“With Cities: Skylines, the audience grew in size and the modding took even a bigger role, allowing for a huge amount of creativity and inspiration for us devs,” Colossal Order CEO Mariina Hallikainen told Engadget. “Anything from quality-of-life improvements to ideas for DLC content, we have gathered a huge amount of information to help us create the game that Cities: Skylines is today.”
Colossal Order and its publisher, Paradox Interactive, continued to support Cities: Skylines with consistent game updates and DLC drops, and its mod community continued to grow. The game picked up a ton of new players during the pandemic in 2020, and around that time, a number of now-prominent content creators leaned into Cities: Skylines for streams and videos.
In the months before the launch of Cities: Skylines II in October 2023, Colossal Order partnered with a handful of content creators and gave them access to bits of the game early, so they could create YouTube videos showing off specific features each week. These partners included Biffa, two dollars twenty, YUMBL, Infrastructurist and City Planner Plays. City Planner Plays has a clever edge in this space — Philip, the man behind the builds, worked as an urban planner for more than a decade, and his videos often include insights about how real-life cities are designed. He started his channel in mid-2020, and today he’s a dedicated Cities: Skylines streamer and video editor with nearly 650,000 subscribers on YouTube. Like many other community members, he has a history with Colossal Order that spans years.
“Prior to the Cities: Skylines II release, I think that most everyone in the community viewed them incredibly positively, looking at them as ‘one of us’ and the type of developer that you want making a game that you love,” Philip said. “They were viewed as responsive and generous. …I can’t recall a bad thing being said about them.”
That’s exactly what made Hallikainen’s blog post on January 15th so surprising.
“We have seen a growing tendency of toxicity in our community, something we have not experienced to this extent before,” Hallikainen wrote, clarifying that the negativity was being directed at developers and players alike. She continued, “We have always treasured having the devs present on the different social platforms and having direct communication with the community, but our biggest responsibility will always be protecting the team.”
Tensions have been high in the Cities: Skylines community since the launch of the sequel in October. Though the game was originally pitched as a simultaneous PC and console release, it’s only available on PC and there’s no concrete timeline for when the other versions will come out. On top of that, Colossal Order raised the game’s minimum and recommended specs just a month before release, and the new requirements placed it out of reach for a large chunk of players.
Even with a capable rig, the game is riddled with visual and mechanical bugs. Philip said Cities: Skylines II strained his RTX 4090 graphics card, making it run at 100 percent on the main menu, and he couldn’t play in 4K at launch because the game was so GPU-bound.
Simply put, it feels like the game needed more time in development.
“Since the launch of Cities: Skylines II, things have without a doubt gotten more prickly,” Philip said. “While many people have been appreciative of Colossal Order’s transparency with the weekly updates as well as the frequent bug fixes, many appear to view Colossal Order as being all-too-willing to release a game that wasn’t ready to be released.”
Hallikainen acknowledged that the game is missing some promised and highly publicized features, like mod support.
“Naturally we’re disappointed we weren’t able to achieve everything we aimed for, but it’s fantastic to have the game finally out and continue working on it with more openness,” she said.
The issue, as far as Colossal Order sees it, lies in the community’s response to Cities: Skylines II. Players have been venting on social media and in the Steam and Paradox forums, and the feedback has risen to toxic levels, according to Hallikainen. She cites a surge in personal attacks on developers and other players.
“Cities: Skylines II attracted a lot of attention and very high expectations were set,” she said. “When the game did not fulfill all the promises, it was natural to cause frustration in the audience. However, the shortcomings should spark a conversation on ideas for improvement, constructive feedback and respectful discussions in the community.”
For City Planner Plays and other community members, the issue is the game itself. Where Colossal Order sees toxicity, Philip sees justified frustration.
“I will admit that I was taken aback by this description of what’s happening in the Cities: Skylines community regarding Cities: Skylines II,” he said. “I have noticed increased negativity. However, I wouldn’t say that I have noticed increased toxicity. And bluntly, I think the negativity is completely understandable and predictable.”
Philip identified four factors driving the negative sentiment: The game is only on PC, it’s buggy and unplayable on many common hardware configurations, there’s no official support for mods, and Colossal Order hasn’t held itself accountable for the game’s blunders.
“Colossal Order has been transparent, talking with the community, but has not taken accountability for the release of the game,” Philip said. “I hear this over and over again. Many players appear to want them to admit that the release state of the game was poor, say that they are sorry, and make some gesture to make amends. To date, they have delayed the DLC release — which actually was a huge negative for people that purchased the Ultimate Edition of the game — but not made amends. [They haven’t] provided the information that people are looking for.”
The biggest misstep on Philip's list is the lack of mods. Colossal Order is planning to add an official pipeline for mods directly through Paradox, rather than Steam Workshop, which was the home for mods in Cities: Skylines. Shifting to an in-house modding platform will ensure parity across all platforms, bringing mods to consoles and players outside of Steam. However, the Cities: Skylines mod community was built on Steam Workshop, a popular and easy-to-use platform, and with the delay of the console release, the current player base is simply being inconvenienced.
“The maps that come with the game aren’t great — incredibly high difficulty level, unforgiving weather — and many basic features need refinement,” Philip said. “Mods offered that opportunity and they aren’t available just yet. Worst of all, early messaging made it seem like modding was around the corner, weeks after launch, [but it’s been delayed] to some undetermined time in Q2 of 2024.”
Collaboration with the community is what made the original game so successful, and the sequel could certainly benefit from crowdsourced improvements. For now, some players are using a third-party tool to make mods work in Cities: Skylines II.
“The tech is new, the simulation has been entirely rewritten and the game has all the potential to become the city-builder of this decade,” Hallikainen said. “What we failed in was to get the modding support available for the release, and we’re doing our best to catch up. We have been delighted to see the modding community has not waited for us, but are already creating amazing mods for the game.”
This is only the beginning for Cities: Skylines II. Colossal Order has plans to support and expand the game over the next 10 years. The original Cities: Skylines didn’t have all of the bells, whistles and mods when it first came out in 2015, and the sequel is starting in a similar position. Colossal Order sees Cities: Skylines II as a fresh foundation, but its core community expected a more complete experience.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from the content creators and modders has immensely helped us in heading in the right direction, and we love working in cooperation with different parties,” Hallikainen said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and we plan to keep going for the next decade.”
Cities: Skylines II has improved significantly in the months since launch, thanks to a slew of updates from Colossal Order. It’s on the right track. Colossal Order continues to publish updates on the game’s progress each week, but it’ll take time — and maybe an apology, a plan and free in-game perks — to rewrite the narrative around Cities: Skylines II.
“I think the most ‘toxic’ people right now are the game’s biggest fans,” Philip said. “And bluntly, they are just disappointed that the game doesn’t run well for them or that they can’t play it at all. They’re disappointed and lashing out, which isn’t right. But to me, that means that there is a path to repair the issues if the game is fully fixed and accountability is taken.”