Kobayashi City Department of SimCity BuildIt
- Client :
- Electronic Arts K.K.
Like many communities across Japan, the provincial city of Kobayashi faces numerous issues relating to depopulation and brain drain. Game developer Electronic Arts teamed up with the local government for a groundbreaking educational initiative leveraging its gaming app SimCity BuildIt to develop interest and engagement in community development. The app was incorporated into local high school classes, while students became members of a dedicated official department, charged with creating an ideal future version of their city within the game. The project boosted cross-generational community spirit and earned widespread media attention, with other towns also hoping to replicate its success.
Problem or Opportunity
This project was implemented by Dentsu Inc. and Dentsu Public Relations on behalf of game Developer Electronic Arts, and Kobayashi City, Miyazaki Prefecture, western Japan. Like many communities across Japan, the provincial city of Kobayashi faces numerous issues relating to depopulation and brain drain. And with many young people choosing to move away for work and other opportunities, the local population of adults aged 20-39 is expected to fall by around half by 2040, earning the unwanted label of a “city at risk of disappearing.” In order to develop interest and engagement in community development among the younger generation, an entirely new form of urban development was needed.
In response, the city launched a groundbreaking educational initiative based around Electronic Arts’ popular gaming app SimCity BuildIt, in which local high-school students worked alongside city officials to create an ideal future version of their city within the game.
With its population of men and women aged 20–39 projected to fall by 30% and 50% respectively by 2040, Kobayashi City is one of almost 900 communities across Japan identified by a government subcommittee as cities at risk of disappearing. A significant factor in this ongoing decline among young adult populations in provincial cities has been a tendency to move away in search of employment and other opportunities, and the resulting brain drain is also being felt in city halls, which, as older officials bow out, are struggling to replenish the teams required to oversee future community planning and development. Prompted by separate government research indicating that 70% of Japanese high school students use smartphone-based gaming apps, global Game Developer Electronic arts devised a groundbreaking CSR campaign that would leverage its popular gaming app SimCity BuildIt for a unique educational initiative that aimed to develop interest and engagement in community development among the younger generation, starting with special workshops for Kobayashi City public high school students.
As part of its CSR activities, Electronic Arts’ goal was to honor its corporate motto “Inspire the World to Play” while benefiting Kobayashi City by making a real contribution to the interest and engagement of younger generations in the community development process. While the longer-term benefits in terms of stemming ongoing demographic trends of depopulation and brain drain would take several years to become apparent, the aim was to leverage special workshops incorporating the gaming app SimCity BuildIt both to inspire renewed affection for their local area among the town’s young people, while also potentially devising practical solutions to present-day urban planning conundrums. Meanwhile, to both promote the concepts behind the campaign and maximize its benefits in terms of publicity for SimCity BuildIt, an online video aimed at young people was prepared, and its release scheduled for November 14, also known as o “yoi toshi no hi” (good town day), a special day celebrating cities nationwide.
Electronic Arts teamed up with the local authorities for a unique initiative using its popular gaming app SimCity BuildIt. Having secured the Mayor’s approval for the project, a new “virtual” city department, the Kobayashi City Department of SimCityBuildIt, was established, uniting 30 students from the local Kobayashi Shuho High School with around 20 Kobayashi City officials who were seconded to the department for the duration of the project. From September to December 2018, the students themselves led 12 workshops incorporating an in-game replica of Kobayashi’s actual layout as a canvas to envisage an ideal future version of their community.
In order to promote the sense of belonging and commitment to the project, polo shirts, pin badges, business cards and other items featuring the Department of SimCity BuildIt logo and color scheme were developed for use by participating students and officials.
Meanwhile, an online video was created to promote awareness of the project among younger users, and to maximize exposure it was released alongside a press release on November 14 (“yoi toshi no hi” – a special day celebrating cities nationwide).
At the end of the project students presented their proposals at a special city meeting attended by an interested audience including the mayor, officials, and local residents. Several ideas devised during the scheme received official approval from the city, with a crowdfunding scheme launched in spring 2019 to fund their implementation.
Prominent Japanese media including the major national daily Asahi Shimbun noted how impressed they were by the initiative. Besides gaining significant media exposure and large numbers of impressions, the campaign’s positive outcomes led local authorities in other prefectures to consider starting similar initiatives themselves.
Satisfaction among participants was overwhelmingly positive, with the use of a gaming app rather than traditional paper-based planning documents making community development seem much more relevant to students’ day-to-day lives. The mayor of Kobayashi was also impressed by the caliber of the proposals put before the city officials, commenting, “This was a really great presentation. Thank you for giving us a range of opinions. You came up with concrete proposals for the kind of Kobayashi you would like to see, and I would like to work towards their realization.”
Meanwhile, with downloads of the SimCity BuildIt app increasing to 375% of pre-campaign levels, Electronic Arts can be said to have successfully implemented its stated mission, Inspire the World to Play, for the cause of regional revitalization in Japan.