Experienced Points: SimCity vs. Cities: Skylines – Who Wins?

By Shamus
on Mar 24, 2015
Filed under:

The more I think about Cities: Skylines, the more delighted I am at how it turned out. But I didn’t want to spend an entire article just gushing about the game. So instead I did a compare & contrast between Cities: Skylines and SimCity 2013. Spoiler: This comparison is not remotely fair and I don’t even feel bad.

And yes, this leads into more EA bashing. (I’m sure you saw that coming.) I’m not as angry as I might sound in the article. I’m actually just sad. The people at Maxis gave us four wonderful Simcity games before 2013, and they absolutely could have given us a fifth.

There’s a usual defense for when an EA game turns out poorly. “This is what the developer wanted to do! You can’t blame EA!” While none of us can really know what was said or done internally, I do find it implausible that so many innovative and creative peoplePeople who have invented entire genres of games!, once they are free of the immediate money pressure of being independent, suddenly decide that their heart’s desire is to make their beloved franchises into forced-online DLC vending machines. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying it doesn’t sound like the most likely of explanations.

I am reminded of the TUN video on BioWare:

Link (YouTube)

Just so you don’t have to watch the whole thing: I’m talking about the part of the video where he points out how company values inevitably permeate downward through the layers of the company. If you’re looking to advance your career (and who isn’t?) then you’re going to do things that you believe will please your boss, and your boss will ask for things that will please their boss, and so on. This is why I’m always trying to push the blame uphill.

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[1] People who have invented entire genres of games!

20201656 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

From the Archives:

  1. Shinan says:

    I guess it was your tweet that finally pushed me over the edge to buy Cities: Skylines. I was going to buy it eventually. But it just got love from everywhere.

    Rarely do I buy games when they’re not discounted. And it turns out that most of the time Paradox is the publisher of the game when I buy them not discounted. They must be doing something right :)

    • Sagretti says:

      Due to my ridiculous backlog of games/decent free to play options, I’ve cut back significantly on my games budget. Still, all of this amazing talk about Cities: Skyline has me selling everything I can on Steam to get enough store credit to cover the cost. Almost half way there, and even contemplating selling my TF2 headphones.

      Or I could wait until my next payday or tax return, but I want it nowwww. I didn’t realize how much I missed having a decent city builder.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Price is definitely one of the things.60$ is just too much for a digital copy,and I cant believe that the move from physical media(storage,shipping,deals with various stores,printing actual disks and packaging,etc)to digital media(servers and thats it)actually increased the price.Thats just stupid and greedy.

      • Majromax says:

        > 60$ is just too much for a digital copy,and I cant believe that the move from physical media(storage,shipping,deals with various stores,printing actual disks and packaging,etc)to digital media(servers and thats it)actually increased the price.Thats just stupid and greedy.

        If anything, computer game prices have been tame. I remember the “new release” price of $50 (bad colour scheme, but look at SMB3) in the early 90s, also known as about twenty-five years ago. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $90 today.

        And today, that new-release price fixation is under attack. The AAA-publishers still stack new releases at $60-ish, but smaller firms can and do go cheaper; witness $30 for Cities or $50 for Pillars of Eternity.

        Thanks to Steam, games are also going on sale while still available. Back in Ye Olden Days, you were lucky to find them in the bargain bin before they were remaindered to the publisher. Now, we have an expectation that any game will get a 30-50% discount after six months or so.

        • Da Mage says:

          Skylines is actually $30 US in Australia aswell, showing they didn’t stoop to the low practice of price gouging like most publishers. Most new release games are have a $20-30 markup on US prices on steam (normally around $80 US).

          However our dollar recently plummeted, so a game at $80 US on steam is really $100 AUS. Most stores will sell at at the $80 AUS price, or even lower, which makes no sense that the physical shipped versions are cheaper then the digital ones.

          In the past I’ve had boxed copies delivered to my house for a price less then what steam offered, and this was when our dollar was near parity with the US. The gap is even bigger now.

          EDIT: Now that I think about it, it makes sense why Australia is becoming know for piracy nowadays…..overcharge and place artificial delays on things and people respond.

      • Thomas says:

        The physical cost of manufacturing the DVD is really small compared to the cost of employing a huge team of skilled professionals to spend 3+ years creating a game.

        And as Arstechnica has pointed out $60 is the cheapest games have ever been

        • Purple Library Guy says:

          Manufacturing, yes. Manufacturing, packaging, distributing, paying brick-and-mortar store rent . . . if I believed in efficient competition on price it would amaze me that game prices haven’t been lowered more by digital distribution. Although it’s certainly true that there never used to be anything like the Steam sale.

  2. Dev Null says:

    If you’re looking to advance your career (and who isn’t?)

    Well me, for one. To go up from here I’d have to stop being a programmer and start being low-level management; bleh.

    • nm says:

      This is why I like working at a company where the founder was an engineer and the current CEO started as an engineer. You can (and some do) spend 30 years working here and stay technical the whole time. I don’t understand why so many companies seem to think that good engineers should get “promoted” to management if they want to make more money. Some engineers make good managers of people. Others really are best left to solve technical problems.

      • Matthew I says:

        If you work in a technical industry, then if you promote technical people to management all your managers will be idiots who know nothing about management.
        If you hire actual managers from the outside, all your manager will be idiots who know nothing about the product they’re developing. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that someone needs to decide what products actually get made. If the idiots-who-don’t-know-management make these decisions, the company will go bankrupt because idiots who don’t know finance are making finance decisions. If the idiots-who-don’t-know-the-product make these decisions, the company will go bankrupt because idiots who don’t know the technology are making technology decisions.

        Morton’s fork has a sharp and pointy tip, no?

        • MrGuy says:

          If you work in a technical industry, then if you promote technical people to management all your managers will be idiots who know nothing about management.
          If you hire actual managers from the outside, all your manager will be idiots who know nothing about the product they’re developing.

          This is a false dichotomy. Yes, a company that picks a single unwavering strategy in hiring its manager, and that hires its managers for one skill only at the expense of all other skills would indeed be in trouble,

          But fortunately, there are other ways to do business, and there are more people in the world with “one and only one” skillset.

          In my company, a significant amount of management came up from technical fields. But this isn’t a blind career progression where it’s the only way to advance – some of our people want to remain awesome devs, and they’re our tech leads/experts. Some want to get more into management, and we let them. Because they have a dev background and not a business management background, we have SOME people we hire in with more business skills that we have mentor them in the more business-y areas. If they start to get it, great. If not, we assess whether this is the right path for them. Similarly, our more business-y folks (many of whom are outside hires) are expected to learn about our products and services, so they can actually talk to them effectively. Any time we’re hiring (internal or external), we’re looking for a balanced skillset – the notion of “a good manager can manage anything – they don’t need to really understand it!” doesn’t fly with us. Nor does the notion that “the most experienced developers should stop developing and manage other people.”

          Building a company is building a culture, and if the culture you’re building has room for (or, worse, expects) mindless drones who are allowed to not be curious and informed about every aspect of the company, you did a bad job designing that company. And, as you say, you’ll fail in one of these ways.

          • nm says:

            Do you work where I work?

            There’s another aspect here: training. Some people who start their careers on the technical side but have people skills will end up in management. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily inept managers; they can learn things the same way good managers do. In fact, it could be argued that people who have shown that they can learn to be good engineers are more likely to be able to learn to be good at other things.

            Anyway, I’m just here to second MrGuy’s anti-cynicism. The world doesn’t have to be terrible.

        • Ivan says:

          Hire one of each and get them to work together?

          • Zukhramm says:

            get them to work together?


            • Trix2000 says:

              You laugh, but working well with other disciplines is a valuable skill for people to have. It’s one thing to be a great engineer and know all the technical stuff, but it’s even better if you have the capacity to communicate that stuff in a way that people outside the technical sphere can understand and relate to.

              And I think part of that means learning more about the non-technical aspects of a business as well, or at least learning some of their language too so you can better understand their… understanding of things.

              It’s all about learning to collaborate with other people well, which CAN be very very difficult depending on people’s perspectives. But it doesn’t have to be.

      • Tom says:

        The fundamental problem is the seldom-challenged axiom that pay should scale with one’s position within the hierarchy (and the even less challenged “monarchist” axiom that business and management experts should naturally be at the top of the hierarchy, advised in technical matters by people who are hired by and subservient to them, and who do the actual productive work. Is there any reason why this couldn’t be inverted; technical workers in charge, advised in business and management by experts who work for them? Has this ever been tried?); that managers should always be paid more than the managed. There are various possible solutions. One is to have managers’ pay be the average of what the people they manage earn – this has the added effect of directly coupling their reward to how well they can get their employees to earn, but without creating the usual incentive to make their employees work harder without compensation. Another is simple anarchy; do away with hierarchy. Allegedly this approach is a major component of Valve’s success. It’s also probably a big reason why no half life 3 yet, though – no bosses to force it through.

        • Rosseloh says:

          Is there any reason why this couldn’t be inverted;

          It’s not an inversion, but according to my conversation with the business owner when he bumped me to exempt salary, I’m the highest paid person in the company apart from my immediate superior. Said superior is very similar to me in skills and experience, but is one of the founders of the company so he (quite fairly IMO) gets a few extra bucks. Neither of us are “managers”, in anything except title (and I’m not even that). I actually make more than the guy whose title is “Assistant Manager”.

          Of course, we’re small. When you only have 5 people in a store this situation is a lot easier to make work.

          So, it’s not impossible. I’m sure it happens more often than you’d think, actually. You just never hear about it because (wild guess) the people working for these sorts of companies are usually happy with their jobs.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You can still advance your career without being promoted to another position.Seminars to further your education,or getting higher pay,or better funded projects,or even further education into doctorates and such,or research papers,….Advancing your career isnt synonymous with being promoted.

    • Eldiran says:

      The flip side is that if someone isn’t looking to advance their career, then the contrasting values of their superior is likely to make them leave (which also ends up changing the company’s values).

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Let’s just forestall this discussion until everybody’s at least read the seminal work on the subject, that’s nearly as old as I am.

      The Peter Principle (no relation)

  3. Thomas says:

    I’ve been something of an EA defender for a long time, but the situation with Maxis and Cities: Skylines pushed me over. The thing is, I always would argue before that EA at least got results and so they were probably reaching people, even if it’s not the people who write articles on the internet.

    But the way they take developers, watch the quality of their games slowly fall off and then close the doors on the developers and blame them when it goes wrong… There has to be people evaluating their own success and creating consequences for their own failure. And EA has none of that, they’ve got a clear consistent pattern of failure which they sweep under the carpet.

    EA is essentially proof that having lots of money (and being lucky), is more important than being talented. The system is rigged so they get to keep on winning and hiding their losses because they can just buy out new studios when they’ve wasted their old ones. It doesn’t matter that they’re producing nothing of worth because there’s not enough genuinely talented (and rich) publishers out there to stop people pouring their money back into EA so EA doesn’t have to step up again.

    And Cities:Skylines success was the icing on the cake, absolute proof that people would have played the game that the people in Maxis would have made if EA hadn’t gotten in the way.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I always would argue before that EA at least got results and so they were probably reaching people

      This argument never holds water,because its proportional to your size.And if your ultimate income is less than you would get by simply keeping money in the bank,you are doing bad business.Even if you are a huge company who still gains millions of dollars.

      • Thomas says:

        That wasn’t the argument I was making before. It was more “these games are being bought by millions of people so they’re probably satisfying a target audience somewhere”

        Like when Spoiler Warning complains of ME3 being basically more jocky. They’re creating entertainment that satisfied millions of jocky people right? That’s awesome

        But eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that all of you guys were on a long time ago, that’s it’s just inertia from their purchasing of good talent through their big money bank.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Same principle applies.Population is constantly growing,so your market has to grow as well(though not as rapidly).If your number of customers is constant,or in a slow decline,you are doing something bad,most likely in the marketing department.

          • Thomas says:

            Good point, I’d never thought of it like that before

          • Purple Library Guy says:

            That seems like a necessary truth, but for any entertainment-type good it has an assumption buried in it: At least a steady state of typical levels of disposable income. That assumption may not currently be correct.
            But it doesn’t seem as if the computer-game market as a whole is shrinking, so yeah . . . doing something bad.

    • Tom says:

      Fundamental tenet of modern capitalism (and feudalism, actually), I’m afraid – if you simply OWN something productive, you’re entitled to the wealth it produces regardless of whether you are unproductive or even counter-productive yourself – which you can then use to buy up even more productive capital. Also you’re allowed to legally use the name of the productive thing you bought as if it were your own, even if you kept nothing BUT the name and threw the rest out (Classic example: Infogrames “becoming” Atari – I’d be surprised if so much as a single employee from old Atari works for this new “Atari,” so they are not, in any functional sense, the thing they are now named for – but I gather the stock rose nonetheless, despite the quality of their output changing not a jot.)

  4. Thomas says:

    Incidentally, in the interview you linked to, they were talking about their DLC plan with Paradox and said:

    This is what we’re planning, there’s always like this bigger expansion that will bring a lot to the game, then the free updates as well probably [smaller] DLC. But it will be so that it comes with a full package that has all of this, the paid and the free update for the player.

    Which is interesting, because Paradox had asked Angry Joe to give them an interview where he asked all the hard questions and really tried to put the boot into them. It’s obviously part of a big awareness push they’re on at the moment about their publishing philosophy.

    In the interview they were talking about how they constantly add free content to Crusader Kings II but they get a reputation for being DLC happy. Whereas a publisher like CD Projekt, has the same free content but instead of just giving it to you in an update they package it as ‘free DLC’, and they get a lot more love for that.

    So Paradox have decided they’re going to do something similar and emphasise all their free content a lot more. It sounds from the Skylines interview that that’s already coming over. When they’re stressing the free content coming with the expansion packs you can hear the echo of the philosophy Paradox have been impressing on them.

    (Btw I think this is great. Paradox already do all the good things, if they learn to package their good things and promote them with the same skill that EA use to promote and mitigate all EA’s cruddy things, then maybe we can see Paradox actually taking EA down one down in the distant future)

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is why I’m always trying to push the blame uphill.

    In theory,this is how responsibility should go.The top gets the most praise,but most blame as well.Sadly,in reality,the top harvests the praise,while the bottom gets to enjoy the blame.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Not that I dont enjoy some old fashioned ea bashing as the next guy,but Id really enjoy more if you were to cmopare skylines with the last good sim city instead.Sort of an evolution into an actual sequel rather than the atrocity that online thing was.

  7. Tizzy says:

    One thing to mention: spectacular debacles like Sim City pretty much open the road to small competitors, who would never even dream to take on EA normally. Is this what happened here?

    • Majromax says:

      > One thing to mention: spectacular debacles like Sim City pretty much open the road to small competitors, who would never even dream to take on EA normally. Is this what happened here?


      Cities: Skylines was greenlit after EA’s offering did rather poorly. Had it lived up to the SimCity reputation, there probably wouldn’t have been the market room to put out another citybuilder.

      • Thomas says:

        I also think SimCity was a lot of free advertising for Skylines. People never want something more than when it’s offered to them and taken away before they can get it. (if you’ve ever missed a great steam sale for a game and then watched that game like a hawk for another sale, you know the feeling)

        EA created a lot of pent-up desire for a good city builder by teasing a Sim City sequel in front of everyone and then switching it out for SimCity.

  8. Da Mage says:

    To be fair, the guys at paradox should be good at traffic sim as they have made previous traffic sim games before.

  9. Zombie says:

    As to your point about pushing blame uphill, I like to think about it in football terms:

    The coach can call a really shitty play (In this case just about everything for SimCities, but whatever), but the players still have the ability to execute it correctly for a huge gain. When they don’t they don’t really get blamed all that much, the coach does. But they deserve just as much blame as the coach because they didn’t do the play correctly.

    Basically, Maxis COULD have done a good job with all the shit they were given, but they didn’t, and they deserve just as much blame as EA.

    • Thomas says:

      If it were a one off sure. When a team has a bad season it’s reasonable to blame the players and the manager. But the players keep getting replaced by players who’ve consistently proved themselves at other clubs, and the team still keeps sucking?

      That’s all the responsibility of the manager. EA has taken many many world class studios and ‘had’ to close them because the studio started sucking. That’s not the problem of the studio, it’s the problem of EA and they’re using the studios as a shield. Bioware are basically the only studio to be able to resist EA’s shennanigans and even then it’s touch and go.

      EDIT: Check out Jim Sterlings video on the subject

      If you don’t agree now, can we agree that if Visceral does indeed end up being the next studio to get canned it’s time to start keeping the blame firmly in EA’s court?

    • guy says:

      The way I view it, ultimately it’s also the coach’s fault if he drafted players who weren’t good enough. The person in charge gives the orders and selects their subordinates. If they consistently underperform, it is the fault of the person who selected them. It is also their fault for giving orders that the subordinates they have can’t carry out.

    • Purple Library Guy says:

      Actually, no. If the coach calls a terrible play, then even really good execution is likely to result in failure. If you use tactics that play into the hands of your opponent’s tactics it doesn’t matter much if you use them well.
      I’m not so much a sports guy, but let’s take a warfare metaphor. If your enemy is dug in behind trenches and breastworks with machine gun nests spotted all along and artillery backup, and the officer calls for a frontal charge across open ground by your mass of troops on foot with rifles, you can execute that charge with panache, crisp formation, and olympic-level running, and you will still mostly die. They proved that pretty exhaustively in WW I.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      …so you’re saying the Cubs are the EA of baseball? That sounds about right :)

      Yes I live outside Chicago and the Cubbies are my team.

      I’ve managed to live at a time where I’ve seen:

      the Bears win the Super Bowl “Big Game”
      the Bulls repeat the threepeat
      the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup
      the frick’n White Sox win the World Series
      the Wolves win… whatever their thingy was called
      heck the Fire won the double in 1998 and I think the Sting we’re alright?

      and 2015 or not I firmly believe I’m going to have to pull a Walt Disney before I can add the Cubs to that list.

      Sorry, I had to vent there for a second. What were we talking about again?

    • Vorpal Smilodon says:

      The job of management is to know the strengths of the team and focus them towards work that lets their strengths shine. If Maxis has no talent for multiplayer systems and EA tells them to make one, it seems fair to pin the blame for bad multiplayer on EA.

  10. drlemaster says:

    On the surface, it would seem that the big, triple-A game companies have become so stupidly obsessed with including money-making features like DLC, microtransactions, and forced teamwork that they have forgotten to bother to make the games any good, but I actually fear something far more insidious. I fear that the the big game companies have done the math, and (rightly or wrongly) have decided that they will make more money if they produce mostly failures, but do get a few successes larded up with money-making features. Compared to releasing mostly successes without said features. I hope I am wrong, because I’d really rather not see the industry get to a point where most games are Sim-City-like failures, especially if it turns out the triple-As were wrong in there calculations and all go out of business. Or one of them manages to produce a game worse than Atari 2600 ET that kills the entire industry.

    • Xeorm says:

      Nah, I’d think it’s still similar to earlier points, where bad ideas get spread around in order to please the guy above, rather than doing the right idea. EA is very clearly not a company that’s been good at making money in the last few years, and the decline has only been increasing. Blame it on shortsightedness or just plain bad decision making, but the trend is there.

      Overall, the gaming community has tended to award good games with good sales, and increased awareness has only enhanced this effect. Compare these two games. Skylines has made a good chunk of money, cost far less than SimCity, and will almost guaranteed sell more when they sell DLC and further games. SimCity in comparison destroyed Maxis.

      There’s only so much ability people have to vote with their wallets though. It’s sad, but EA just isn’t listening, and so it seems will continue to produce shoddy crap that no one’s much interested in.

    • Sam P says:

      For quite some time [1], like many entertainment industries [2], video games have been driven by blockbusters. The largest publishers have been focused on trying to create consistent hits, but most games are duds in the market. Hence sequels to popular games, but that is still no guarantee. It does seem that in recent years, indie/smaller publishers have been doing better making a living on good solid games that do well even if they aren’t blockbusters (and sometimes they do get a hit, e.g. Angry Birds, Minecraft).

      [1] People have been talking about the blockbusterization of the video game industry since at least the mid 1990s. Origin Systems (An Electronic Arts Company) spent an incredible (for the time) $5 million dollars to create Wing Commander III back in 1994.

      [2] Books, movies, music…

  11. “The people at Maxis gave us four wonderful Simcity games before 2013”

    I wonder how many of the old devs from then was involved with the new one.
    And was the management the same then and with the new one?

    I can’t believe that the same devs and the same management that made the other Sim City games got this bad all of a sudden.

    If all the good devs/manager left then hat might explain a sudden decline.

    • Thomas says:

      Apparently there were 10-13 devs who’d worked on Sim City 4. It wasn’t a sudden decline either, the Maxis studio that got shut down was the one that made Spore and Spore wasn’t mindblowing.

      On top of that, EA moved most of the talent from the Maxis studio that got shut down, to a different Maxis studio a long time ago. They essentially picked half of the talented devs, moved them to a new office and told them that office was dedicated to The Sims. That happened around the time that Sims 2 was being developed

      • Robyrt says:

        To be fair, this is exactly what I’d do if I were in EA management. They bought a bunch of talented developers, had half stay to finish their existing projects, and moved the other half to the company’s hottest franchise (The Sims). This way, your Maxis old hands can train the new guys, and you end up with 2 quality studios instead of one.

        Of course, no amount of clever HR can make up for corporate demands that your game be as close to an F2P MMO as possible.

        • Thomas says:

          I think it’s the thing that gets EA off the hook the most, that a large portion of the Maxis development team is still working for EA and has been working for EA producing good games for a decade. This studio was very clearly the Maxis ‘B’ team (they weren’t even working on a full project for years).

          So it’s not like EA took the best and brightest and ruined them, EA took the best and brightest, gave them a new name and then eventually shut down the old name with people acting like it’s still the same thing.

          It’s not even like Maxis were spinning out hits until EA bought them. EA bought them because Maxis was bankrupt because Maxis had churned out 3 or 4 rubbish games that no-one cared about. Did you know Crucible, The Crystal Skull or SimCopter were real games?

          BUT! Sims 4 sucked. So the pattern of studios EA buying slowly dying off is still continuing, it’s just the Sims is too massive to really die.

  12. Thomas says:

    You might be interested in this article

    It’s a Maxis developer who was arguing that EA’s work conditions are actually good nowadays. He said he was part of the EA Spouse’s affair but EA changed it around and actually try to maintain staff nowadays.

    “EA has a really good benefits package, competitive pay, and a strong sense of progressive public responsibility.”

    That’s good to hear, although I still feel like it was EAs management process that killed off this studio.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Some time after that, when marketing thinks it is right, they will announce the game to the public. From that point on nothing changes from the public facing. Once locked into ‘online-only’ there was no way of changing it.

      And yet people keep saying how microsoft is just as bad as ea.At least m$ managed to remove kinect despite being practically all in about it for quite a while.

  13. Vorpal Smilodon says:

    So, why exactly is it bad for to compare games in a review? It would seem like such comparisons could be very useful to readers…

  14. Squirly says:

    I like the occasional fish-in-a-barrel approach. Feels nice. Cathartic even.

    Thing is, over the years, the amount of “could have been”s under EA has just piled and piled up. SimCity could have been great. Visceral could have worked on a new Dead Space (or new IP?!) instead of Battlefield Hardline. Dungeon Keeper could have been an honest-to-god sequel. That’s just the last year or 2. If we start going further back it’s a frigging graveyard.

    Does it feel to anyone that anything has changed at EA since they knighted a new CEO? Does Riciti..Rictitel… does that guy leaving have any noticeable effect?

  15. General Karthos says:

    “A monkey could make money if given access to EA’s assets.”

    That’s not a bad idea, actually. I mean, it’s not like they could get any WORSE. At least then there’ll be a reason (excuse) behind random, stupid decisions punishing legitimate customers because there are some people who pirate games.

  16. SlothfulCobra says:

    What I want to know is how Skylines compares to Sim City 4. They sound mostly the same right now.

  17. Kalil says:

    I’m waiting for someone to take aim at the Sims franchise/market. The Sims 4 has hardly been a runaway hit, from what I’ve heard. The Sims 3 still has an avid following. As far as I know, there are no competitors outside the NSFW and extremely antiquated Singles and maybe the Guild 2 games.

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