I’ve been doing a bit of research on SimHealth recently. Mainly because I can’t find much info on it at all! Wikipedia cites nothing, Mobygames is the same, the rest is plain old-fashioned hearsay. The main reason for this is because of my “Silver Box” edition of SimHealth, shown above. Here is what I’ve found out:
According to people I’ve been in touch with online – so take this with a grain of salt – some kind of “retail” version was released in 1994 through Maxis exclusively for MS-DOS PCs (developed with help from the non-profit Markle Foundation of New York). It was released under the moniker “Maxis Business Simulations”. Might this be the same subset of Maxis that created other simulation games like SimRefinery (which never saw release)?
Whatever the case, Maxis published the game around the same time as the US health care reform stuff that was going on in the Summer of 1994. I know of one person who says the game was sold at a local Babbage’s. I’ve read of others seeing it at college campus bookstores and such. So it doesn’t seem like you’d find it just anywhere, like SimAnt or SimCity which I recall was even found in freaking magazine shops and toy stores. This is the “blue logo” box, seen on the left in my above photo. This is also the version that is always shown in every Maxis Software Toys catalog I own, where you can order the game directly from Maxis.
Then there’s the question of the “Silver box” I found on eBay a year or two ago. It is still sealed so I haven’t checked its contents, but I did notice recently that it has a copyright of 1993 on the box, whereas the “main” release has 1994. Bizarre! I then started checking the seedier places of the interwebz to see if I could find any alternate versions of the game for download so I wouldn’t have to open my boxed copy. Sure enough, I found a version of the game labeled “preview version”. It had slightly differing graphics, incomplete features and missing tutorials. Hmm…
Google Books to the rescue? It’s answered many an odd question before so I gave “Sim Health” a search and sure enough, I found some intriguing information. According to this article from a November 1993 issue of InfoWorld magazine, congressional staff members involved in health care were sent an early edition of the game in order to give it a once-over and then provide feedback to the developers on the game before it the final version was released. It also mentions that it was available for $29.95 by ordering over the phone, directly from The Markle Foundation.
There is also this snippet from the 2000 book “Big Bird and Beyond”, stating that SimHealth was “launched” at a Capitol Hill press conference in November of 1993, the same time as the previous InfoWorld article. Makes sense. Also, Cathy Clark from Markle stated that it sold “a few thousand copies” and “it was not entertaining enough to be on the game shelf”. Interesting indeed! So this basically backs up all the information I’ve seen saying this never actually saw a store shelf officially. It is certainly possible certain individual retailers ordered batches of the game for their stores, but I still have seen nothing that states it saw a wide release and in fact have seen only information regarding its scarcity and very low sales.
So what does it mean? Well, I was wondering what possible reason there would be for a preview version of the game to have such fancy packaging. Having it sent to members of congress would certainly be a good reason for a nice flashy box! It would also explain the “preview version” that I’ve seen for download. Perhaps that’s the silver box that I have in my possession. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll never know… but daggone do I love this stuff!
UPDATE! I was able to get in touch with the guy who sold me the silver boxed SimHealth! He said he actually found it at a recycling center in Massachusetts, but didn’t know anything for sure about its origins. His best guess was that it had been a specially-made version for some kind of conference. Hmm, perhaps a press conference on Capitol Hill? 😀 Who knows! I do know that Massachusetts is known for its hand in various health care reform, so it actually makes a good bit of sense. Either way, this seems to be a pre-release version of the game.