Play the Long-Lost 'SimRefinery' Game Maxis Made for Chevron

The company behind ‘The Sims’ spent a few years making simulations for businesses.
June 5, 2020, 5:12pm
The splash screen for SimRefinery, which shows a bright refinery in crude pixel art, with blue water reflecting the floodlight in the foreground.

For two years in the mid 1990s, SimCity developer Maxis had a side-hustle making simulations for corporations. The first was SimRefinery, a simulation of running an oil refinery commissioned by Chevron. What one was lost has now been found. After reporting from Phil Salvador at The Obscuritory—a website that catalogs and discusses obscure and unknown video games—uncovered the existence of the games, someone with a copy of SimRefinery uploaded it to the Internet Archive. Now anyone can play one of the strangest Sim games Maxis ever made.

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Salvador’s article about Maxis’ trip into designing boutique simulations for business clients is a fascinating look at an obscure part of video game history. “From 1992 to 1994, a division called Maxis Business Simulations was responsible for making serious professional simulations that looked and played like Maxis games,” he wrote. “After Maxis cut the division loose, the company continued to operate independently, taking the simulation game genre in their own direction. Their games found their way into corporate training rooms and even went as far as the White House.”

SimRefinery wasn’t meant as a training tool, but a sandbox that would give chemical engineers a holistic view of refineries. SimCity changed the way players thought about cities, and Chevron wanted the same thing for its refineries. It paid Maxis $75,000 for the software. A chemical engineer with a copy of the game noticed it mentioned in an Ars Technica and uploaded it to the internet archive.

Maxis only produced two games— SimHealth and SimRefinery—before it shut down its Business Simulation division. The remnants of the division reformed as the company Thinking Tools and kept designing games for business clients. After some ambitious projects, including a transportation network simulator for Texas Instruments and a project management simulator called Project Challenge, Thinking Tools closed its doors.

The company collapsed after that, but its legacy lived on. Producer Mike Daily went on to design simulations for the Navy and the intelligence community. Most of these games are lost, but SimRefinery has been found.