The Sims, a life simulation game, is one of Electronic Arts’ most successful franchises. The company has sold more than 140 million copies of the game and its sequels and expansion packs and has generated around $3 billion in revenue from it.
The Sims has always been a casual game at heart. And soon, it’ll be on Facebook, one of the largest platforms for casual games.
The Sims was a smash hit with casual gamers because it was a very light game that was easy to get into and offered a lot of depth. It wasn’t a complicated game — you basically control a sim as it lived its life and tried to achieve lifetime goals — which let gamers accomplish whatever they wanted to do in the game. The games are known for having tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp writing.
The Sims Social is basically a lightweight version of The Sims built into a browser on Facebok. The team behind The Sims and casual games maker Playfish both worked on the game. Electronic Arts bought Playfish in 2009 when it vied with social games maker Zynga for the top social gaming spot. Zynga has since lurched ahead and claimed the top spot, with 253 million monthly active users compared to Electronic Arts’ 29 million monthly active users, according to AppData.
Since then, Zynga hasn’t faced a lot of competition from other social games makers. The next closest social gaming competitor is Wooga, which has around 32 million monthly active users. But it has never gone up against the likes of The Sims, which seems like a natural fit for Facebook.
Same game, new place
The Sims Social is a pretty good translation of its computer gaming roots onto Facebook. Right when you start the game, you have to build your sim like in the original computer game. That includes picking hair styles, clothes and figuring out what kind of personality you want your sim to have. I went with an athlete’s personality, but you can choose between rockers, business tycoons and other types of personality archetypes.
The game then drops you into a pre-made house and runs you through a quick tutorial of how to play the game. That involves completing initial quests that grant you skills — like writing and playing guitar — and gives you the game’s first bit of cash. It’s like a regular Sims game, where you have to make sure you keep your sim happy by making sure it eats and sleeps enough and stays clean. If you keep your sim happy, it becomes inspired and you get extra bonuses for completing quests.
The game is pretty zippy and loads all the objects individually instead of waiting to load the entire game all at once. The game runs in Flash in a web browser, and a mobile game should come out soon after the Facebook game comes out, Playfish vice president of publishing and product management C.J. Prober told VentureBeat. They will interact in some way, but Prober wouldn’t get specific.
Like other Facebook games, The Sims Social features asynchronous play — which means that two players don’t have to be online and playing The Sims Social at the same time to be able to interact. You can add a neighbor, similar to games like FarmVille, and then visit their home and start playing with their sims. Like other social games, you’re limited by the amount of “energy” you have, and most actions — like eating, cleaning up bushes or dancing — take up energy.
You get experience points as you complete actions, and when you get enough points you level up. That gives you additional energy and opens up more clothes and things you can buy with the game’s various currencies. The goal of the game is to reach a higher level so you can buy cooler clothes and furniture for your house and make it much larger. As you buy more stuff, your home value goes up and you can show off your new sweet kicks to your friends.
The other goal of the game is to attract a bunch of new neighbors. You do that by adding your friends on Facebook to the game, and then you can visit them whenever you want. The game starts you off with one neighbor — Bella Goth — and lets you add your friends as they start playing the game.
“She’s like Tom from MySpace, she’s everyone’s friend,” said Playfish online content manager Sam Houston. “She’ll always be there.”
Not if I have anything to say about it.
Next Page: The Sims Social loves troublemakers
The Sims has always tried to emphasize social interactions between sims in the game, and The Sims Social is no different. While the game is asynchronous, it still expects you to regularly interact with other sims. As you talk (or insult, or flirt) with other sims, your friendship (or enemy rating) grows. When you pass certain thresholds, you have to agree with another Facebook user whether you want to take your friendship — or enemy-ship — to the next level.
Yes, that’s right: enemy-ship. The Sims is known for shooting from the hip, and EA’s social game doesn’t pull any punches. You can walk into another sim’s house and start kicking over garbage cans, re-arranging keyboards and planting dead fish in beds. You can imply another sim’s mother is a llama or ruthlessly point out their flaws.
It’s a kind of zen experience that brings out your inner troublemaker without too much downside. I spent most of my time taunting and teasing Bella and wreaking havoc in her house. Karma paid me back eventually when I returned to my house to find one of the other members of the press I’d added as a friend had re-arranged the keys on my keyboard. It seemed like everyone was having much more fun trying to create chaos rather than find new friends.
The more of a jerk you are, the more options you unlock for being an even bigger jerk to another sim. But there’s one odd quirk — you have to agree to be jerks to each other before that enemy relationship gets even worse. The same is true for the other side of the relationship — you have to agree to be friends, good friends, and potentially even romantically involved. As your friendship progresses, you unlock more actions that, well, romantically involved persons usually engage in.
(Although it seems like this could easily get out of hand. Being “Facebook official” is a pretty big deal today — I can’t imagine how big of a deal being “Sims Social official” will be. A relationship within a relationship.)
There are four “currencies” in The Sims Social. The first is simoleons — which Sims users will recognize from the original computer games — that players earn by completing tasks. This is the main currency gamers use to purchase new things for their Sims, such as new clothes and furniture for their homes. Then there’s SimCash, which players can buy using real-world money. They can convert that SimCash to simoleons or buy special items that you can only buy with SimCash.
There’s a third currency, called social points, that you unlock by talking to other sims and interacting with them. You can use those points to buy social-specific items, like a hot tub. You can also buy social points with SimCash. The only currency in the game that isn’t available through SimCash is Lifetime Points, which you get for learning new skills and advancing your character. You can use those points to buy traits that make your sim need to sleep less or turn into a ninja.
SimCash can also be used to quickly advance through quests in the game — such as buying critical quest items and skipping certain parts of the game. You can buy additional energy with cash, too. Just about everything in the game — aside from a few premium household items and clothes — is available without SimCash, but that cash really speeds up the game.
“It’s a time versus money argument,” Houston said. “You can access all of this with enough time, or you can spend your SimCash to blitz through it.”
EA and Playfish have partnered with TrialPay to give players additional ways to get SimCash without having to pay for it. That includes signing up for special offers, such as a monthly trial for Netflix or a free membership with 24-hour fitness. But outside of that, EA sells the SimCash with a number of different transaction providers, including phone operators, credit cards and PayPal.
Next Page: Learning from past mistakes
Electronic Arts already tried to make an online version of The Sims when it released The Sims Online back in 2002. That game featured a monthly subscription model that gave players one sim and let them loose in a world with other sims. But it was pretty lukewarm and eventually failed — the game only picked up a score of 70 out of 100 across more than 20 reviews on review aggregator Metacritic.
I tried the game when it first came out, and it felt more like an older hardcore online game. “Greening up,” the act of making your sims happy by feeding them and sleeping, was more of a chore instead of feeling rewarding like in The Sims Social. It was more of a grind to accomplish anything and rewards were pretty scarce — unlike the style of play featured in The Sims Social.
“That game came out quite a while ago, and this is a completely new platform,” Prober said. “With what we now know about social games, we’re pretty confident we’ve made a very competitive game.”
Unlike The Sims Online, which was fun in the more painful grind-y way, The Sims Social was a blast to run through. I got bored after a half hour or so of playing the game, but I would definitely go back to it sometime in the future. And that’s what has made casual games so popular — because they are made to be played in bite-sized chunks like Zynga’s Farmville and Cityville.
Zynga has become a powerhouse for Facebook games — so much so that it filed to go public and is looking to raise around $1 billion at a valuation somewhere north of $10 billion. It has released hit after hit to Facebook and hasn’t really faced stiff competition from anyone else.
The Sims Social should probably change that. Unlike Farmville, The Sims Social has The Sims team behind it — who are some of the sharpest writers and designers in the industry. I had as much fun reading the hilarious captions and labels for actions and flavor text for quests as I did connecting with other Facebook players.
Electronic Arts has not-so-quietly established a fierce casual and social gaming team. The company bought Playfish back in 2009 and also bought casual games maker PopCap for $750 million. Both teams have made successful games, and once the deal closes, there’s a good chance that Playfish will be working with casual games maker PopCap. The deal for PopCap still hasn’t closed, so Playfish can’t confirm whether or not it is working on something new, Prober said.
“They are the Pixar of casual games,” he said. “On the day the deal closes, it’s a pretty good likelihood that we’ll work with them — we’d love to work with them.”
Prober didn’t say when the game would come out, but said it would be out “very, very soon” and well before the end of the year.