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With EA’s The Sims Social, has Zynga met its match? (hands on)

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

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