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Apr 30, 2008



One thing we can learn from the shuttering of EA-Land is the advisability of renaming your MMOG just before you close it. Good way to protect your IP.

Clever move that.


1) See Lisa's recent post. I think she has some ideas as to why solo play is kind of right for The Sims and perhaps kind of wrong for TSO.

2) Personally, I couldn't stand skilling. EA-Land's interest in promoting UGC was the right direction, I think, but when EA released TSO they killed that whole aspect that was originally planned. *Big* mistake.

3) Both of these point to something true about brands. Disney and Harley-Davidson are both great brands for rather different markets. The Sims is a great brands. It would have made a killer UGC world. Instead they offered one of the most boring leveling grinds ever without any flashy gear, red pixels, or PvP.

Contrast Warcraft RTS --> WoW. That brand leverage carried through neatly from great solo play to great group play. Not that it's so original to do this, but I blame EA for a deep misunderstanding of the way MMOGs work and why players enjoy them.


TSO was just plain and simple a bad game. It wasn't even a virtual world or massively multiplayer. Just game matching and 20 people on your parcel.


> "20 people on your parcel"

That's true too. The space was striated, where you would have expected it to be smooth. What does it mean to have a "home" from which none of your neighbor's yards are visible? What is a community that has no streets or common spaces?


Now that’s an interesting observation about geography, Greglas.

Disclaimer: I have to be honest and admit that I’ve never played any of the Sims products (including TSO or its now-aborted child). I will say that I had serious doubts about the viability of TSO even before it was released, and didn’t earn any points by making my opinions known to folks at EA at the time).

One of the things I’ve noticed/appreciated about WoW is the design team’s apparent understanding of visual geography from day one – it doesn’t matter where you are in WoW, almost any experienced player can recognize the general locale from a single screen shot. And, while a screen-shot might not provide enough data to pinpoint a location, you can be certain that if you found yourself in the precise location at which the shot was taken that you’d be able (with a quick 360-degree looksee) to determine exactly where you are.

Geography within an MMO is, IMHO absolutely vital. Architects (particularly city planners) understand that being able to identify your current location based on landmarks is essential to feeling comfortable/safe in an otherwise ambiguous environment (Paris is an exemplary example of this, featuring mini and major landmarks that are visible from almost any point in the city).

As to the other failings of TSO/EA-Land…

It might not be apparent to the casual observer, but EA pulled the ripcord on this project a long time ago – the end was inevitable. Consider that a multi-billion dollar company assigned a mere handful of developers to manage/maintain a “high profile” MMOG.

My impression - the intent was clearly to simultaneously distance the Sims brand from TSO and provide an exit strategy for unwanted staff (a management tactic we see at a lot of developers – shifting “underperforming” employees to a DOA project in order to justify an eventual layoff that abrogates their responsibility to provide a severance package – being laid off is not the same as being fired).

By all accounts TSO/EA-Land failed to provide a compelling landscape in which users/players could do anything other than chat with other users/players. While I never had the personal experience of manufacturing lawn-gnomes for skill points, it’s not difficult to imagine the utter lack of enthusiasm that proclaiming “I got a skill point in crafting” must prompt in that environment.

Though I’m tempted to explore the devolution of TSO/EA-Land into a medium for *adult* entertainment as a consequence of general ennui, I’ll leave that to others.

Nick G


I played TSO when it turned into EA-Land, and I really wasn't terribly impressed. It just felt like a big graphical chatroom with a lot of built in emotes. It probably would have done fine if they hadn't tried to make a game out of it.


Nick> Yes, I know what you mean. Have you read "The Image of the City" -- see this for some discussion of what you're talking about (I think).

I should note too that the recent book by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace is going to be read in a different way now. The Second Life Herald is in large part about TSO, and does a lot of complaining about how bad the game was.

What does it mean to have a "home" from which none of your neighbor's yards are visible? What is a community that has no streets or common spaces?

In Second Life, we have the opposite problem. You can see your neighbour's yard, and sometimes it contains a 100 metre high rotating neon "For Sale" sign, or two Furries sharing an intimate moment together, or something else you'ld rather not see. As well as visual eyesores like the "For Sale" signs, scripts running on your neighbour's property can use you lag, because you're sharing a server.

SL shows why you'ld want a private space where you can't see your neighbours and they can't see you - the virtual equivalent of bedroom curtains and good sound-proofing. But yes, it's important to have shared spaces too. There are relative degrees of sharing: you and your partner; everyone in your guild; etc.


Susan -- I agree. And I think that's why SL has a sense of space and place that corresponds much more to what we have offline. The fact that you can have eyesores in your neighborhood means that communities have to negotiate these kinds of zoning problems. And they do this through covenants (of a sort) in some cases.

You know, the move from the mainland to the islands (and private islands) might indicate that many SL residences thought that this type of community wasn't worth the effort. Either that or they realized that Linden wasn't planning on giving them the technological tools/user rights needed to really make things function well.


When I was playing Ultima Online a few years ago, the guild I was in basically enforced planning regulations with PvP combat. (Although, massive inequality in character wealth may have helped.) Guild members were forbidden from killing other guild members; but to keep your membership in the guild you had to abide by the zoning regulations, among other things. Sure, the game mechanics let anyone build anything they could afford just outside the territory we controlled. But building your house on the front line in a war zone has certain consequences... PvP rules kept getting tweaked, so this may have changed over time.

In Second Life, it seems that the authority to enforce planning regulations derives from a person or group who "buys" a large area (or private island) and rents it out.

But if the problem doesn't exist in the first place, you don't have the same impetus to create something like a state. It's possibly not a democratic state, of course. This argument is coming perilously close to advocating a political system where all real property can be monopolized by a couple of rich people.


Hellinar: One thing we can learn from the shuttering of EA-Land is the advisability of renaming your MMOG just before you close it.

And next time an online games company renames one of their games, regardless of their actual reason, I suspect a lot of people are going to assume it's a prelude to shutting it down.


I remember when TSO was first announced. As a big "The Sims" I was excited to hear it was going MMO. Back then, no real details about the game were released, but I could simply imagine how well it could do. I even bought the "charter" edition when it was finally released. Sadly, like everyone else I was highly disappointed to find out it was little more than a glorified chat room. As Nick said, it was apparent to me after playing for only 15 minutes that it looked like they had started to make it and then simply abandoned all the really amazing features that would have made it truly great.

Here are some of the things that I had been anticipating, but of course never made it in:

1) Properly done homes - The comparison between Second Life and The Sims Online has already been brought up. What I had anticipated was something of a mediation. In The Sims you have a limited pallet of objects to use in the game, though expansion packs were released with more objects as time went on. This would eliminate the SL problem of 'huge flashing sighs' and so forth. It also would have been a perfect opportunity to have TSO just like TS where expansion packs could be released for more objects, clothing, etc, and be more of a money maker for them. Also, the scripts and everything in SL can be eliminated by simply not allowing custom content. That might have been the HUGE draw of the original Sims, but I think it's an acceptable price for a smooth running MMO. The only thing is that you HAVE to make up for that by constantly including new items. They started at first, but it slowed down till I think they stopped. Not too sure as I quit long before it went belly up.
2) Cities - One of the wonderful things they could have done is pre-populate the cities, complete with businesses, parks, landmarks, NPCs etc. This would have created a sense of community while giving people things to do. They had the cities, but pretty much it was just player housing (if I remember correctly). Nick is right in that you need to have landmarks. If they had made the "downtown" area then had player housing more like the suburbs it would have been much better.
3) Businesses - It would give people actual uses for skills other than simply hammering out gnomes in someone's home/sweatshop. It could have been done in a way like puzzle pirates: place an order, then people who work in the shop can work to 'create' the order. People could also then work the shop to create access so people could buy off the shelf rather than just place orders and wait for someone to fill them. TSO started off in the right direction with the work benches and whatnot, but they left it at that. More variety was needed, but never implemented.
4) NPCs and/or Solo Play - Another thing that would have been good is putting in NPCs for people to interact with. Yes, the whole idea that the only people in the game are other players, but it can create a vacuum. One of my big problems with SL is that very same fact. My experience with MMOs (EvE, WoW, LOTRO, SL, TSO , COH and more) is the importance of not only multiplayer activities, but solo play. You need that balance or you get this situation: You login and make friends. Later you log in and your friends are offline. Bored, you log off. One of your friends log in, and they don't see anyone on, so they log off. The cycle repeats until people just get bored and don't log in.

Ok.. That's all I can think of for now.


To Whom It May Concern:

The Sims Online/Ea Land owned and operated by Electronic Arts has officially notified its players that they will be closing the doors to the game as of August 1 ,2008 . In 2007 it was told that you were going to re-vamp the game , bring in new objects , fix the economy . Open all individual cities into one large map so we could all play together through out *Ea Land* You have brought new objects , You have brought in new ideas , we are all in the same map except Test Center 3 . You have had developers playing along with us in game to listen to our ideas , complaints.
The game that had become boring had started to see new life . It has become fun again. You work , play , skill, making custom content . It has been a long road the last few months trying to survive the lag issues , updates, and new changes . But we have come together as a community and made a great game. We are just starting to enjoy our game and we get a post that TSO/EAL is being closed ....All of us gamers are shocked , devastated that EA has given up on us before the game has had a chance to grow .
We have about 11k paying players and around 25 or 30k players total.
This game has become an * out * if you will . for many people through out the world . We have been through death, marriages , babies being born , break ups, with our friends on here . We have in game weddings , couples . relationships.
There are many players with disabilities that cant, walk or talk in real life , but in game they are normal , they can walk, talk, sing , swim , dance . We have in game Dj's that broadcast over internet radio. This game has become a great escape for a lot of people . To end this game it wont only hurt the online community it will hurt the real lives of these people . We have all shed our tears since we found out TSO was closing . Now we are trying everything in our power to keep the game going. Petitions, websites, media, phone calls , instant messages , all that i have spoken with have said they would pay more for their monthly subscription to TSO/EAL. I know if the developers were given more time they would have the best online game out there . We don't want Second Life which most call Sex City, We don't want war games , its way to much like real life. We just want our TSO/EAL . I know this isn't to much to ask ,and i know the fees are outrageous to keep this game running , But we the players * simmies* of TSO/EAL are worth it! Please don't give up on us . We need this game . There is no other like it !
This game hasn't been given a fair chance since re-creating to Ea Land. I think you need to give us a year to make this the game what it should be .
My Parent's have always told me ....You must spend money to make money.. This is true in every aspect of life . So spend a little and let's get TSO back to where it needs to be . Lets have ads in commercials, newspapers, radio stations , gaming magazines as well as other magazine's. We all feel Ea hasn't given their best to make this game work . We just want a fair chance . Don't end a game that means so much to so many players . We may just be 9.99 to you but we are all humans and depend on this game in one-way or another.
Increase the subscription price , give the 14 day free trail with unlimited game play , so people will want to subscribe, a free game with limited play isn't going get someone to subscribe , they are just going to stay in tc3 and live it up there for FREE. That's not helping the company or the player's, All we ask is for 1 year to bring in new players and to make this game work, Have any of you top officials every sat down and played the game . Well take the time to do it now and you will see the devastation in the game .
Please take the time to check out these sites where players are trying to save TSO.



http://www.petitiononline.com/kl5c3854/ ... -sign.html

Please hear our pleas for our simmie world .
Thank you for your time in this matter ,
The Simmie Movement Team


Bienchen wrote: We have about 11k paying players and around 25 or 30k players total.

This is a telling figure, assuming it's correct (it sounds about right). This is about 10% of what EA-L would need to even begin to be viable commercially -- and this isn't even counting the many, many millions of dollars EA has sunk into TSO/EA-L since 2001.

Bienchen's lament is a common one for players of a game world that is shutting down. Unfortunately, all of this has been considered many times I'm sure. The bottom line in commercial games is, well, the bottom line. And TSO (now as EA-Land) simply never measured up. Frankly, I'm surprised EA kept the game turned on as they did.


We still didnt get any Info why the game will shut down. One thing we know. They told us one day after we heard "Bing" Gordon left EA. Luc has left EA also already and it seems more will follow.
We just wait and see.
Maybe we will get an official Statement from EA
where they tell us the reason.
The last thing we heard is that we finally get paid back the real money we spent on ATM's.
Many people bought simoleans from EA after they promised we can sell back our simoleans soon and can make real money with it. here the link http://www.ea-land.ea.com/blog/?p=519
So of course many were complaining after the message the game has an end with 1st of August.

We still try to save the game somehow on www.playercampaigns.com


Bienchen, we know exactly why EA is shutting down EA-Land: it cost a huge amount to make, squandered the online portion of the Sims franchise for years, has never been close to profitable, is not making significant revenue now, and shows no sign of ever doing so. In a market that has exploded (including in the more casual space The Sims occupies), TSO/EA-Land was expensive to develop and withered in commercial terms almost immediately. It's not the market's fault or the players' fault -- it's just not a good product. Shutting it down is a business decision and is hardly a mystery. Who knows, maybe this will pave the way for EA to try again.

FWIW, I believe Luc Barthelet is still at EA.


I just have to say, on a personal note, that I am very sad to see TSO die. Ok, the truth is I haven't "played" TSO in years. It was a terrible "game", with no point and no actual gameplay that I could ever find. But because it was so boring, I spent countless hours with my "roommate" keeping our #1 skill house open. There really wasn't anything to do except click my little sim once in a while to make food or clean the bathroom. So I spent most of my time talking to my roommate. I eventually moved in with him IRL, and we have lived happily together for five years now. So if it wasn't for the fact that there was no "game" to play, I might never have spent so many hours getting to know my soulmate. So thank you TSO. You'll always have a place in my heart.


I have been playing TSO off and on since it was being tested. Not so much because it was fun to play, but the way it was set up let me pull some metrics out of the game and watch what people were doing. (That was my meta-game.) EA's problem with TSO has always been that they seem to be oblivious to what players are actually doing in-game.

Like Lethann said, there is a place for a game like TSO was with no custom content: building is super-simple, and lag is low. But if you have that kind of a game, you need to keep cranking out new content. (Another advantage to having only game designed objects is that there are not as many hideously ugly buildings.) EA tried to build their new custom-content game on top of the old TSO platform, which was never designed for it in the first place.

They also tried to implement a "cash-in/cash-out" economy on top of the old design, which revolved around players creating money in-game and buying stuff with that from EA. This was stupid. To stop people from simply farming the jobs to pay for their subscription, they would have to set the payouts so low that it was pointless to have them in the game at all. Skilling up and making gnomes was boring, but without those, TSO has practically no game play at all.

The plan seems to me like it was to make EA-Land as much like Second Life as possible, but given the original platform and game design to start with, that was pretty much impossible, IMO. And yes, it is my understanding that Luc Barthelet has moved on.


Mike Sellers says:

Bienchen, we know exactly why EA is shutting down EA-Land: it cost a huge amount to make, squandered the online portion of the Sims franchise for years, has never been close to profitable, is not making significant revenue now, and shows no sign of ever doing so. In a market that has exploded (including in the more casual space The Sims occupies), TSO/EA-Land was expensive to develop and withered in commercial terms almost immediately. It's not the market's fault or the players' fault -- it's just not a good product. Shutting it down is a business decision and is hardly a mystery. Who knows, maybe this will pave the way for EA to try again.

FWIW, I believe Luc Barthelet is still at EA.

Luc is no longer with EA and Neither is Lee several has quit and are coding thier own game as we type :) YAY


A little late, but....

What does it mean to have a "home" from which none of your neighbor's yards are visible? What is a community that has no streets or common spaces?

I wonder about this, too.

It was from reading the list of design references to the original The Sims that I picked up A Pattern Language by Alexander et al. While I wouldn't care to have some of the social engineering assumptions in APL applied in my real-world neighborhood (they're a bit too Berkeley-think for me), they might have been very useful concepts for a designed social/game world like TSO.

Did the team that designed The Sims Online consider APL and the other architectural/community inspirations for The Sims to be irrelevant to a massively multiplayer online space? Or were they a goal for which time and/or money just weren't available?

Looking in the other direction, are there any lessons in online community design that can be drawn from the demise of TSO/EAL? Lethan's list looks like a good start -- are there other features (such as providing both shared and private spaces) that TSO/EAL suggests are generally desirable for social/game worlds?


Bart: Did the team that designed The Sims Online consider APL and the other architectural/community inspirations for The Sims to be irrelevant to a massively multiplayer online space? Or were they a goal for which time and/or money just weren't available?

No, many of us were very well aware of (and huge fans of) Alexander's work. There were deep software architectural issues with putting in neighborhoods and other desirable features. The structure on which TSO was built was, IMO, grossly insufficient to support the design vision for a Sims MMO.

The brief way to say this is that there were more than a few people who tried very hard to get things like this -- to say nothing of actual gameplay, community structures, etc. -- into what became TSO. Very little of this met with success, despite strenuous efforts. What we have now is the result.


I wondered if it might have been something like that. Thanks, Mike.

Here's looking forward to a full Gamasutra post-mortem on this saga. :-)


The Sims Online failed simply because the players wants were consistently ignored by the developers since the very beginning. What started out with thousands of true Sims fans who excitedly joined the beta testing ended with very few die hard fans by the time the game went prematurely live. I was there in beta days and I watched as thousands walked away in disgust with every change made to the game. I also read the many posts trying to encourage the games direction in the way players would enjoy it. But alas, it was wasted on deaf ears.

EA created a skill/work chat environment which for most, was just too boring to stick around and play for long. In offline Sims we could put it in fast forward during skilling, yet TSO revolved around the mind numbing boredom of needing to skill. They made one wrong choice after another, for example, adding more cities to an already too spread out player base rather than actual content everyone could enjoy in the game. Considering this company knows the importance of added expansion packs to keep their games going, I can't help but wonder why on earth they chose to not bother adding more to the online version. They stopped promoting it, no advertising. Stopped updating completely, stopped all communication, it was no wonder the subscription rates declined.

Last spring most of us were expecting the 90 day notice any time, the subscription numbers were down, communication had ceased to exist other than down right lies about anniversary gifts that clearly were NOT being worked on, especially considering they never were given out, even to this day. Luc started posting, he wanted to fix the economy, for so many had been begging to have something done because of an exploit that had spewed billions of in game currency through out the game. What we wanted was the dirty money removed, but he decided to change our entire economy, turning it into a poor sims land, wiping all our honestly earned money in the process. Many players left once again in disgust. I think he did make some good choices, like merging the cities so that we were all on one map and saving our old sims and properties, had he forced us all to start over, even more would have quit. But the whole idea of "cash in/cash out" should have been put on hold until the game was stable. Also, in my opinion, there should have never been unlimited free play, anywhere. The game needed subscribers, not freeloaders.

The game had potential, it could have grown to be a great game, if it had continued to be updated in ways that would improve the game play and advertised. EA did not give it long enough to grow with Luc's teams updates, and I feel that is a huge mistake, it's truly a shame they don't see how unique this game is, and how big it could be.

Many players happened upon it purely by chance, Sims fans who searched the Internet and luckily found out there was an online version. Just imagine what a piece of paper tucked into each Sims 2 expansion pack with an advertisement about TSO could have done...


TSO was great for a while.
The fame of throwing house parties on radio stations or being the first in town with Bingo or like me; the sweet casino and money houses with tons of dice games giving out insane payouts to better the economy (hard working subscribers that need simoleans hence opening time to skill or build) while i recieve my simoleans from ebay utilizing my investment i have in ea games products and stocks. ( i would share my RL profits with TSO clients) Putting some of my profits back into a product that i supported would only promote such product and make higher demand or popularity. * that was my goal from 2001 to 2003 if you care.

TSO was great for a little while and it became worse and worse from a few design flaws in conjunction with the abusive real and fake mafia's, the clothing hacks and edits that made people unaware of what they were really wearing. People being ridiculed for what they were wearing, being told to download something constantly made the noobs quit.
Normal players - 2 to 10 hrs a day quit often because of MAF drama.
Advanced players - 24 hrs a day people who played until the end will never quit anything and probably won't ever quit fantasizing over TSO-EaLand..
"There was only a few semi trailers full of people who stuck it out to the end and to those people i wish you goodluck."

EA should have blocked the clothing edits and banned the mafia people which would have let their non voilent non abusive community expand. EA decided to keep the subscription fee's and keep the subscribers paying those fee's and only banning people who hack. which wasnt very many because TSO was a good engine afterall.

That's all i have for TSO's affix.

Sincerely, Dev Sys JB.

P.S I still have stocks in Ea Games to this day, even though they did fk me over on 4 different titles now. Sh1t happens and so does better games.

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