EA’s Sims Studio & Playfish Bring The Sims to Facebook in The Sims Social

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By AJ Glasser Comments

During its Q4 earnings report earlier this spring, EA said its experience with Dragon Age Legends on Facebook was enough to motivate the developer/publisher to bring many of its other established franchises to the platform. Today, EA announces that the popular life simulation series, The Sims, is the next of its intellectual property to get the Facebook treatment.

Launched on PCs over a decade ago, The Sims is a series of single-player games that allows users to manipulate virtual people in virtual houses — and later, towns — to do just about anything. The game is know as a “sandbox” where the player isn’t required to complete any sort of gameplay objective in order to achieve a winning condition. This open-ended gameplay sounds perfect for a social game or massively multiplayer online game; however, The Sims experienced failure in the MMO space with the now-defunct The Sims Online.

Jeff Karp (pictured in Sim form) tells ISG that The Sims Social is going to be different. As Executive Vice President of the EA Play Label at EA, he oversees internal developer The Sims Studio, which took over from original Sims developer Maxis when The Sims Online shut down in 2008.

“We learned a lot [from The Sims Online],” Karp says. He explains that the PC gaming audience is much larger than what it was when The Sims Online launched in 2002, and now almost everybody has at least heard of Facebook. Therefore, he says, The Sims Social should enjoy a completely different experience from The Sims Online. “It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”

In The Sims Social, players will create and customize their own Sim person. Instead of populating that Sim’s environment with other Sims controlled by artificial intelligence, Karp says that The Sims Social will be entirely populated by a player’s friends in the form of their Sims. The idea is to play The Sims with your friends in a synchronous mulitplayer experience, which is a new concept for the series. Karps says fans have been asking for multiplayer for a long time, which is part of what motivated development.

As for the more complex social interactions between Sims that make the series famous (up to and including “Woo Hoo” – the game’s term for sexual intercourse), Karps says we can expect to see some of it in The Sims Social. For example, we could take our Sim to another Sim’s house and play a prank on them — such as peeing in their yard. This creates a negative relationship balance between our Sim and our friend’s Sim, which could escalate to a “rivalry” relationship.

Karp says that all relationships in The Sims Social will be consensual between players past a certain point. This means that while we may not need our friends’ permission to pee in their lawn, we do need their permission to pursue a romantic relationship with them if we choose to use a flirt interaction on them. A rejection of a flirt will close the romance socialization pathway between players, while an acceptance could lead the relationship all the way to the point of Woo Hooing. Pregnancy, while a significant part of gameplay in The Sims series, is not a planned feature for The Sims Social at this time.

As for monetization, Karp says we can expect to see familiar free-to-play conventions built around monetizing premium decoration or customization options. He also hinted that there would be quest completion items, but could not specify what form quests might take in the game, as its still in the very early stages of development. We know that while gameplay is non-linear, there will be a levelling system for each player’s Sim. Players may also be able to “start over” with a Sim as part of gameplay, or for a fee, which is similar to the character re-specialization feature in Dragon Age Legends.

Some of the questions EA is still struggling to answer for The Sims Social include how they will build a synchronous gameplay experience that still supports asynchronous activity. For example, Karp wasn’t sure what would happen if we flirted with his character while he was not online — would we have to wait for him to log back in to accept our advances, or would the AI guess his character’s reaction for him? Would his character even appear in our game if he weren’t online at the time? While accepting my friend request allows our Sim to enter his Sim’s house, is there any way he could temporarily lock us out if, say, he were sick of us peeing on his lawn?

Another significant challenge for The Sims Social is breeding the unpredictability that makes The Sims series so popular. In The Sims and The Sims 2, for example, players can make Sims look through telescopes, which creates a random chance of alien abduction (and later, alien pregnancy). Karp says that EA means to bring that element of spontaneous fun to The Sims Social, but it’s not immediately clear how that will play out and whether or not there will be AI-controlled Sims in the game, which could add to the overall unpredictability.

“The think we’re most excited about is bringing something new and unique to Facebook,” Karp says. “With this game, we like to say it’s alive… and unpredictable.”

The Sims Social is being designed in collaboration between EA’s internal Sims Studio and EA Playfish. It’s due out “soon,” with Karp telling us to Like the game’s Facebook page in advance of more news.