The Sims Social Steps Up EA’s IP Presence on Facebook

The Sims Social is is a life simulation game based on one of EA’s oldest and most successful PC game franchises that runs on Facebook as an app. Built in collaboration between EA’s Sims Studio and Playfish, the game is currently in closed beta and planned for a summer 2011 release.

The game allows players to create and control a single Sim (read: avatar) living in a house that the player can decorate. True to the Sims’ roots, the primary gameplay objective is to keep the Sim happy by satisfying a set of basic needs such hygiene, fun, socialization, sleep, hunger, or bladder capacity. The Sims also have a base personality type (e.g. Creative, Romantic, etc.) that the player can choose to guide the Sim toward over the course of gameplay. Players meet these needs of a Sim by having the Sim interact with various objects that can be bought for the house or by having them interact with other Sims through dialogue trees.

For those not familiar with Sims franchise, the appeal of the series comes from the sense that the Sims have minds of their own, despite the player’s best attempts to manipulate them. Clicking on a Sim and selecting “Flirt,” for example, will not always produce a positive reaction. The exact reaction produced is determined by personality traits preselected by the player during the Sim creation phase, the level of preexisting interaction between the two Sims before “Flirt” was selected, and a “random” variable common to all Sim interactions that may produce completely unexpected results.

The idea of having the Sims on Facebook presents some challenges, both to fans of the series and to Facebook social gamers. For one thing, the Sims hasn’t had a positive track record with gameplay that relies on a social graph as demonstrated by the failed Sims MMO, The Sims Online. For another, Facebook social gamers are used to slightly more static game environments where actions are, for the most part, predictable and largely asynchronous. Though The Sims Social is still in closed beta, it appears as though EA’s two internal studios have found a healthy balance between satisfying Sims fan expectations — right down to the Sims 3 sound effects — and Facebook social gamers’ needs around asynchronous gameplay.

In the Sims Social, most of the gameplay common to all three core Sims games in the PC franchise can be found — such as clicking on toilets to prevent the Sim from wetting him or herself, completing a set of interactions to fulfill what amounts to a quest, and interacting with other Sims to make friends or enemies. What makes The Sims Social unique to the Sims series are the addition of traditional Facebook game elements like an energy gauge that depletes by action and replenishes over time, a farming element where the Sims can grow produce in their garden, or multiplayer where friends can visit each other’s Sims and see what their houses look like. Also, players earn virtual currency for certain interactions like improving a skill or interacting with another Sim.

Progression is an abstract concept in the Sims franchise. In the original game, the Sims had skills that could be leveled up individually through repeating actions (e.g. playing piano to increase the Creativity skill). In newer versions, the Sims gain Lifetime Happiness points to spend on special items and the Sims themselves eventually grow old and die. The Sims Social, however, measures individual Sim progress with an experience point system aligned with levels. The higher the level, the more items the Sim can unlock to purchase and the more interactions the Sim can have with items (e.g. practicing arpeggios on the guitar as opposed to practicing scales). An additional “score” element comes from total home value (which increases with each item you buy), from Relationship progress bars unique to the individual Sims the player interacts with, and from Social Points earned through interacting with other Sims that can be spent on certain virtual items like a hot tub.

Despite the entire game being about socialization between Sims, the actual social elements in The Sims Social come from standard gifting of virtual items, visiting friends’ in-game houses, recruiting friends to complete construction of new rooms and new objects, and from interaction between the player’s Sim and their friends’ Sims governed by a permissions system. The permissions system is a experiment in multiplayer new to the Sims series.

As previously mentioned by EA during The Sims Social’s early development period, the developer wanted all interactions between players to be consensual. That is, a players whose Sims frequently interact with each other need to agree on how the relationship between the two virtual persons interact. Our Sim could visit a friend’s Sim and engage in “Flirt” interactions to move the Relationship bar up to the point of becoming a Romantic Interest — but the relationship won’t graduate to that next level until the player of the Sim being flirted with agrees to a in-game Request. These Requests expire after three days, and as an aside, Romantic relationships can evolve to the point of “WooHoo” (sex), but do not produce Sim children.

Though the game is still in closed beta, the monetization methods for The Sims Social are clear: players are able to skip quests or complete building requirements by spending a premium currency called SimCash, which can be bought with Facebook Credits. SimCash can also be spent on premium decoration items and energy refills, although it is possible to earn certain premium decorations with Social Points and craft energy refills by collecting items earned through interactions (e.g. earning hearts from “Flirting”). Energy refills might prove a valuable revenue stream, as currently all social and currency-earning interactions in The Sims Social cost one energy, while satisfying basic needs like going to the bathroom or sleeping are free.

The Sims Social appears to strike a balance between what the core Sims franchise is and what Facebook players expect, but we do anticipate some friction from Sims fans around the purchase of virtual goods. Though this concept is already used in the Sims 3 with an online marketplace for items and decorations, that game does not rely on the purchase of virtual goods as a means to drive gameplay progression the way The Sims Social does. Depending on how well the developer leverages Social Points toward the purchase of virtual goods (creating the sense that players don’t have to spend real money to achieve “high scores”), this friction could be easily reduced to a non-issue.

The Sims Social is currently planned for a summer 2011 release following the end of a closed beta. EA Playfish is also currently working on Risk: Faction, which may impact the release schedule for The Sims Social. Once the game is live, interested readers can follow the game’s progress on AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.