The free trial of the Sims Online game is currently undergoing a revision. Very soon, according to EA, the free trial will become permanent free play. Great news for those of us who can not afford the $ 9.99 a month for full play, but what has brought about this change?
Well, put simply, EA stuffed up. The Sims Online was released to the public four years ago, and has earned itself a relatively small user-base. The immensely popular game Second Life was released at the same time, and has gone from strength to strength. Now, Second Life is a very good game and plays to different strengths to the Sims Online, but the Sims comes from a franchise that boasts the two highest selling games of all time. It should not have been too hard for EA to come up with a game, then, that at least landed in the top 10% of online games. And initially, they did.
At the beginning of January 2003, the Sims Online claimed over 100,000 active subscriptions, making it top of the list for online games. Sales soared, and EA projected 40,000 subscribers by the end of the year. And then they brave up. Luc Barthelet, the Senior Vice President of Electronic Arts, apparently turned his back on the game, and bugs and instabilities were left unresolved. Cheats sprang up which allowed players to get large amounts of Simoleons (the Sims Online currency), effectively destroying the in-game economy and rendering many of the objectives of the game (such as employment) useless. Before the cheats came out Simoleons could be sold on eBay for real money, which is one of the attractions to many new players, who want to believe that their actions inside the game have some sort of effect in the real world.
So Second Life grow, and the Sims Online – an online version of the most popular games of all time – sank into obscurity. A few faithful users stuck with it, but most players left it well alone, instead finding newer games with more interesting and innovative features. That, however, is about to change. Luc Barthelet announced in March 2007 that he is re-engaging himself in the game. The forums have been submitted for the first time in years, and the Sims Online world is in for a shake-up.
One of the first moves that EA are making is to create new cities for players to explore. They are also changing the logo, and have promised to close the loopholes that allow for the money cheats. Registration will be greatly simplified, and the free trial will become, soon, permanent free play. Of course there will be limitations: only one choice of city for non-payers; only one avatar; less starting money. Nonetheless, this is a real show of commitment by EA, and will no doubt draw in many new players. New players, paying or not, will breathe life back into the game, and that's got to be a good thing for EA, who image was looking a bit tarnished by its failure.
So why now? Well, the Sims 3 is due to be released in (possibly) 2008, which might have something to do with it. Nobody wants a dead goose on display when they're trying to build hype for their new product, and it's going to take a while for the Sims Online to get back on track. This is a very promising (re-) start, though, and a very exciting time to get into the world of the Sims Online. New features such as AvatarBook, which works much like Facebook, will help to provoke interest, and could pull in a very large audience indeed. Few people who have played the Sims games have not surprised what it would be like to play with other people, but most have been put off by bad reviews or friends' advice. Now that's all set to change, and the community can only get stronger and stronger. The question, then, is not why EA are making these changes now, but why they did not make them before. Now we can only play and wait, and hope this time EA gets it right.