Just before we broke up for the holidays, we managed to pin down Gordon Walton, VP and Executive Producer of The Sims Online. This latest installment in the hugely popular Sims series is the first MMO game in the franchise so we wanted to find out how the game had progressed from Beta to full release, how the testing went and what gamers currently taking part in the Sims Online can expect now the game is live and kicking.The Sims Online must have been a massive undertaking but one Sims fans will relish. What made you decide to take the highly popular Sims series online?It seemed very natural to make an online game from The Sims. We have a strong online community around The Sims and this seemed like the next logical step was to let people play as their Sims in a massive virtual world.How did development of The Sims Online turn out, was it pretty much to plan?Well, yes and no is the simple answer. I think we ended up with much of the game we wanted it just took longer than we would have liked. Making an online game is significantly more complicated than the stand-alone games since you need both the client and a server component, along with all the other systems involved (patching, authentication, billing, a central database, customer service systems and more). We changed our plans along the way to match our ever-increasing knowledge of what we were building and the problems involved. But I do think we ended up pretty close to where we wanted to go in the beginning.What sort of communication systems are in place for players.Our communication starts with overhead chat between players. We also have an instant messaging system for private communications, and a in-game mail system for communicating with people offline. We even have signs you can use on your property to communicate instructions and information.
How did the testing go? Did you uncover any bizarre or humerous incidents with players’ characters during testing?The testing went well. We ended up with over 80,000 testers with over 43% of them woman. We had a couple of days when the pixelization failed so we had some naked Sims so that was a little embarrassing.How do you plan on supporting the huge influx of players and prevent players exploiting features in the game or people who attempt to creating hacks?We are ready for quite an influx of players, but only time will tell about our success in this area. So far as exploits and hacks, we will discipline any player involved in those activities.
Once the game has been up and running will you be introducing new features and if so have you any examples you wish to share.Many new features will be added to TSO. One of our future additions is “Custom Content”. Custom content is: allowing players to customize their bodies, heads, wall and floor patterns and to create new art for existing objects. Once we get support for this, these will be available for in-game shop owners to buy wholesale and price for the secondary consumer. Speaking of stores, we’ll have the ability for store owners to buy catalog objects at a bulk discount and resell at a markup to other players. I’m also excited about a lot of the mini-games that we’ll be introducing (such at classic casino games), because they have interesting game play for both the casual gamer and the guy who’s running the casino and making strategic decisions about how to get people to his establishment and keep them there.What do you think are the main incentives for people to keep playing the game after a few months?Their friends, their position in the community, their accomplishments within the world will all help. But I think the changes we are making to the game over the next few months will be pretty important too in keeping player interest.You must feel pressure from the gaming community in general, The Sims Online is expected to be a massive hit and probably take over people’s lives in the process. What’s your thoughts on this?Well, I doubt The Sims Online will take over people’s lives, but we hope to be very successful.What’s your current take on the MMO market and how do you think it is evolving?Well, the market continues to grow, and we hope to be a big part of that. Most of the people who try massively multiplayer games seem to find the entertainment if offers compelling. I personally think it is a really important medium and will outstrip stand-alone gaming within a few years.
What next for the Sims? Have you mapped out a plan for the franchise and where do you see it heading now?Sure, we are going to do add a bunch of new features and objects, but the biggest thing coming is custom content. It’s going to change the entire feeling and focus of The Sims Online.