I have a gaming confession. I have never played any games in The Sims series on the PC. They are a hugely successful series and in total, have sold more than one hundred million copies globally. I once had a GameCube port of it but found the micromanaging frustrating so I never played it again or ever tried any of the games from the PC series.
I have also never played FarmVille on Facebook. Perhaps I was an elitist gamer of the kind that Brenda Brathwaite spoke about in her rant at this year’s GDC. So with an open mind, I thought I would try the new Sims game on Facebook – The Sims Social.
The Sims Social is a “freemium” game that works by offering the game for free while charging micropayments for items or upgrades or features within the game. It’s a popular business model for games online these days with other well-known freemium games being Farmville or Evony. However, it’s not an especially new development. Habbo Hotel (now known as just “Habbo“) began in 2000 and was a similar, social simulation game as that of The Sims Social. Players began with a very limited amount of game currency to buy furniture and decorations for their rooms, but after that ran out, players had to pay for game items using real money. So the experience of Habbo Hotel was very restricted if you weren’t prepared to pay real money to play the game.
However, The Sims Social mostly avoids this by having a large variety of items available to use at the onset without needing to spend real money. There are specific premium items that are only available with real money, but for the most part, it’s possible to play the game, not spend a single cent, and still have a good time.
I paid about ten real dollars for this bed. For research purposes of course.
Most actions you perform in the game consume your character’s energy. Once your allocated energy has been spent you need to wait a few minutes for it to refresh slowly or pay real money to restore your energy to continue playing the game at once. If you don’t want to spend real money to play the game then it can be tiresome to run out of energy quickly and have to wait to have enough energy to be able to do anything useful in the game again. The upshot of this though is that it in theory encourages short sessions of the game that don’t take up too much time. I say ‘in theory’ though as because of the compulsive nature of the game, you may be inclined to keep checking it every half hour to see if you have more energy.
The Sims Social lets you simulate life through your sim character, but through a censored, puritanical lens that wants to giggle at sex and nudity without actually showing anything explicit. It’s like a fourteen year old boy who refers to sex as “doing it” whilst giggling at the very thought. So get ready for lots of innuendo in this game as characters strip to their underwear, jump under the covers giggling, and proceed to “woo-hoo”. Yes, sex is called woo-hoo in the Sims games, and although your sim will need to urinate constantly, he or she will never poo. Defecation is unheard of in the world of the Sims. As is being naked to have a shower or bath as your sim changes into swimwear to do so. The developers are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be naughty and risqué but they err hard on the side of caution so as not to offend anyone prudish. It’s like an old British carry on film. Any minute now I expect a sim that looks like Benny Hill to come rushing through my house chasing a scantily, clad girl.
It’s really hard to keep the bathroom clean. It’s so hard. That’s what she said! Geddit? Oh, never mind.
Actually, one of the romance options for characters is this:
You can think that’s about horticulture if you wish.
The Sims Social being played on Facebook adds the extra dimension of your real life friends interacting with your game. Will someone become pissed off if the sim of a girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband woo-hoos with someone else’s sim? Will you be friendly to the sim characters of your friends or will you kick over their rubbish bins instead? The dynamics of playing with other real people gives interesting possibilities for emergent gameplay.
Perhaps the game is appealing because it mirrors reality in a fantastical way. Maintaining a home, gardening, achieving in our hobbies and careers, and developing relationships with other people are all part of our lives. We enjoy the game that emulates these aspects of our lives because the themes are so close to home for us. Reality can be hard, but in The Sims Social you can change your house or garden or clothes with the click of a mouse button. Also, with the game being played on Facebook with other real people, we’re learning to interact with other people which is just as much a part of what makes the game fun to us as is the mechanics of the game that we are trying to unwrap.
Sadly the game can be quite buggy . There have been times when the game has crashed and I’ve lost the last few minutes of progress, or items that won’t load, or times when the game is down and it’s impossible to proceed past the title screen. That’s to be expected though as the game is in beta. Presumably, it’s just teething problems and these bugs will be ironed out eventually.
So to wrap up, put aside any prejudices you may have (as I did) to social games on Facebook that use micropayments to fund them. The Sims Social is a fun game to play with your friends, and let me say to any Facebook friends of mine who don’t want to play and who are receiving spam from me on my Facebook wall from the game – I’m sorry, but it’s worth it. Join us!