The Sims Online: Review
Jake posted this extensive review of The Sims Online in the Delphi Forums. This is the most thorough description I've found anywhere. For anyone who's looking for a cool virtual community something like what they had claimed TSO was going to be, they should try Seducity instead. It's a good online format to interact socially and have fun with other avatars -- for that matter, there are quite a few good virtual worlds to explore.
To: ALL (Unofficial Seducity Forum)
Sunday, January 12, 2002 / 1:15 pm
For anyone who’s thinking of trying out The Sims Online (TSO), you might want to read this review first. I've been playing TSO for about two months now... first as a Beta Play Tester, and now as a paying customer. When my three-month membership (that I received with the purchase of the $75.00 "Charter Edition") runs out, I won't be renewing. It's just not worth ten bucks a month for me to play this B-O-R-I-N-G, glitchy, tedious game, which is more drudgery than fun.
If you'd like to ask any questions about the game, feel free to contact me in NH, DS, or SC.
TSO is not really one huge virtual community, as you may have been led to believe. Rather it's comprised of a bunch of "cities", each with maybe 500 to 1000 avatars. It's hard to say what the exact population of any city is because there's really no way to check this. But the bottom line is that when a city fills up (i.e., the strain on the server and associated lag and glitches become too great), they just open a new one on a different server.
At the time of this writing they have about 10 cities up and running. There is no connection whatsoever from one city to another. While you're in one city, you can't talk to people in other cities or even see who is online there. So you're pretty much limited to whatever town you decide to hang out in for that particular session. This is somewhat analogous to NH/DS/Seducity/SK with the exception that VZones technology allows you to run all four worlds simultaneously if you so desire. Not true with TSO… you can only have one "instance" of TSO running on your PC at a time …and even on cable, the lag can be unbearable at times.
When you log in, you find yourself at the Sim Creation screen. Here you can create up to three Sims (each one has to be in a different city). You get to choose the name, gender, skin color (light/medium/dark only), head, and bodystyle/clothes. This does not approach the level of customization available in VZones. Once your Sim is created, you can't change his/her base appearance or even the Sim's name. There is some talk about future upgrades, which will allow you to change your head using a "facelift" tool. But no timeframe has been given, which means at least several months before this is available. So… choose wisely grasshopper. You'll be staring at the Sim you create for a long time… or until you decide to retire (i.e., delete) your character and start over from scratch.
The Sims are shown in 3D perspective (as opposed to the 2D avatars from VZones). They are much more animated… but the downside is that the Sims are so tiny you can’t really see them in much detail. It’s a matter of preference, but one could not claim that the artwork in TSO is “superior” to VZones. It’s just different.
There’s also not much to accessorize your Sim to help them stand out from the crowd. There are some hats and costumes available, but the selection is fairly limited and not very flexible. And once you leave the property, your Sim reverts to its base appearance.
Once you buy a property, you can only build on a very small portion of it because you are only zoned for Lot Size 1 (12x12 grid). To increase this buildable area, you need to expand to larger lot sizes (up to Lot Size 8 which is the full 46x46 block grid). Each expansion costs money. The more roommates you have, the cheaper the expansions are, but it's still very expensive to get to the larger lot sizes.
|You start with only $10,000. If you like, you can get started right away on your dream house… but your initial funding won't get you very far. Items (especially the "good" items) are very expensive. And they wear out WAY too fast! Every item has a "wear" factor that determines how often it breaks. As soon as you buy an object it is at 80% wear factor. Within about a week it will be at 20% and will begin to break fairly often. When an item breaks you need to repair it (which costs money!). Once your house is filled with objects that are at <20% wear factor, you can expect to spend a significant portion of your time and money fixing things which are broken.|
And then there's the matter of the "Object Disappearing Glitch". It's getting better but it's still not uncommon to enter your house and find items just plain missing. Not fun when you've saved up for two weeks to buy that huge $85,000 fountain… only to find it (and the money) just poof into thin air. No Caretakers to help you find them either. There are no in-world staff in TSO.
All things considered… it really is best to wait until you have made at least $150,000 before you buy a property. It takes about 25 hours of real time play to make this much cash. Until then, you can remain homeless or become a roommate on another property.
The whole roommate thing in TSO sucks bigtime. The game is designed to force interaction among the city's residents. You need to find (and keep) good roommates to get ahead (e.g., property expansion is cheaper with roommates, you can pool resources to buy the best items, you can keep your business open for more hours of the day because as long as one roomie is in the house, visitors can enter, etc.). The problem is... everyone wants to have his or her own house. You can not own a property and also be a roommate someplace else. It's one or the other. And you can only be a roomie on one property at a time.
Whoever buys the property is the "Property Leader". Only the Property Leader can add someone as a roommate (they can also kick out roommates without warning). You need to choose roommates very carefully because they can build on your property. So while you're offline, any one of your roomies can basically trash your house design that you may have spent hours creating! This has happened to many people because there are some out there that get a kick out of this sort of thing. The only good thing is that stealing is basically impossible. Roomies can move objects around but they can't "pick them up" (they can however, delete scenery like walls, flooring, etc).
Even being a roommate is risky business. As I mentioned above, the Property Leader can kick you to the curb without any advance notice. So you might log in one day after spending many hours helping the Property Leader enhance and improve the house... maybe even giving them money for things... only to find yourself homeless. Roomies should be VERY careful about giving their money to the Property Leader. The Property Leader should be the one paying for Lot Expansions. If they want you to chip in, tell them you will buy some objects for the house. Any objects you purchase will automatically be transferred to your inventory if you decide to move out or if you're booted. But the money spent on Lot Expansions is gone forever.
My basic take is that HAVING roomies sucks… but BEING a roomie sucks even more!
Despite the goals of the designers... this game is about making enough money (called simoleans) so that you can buy cool things. There are several ways to make money in TSO. Most people choose to work on various "job objects" which have you complete a task before you can be paid. What you soon find out is that you don't earn very much on these objects until you have built up your skill in at least one of six areas (Mechanical, Cooking, Logic, Charisma, Creativity, and Body). Each of these skills is linked to different job objects. The higher your skill level, the more the job object will pay. These job objects are basically a way to earn startup money. The real money will come down the road when you have a successful property that attracts lots of visitors (see Top 100 Lists below).
You build skill by "practicing" a skill task... such as reading a book to build Mechanical. This is one of the most boring aspects of TSO! To make the most money, you need to "max" your skill of choice (i.e., bring it up from 0.00 to 10.98). It will take you about 15 hours of real time play just to max any one skill. And you can't do this through "parking"... you need to "green up" every 40 minutes or so (see below) plus there is a 15 minute idle timer! Gah!
And if you want to build skill in more than one category... you begin to fight an uphill battle because as you are building one, the skill points in the other area(s) begin to decay at an alarming rate. Once your total combined skill points exceed 11, your skills will decay with time. Realistically, one skill is easy to build and maintain at max level, two are do-able, three represents a TON of work and more than three is just plain impossible. The designers note that eventually, all skills will be critical in one way or another… so again they will be forcing players to have roommates that specialize in the different areas.
Another very tedious aspect of this game is referred to as "Needs" or "Greening". Your Sim has an overall status bar that ranges from Green to Red. This is basically the composite of six needs (Hunger, Energy, Bladder, Hygiene, Fun, and Room). About every 40 minutes your Sim will be "in the red" and you'll have to spend about 10 minutes eating, sleeping, peeing, showering, and swimming to get back to a full green status. Very tedious... gets old very quick. Especially if you're in a place that doesn't have the best beds, food, toilets, showers, etc. Then it will take at least 15 minutes just to green. The more time you spend greening... the less time there is to make money or build skills. They should do away with this aspect of the game. No one likes it. But it’s a legacy from the PC version of the game so my guess is, it will stay.
TOP 100 LISTS
They have Top 100 lists for various categories. Right now you make no money for being on one of these lists but eventually, this will be integrated into the game as a major source of income. From what I have read, this will be the major way to earn simoleans.
There is a Top 100 List for Sim popularity. This is a ranking of how many Friendship links you have built. Each Sim can hand out 10 red balloons, which are used to symbolize a friendship link. There is no limit on how many balloons a Sim can receive. The people at the top of this list have collected several hundred balloons!
Once you have given out your 10 balloons, there is very little incentive for someone to give you their balloon… because you can't reciprocate. I quickly found out that in order to get ahead on this list, all you need to do is pay newbies $250 for their balloons and up the charts you will climb, LOL! I was able to go from unranked to #14 in just a couple of days. Eventually, this list will only be populated with people using this trick. The bottom line is that if you want to rank highly in popularity, you need to get balloons from newbies - either through begging, trickery, or the old fashioned way - cold hard cash!
The other Top 100 Lists are for popularity of your property. Each property has to declare what category their house will be ranked in (Welcome, Money, Skills, Service, Entertainment, Romance, Store, Games, Offbeat, or Residence). You can have up to 16 visitors in your house at any given time. The more visitor-hours you accumulate, the higher you will rank on these lists. It is based on a 4-day average, so if you were able to keep your place full, and open for 96 straight hours, you would score 384 visitor-hours. The top houses on average around 320-360 visitor-hours, so they are basically open around the clock and are keeping their places full almost all the time. To do this, you need to have roomies who can cover various "shifts". The most roomies you can have is 8 so it pays to have people from around the globe to cover the various time zones.
Currently, the most popular houses are in the Money and Skills categories. Basically, when a new city starts, everyone needs to build skills. So Skill houses rule for a few days. Then everyone who has maxed their skills needs money. It's not long before the money houses take over in popularity. The trick here is having the right job objects in your house to attract the most visitors. People flock to where the money is quickest and easiest to make. The job objects all have different payouts per time… which the designers are continually tweaking as they attempt to "balance the game". So if you're lucky, you'll pick a job object that ends up giving visitors the most money per their time invested.
The problem is… once everyone knows that one object is the "best", everyone tailors their house to these types of objects. This happens until the designers tweak the payout for that particular object downward to the point where no one wants to visit you anymore! You need to spend money tearing down what you have built so that you can jump on the next hot thing. This is very discouraging... it's almost like there is this evil supreme being out there conspiring against you and your plans for world dominance!
MAJOR DESIGN FLAW
This brings us to the major design flaw in the game. If you watch a new city evolve, you will see that a few huge lots with all the best items pop up within just a few days. These Property Owners and roomies spend hundreds of thousands of simoleans getting their houses to this point. This is just not possible within several days given the rate at which you can earn money in the game. Clearly there is something nefarious going on here.
Well... it turns out there is a huge scandal surrounding "server trading". The software allows you to create a Sim in each city once per week. Let's say you are going to stay primarily in two cities (no one really has time to be successful in more than one so this is not a severe limitation). You can then leave your third Sim Creation slot open for trading. You find someone who maintains a home base in each of the other available cities. You then make an arrangement with them to create a Sim on each other’s cities once a week and trade the $10,000 startup money. Right now there are 10 cities so in this manner you can bring in $100,000 a week. This is per roomie! And it gets worse as each new city comes online!
People have set up networks of traders to take advantage of this. So if you have a group of 8 roomies that know what they are doing, they can easily bring in up to $800,000 per week. Every major house has done this... and there is NO WAY to compete with them without doing the same thing. For now Maxis has said this is not against the TOS (translation... THEY HAVE NO WAY OF STOPPING THIS!).
And until they do fix this “license to print money”, the economy will be a sham (re: DS after the token dumping of early 2001).
The Sims Online was rushed through beta to meet their goal of shipping by Christmas. It could definitely have used about 2-3 more months of testing. It's got a lot of nice features that are fun to play around with for a couple weeks... but it gets old VERY quickly. You are subjected to an almost endless cycle of GREEN/BUILD SKILLS/MAKE MONEY/ENHANCE YOUR PROPERTY that becomes unbearable given the other limitations I cited above.
It may get better with time. But the basic design does not compete with the "antiquated" VZones worlds. I’m 100% convinced that anyone who likes what VZones offers will NOT prefer TSO. This is a shame because I was hoping it would be so much more than this.
So much for my dreams of running an auction with 10,000 potential bidders in the clouds, shrug.
Jake (aka JAKE MATRIX)
Read other reviews of TSO