The Sims Explore Going Virtual

The popular Sims franchise has taken a look at the growth of virtual worlds and has decided it might be time to join the fray. According to Times Online, EA games is considering a move where the Sims Online would migrate to a version where players could interact with each other and socialize.

In a shot across the bow at the “build your own” ethos of worlds like Second Life, they promise not to walk away from what made The Sims what it is, which includes needing to install software in order to provide a higher resolution experience:

(EA) said that the complex graphics and tools in the game, which allow players to create their own animated movies, were too complicated to be managed within a browser. “Just because you can paint with coloured markers because they’re the new technology doesn’t mean everyone wants to,” she said. “Some people prefer to paint with luscious oils.”

Their considerations also look at microtransactions as an important component of the platform:

“Micro-transactions will be important, but I think people will continue to pay [a one-off fee] for client software,” Ms Smith said. “If you think about the hours of entertainment people get from interactive entertainment, you’ll find that software is enormously well-priced. I don’t think we’re experiencing price ceilings just yet.”

While EA is making no promises, this picks up on earlier comments at a European 3D convention that EA sees the future in both micro-transactions and user-generated content, where Glen Entis said that:

“If you create a platform that is exciting for people to build their own content in, then that is a good business strategy,” adding that when users buy the game, they’ll play in a platform that is enriched by the millions of worlds that can be created and explored by players. “That’s value for money. There are also limitless possibilities for micro-transactions and subscription-based games in the future.”

Glen could just as easily have been speaking about Spore as the Sims – but it’s clear that the heavyweights are viewing virtual worlds with an eye to increasing the fidelity of the experience, housing it within a branded franchise, and then letting users contribute both their creativity and their coin to these virtual franchises.

While it’s unclear whether adding chat to The Sims would do much to add to the notion of what a virtual world is or could do, it would certainly be grafting virtual world characteristics onto a known, trusted, and $5 billion franchise.

Spore, on the other hand, may very well change the concept of a virtual world all together – one in which presence is measured not from proximity to others, but rather through the procedurally generated products of virtual world interaction. In Spore, you won’t be a ‘player’ in a world, rather your world creations and creatures will interact with those of others in the ultimate God game.

Virtual world technology was built on the back of games. Putting the virtual reality approach to immersion to bed (for now anyways) it became clear that you didn’t need fidelity of simulation to engage. Now, the games are reclaiming their birthright and looking for how they can bring fidelity of narrative back to technologies that they invented.

The power of stories over technology can’t be underestimated. As much as the stability, power, and technology behind today’s growing virtual world industry is critical, the killer app isn’t in whether shadows render better on Blue Mars than on Second Life, but rather where people can engage in stories – either telling them or participating in them.

It’s business that will end up benefiting from the techno-focus of today’s platforms, finding organizational and collaborative capacities that might be hard to replicate elsewhere. The rest of us, in the meantime, will be attracted to the power of a well told tale, or our ability to tell those tales to others, or the ability just to be a willing participant in a wider conversation whose home is in a technology which provides a new set of tools and and sense of presence that’s growing increasingly compelling, so much so that the masters of storytelling are finding it hard to ignore.

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