Playing the Sims Online was fun, addicting, and appealing to all age groups, both male and female, worldwide! A whole new "virtual world" awaited the person who paid the $9.99 monthly subscription to The Sims Online. This virtual world was open-ended, that is, it became what the players made of it. Players could live chat with others while doing tasks or performing actions, either independently or interacting with another sim. Among the most popular actions were hugging, dancing, and kissing, but also included things like High-5, juggling, shaking hands, nyah-nyah action, belching, slapping, or even pile-driving another sim! All actions would have either a positive or a negative effect on the other sim's social meter, and ultimately decide whether the two sims became friends or enemies. You could role play anything you could imagine, from running a Skills Ranch, hosting a television "talk Show" to a owning chain of Wedding Chapels. There was something for everyone in The Sims Online, just waiting to be created! The Sims Online was released to the public in December 2002 by the Maxis division of EA Games (Electronic Arts), and was a live chat MMORPG game that based on the most popular pc game of all time, The Sims, also by EA Games. In March 2007 the game name was re-branded as EA Land, which was then retired completely and the game went offline August 1, 2008. Users could submit custom content for use in the game after the renaming to EA Land, something that had been promised to players for years but came much too late, for players had left in droves for games such as Second Life that already had the feature. The Sims Online was rated "T" for teens 13 and up, and had a profanity filter that could be parentally controlled. There was a complete Parental Block feature available which prevented a user from being able to see any user generated text in game which includes profiles and chat, as well as property names and descriptions. The game was complimented by a strictly moderated live forum for all users.
To begin play, first you had to create your sim and choose a city to reside in, though moves between the cities, or servers (all of which were merged into one city known as EA Land in March 2007) were possible for your sim as long as only one sim resides in any given city at a time. You could create a sim that was either male or female in a wide variety of skin tone and head choices. You could even create a bear, alien, robot, mime, clown, santa, gorilla, or monstrous sim, but the most popular choice was always the 'human' likeness. You could write your own profile to fit your new role play character or to tell about your real self and even link your profile to Facebook. In all but one city in TSO (The Sims Online) you would have to control every aspect of your sim's existence; he or she was not be able to move without direction from you. The exception city being Betaville, or the "free will" server, where sims could exist autonomously just like in the original pc game version of The Sims. Betaville also has spontaneous fire, which you will not find in any other city in TSO. Betaville was an unfinished product full of technical glitches, which make the already challenging game play even more difficult, and was dissolved with the coming of EA Land. Betaville allowed for players to create not just one sim, but four on the same account to live as a family, and switching between 4 different sims was four time the challenge!
Once you had created your sim, your sim would have $10,000 "simoleans" or in game currency, which did not go very far. Your sim had to earn their own simoleans, which was better accomplished once your sim had acquired some type of skill. There were six possible skills: Mechanical, Cooking, Charisma, Body, Logic, and Creativity, and it was wise to choose only one to excel at in the beginning. Each skill had at least two specific in game items that can be used later to earn simoleans. Once decided upon, the sim could gain that skill by looking under the "Skill" category of the property listings for a place specializing in that particular skill, where you will be sure to find the object; required to gain the skill as well as other skillers to help your skill speed. Sims that skill in groups of six or more achieve the fastest speed for skill gain. Once your sim had accomplished a skill, with 20.99 possible points being the highest paying, then your sim could search the "Money" category of properties for a place that specializes in earning money with that particular skill. There would be single user objects available, and just like skilling, sims earned more in groups, with 13 sims collectively working on the same type object earning the most money, depending on each skill level. To get top pay, a sim must have both maxed skill and 13 other sims to work with at the same time. There were also four group money-making objects requiring specific skill from each player and a cooperative effort to earn simoleans as a group. Many seasoned players would happily teach new players how to use the Pizza, Code, Maze, and Band objects, but it was always easiest to start earning money on the single money objects such as Preserves (also referred to as "Jam tables") for cooking skill, Chalkboards and Potion table for logic skill, Gnome workbenches for mechanical skill, Typewriters or Paint Easels for creativity skill, Pinatas for body skill, and Telemarketing phones for Charisma skill. Your sim could also have a job as a waiter/waitress, as a DJ, as a Night Club dance, or in a Robot Factory, and go to work in a carpool. One had to remain actively playing, a period of 15 minutes without interaction form the user would disconnect your account from the server, something many players complained about particularly when other MMO games allowed unlimited access.
While skilling your sim or making simoleans, you could also chat with the other players in the community lot, or by private messaging. The possibility was to forge lasting friendships with players from your own country, or perhaps another! Acquiring sim skills also enabled a sim to craft special objects in game, but this required two skills to be quite high at the same time. Skills would decay over time, so sims that wished to have more than one skill in their sim-life would have to keep working on their skills. A skill lock of 20 points is given a new sim, but the older the sim becomes the more locks they would earn, at the rate of 1 point lock every three weeks. Also while skilling, making simoleans, visiting nightclubs, casinos, or just hanging around your home in game, you would have to take care of your sim's needs, or motives! Your sim would need to eat, sleep, bathe, socialize, use the toilet, and have fun all at regular intervals, so you always had something to do! If you neglected your sim's need for very long, he or she could actually die. The change was not permanent, however, more of an inconvenience, and the dead sim in their ghostly appearance could haunt other sims until they could be revived or until the allotted time has passed and then the sim is automatically restore by the game. During the ghostly period however, sims could not skill, earn money, or interact normally with other sims.
Another aspect of the game was being able to build a home or business. The in game building tools were easy to use, and allowed for unlimited creativity. There were landscaping plants, floors, wallpapers, and roof colors in a wide variety of choices. Building could be quite expensive, particularly for larger lots. Most new users found that becoming a roommate somewhere while gaining skills and saving up simoleans was the best way to go. In time your sim could move out and build their own house. Furnishing a sim house had all sorts of possibilities for style and theme, with hundreds of furniture and decoration stylings to choose from. The owner of a lot could choose who can become a roommate, and could also kick roommates out. Roommates thankfully could not take objects belonging to others in the home they live in, and it was widely acceptable for all roommates within the lot as well as all visitors to be able to use all furniture and objects located there.
There were adorable pets in game to play with, for an additional dimension to the game. Cats, dogs, parrots, fish, iguanas, and turtles. The most popular of course were cats and dogs, which were available in a variety of realistically reproduced breed types. Some pets were rarer than others, such as Tigers, Cheetahs, Afghan Hounds, St. Bernards, Pink Poodles, Purple Turkish Cats, and a Robo Cat and Dog; all of which could cost from 75,000 simoleans up to 10 million. The in game worth is determined by the players. Many users liked to collect "rare" items such as these pets, as well as decorative objects and "anniversary gift" given to players for longevity in The Sims Online. The collecting of "rares" became a game of itself inside the game. A unique item called the Founder's statue (seen below) in either red, white, or blue were given only to the beta testers playing before the game went public. The item was not supposed to be tradeable, but a glitch in the game allowed the item to be sold from store lots to other players which devalued it as the exclusive Beta Tester possession, and it's ultimate rarity became the prized possession of rare item collectors.
Success as a lot owner was driven by the game's Visitor Reward system. There was a "top 100" list that evidenced the success of a lot to attract and keep visitors, measured in "visitor hours". Some lot owners resorted to a type of bribery known as "payouts" to attract visitors, but actually was entirely unnecessary, and promoted a greedy society as well as a lazy one! If a property provides what sims were looking for, as well as more expensive, fast "motive improving" items for raising the need bars, they were a complete success. The Sims Online/EA Land was a forerunner of it's type, ahead of it's time really, and there will never be a game quite like it in terms of open ended creativity and a rich social experience.
I share my personal experience from playing the game from it's debut in December 2002 until it's demise in August 2008. It bears mention that over the years there were some who emerged developing and/or using programs or methods not allowed in game to cheat the simolean earning system, and in so doing they cheated themselves out of the rich and rewarding experience that the game was designed to be. That combined with the unfulfilled promises by EA to bring custom content to the game contributed to the game's demise. A trend was also emerging around the same time for MMO games to be touted as "free to play" instead of by subscription, while earning their revenue by selling for real world currency items that are unique, stronger, and better virtual items than available in game, something MMO users seem quite willing to do. On October 22, 2010 a small team of professional programmers revealed the TSO Restoration Project. They stated that they plan on bringing back the game on a private server with no subscription fees. Since the game has shut down, former Electronic Arts employee and game developer who had worked o the production of TSO in the beta development years, Luc Barthelet, has started his own company and is developing a new MMO, named TirNua, which is uncannily similar to Sims Online. TirNua is free to play on Facebook.