The Sims Online was supposed to draw millions into multiplayer online gaming. As people flocked to the non-violent, non-fantasy gameplay, seeking the familiarity of the suburbs in their virtual fun, this persuasive mix of chat and consumer American fun would be gaming's biggest experimental labratory to develop the future of electronic entertainment.
I should have known I'd read too many articles like that to believe it. On Amazon.com today, the product rating for The Sims Online was down around 2 stars because the post holiday season reviews have all been around 1 star. Players are griping and complaining about terrible bugs, shifting rules, a 20 player limit, the lack of any city feeling. These people feel they're paying to be beta-testers and they're not excited about the game as it stands now. And most of all, they went looking for the same chance to build up their careers and persue the same meaningful character development and identity experimentation they remember from the single-player Sims game, and they can't find it online. Instead, they found an expensive 2-gigabyte chat client with too many restrictions on the supposed game environment.
I have some great faith in Will Wright as a game developer, or as a toy developer. Does connecting his toys to the Internet remove the fun of play? Or did Electronic Arts somehow mangle his vision? These problems were mostly foreshadowed in a recent GameGirlAdvance thread on the game. Maybe "The Sims Online is A Big Flop" is the next popular news story; I hope they get their playbalancing worked out over the next few months. If their core concept isn't fatally flawed! Otherwise, multiplayer online gaming will have to find another savior, the next title supposed to popularize the medium for the unplaying masses.