I love The Sims, but I just don’t have time to mop my virtual house anymore. While the series has sunk its hooks into me numerous times throughout its run, satisfying my families of Sims had become such a daunting experience in subsequent sequels that I just had to get away. The Sims 3 in particular, with its gigantic town and dozens of challenges cycling in and out, was just too much of a good thing. (I don’t know how EA expanded upon such a stuffed package.) Thus, this overwhelmed gamer decided to place his hopes in a proposed Sims game for Facebook, one that promised more reasonable expectations but the same household adventures I had enjoyed over the years. What we ended up with, The Sims Social, is an entirely different beast.
The Sims Social throws out many of the series’ conventions in order to make it work within a browser. Job trees have been reduced to in-home art projects, the town has been reduced to a single “street” of friends and managing a Sim’s needs is no longer the give-and-take tedium it once was. In order to make the experience more manageable for the casual set, energy limits have been put in place so that you’re only doing menial tasks for 15 minutes at a time – Animal Crossing comparisons aren’t too far off. However, while I’m totally in favor of making the experience more approachable, all of the little tweaks mean that suddenly this take on The Sims has lost its creative spark. Social has been reduced to a game of keeping up with the Joneses.
One of the many joys of The Sims 3 was how such a seemingly mundane setting could produce some of the most outlandish stories I’ve encountered in gaming. My time as head of the “Hemanway” household was the very definition of emergent gameplay. One day, Fred Hemanway was a paunchy young go-getter with the potential to become a famous astronaut. The next, he was suddenly an octogenarian writer with an evil wife plotting his demise. I realized that I had fallen in love with the game around the time I had his daughter, Gertrude, get a part-time, afterschool job at the cemetery so she could track down Fred’s ghost. My virtual Walter White in The Sims Social can do none of this. All he can do is get on the writing or painting treadmill and make enough money to buy the best furniture. In some ways, that’s even more addicting for this collecting fiend, but the whole experience feels hollow.
The Social element is the game’s most distinguishing feature, but even that is mired in the spammy tactics found in some of Facebook’s most exploitative games. You can share items with friends, help them build additions to their homes, interact with them socially and more, which definitely creates an interesting cooperative/competitive dynamic. (For instance, I’m willing to help Tom build an addition to his house, but only because the cheese he offered me in exchange will help me surpass everyone’s cooking abilities.) But while I like seeing all of my friends’ homes and befriending their Sims, constant notifications beg you to share every little milestone on your feed. Worse yet, The Sims Social basically requires you to reach out to your friends like this in order to meet quest requirements, with buying your way out of these quests as the only other option. (These fees, as well as those for premium furniture, are exorbitant, but in the game’s defense, I’ve had plenty of fun without spending a dime.)
I’ve been playing The Sims Social for about two weeks now, and I’d be lying if I said that it hadn’t become a compulsion to see how Walter White is doing every time I turn on the computer. But it’s interesting to me how this is The Sims game I always thought I wanted, and yet the results are not nearly as satisfying as I had anticipated. Stress may have eventually driven me away from the franchise, but at least I had some memories to look back on. Without that stress, The Sims Social basically becomes an interactive furniture catalog.