An 8-step Program for Saving TSO

by Alphaville Herald on 25/10/03 at 6:02 pm

Maxis thinks this is just a computer game, and while it is a computer game, it is not just that. One immediately sees the problem here. The move from the offline version of the Sims (which was the most successful computer game ever) to The Sims Online (which has been a massive disappointment) is arguably due to a failure on the part of Maxis suits and programmers to understand that this is a fundamentally different enterprise. MMORPGs are not games, they are synthetic societies that develop synthetic cultures, economies, and governance structures. What we want from Maxis is some sign – some clue – that they are capable of grasping this difference, because until they grasp it TSO will continue to be a failure.

Here is a possible way of proceeding, which, while prima facie implausible, probably deserves closer study, and I know of no evidence that it would not be more economically profitable for Maxis than their current failing strategy.

Step 1: Give away TSO software via free downloads.

Step 2: Drastically Reduce or Eliminate the monthly subscription fee.

Step 3: CONTROL the monetary supply (e.g. by drastically reducing the payout from jobs that can be automated by mazebots and their ilk and finding ways of reabsorbing simoleans).

Step 4: Make content finite (i.e. several thousand of each object rather than an infinite supply).

Step 5: Expedite the introduction of custom content.

Step 6: Tax each transaction at 5%.

Step 7: Sell simoleans, but at a rate that is sensitive to the growth of the money supply.

Step 8: Rake in the money.

Here is the idea. Maxis should not think of itself as a game maker, but rather as a kind of government which is responsible for providing the infrastructure for a synthetic community. It can and should make money, but the way to do this is not by scaring people away from TSO with outrageous monthly fees. Rather it should make money by by taxing transactions (yes, in Simoleans, and no I’m not kidding). This taxation would have the effect of removing simoleans from the money supply, and it would afford Maxis the opportunity to sell retired simoleans for US Dollars. If job objects can be created that can baffle job bots, Maxis would have a stable source of income.

Right now there are approximately 100,000 subscribers paying $10/month. That means there is a flow of net revenues of $1 million per month. This is virtually nothing, given the expenses of running TSO, and there is no surprise that the online division is hemorrhaging money.

But now suppose that Maxis gives away the software and offers free subscriptions and suppose that there were a million subscribers for TS0. Suppose further that the value of simoleans could be stabilized at $1 US per 1000 simoleans. In that case every suit purchased on TSO would in effect be a $6 sale. Tax that at 5%, and Maxis would have a take of 30 cents. If half the users buy one article of clothing we are looking at income to Maxis of $150,000. Now multiply that by all the other items that the average sim might want to buy and you get the picture. If half of all sims bought 10 such items per month, the revenue to Maxis would increase by 50%.

Clearly a rigorous economic study is called for here, but it would be a simple study to do and Maxis could easily have it done for a few thousand dollars. Hire Edward Castronova to do the study if you don’t believe me. I’ll bet 1 million simoleans that this plan would work.

4 Responses to “An 8-step Program for Saving TSO”

  1. Peter Ludlow

    Oct 31st, 2003

    I was recently talking with Brian Weatherson, who has his own philosophy blog, and he remarkd in response to this piece that perhaps the monthly fees would be necessary to get people to close out dormant accounts. That is a good point. Perhaps another solution would be to work down their bills by spending time on certain job objects in TSO. The theory would be that by being online they are content providers and can get a free ride. You can keep a dormant account, but only if you pay.

  2. Ian

    Jun 9th, 2004

    Reading the old herald hehe, great ideas uri

  3. Johnny Lace

    Jun 11th, 2004

    step 9.
    Stop adding useless game related stuff like pets, new objects. It won’t enhance gameplay.

    Instead add tools that help you organize events, have lotteries, multichat, moving your sim from town to town.

    add mini games like real chess, checkers, card games like the game zone. In reality, turn TSO into a game zone with a virtual world shell.

    The ultimate virtual world.

    Don’t change the game or gameplay. It’s limited. Change the gaming *environment* !

  4. Urizenus

    Jun 11th, 2004

    Yah Johnny, the first thought I had on the first day in game was: why can’t I really play chess while I’m playing chess? I tried to set up the giant chess boards but they were impossibly unwieldly. I don’t know if a game has ever been successfully played using those.

    But more importantly, tools for putting on events would be the obvious and natural thing to introduce into TSO. On SL, for example, you hit a button and get a list of all the events/times that users have scheduled for that day. In addition (and somewhat annoyingly) every hour on the hour the Lindens spam with a list of events happening that hour. So you might be tinkering away at your house and get an announcement about a waterfall buidling contest or something. This should be a minimum requirement for a social game like TSO.

    The new objects they add in tso are just a joke in comparison to other games. I mean tso gets a cannon, but I lost count of the number of user-built weapons I’ve collected and/or seen in SL — and not just deadly ones but also rockets that explode into snowflakes etc. The cheers for cannons and light sticks are just plain comical to me by comparison. If the shell allowed custom content the dev team (such as it is) could have stopped thinking about that crap and thought about optimizing tso to be a gaming environment shell as you suggest.

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