OP/Ed: TSO Failure Analysis

by Alphaville Herald on 22/01/04 at 10:52 am

By Kiss

I?m a 44-year-old Manager for a company that develops simulations and software for the military and have been playing TSO since Beta (November ?02). I have never been a member of any of the Mafia?s, never received or given an enemy link other than to play with my friends, and have pretty much played TSO the way Maxis envisioned it to be played. And yet, I am now going to be reducing my TSO playing time significantly and moving on to other MMOG?s. Why am I doing this? Because I hate living in the wimpy environment that TSO has morphed into.

In my opinion, TSO has become a benign elementary school playground populated by totally harmless wannabe bullies who never could actually do anything of any real significance, and an even larger contingent of whiney wimps who have limited online experience crying about their red links.

I thought I would share with you my thoughts on why I consider TSO?s battle with the griefers an abject failure and close with a few random thoughts. One minor thing, many people erroneously lump griefers in the same category as exploiters. They are not. The exploiters (such as the maze bot exploiters) deserved everything Maxis/EA threw at them.

The premise of forced socialization (and only nice socialization at that)

TSO was designed to encourage socialization and dialogue. Will Wright?s approach to encouraging this socialization was to make the most important part of TSO (skilling, making money, etc.) mind-numbingly boring. Sorry Will, it didn?t work. Many people responded by either going afk all the time, or thinking up things to entertain themselves. I?m surprised this surprised the people at Maxis/EA. Who are these clods that couldn?t predict this occurrence? Don?t they have anybody up there with a background in game theory or psychology? Every game has griefers, but TSO abounds with them partially due to the poor game design of TSO.

Maxis/EA considers some of the ideas the players came up with to entertain themselves to be anti-social. These include acting like a fool to get attention, forming Mafia?s, harassing newbies, scamming, etc. When people are denied other goals to strive for beyond having a house in the top 10 on the list, then they create their own entertainment. Some of the entertainment they dreamed up Maxis considers griefing and has attempted to stomp out in their usual utterly futile and ham-handed way.

Maxis/EA Caters to the Vocal Minority

I should have seen the direction we were heading when Maxis changed the default for the interactions from ?accept? to ?cancel?. This was implemented in order to combat abuse of afk, weak, and landing sims and was requested by some of the more whiney players on the old message board. The fact that more players opposed it than requested it was ignored. By making that change two things occurred:

1) They stripped away the ability of regular sims to retaliate against rude and obnoxious people by using their mean interactions. All we could do now was leave the lot of the annoying person or boot/ban/ignore them if it was on our lot. The first wave of annoyed real gamers left. The vast majority of them were non-griefers.

2) The so-called griefers had to think up new and more creative ways to cause trouble.

So along came house destruction and tagging. Maxis response to combat the house destroyers was to implement building permission. All this did was to create an environment of mistrust among roomies and owners and forced the griefers to stockpile old sims and become even more creative in worming house wreckers into their targeted homes. Eventually Maxis will foolishly require the ?make enemy? interaction an ?accept? only function to combat tagging.

These actions (and some others I won?t get into) have not only utterly failed to contain the griefers; it has in my opinion made the situation worse than it ever was. It has succeeded in limiting the play of normal players while forcing the griefers to adapt, improve, and work harder. In essence, Maxis has unwittingly made the game far more fun and challenging for the griefers, and far more restrictive and even more boring for the average Joe?s. This is why the number of griefers is actually going up while Maxis/EA continues to battle them. More and more regular people are turning to griefing and joining mafias out of desperation to do something challenging in the game.

Eventually somebody at Maxis/EA will wake up and ask two basic questions:

1) Can griefers be beaten?
2) Do we want a grief-free game?

I would maintain that it is almost impossible to beat griefers. They will start a new account if terminated, and find a way around any restriction in the game you implement. The in-game reporting function is pointless and an utter waste of time as the most the griefer gets is suspended or terminated. So what if he is? He just waits a couple of days and is back, or simply starts a new account. Sadly, many of the simple-minded non-gamer sims in TSO consider a three day suspension, or account termination, a punishment. It is not. The fact of the matter is that I can?t do a thing to somebody harassing me now and neither can Maxis in the long run.

Let?s look at question two. Let?s suppose for the sake of argument that Maxis could implement enough restrictions that it finally succeeded in making TSO ?grief-free?. I don?t know about you, but I don?t particularly relish the idea of living in a totally benign game without any element of risk or danger whatsoever. I for one have no desire to live on a bumper padded playground, with tons of overly restrictive rules, and MOMI?s in every virtual guard tower monitoring our behavior.

I don?t want Utopia! I rebel against the thought of the TSO sandbox becoming filled with nothing but well-behaved morons giving each other cookies on the player message board and IMing different variations of smiley faces back and forth!

Some random thoughts and predictions:

1) If griefers upset you then you probably shouldn?t be playing online games. Do you want TSO to become totally free of risk, danger, and grief? If so, perhaps you should go play Chutes and Ladders instead.

2) The ratio of men/women in TSO will continue getting worse as Maxis makes TSO ever more benign.

3) Maxis has always been overly focused on pleasing the women players of TSO by making everything ?nice? while totally ignoring that by do so they are driving the men out. Like it or not, many women are leaving TSO due to a lack of men. The perfect balance for TSO player retainability would be a one for one ratio.

4) Maxis will never implement new goals that might upset the whiney people. Examples include: Most enemy links; richest sims list; etc. Anything that smacks of competition upsets these people. Indeed, if it were up to them they would have the top 100 lists eliminated entirely.

5) Maxis will continue their inept campaign against griefers with the same dismal results they have accomplished to date ? namely, making things worse.

6) Maxis has announced the dropping of development of blackjack and video poker for TSO. This signals a dearth of future content for TSO.

7) We will never get custom content ? one of Will Wright?s highest priorities for TSO.

8) The biggest mistake Maxis/EA made was going after the teen rating. The idea of using a love bed, or hot kissing a kid makes a lot of us sick. It doesn?t seem to bother Maxis one bit however. By going after the largest possible market they could they mistakenly thought they could improve their sales. In actuality, all they did was make a game that frustrates both teens and adults. TSO would have had higher sales and higher retention rates if TSO had been rated adult only.

9) It will come to light that the number of TSO subscribers may indeed have been 80,000 at one time but that number is significantly lower now.

10) TSO will be shut down this year. The official reason will be ?disappointing sales?. Industry insiders will say the real reason is ?Maxis lost control and the griefers killed it?. They are both wrong ? Maxis/EA killed it by releasing TSO a year to early, having the wrong concept of what people want in their games, failing to provide enough new content, not understanding how people behave or what bores them, refusing to implement an economy, allowing kids in the game, and attempting to create a benign and boring world totally lacking in goals.

8 Responses to “OP/Ed: TSO Failure Analysis”

  1. Dyerbrook

    Jan 22nd, 2004

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I am 100 percent behind your every word. This is a girls’ game, for sure and there aren’t enough men in it. A lot of the fun began to drain out of it when they made the interactions cancellable, and when they handed over architectural privileges to property owners. This decreased democracy in the game significantly, because roomies were reduced to serving as mere plac-holders to enable a prop owner to build out his lot at a discount or go beyond his object limit. With that kind of depersonalization, people grouped together less, because they couldn’t even put in their own wallpaper in their room. Prop owners had every motive to use second Sims as those placeholders, or simply pay a newbie to stay on their lot for a minute while they built out. A lot of new lots came and went with one or two roomies which failed because they couldn’t get visitors. Will Wright had more than a touch of utopian socialism in mind when he thought up all this collective forced labor for Sims to engage in, but it backfired. People preferred hanging in barn-like lots laid out for bots and doing boards together so they could go AFK or chat rather than have to focus on the numbing details of pizza or code. I totally agree that by leaving out some basic small holders’ rights and democracy from the grassroots, and forcing Sims into collective labor and these absolutely ridiculous robot and waiter jobs with no greening facilities (!), Maxis/EA created the Soviet Union, and like the Soviet Union, it degenerated into mafias, crime, and corruption after its basic material wealth ran out and its human capital was exhausted.

    Custom content might still save the game but only if they give people a lot of freedom to buy and sell and set their own prices and not fuss too much if someone clones the really expensive in-game items for 0 simoleons. Custom objects, skins, and wallpapers could totally replace the boring Maxis supply which has already driven everybody insane, especially the ugly clothes (we really ARE in Minsk circa 1987).

    Still, I live in hope, that I won’t be driven out to more ghastly games like sociolotron or some stupid star wars similitude or other glorifie shoot-em-up. I don’t want to live in the middle ages or the harsh metallic future. Like many Sims, I’d like the eat the pumpkin pie Heather made at SimFreaks and have all the other wonderful customized stuff out there. It’s only the crazed fear of loss of copyright and devaluation of Maxis-created objects that is making this happen.

    You are absolutely right that the whiners have gotten what they want, and yet they are unhappy…

  2. RB

    Jan 22nd, 2004

    I applaud the author of this OP/ED report for the high quality of his/her article. And agree with every word he/she has said 110% .

    EA & Maxis are absoloute fools and compete morons at running TSO. If i had a say i could easily double subscriber numbers and profit in a reasonable amount of time. Because i have a clue, they don’t.

    Also am in full agreement with DyerBrook. And that whinging do-gooders with no idea hold far too much sway with the goofy maxis TSO folk.

    If anyone else feels the same as us 3, they should have thier say on my web poll =) where this is the current issue. http://www.ictu.homestead.com/web_poll.html

    Good day to all.

    - RB

    p.s in a stratics thread which i forget the name of, “Tigger” comments that the Maxis company did’nt get where are today by ignoring customers. I guess TSO does’nt count in that then.

  3. samhain

    Jan 23rd, 2004

    Does anyone else notice that the last few “articles” in this blog are derived from briefly scanning stratics? No offense Uri, but this looks like a desperate attempt to get people fired up when, by the time they read this, they are only at a simmer….

  4. Bob the Tomato

    Jan 23rd, 2004

    Well RB, perhaps you’d like to share your comments on how to improve everything, as you seem so clued up on how to run a multi-million dollar company from your vast experience.

    The current roomie/owner structure is fine, it gives people a target. You get in as a roomie, make some money, learn how the game works, experience different aspects of the game, then you can branch out and build your own property. People want glory for themselves and not to share it, thats the real problem, thats why people build and fail, or give up, because they simply don’t understand it because it’s not the “American Ideal” to be content with anything but the top spot. Give a newbie ยง1,000,000 and within a week they’ll be bored stiff of the game.

    I’m guessing you are lumping me in the whiney do-gooders because we’re playing the game by abiding by the rules. Sorry if that offends you.

    Of course the last few things in the AH are from stratics, it’s just trolling. Didn’t you realise that Uri is so upset that he got caught breaking the rules that he’s single handedly trying to bring the game down by publicising his findings – and apart from interviewing Mr Rizzo, I don’t see much else from anyone else within the game being featured. This can only be for two reasons…. 1) Nobody else wants to submit anything of any substance to this cyber-rag, or 2) He only wants to publicise material that’s going to help his new book.

    If only the claim in the article that Maxis had shut down AH were true… would the small minority of griefers that make up a tiny percentage of the game players actually have anywhere to perpetuate their ennui?

  5. RB

    Jan 23rd, 2004

    *steals Bob’s tomatoes and throws them at him* =P

    - RB

  6. Shazam

    Jan 23rd, 2004

    I completely agree. I almost didn’t post here because i doubt anyone from Maxis will actually read it and do something with it. I’ve been playing since Nov 2002 and watching them not pay attention to what the majority is saying is what’s making me feel this way. Back then the game was fun even with all the bug. I had never had a problem with the auto accept. I always thought that was why the afk actions were there. You know… you go afk, you do the afk action. Pretty simple i thought, but looks like some people didn’t know how so Maxis took it out and now they can just stand there with no worries other than getting a tag. Hmmm oh oops looks like Maxis forced the greifers to use the tag instead of putting the sim in such a low level of needs it would start reacting and scream or faint. Yes i see their point, the tag is much neater placed in a web with opportunities to receive nasty comments. Instead of the messy pee puddle and screaming for shower and ooooohhhh the dreaded greening, all that hard work. Ah those were the days. I remember having friends leave their sims unattended just for fun cause they wanted to know what you would do to them while they were away. They’d come back and find that you were trying to tickle them or were dancing the tango or *gasps* had stolen a kiss. Would it really hurt to bring that back. We all know it won’t mess the game up and it’s doeable cause it was there allready. So all they need to do is flip the switch on that one. What i’m afraid of now is that if they decide instead to make the tag accept/refuse that the afk will become completely useless in their eyes and will be taken out of the game… *not wanting to think that…. i’ll quit again before that happens*
    And now on to other things…. the building permission. I never thought much of it until I moved in to a house and was not given permission to build. If the owner had been someone I did not really know I would not have felt much about it, but this owner I trust very much and know him well. Just that little permission, only a little tick in a box, played some mind game on me. Made me wonder why I was not trusted. Was just a little thing and really that feature in the game seems usefull. You do a lot of hard work on your house, you paid all those simoleans and the last thing you want is for someone to paint all the walls pink in your gym.
    And now my last little bit. Didn’t think I was going to write so much. I guess i’ve been thinking about this for a while now and when I saw this article I just had to put in what i thought were my two cents but ended up being more like two dollars worth. Greifers, Mafia, Bad Boys, Little *itches, Evil ones whatever you want to name them. Without them the game would be boring. They really can’t do anything but tag us and put some rude comment which if too rude and nasty can be taken off by Maxis. So what is the problem there then. I’ve been to a lot where I got so excited having a small debate with a memeber of a community that opposed mine, only to have that taken away from me by the owner “saving” me by booting and banning them. This sim had not used foul language and was not insulting me in any way. He was giving his views and warnings of oncomming conflicts. It was quite interesting and was dissapointed when I couldn’t continue the conversation in room. What fun is it if you can’t speak out in front of others. What fun is it if you have to private chat, when what you need to say is to the whole house. If we keep this up and yes WE, we are not going to have a game anymore to play with. We need to role play more than the nice and cute in public. We need to have more than good friends only acting out a fight. I’ve seen those and done them. That last little bit where you start laughing with your friend and hug them and help them green. That sort of kills the whole fight you just had. Yes I’m a woman in my 30s and I would like to see all this sort of conflict. I only want my game to be fun. Not too much to ask for is it??

  7. trailblazer

    Jan 24th, 2004

    Feedback is important to any company, thats why you see “tell us what you think, call 1-800-yadda-yadda” on pretty much all products, companies use feedback both positive and negative to help improve their product, if Maxis ignores players suggestions and feedback, then it does at it’s own peril.

    I think it comes down to this overall, TSO was not the success EA or Maxis hoped for, as anything that is not a success companies are not going to put a lot of resources into it, I think that is why lack of new content and sever overcrowding in cities are occuring, cut backs is probably the norm for TSO now, save money, unless fortunes change for TSO I doubt there will be any major changes or new content in the future, just cosmetic and tweaks and small things to make it look like new content is being added.

  8. Stealth Badger

    Jan 27th, 2004

    Making it short and sweet.

    UO used to have a game world where there were definable consequences for your actions, and they all but eliminated this with the creation of a separate area where no negative actions at all were possible on another player. So that area became a griefer’s haven, and the part where PvP WAS allowed became the PKers haven.

    The question is, which do you want to face in your gaming world? People who use the rules to shield them from consequences so they can act in ways that are anti-social and annoying, or people who master the rules and use them in ways that are anti-social and annoying?

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