by Alphaville Herald on 01/05/08 at 11:18 pm
Many of you have heard the sad but perhaps inevitable news that TSO will close its doors permanently on August 1. Many Second Lifers began their travels in the metaverse on TSO and this newspaper began there as well as The Alphaville Herald. From the very first weeks of our covering TSO we saw horrendous weaknesses in TSO, and we reported accordingly. However, for my money the best analysis of the failure of TSO was posted here in January of 2004 by a reporter named Kiss. I am reprinting it here with only minor edits. The comments under the original are well worth a read too. –Uri
TSO Failure Analysis
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 Mafias, 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 MMOGs. 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 Mafias, 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 Joes. 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 MOMIs 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.
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 too 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.