TSO Failure Analysis (reprinted)

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

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 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.

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 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.

27 Responses to “TSO Failure Analysis (reprinted)”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    May 2nd, 2008

    To the free avatars of SL:

    I found the comments under the news link to TSO to be quite enlightening. The sad fact is that Linden Labs could close down Secondlife to ordinary players just as easily and as abruptly as EA is doing to EA-Land A.K.A TSO. In fact because of the LL’s TOS, LL could dump every one of their customers by just shutting down without any warning. Opensim just added avatar attachments and some improved scripting support recently. I expect that most of SL’s remaining features will be replicated by the end of this year. When anyone who wants too, can run a region on a single PC and connect it to a public grid for little to no money, then Secondlife as we know it now will be forced to change greatly or suffer the same fate as TSO. The prudent action is to obtain a copy of what backup software is available and archive what SL inventory you can to a local drive. I personally have been buying mostly full permission items sold specificly for resale or building to use with Opensim grids. Like the elves of Middleearth, I figure its pointless to struggle against the tide of change and better to sail on to new lands opportunity. Opensim works fairly good right now, uses pretty much the exact same content as SL, and is only going to get better as time progresses. Secondlife’s grid at the same time is being evermore restricted by additional rules and regulation and remains so costly that most ordinary users remain landless or are forced to rent from others with even more rules and restrictions. Meanwhile, the bored griefer population of SL continues to grow and prosper with little fear from being held accountable for anything by anyone. Of course that’s only when SL is actually functioning right, which is more and more seldom it seems. No, I will be sailing off to my Opensim island, where I have perfect privacy, total freedom and utter control, sitting under a flexi palm tree watching the windlight clouds drift over the placid virtual ocean in cyber paradise. And as for commerce, well, I already buy most of my virtual stuff off websites like SLX now anyway. Its just a matter of time before their like can accept direct CC or PP payment and deliver materials directly as standardized object files for local download to any Opensim grid. You just can’t stop progress. History has shown that over and over.

    See you on the intergrids – (^_^)

  2. Brendan Cale

    May 2nd, 2008

    Maxis hasn’t existed Since 2001, that’s when EA Brought them. I agree with the article 118 percent though.


    May 2nd, 2008

    THE SIMS ONLINE?????!!!!!!!!!

  4. Aya Pelous

    May 2nd, 2008

    The sims online has been around for a long time and failed attempts to clean up its graphics problems and failure to give players a reasonable amount of control when it comes to customization. This is also a huge memory eater as well. TSO if anything is getting cleaned up but under a different name called EA Land. It is with their attempt to fix/clean their problems and to Target their competition.

    If they actually listen to what their community wants…Linden Labs could actually see a drop in residents. Log ins… BUT only time will tell if they ever create a user based better than Second Life.

    hm. maybe EA can make this Adults only and bring back casinos…hm hmm giggle

  5. Urizenus

    May 2nd, 2008

    As the announcement indicates they are pulling the plug on EA Land.

  6. RIc Mollor

    May 2nd, 2008

    EA-Land is going to be shut down. There is a message in the EA-Land blog at http://ea-land.ea.com/blog/?p=1156

    Plenty of comments from the users also. Not exactly a bunch of happy campers.

    Additionally ‘Virtual World News’ covered the announcement on April 29th http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/04/ea-land-experim.html

    It’s somewhat unusual for a ‘world’ to completely close when there are paying customers. Usually as long as income exceeds expenses the owners will often keep the servers running.

    Could Second Life be next? Fairly unlikely as EA has plenty of other projects to generate revenue and it’s income from TSO/EA-Land may have been minor in comparison. In contrast, the fortunes of Linden Lab revolve entirely around Second Life and their ‘Grid’ project.

  7. Neo Citizen

    May 2nd, 2008

    Sims Online: an isometric game, not even full 3D. It was designed to run well on a 75Mhz Pentium, so naturally sooner or later everything else on the planet was going to leave it in the dust. That’s what happens when you build a hard technical specification into your business model.

    Aya, I have to disagree – right now the virtual society niche is Linden Lab’s to lose, Electronic Arts is just trying to salvage their customer base, not innovate.

  8. Marc Woebegone

    May 2nd, 2008

    LL has no power!. You remaining regisrants do, if you’re willing to assert your rights!!



  9. Neo Citizen

    May 2nd, 2008

    Marc, a little reality check here. Who’s paying the electricity bill for the server room? And who owns the servers? Second Life isn’t a country, it’s an online service. We’re just the paying customers – most of us are, anyway.

    The people who whine about being banned need to remember that they don’t have an unalienable right to access Linden Lab’s commercial servers. The people who’ve been quietly taken away by the FBI so far, and the people who’re about to, they REALLY need to remember this.

    The people who whine about the service should be helping Linden Lab come up with ways to fix things if they think Linden Lab has run out of ideas (and in some areas, they have).

    But this ‘Viva la France’, ‘Power to the People’ idea is an idea whose time came, stood around on a streetcorner for a while, couldn’t hitch a ride, and ended up walking home.

  10. Cincia Singh

    May 2nd, 2008

    You say, “… I will be sailing off to my Opensim island, where I have perfect privacy, total freedom and utter control, sitting under a flexi palm tree watching the windlight clouds drift over the placid virtual ocean in cyber paradise.” Sheesh, excuse me but that sounds b.o.r.i.n.g. in the extreme. You’ll get cyber-artherosclerosis and die an early eDeath from all the inactivity! Actually I agree with some of what you say but aren’t you a bit full of yourself and a little too sure of yourself and your opinion? What does the future hold? No one knows for sure, and anyone not sitting around the boardroom at LL or the other games hasn’t a whisper of a prayer of knowing. Anyone who says they DO know, is just blowing smoke up my skirt hoping to impress. Take care and maybe I’ll see you inworld.

  11. DiSSENT

    May 2nd, 2008

    Will you idiots stop crying about the FBI already. FBI doesn’t give a shit. We are still going to do what we do and anyone that is stupid enough to whine about the FBI with their name next to the post is going to be targeted too.

  12. Ava Cartier

    May 2nd, 2008

    My whole online “gaming” experience started with TSO. I was a beta tester and left about a year after I started beta testing for There. I remember staying up until the wee hours of the morning pile-driving brides and grooms, having pee parties and making pizza. To this day, my husband insists he has NEVER heard me laugh so loud, so long, so much and so hard. I have always missed that about TSO. It was “innocent” way back when and something completely new, even for fans of the single-player Sims. I’m feeling rather crestfallen that this is what has become of my beloved Sims, the catalyst for my love of this genre of video games. I guess it’s human nature to take something–anything–even that which is endearing and entertaining and run it into the ground.

  13. whisper2u

    May 2nd, 2008

    It should be screamed in 42 point BOLD Headlines across every Second Life blog and every online newspaper that “THE FBI IS ARRESTING AND JAILING SECOND LIFE PLAYERS” if that is in fact true. There is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING that I can think of that would KILL SECOND LIFE faster than if that happens :)

  14. Neo Citizen

    May 2nd, 2008

    Woah. Just noticed. Where’s the masthead?

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    May 2nd, 2008

    Cincia, its not about knowing, its about understanding. I do not know exactly what LL will do with SL, but I can see the trends and what is happening to my own experience there and that communicated by others about their SL experiences. The social and technical forces that shaped TSO user experiences, as seen in the TSO user comments, and have led to it closing down can be applied in general to SL as well. Many players left TSO when its user experience began to degrade and left for another newer, more fully featured, less regulated and more interactive virtual world – Secondlife – as soon as it became available. Linden Labs should learn from TSO,s example but LL as a company has shown overtime great tendency toward doing what it wants rather than what its rank and file customer base requests. User generated content, relatively up-to-date technology, creative freedom and social freedom are what made SL so attractive as a virtual world. Now I and others are observing that SL experience degrade and seeing Opensim quickly shaping up to offer everything SL offered originally and the promise even of even more features combined with personal control of that technology. All I am saying is that if LL does not change to make Secondlife more attractive than the up and coming Opensim grids like Openlife or Central Grid by reducing prices, relaxing regulation and increasing the stablility and the functionality of the SL grid, then the competition will eventually either steamroll them under or push them aside. Its happened before, its happening now and it will happen in the future. The players and the field change with time, but not human nature. So says history, not me. And as for my personal view of what online fun means, well I never said that laying around on my island sim was all I would use it for, or that I do not leave it to explore other sims and do other things, with other avatars. In any event, what your or another’s idea of cyber paradise will be, will differ from my own. But, if you use Opensim software to build and connect your own virtual space with that of others, it can be pretty much what you want it to be. Which is the point, its “Your World, Your Imagination”, not EA’s world or LL’s world and their forced vision of what it should be. Personal freedom and empowerment, that’s what LL needs to offer its customers if SL is to continue to thrive, otherwise it may meet the same fate as TSO, first obscurity, then oblivion.

  16. Land Baron Extraordinaire

    May 3rd, 2008

    “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.”

    Wow you could replace “Maxis” with “Linden Lab” and this would explain to a T why the gambling ban, interest ban, and adfarming ban have been abject failures and only resulted in the destruction of the SL economy.

    People WANT to make money. Stop F-ing up their ability to do so, and do something constructive to help them do so legitimately. All the collectivist socialfags can go have their kaffe klatches in Activeworlds where there is no money.

  17. Lord Kamina

    May 3rd, 2008

    It’s because Linden Labs is from California. They wouldn’t know what a free market economy was if it bit them in the ass.

    And it has. Several times.

    The best part is, if LL ever goes under, all your shitty spacebux go with them, since it’s all theoretical dollars.


  18. Tyrant Arai

    May 3rd, 2008

    the fbi is on all of ur griefer asses
    dont drop the soap

  19. Mimi Coral

    May 4th, 2008

    TSO was the first mmo I ever played until I joined SL in 2004. I will forever miss it! Even though my time there was spent as an old grouchy grandma harassing noobs and griefing the crap out of anyone who was near me it was more fun than I’ve ever had in SL or any other online game for that matter. Hey Uri, remember Mrs Granny and Gladys? What about Celestie? She rarely plays SL anymore but I sure do miss her ;)

  20. Urizenus

    May 4th, 2008

    Yeah Mimi, tso was more fun than Second Life in a lot of ways. I think maybe it’s that all the creativity went into social aspects of the space instead of into the eye candy. Celestie is still around. sometimes.

  21. Marc Woebegone

    May 5th, 2008

    live long and prosper …. in real life…..


  22. Callie Lobo (Nataleigh from Alphaville)

    May 5th, 2008

    I am kind of sad to see TSO despite how much it sucked toward the end. I got started in online gaming in Alphaville. I was even involved in the Miss Alphaville pagent scandal. I will miss the look alike avies and crappy graphics. RIP TSO!

  23. Simon Lameth

    May 7th, 2008

    I nearly teared up when I read that TSO was closing… Nearly…

    Anyone know if really old accounts (like, 2+ years) work for free, or will I have to re-register for a free account?

  24. Melissa Yeuxdoux

    May 7th, 2008

    One can’t prevent all murder and theft, either, but I don’t think anyone would argue that the police should give up on the attempt. As for risk, danger, and grief, I’d just as soon other residents not be the source of it–that falls under the libertarian prohibition of initiation of force or fraud.

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