“While the avatars are put to work, the players keep on chatting.”
-Notable excerpt from Maaike Lauwert’s description of The Sims Online
The paper she will contribute to the day is based on the fourth chapter her PhD thesis, which, in her words, investigates the well-known construction and simulation games created by Will Wright: SimCity, The Sims, and the significantly less popular The Sims Online. These digital construction toys take the development towards more form-related play options and less content-related play options as seen in analogue toys further. On the one hand, there were never that many decoration and building options for a construction house as those offered to the player by The Sims. On the other hand, the narrative or content of the game largely remains the same: the player is forever acting out a suburban household narrative in The Sims. This relative lack of content related play options is countered by a diversification of play sites outside of the direct realm of the game. Players increasingly extend their play activities on an external level – mainly the Internet – to chat, download, and share information about the games.
She discusses that for various reasons the facilitated practices of play at this external level increase dramatically. An active user community with players helping each other and creating new content for a game is necessary for a game industry that faces the increasing costs of creating and supporting high-end computer games. Yet, players feel more in control and taken seriously when this external play area increases. Although they may not be able to change the practices of play at the level of content, they do have a lot of tools and options for changing the form of the game, the pieces they play with.
That the external sites for play are more than an option for players and even have become indispensable for the game’s success is illustrated by a consideration of the failure of the online version of The Sims. The main reason why this game never became the eyebrow-raising success accompanying Wright’s other games has to do with the limited external sites for play.