Sims Social and Facebook-style games

"I'll be fun to play, honest... No, really... Please?"

I started playing Sims Social a week or so ago, and there are a couple things worth blogging about; there’s also a couple things worth ranting about. Initially, the game looks very fun and sims-like, but simplified (See the picture for the UI). Rather than having to always click on the object in the world to order your sim to satisfy one of their basic needs, you simply click the UI button and they will automatically perform the needed task. Rewards abound, even from these, in the form of various types of currencies (Simoleons and some kind of socia points diamonds usually, among others) and happiness for your happiness meter. When your happiness meter is full, you get a bonus to XP and Simoleon earnings, so it’s encouraged to meet those basic needs as constantly as possible. And yes, these do go down when you are not logged into the game.

Hmm... Seems simple enough...

The first few tasks are simple enough, and the tutorial is basic, but clear. The first quest that got a raised eyebrow out of me was building a new room to expand my house; I bought or gathered the materials and built the room… or so I thought. The room was there, but with saw horses and construction warning tape everywhere through it, and when I clicked it, I was told I had to get three more friends to help me build, and that I needed to ask them for a specific building material I didn’t know I needed. My initial thoughts on this were positive; this is supposed to be a social game, after all; it makes sense that they’d make it necessary to do a couple things with my friends/neighbors.

I went to ask my neighbors for help, assuming it’d be a simple task; boy was I in for a surprise. The bottom of the UI has a list of all your sim’s neighbors, which are all gathered from your FB friends who also play the game and have accepted the invite to be your neighbor. I thought this was fine… until I started getting bombarded by requests repeatedly from the same people. Not because they have multiple sims, either; you can only make one sim character. Ever. Period. So why do I keep having to accept invites over and over and over for the same people? My best guess – because it’s a bug in the game code. There’s a ton of bugs in the friend invite & posting portion of the game, and that is my first major gripe with the game. And I mean major. It’s beginning to border on harassment. That is partly because a vast majority of the quests/tasks require you ask your friends for help, even with simple things like getting a couch; you can’t just buy it, you have to get friends to help you with the materials to set it up. It ‘s also partly because one of your sim’s needs is to be social, and the more you talk to a particular friend, the more social levels with that friend you gain, and the game sends a request to approve the new social level with that friend. Sure, there’s buttons to skip posting a request, but that button has been tiny and to the side  so many people ignore those and just click the huge, shiny button to get rid of the notification, then forget they can close out the “post message to facebook” window.

Suffice to say, I am now disappointed, frustrated, feeling harassed, and about ready to rage-quit the buggy monstrosity. The game mechanics & social aspects had a great idea, and sounded good on paper, i’m sure; but the implementation bombed, as far as I’m concerned. It just feels like a poor attempt to salvage something into a social media cash-grab, and even that was poorly implemented.

Someone's getting it right.

For comparison, take Dragon Age Legends. Now, these guys did their research. The game still makes a list of companions to select from your friends that also play the game, but no invites are needed, and they act more like instanced NPCs. The button to cancel sharing individual notifications is bigger and more noticable. And you & your friends don’t get harassed every couple of hours for every battle and every mission you do with their characters. The entire thing can be played without ever making a FB wall post, and it runs smoothly with little to no noticeable bugs.

Dragon Age Legends - Gameplay

Ooh... Pretty....

Personally, I also prefer the artwork in this game. It’s cartoony, but not overly cartoony; they captured just the right balance. Sims Social’s art assets just seem like they weren’t really serious about the art assets when they drew the images. Dragon Age Legends feels like it was drawn by professionals.

The art isn’t the only places that DA: Legends shines, either. The game mechanics are just plain solid and simple. I never felt harassed or forced to actually send or receive notifications to my friends about quests or items. The economy is equally simplified, the cash-shop is a boon but not required, and even the crafting system is simplistic yet deep. Crafting is done through unlocks, and the actual crafting is done by servants who live in your castle. You can’t just give them orders, though; you have to keep their happiness in mind, or they start getting lax on the job. Gold is not the easiest thing to come by, but there’s enough flowing in the solo play to keep you moving at a steady pace.

All in all, I’d like to see many more games like DA: Legends, and I think Sims Social attempted to be one but failed miserably.