Back in 2002, I was not a gamer. Seriously, I wasn't. I didn't consider what I did as gaming. At the time, I was playing Diablo II with my family and a couple of friends, and enjoying learning a new form of entertainment. Anything else was not even a thought to me... I was happy with what I was doing.
But then, I saw this advertisement for The Sims Online and beta testing. Now, I had played The Sims, and The Sims 2000. And I thought, "How cool!", so I signed up. A few weeks later, I received my beta CDs in the mail and loaded the program. I was instantly mesmerized by this new world, where things were colorful and inviting! And, to top it off... I could have green hair!!! Oh this was heaven for me!
So I created my very first Sim, and named her Mags. She had green hair and wore a green dress, and had green shoes, and was green... as far as gamers go. I had no idea what I was doing! Wandering around, checking out homes, wondering what everyone was doing. In the early days, houses could have all of the items for money or skills under one roof, and not have to specialize by category. And stores? They didn't exist. We all had our catalogues and that's where we purchased our items. And this was beta, so naturally we had some fun bugs to play with! One of my favorites was the Buffet Bug. For those of you that don't remember... the buffets were bugged - literally. You could not clean them, and so they gathered flies and dropped our room scores. And you couldn't pick them up to delete them or sell them! So we had at times 6 - 8 buffet tables stacked in a closed off room at the back of the house just waiting for the bug to get fixed!
Being a beta tester, we were always aware that what we achieved would not necessarily be what we ended up with. In fact, we all knew that the chance of us losing our homes, our money, our skills, and our identities was a distinct possibility. So it was with great regret that we suffered through The Great Wipe in November 2002, just before launch. But many of us found each other again and rebuilt what we could; all the while laughing at how much fun we'd had so far.
The official launch of The Sims Online was December 22, 2002, just days before Christmas. Of course, many new players arrived during the holidays, all excited that Santa was thoughtful enough to bring them a copy of this wonderful new game. And so it began... the rush to fill up the various towns of the world. At that time, the options were Alphaville (which was the first city in the game), Blazing Falls, Calvin's Creek, Dan's Grove, Interhogan, and Jolly Pines. Yes, there are some missing there in that list, aren't there? Well, the cities of East Jerome, Fancey Fields and Mount Fuji were not opened until after the official launch - although still within the month of December 2002. Finally, the city of Dragon's Cove was opened in 2004 - and was named through a contest held and hosted at Stratics.com, the official community for The Sims Online. Players submitted their ideas and the community voted on them. And Dragon's Cove was born! The lure of Dragon's Cove was that it provided a whole new challenge to players who had achieved much already within the game - earning money and gaining ground was much more difficult here, and thus more rewarding.
In the early part of 2005, the city of Betaville was opened. This was a "Free Will" city, where players could have families, and their Sims would have minds of their own. If you weren't careful, your Sim could be found wandering off to start a fire in the back bedroom, or your family would be wandering to let the dog out while calling a repairman to come clean the house! Never a dull moment here. The inhabitants of Betaville thrived on hilarious chaos the likes of which could not be found anywhere else. Regardless, after an initial rush to see the new digs, only the most serious about Free Will remained, and the city was eventually shut down when all cities were merged into one map in February 2008, forever closing the Free Will aspect of this game.
Aside from the players, one of my favorite pasttimes was building. While I would be chatting with my friends and family, I would be working away at my latest creations. Although, I was never as creative as Johnny Lace, I still took pride in my work.
During all of this, I was blessed to be on the front lines, as both a content editor and a forum moderator.
The Sims Online was released as a Rated T for Teen game, meaning that players were to be 13+ in order to play. However, as is always the case, there were those who disregarded this rule and snuck in under the radar. They never really mentioned their age to anyone when asked - and kept it hidden until well past when they could be in trouble for it. I remember many a "coming out" discussion on the official forums from people who were not old enough to play at launch, but couldn't resist the temptation. Nevertheless, they were chuckled at and joked with, but warmly welcomed into the fold of "outed" players.
When I first became involved in the player community, it awed and mesmerized me. Here was this group of people of all ages and all walks of life openly engaging in discussions, debates, and debacles of gameplay, and never once did I hear "What do you know, you're just a kid!" or "Get a life, old lady!" These people worked together to improve their community and they always seemed to find a way around the ugliness that you find in most other communities. Of course there were the arguments and the cliques that come out of them. Naturally there were two sides to every discussion, and quite often you would find the same people on the opposite sides. But no matter what, when times were tough and people were in need, everyone came together and supported each other; even those who disagreed on every other point.
I watched many of these people grow up, from young teenagers to young adults… to adults and beyond. I chuckled at their childish bickering and smiled warmly at their confident discussions. From "U suck" to "I appreciate you have an opinion, but I disagree. Oh, and U suck". The growth was a phenomenon I was blessed to be a part of, and consider myself privileged to have been welcomed into the fold of these players. From community members such as Hyper, who made it her obsession to try to find out who the Moderators on Stratics were in real life, and Towelie, who gave us all fantastic ideas and creative games, to the volunteer staff who gave us all a safe place to hang out and discuss our one common thread - with undying and unwavering dedication to the community for as long as they could, and even after they felt they could no longer give. Brekkee, who has been there since the beginning of Sim Time, and will be there at the end. There are so many others I could name, and it would take forever to do so. Just know that I remember you, and welcome you to stay in touch.
It was the players who made this game what it was. The Sims Online, later known as EA Land, was not a game in which you grouped together and went out to kill or maim mobs while progressing through dungeons for loot drops. No... this was a social game. One of gathering with friends and creating your own entertainment. EA did not provide players with guides on how to be entertained; they provided tools with which players could devise their own. Some called it a glorified chat room. Others called it genius. I call it a part of my life I'll never forget; a pivotal moment in my life that spanned 5 years.
Along the way, I met some very amazing people, many of whom I still chat with today. Even after I quit playing the game several years ago, I was a part of the community - and I will always be a part of this community. Just as they will always be a part of me. To those who were always there for me, I thank you. For those whom I was able to be there for, I thank you. Each and every one of you has been one of the bricks that have supported me these last five years as I have journeyed on my path, and I will never forget you.
And no, I haven't forgotten the ones from EA who supported us. Luc Barthelet who, after years of ignoring us, returned to try to save us. I appreciate your gallant efforts, and look forward to your next endeavor. To Tigger, who has long since moved on to other things, but who introduced us to what a Community Representative could be. To Parizad, who truly embodied a Community Representative by being a player first... and a representative only when forced to be. She engaged with the players, told it like it was (whenever she could), and often could be found in various fansites and in-game or live chat sessions just being a part of the player base. I thank you for being there, and hanging in with us to the very end.
I will never refer to this game as EA Land or to my characters as Avatars. This is The Sims Online, and I am a Sim. From beta to close, I will forever be the Green Haired Lady of Interhogan (with my one beautiful twin, Greenbean!), who played Simball, engaged in Drive-By Dipkissing, and thrived on avoiding AFK stores and over-zealous payout houses. The simple things in Simlife were the joys of the game, and I will always remember my travels with you.
Share the stories of others who are in mourning today... be sure to stop by the E-Blog and give your final thoughts!
Maggie "AutumnKiss" Olsen
Senior Editor, ZAM Network