For anyone familiar with The Sims Online, the poorly-received virtual world launched by Electronic Arts in 2002, take note: EA is relaunching it under a new name and for a new price: free.
This is a rather momentous move by EA, since it means it is bringing back from the dead--at least as far as perception goes--a game that, while it never really got off the ground, was extremely important in the overall development curve of 3D social virtual worlds with economies.
And while TSO, as it came to be known, never got the massive audiences of its single-player antecedent, The Sims--which came out of nowhere to become the best-selling PC game of all time--it did usher in and initiate a lot of people to virtual worlds.
In fact, there are, to this day, whole communities of people in Second Life and There.com that began in TSO.
Note: My wife now works at Second Life publisher Linden Lab.
One of the major reasons why TSO never took off is that it really didn't give players very much opportunity to create their own content. And that was particularly frustrating to many players, because The Sims creator Will Wright had promised that TSO would offer open content creation.
But now, according to EA, EA Land will allow players to make their own things.
"Like in the original Sims game, the goal is to let you customize the game completely," EA wrote in a note to former TSO subscribers, "but in EA Land, you can see and buy the customizations of the other players."
That means, of course, that there will continue to be--as there was in TSO--a functioning economy. But because players will be able to make more content, that economy could, in theory, have more complexity and depth than that of TSO.
It's probably too early to tell how EA Land will do, but I do have to say that it's unfortunate EA couldn't come up with a better name.
My guess is that EA Land will have a hard time making too much of a dent in the virtual world space. That's partly because it is hard to see exactly where it fits into the mix. Second Life is well established, though it does not have a huge audience; There.com also has a substantial audience; and then there are the kids' virtual worlds, such as Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, and the like.
But you never know. Perhaps the biggest question will be how much marketing effort EA puts into EA Land. If it allows the game to exist on its own without a lot of backing from corporate, then it may wither away with as much fanfare as it arrived. But if EA gets behind it full force, it could be something some day.