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Facebook: The Clones are Coming… and they’re still not good.

January 31, 2008

Update: The developer of Simmbook is regularly updating his game.  After GDC, I’ll get back to it and have a look to see what’s been changed since this last review.

In light of the recent Scrabulous/Hasbro lawsuit, I was surprised to see Simmbook. It’s not even hiding the fact that it [hopes] to be a Sims clone. The extra “m” is for “maybe” they won’t sue.

Take on a virtual life, and manage your destiny. Invite your friends, date them or hate them. Meet new friends, and much, much more. Ever played the sims? You will love SimmBook!

Aside from the lawsuit potential, I was intrigued by this concept. Remember that years ago, the venerable franchise did its own thing with Sims Online, and it wasn’t successful. Could the concept work on Facebook where the social networking thing and the casual gaming thing are doing really well especially when paired together?

The answer is as follows: it depends on the game design. Of course, this is such an obvious answer that I completely overlooked it. I gave Simmbook a huge benefit of the doubt, and just assumed a design in my head. Have you ever done something like that? Assumed something would be one way and were completely surprised to find it looked like this:

simmy.jpg

Not what you expected? Me either. In theory, most of the game’s features sound hip:

– Meet new contacts at parties or trips. If you make friends with them in SimmLife, perhaps you can become real life friends as well!
– Play date your real life contacts in this fictional SimmLife
– Follow one of ten career paths, and show everybody you are the most successful when it comes to life
– Buy items, send chocolates, get sick, send medicine.

But I can’t figure out how to play. This could possibly be due to my starting statistics:

simmy2.jpg

Want to go to an event? That’s what you think.

In seconds, you’ll start to feel your statistics, too. Clicking the “events” button tells you to click the orders button where you’re supposed to find the “Attend Event” order. It’s not there, though, and apparently, I need to go to the store to get it. The game also warns you that you need to do this one hour in advance, apparently because that’s the amount of time it will take before you figure out how to get to the party you swore you’d attend. I swear I’m not as dumb as this game is making me feel.

The point of all this? According to this piece of text buried in the orders panel, “The idea is to stack up to 30 orders, and then check back later in the day to see what your simmy did during the day and give new orders out. There are other things you can do while you wait for your orders to execute, don’t forget to keep up with your contacts.”

Translation: Go away. Your game will play itself.

You can see the game’s complexity in the volume of text. For the record, text is the bane of the game designer. If you have to explain it with text, it’s probably not as intuitive as it could be. If you have to underline text and change the text’s color to point it out in a larger paragraph of text, it’s definitely not as intuitive as it could be. That said, well done simulations are a challenge to design, a challenge to program, easy to play and difficult to master. My hat goes off several times to anyone who can do a true simulation well. Likewise, I’m impressed that this tiny group took such an enormous undertaking on.

Ultimately, however, I think the enormity and complexity was its undoing. There was just too much: too much complexity, too much text, too much explaining “how to” when a different design decision would have worked better. In my H&R Block post, I pointed out a concept I call “lead’s blindness”. It’s where you’re so close to something that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You remain oblivious to things that are obvious to everyone else. There’s another common designer trap that I call the “band-aid solution.” You find a flaw, and put a band-aid on it. Pretty soon, you still have the same flaw, a couple new ones and about 15 band-aids to hold them all together. Ultimately, it doesn’t make for the best of games. You can see a lot of band-aids in the Simmbook text.

Simplifying the concept may have been the better route. Distill it down to one or more of its key elements: the core of the original game, the theme of the original game or the player expectation created by the original game. Pick one or more and simplify until you have only what you need left. Streamline and simplify play.

Click below to see for yourself.
help.jpg

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2008 11:11 am

    Yes, I’ve actually *purchased* several games because I assumed a design in my head, only to find out that it was implemented poorly. (At least these days, bad games make for useful questions on final exams, so it’s not a total loss.)

    As for The Sims on Facebook, I actually have trouble seeing the point, since Facebook essentially *IS* a sim game. Go on play dates? Hang out? You can already do that on Facebook with your REAL friends. Why would you need a simulated person to do it for you?

  2. James Caskey permalink
    February 1, 2008 1:23 pm

    I’ve decided this is probably where you draw the line. Scrabulous falls short of the line since it works well and it’s a translation from a board game to a digital game. In my mind SimmBook crosses the line by being an imitation, while blatantly ripping off the concepts established by another IP, and worse still failing miserably at it.

    Secondly, “SimmyDollars?”

  3. Heidi permalink
    February 15, 2008 6:52 pm

    Ok, first of all, it’s really not that much like the sims, because of what you said…you don’t actually play much. you just make choices. Also, it’s INSANELY easy to play. you just click the correct buttons, and i looked at the screen shot and the events button is sitting right there…you don’t have to buy an event. you do, however have to buy a stereo if you want to HOST a medium or large sized party. Also, on trips you have to pay. Plus, I actually have met a lot of new people through playing. I really don’t think that you played long enough to make an informed opinion on this game. And i really don’t understand how you couldn’t understand how to play…they even created a “fun mode” which will lead you through what you need to do. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Perhaps your main problem was, you didn’t realize this was in beta….

  4. February 18, 2008 6:47 pm

    I love it how you come to pick on my game without apparent reason besides… picking on something/someone.

    When i started the game I didn’t aim to rip off The Sims, to copy The Sims or even to give the feel of playing The Sims. So I am EXTREMELY happy you didn’t get that feeling.

    “Likewise, I’m impressed that this tiny group took such an enormous undertaking on.”

    I hope you realize you are taking about 1 game developer who is also the programmer, and targeting a game that is less than 6 weeks old. Which means it still is undergoing work all the time.

    I could go on and on, perhaps even write an essay to answer each one of your “concerns” but the last thing i want to say. Sim stands for simulation, and last i checked words aren’t trademarked, so I dont see whats wrong with naming it SimmBook?

  5. tonid permalink
    February 18, 2008 7:45 pm

    I absolutely adore people, who take their time to criticise something they probably would not be able to implement themselves. Instead of spending their time and effort on making something better, they put others down. Congratulations. Yes, this is how I view this blog entry.

    First of all, I’d like to abstain on an opinion concerning the original Sims. I have never played it. I’ve tried it once and it bored me right away with complexity. But, quite surprisingly, I very much enjoy SimmBook. And don’t care if it’s named SimmBook, or PeopleBook or MeetingBook, or whatever. The name copyright issue is not mine to decide, and neither is the question of comparing this game to the so-called original which is an idea of simulating real-life and would be quite difficult to patend (then aren’t all those virtual-life Internet simulations Sims clones?).

    But concerning the concept of the game, its difficulty (or not), I must first say, that I’m an occasional gameplayer. I don’t get into games too easily, and they usually bore me right away, most often if I find them too difficult to grasp right away.

    I simply cannot imagine, how SimmBook could be hard to grasp. Well, possibly, if someone only played Mario Bros. before, and has zero experience with online gaming, it might be a bit difficult. But the comments made here about the difficulty of the gameplay I found simply hilarious. And this is in so-called “fun” mode, which was introduced to make the game easier. When I started playing SimmBook there was no such mode. So, to sum it all up: it’s child’s play, and I simply cannot understand what state the author of this blog post must have been in to write the review above.

    Now to the concept of the game being useless to make friends via Facebook. Bull. I have made most good contacts on Facebook so far thanks to SimmBook, not to any other game, application. Not thanks to Facebook’s primitive “poking” mechanism, which really doesn’t let you interact with anybody in any way. SimmBook promotes cooperation, actually involves some strategy (I’ve written a small guide on how to effectively manage contacts for example, as it took me a while to practice), and *does* make it easier to make new friends. But not with a negative approach as above — no wonder it didn’t work for the author of this review (I wonder how long he played before he reached this ingenious conclusion).

    And, finally, I’ve played some online games, and my experience has been, that most game creators were buffons, who couldn’t care less about their users and only cared about making money. I am in no way affiliated with the developers of this game, actually met them through the SimmBook forum, and one thing I must say is that they should be an example of how a game developer should approach users. David and Gina do listen to people requests, and not only listen, but quite quickly implement them as well.

    So, in conclusion, I find the above review incompetent, subjective, not based on any game experience and only on first impressions, and quite abusive towards the developers and people who do enjoy playing SimmBook. I would therefore suggest that the author of this review (if my comment goes through and is not deleted, which I might just expect of someone with such subjective points of view) starts doing something more useful than bashing games that he didn’t even attempt playing. Because writing objective reviews is definitely not something this author is good at.

    Sincerely,
    Tomasz Nidecki.

  6. tonid permalink
    February 18, 2008 8:13 pm

    Please accept my apologies for a slight error in my previous comment. In the light of emotions this review stirred, I was careless as to the gender of the reviewer, obviously where it read “he” it should have read “she”.

  7. Rae permalink
    February 18, 2008 8:18 pm

    It just feels like you haven’t exactly been on Facebook enough, you know what, if you have to do such a critique for every silly application you come across, you might have to spend the rest of your life doing it. Yes, the application was not created to please, neither was it to hate, oh well just leave it alone.

    Maybe you need to do one for yourself.

  8. February 19, 2008 12:22 am

    @David et al – “I love it how you come to pick on my game without apparent reason besides… picking on something/someone.”

    I’m sorry you and others feel this way. It’s not the case at all. Rather, I was pointing out what I considered to be poor design decisions. I’ve been on the receiving end of similar comments, and yeah, it smarts.

    In *any* game, things could be done better. There are two ways to approach any form of criticism – and believe me, the longer you’re in the industry, the more intense it can get.

    One way it to suggest that the people critiquing you can’t design games with complex systems (as another poster suggested), the other is to say, “Seriously, how do you think it could have been done better?”

    It’s all a learning experience. And yeah, as one guy, I’m amazed you pulled all that off, and I know what it feels like to release your game and get great comments… and not so great comments. I have said before that it’s like coughing up a piece of your soul and putting it out there for all to see… and delight in… or kick.

    There are specific things you could do to make your game more effective and much more approachable. If you want to talk with me about those things, I’d be glad to do so. Shoot me an email with your contact info.

  9. February 19, 2008 12:44 am

    As a note, here’s why I connected the game with the Simms:

    “Invite your friends, date them or hate them. Meet new friends, and much, much more. Ever played the sims? You will love SimmBook!”

    That tagline’s no longer with the game, but that was what initially drew my attention.

  10. February 19, 2008 10:02 am

    I removed that tag-line after too many people started expecting The Sims too much as that’s not what I wanted to offer.

    Either way I have taken a lot of criticism and I love most of it, i really appreciate people that try and help me improve the game. However, what hurt about this post was that when you Google the name it is a top hit and because it fails to mention that the game is under constant change (and offers outdated screenshots), then many people might be discouraged to try it out.

    I have changed a lot of things ever since January 31 when you posted this, and i still am. I know there is still some bad and confusing things left, but sadly I am a full time student (senior) so its hard to manage my time to do it all.

    Either way, I appreciate the criticism, but I’d love it if you could add a small note at the top or bottom that will let people know the game keeps changing, hopefully to be better.

    -David

  11. February 19, 2008 6:51 pm

    I agree. I’ve been playing this application for a long time.. since about the second week it was up and running and it really isn’t that great. I understand it is constantly changing, but it’s not changing for the best.

    I know for one, you half to pay to be a star member and you get special prizes. And for him to say in one post on facebook where a few people are upset about it that he “will not entertain any complaints about the gold membership anymore. This post wasn’t meant for that.” Then what was it meant for? All the happy people to be excited that they have been there since the beginning and don’t get jack shit out of it. He’s lucky some of them have stuck in there, and they should be awarded too! And it’s not our problem that he can’t afford it. If he couldn’t have afforded it when he started, then he shouldn’t have started it at all! he should have saved up his money and started later.

    As for the game – He has now added a quote on the front page since this blog as come out that says :
    “Just to clarify, this game IS NOT supposed to be anything like The Sims by EA. The only thing that could compare is that both allow you to undertake a virtual life. So please, when you play, don’t come expecting The Sims or The Sims 2. If you want that kind of game experience I do recommend them!”
    That’s only been added recently since you posted this blog!
    You are entitled to your opinion and I am mine. I agree with you about 98%! I do have to agree with David the screen shots are outdated, but only by a few days. In the last 3 or 4 days he’s uploaded a different page… Buuut, you wrote this BEFORE he changed it.. but in my opinion it looks even more like The Sims.

    So for a final thought, SimmBook it’s kind of a ripp off from The Sims, Honestly, Sim –> Simm? How do you think The Sims got it’s name? I agree with you and 2% of me doesn’t but Hey you go and make your point. It’s your blog and its your opinion!!

    <33

  12. tonid permalink
    February 20, 2008 9:21 am

    Scarlett (“Kimberly”): Everyone’s entitled to a negative opinion, but you have to get some facts right first.

    I am a “Gold Member”. Yes, I chose to support David. And what are these great things that I get? Yellow background under my Simm name, and two special items I can buy, send to someone and they do absolutely nothing.

    Wohoo! Seems I paid quite a bit for getting nothing.

    Yes, this is intentional sarcasm. This sarcasm is to clarify, that paying members are *not getting any advantage* over the non-paying ones.

    None. Nada. Zip.

    And you can’t know that, because you’re not a paying member and never have been. I know, because I am and I have you on my contact list.

    So what you said earlier is misinformation for other readers.

    I can’t truely understand anyone being upset about the “Gold Member” option, especially since it’s not bringing any advantage. I’ve played some MMORPG games on the net in the past, and every one of them (e.g. Ogame) did offer *major* advantages to paying members. And somehow nobody complained.

    Do you really have to make that much of a fuss about not getting two useless items? Does it hurt you that much that you don’t get something (useless) that others do for supporting the developer? Or maybe it’s because the developer didn’t add a feature which you found important and others (including the developer) didn’t, and you’re trying to get back at him? I’m just baffled.

    Oh, and by the way. If you don’t like the game, how come you’re still playing it. You’re on my contact list and you still play (well, at least yesterday you did).

  13. tonid permalink
    February 20, 2008 11:24 am

    Just one more thing I feel an urge to comment on, concerning “Kimberly’s” opinion:

    Quote: “If he couldn’t have afforded it when he started, then he shouldn’t have started it at all! he should have saved up his money and started later.”

    It might be of a surprise to you, but:

    1. Not everyone decides on making a game/website/application for money. Actually, most people do it, so that others, such as you can have fun. You’re not entitled to this fun, you should be happy you have a chance to enjoy yourself.

    2. Not everyone makes money on games/websites/applications. Actually, most people don’t. Not because they didn’t save up enough money, but because some things can only be estimated before the start.

    When you start an application on Facebook, it’s a risk you’re taking, because the application can actually only generate revenue via ads, the companies that pay for ads pay you crap money, and you need a lot of users to get some actual value. And lots of users means lots of bandwidth, if the application is not simple.

    Sure, another quiz with “invite 20 of your friends to continue” will get you a lot of money fast, and will require very little work, very little investment, and very little everything (including very little enjoyment and very much spamming). That’s why you have thousands of those on Facebook, and only a bunch of good, developed games like SimmBook, which take a lot of work to develop and maintain. Why don’t you pick on those spammers instead (who are luring you, getting money out of you for nothing, and asking you to intimidate your friends for your personal enjoyment)?

    So maybe before stating something like this in the future think before you write. The developer was unable (nobody is able) to estimate the number of users he was going to get for his game. He spent a lot of time on developing the game (and believe me, SimmBook probably required at least a couple of hundred work hours to develop – I know, I’m a PHP programmer) before it was actually deployed, and then when the game became popular he had four choices:

    1. Dump it completely, because it wasn’t generating income
    2. Tell the users that this is a problem that can’t be fixed and the game won’t work too well
    3. Force payments upon everyone or
    4. Try and get some money by donations.

    I believe he picked what is best for users. Don’t you?

    And why do I support David so much in this matter? Well, it’s because I’m way older than him, and I’ve been facing the same crap (excuse me for calling it that) from people so many times in my life you can’t imagine.

    Once people (at least most of them) get something for free, they start thinking they deserve more, more and more and they should be sprinkled with flowers, kissed on the boots and loved all around for being so wonderful and taking this thing that they don’t have to either pay or work for. Whopee!

    I’ve been both a website programmer (and programmed some huge vortals), and I am a DJ/party organizer, and in both these environments people like this are unfortunately always apt to appear.

    I could bash David, if he didn’t care about the users, if he made a piece of crap to make-money-fast (like these thousands of quizes), but not in this case, where it can plainly be seen that it’s his hobby, that he treats user comments seriously, that he’s involved, and that he’s not doing it to become another Microsoft but for people to have fun.

    That is why in this particular case I stand behind him, even though there are some things I would like to see in the game (but maybe others see it differently), there are things that I would change, but that doesn’t matter, for there is no perfection in this world.

    To sum it all up: If you want to criticise, do it constructively, and actually employ your brain to do some work, before you use your fingers to type and press Enter.

  14. March 11, 2008 6:12 am

    Actually, some of us do need text explaining things, and in the “fun mode” you can click a button to make the instruction go away. But back to why text is valuable, some of us use screenreaders that can’t recognize fancy schmancy graphical images that flash out big letters and numbers in some eye-candy jpg, gif or bmp format.

    A lot of simulation games have completely forgotten about people with considerably less than 20/20 vision, but the creators of Simmbook have done everything they could, and succeeded in making their Facebook application accessible to everyone, and that’s more than some designers could be bothered with.

    AS for the suing stuff – that’s just stupid. Too many companys have gotten so sue-happy that it’s getting to the point where no one can even create anything any more because some greedy snot-nosed crybaby might throw a huge hissy fit and foam at the mouth, beat their chest and bellow out a threat of “You stole my name! I’ll sue!” If Hasbro is really suing Facebook over Scrabulous, Hasbro needs to grow the freakin heck up and get a thicker skin, and learn to pick better, less trivial things to start trouble about.

    AS for those annoying apps that force you to invite friends in order to use them, they are the worst, nothing but chain letters.
    Actually, some of us do need text explaining things, and in the “fun mode” you can click a button to make the instruction go away. But back to why text is valuable, some of us use screenreaders that can’t recognize fancy schmancy graphical images that flash out big letters and numbers in some eye-candy jpg, gif or bmp format.

    A lot of simulation games have completely forgotten about people with considerably less than 20/20 vision, but the creators of Simmbook have done everything they could, and succeeded in making their Facebook application accessible to everyone, and that’s more than some designers could be bothered with.

    AS for the suing stuff – that’s just stupid. Too many companys have gotten so sue-happy that it’s getting to the point where no one can even create anything any more because some greedy snot-nosed crybaby might throw a huge hissy fit and foam at the mouth, beat their chest and bellow out a threat of “You stole my name! I’ll sue!” If Hasbro is really suing Facebook over Scrabulous, Hasbro needs to grow the freakin heck up and get a thicker skin, and learn to pick better, less trivial things to start trouble about.

    AS for those annoying apps that force you to invite friends in order to use them, they are the worst, nothing but chain letters.
    Actually, some of us do need text explaining things, and in the “fun mode” you can click a button to make the instruction go away. But back to why text is valuable, some of us use screenreaders that can’t recognize fancy schmancy graphical images that flash out big letters and numbers in some eye-candy jpg, gif or bmp format.

    A lot of simulation games have completely forgotten about people with considerably less than 20/20 vision, but the creators of Simmbook have done everything they could, and succeeded in making their Facebook application accessible to everyone, and that’s more than some designers could be bothered with.

    AS for the suing stuff – that’s just stupid. Too many companys have gotten so sue-happy that it’s getting to the point where no one can even create anything any more because some greedy snot-nosed crybaby might throw a huge hissy fit and foam at the mouth, beat their chest and bellow out a threat of “You stole my name! I’ll sue!” If Hasbro is really suing Facebook over Scrabulous, Hasbro needs to grow the freakin heck up and get a thicker skin, and learn to pick better, less trivial things to start trouble about.

    AS for those annoying apps that force you to invite friends in order to use them, they are the worst, nothing but chain letters. Thank goodness FB is finally doing something about them.

    Now if only something could be done about Super and Fun Wall, like getting rid of that blasted forward button, people might stop misusing those walls to send chain letters!

    Some apps that don’t force you to invite friends are also chain letters and FB needs to nix them as well. Ever tried “The Brain Game”? It’s just something from a freakin forward!

    Simmbook is not a chain letter application at all, and that’s another thing very much in its favor.

    In short, IMO you really don’t have anything to moan on about.

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