The last time Will Wright had a bright idea for a computer game, he had to develop it in secret, behind the backs of doubtful coworkers and executives.
This time, the whole world is paying attention as Wright creator of "SimCity" and "The Sims," the biggest selling computer game of all time, prepares to offer up "The Sims Online."
The multiplayer version of "The Sims," set to debut Tuesday, has been hailed as the first major test of whether subscription-based online gaming can appeal to a mass audience. Executives at Electronic Arts, parent company of Wright's Maxis studio, have touted the game as vindication of the company's substantial investment in online gaming. And the 8 million or so people playing the offline version of "The Sims" have some pretty firm ideas about how the online version should work.
All in all, Wright is starting to prefer obscurity.
"With 'The Sims,' the expectations were so low that anything we did was going to look good," Wright said. "All we can do on this project is fail, because everyone is expecting success. They've told us from the beginning this is the most important project at EA."
To date, the top-selling online subscription-based game has been Sony's "EverQuest," with an audience approaching 500,000 people who pay $13 a month to access the game's huge fantasy world.
The most optimistic "Sims" boosters say the online game has the potential to draw an audience in the millions. EA executives have said they expect to have at least 200,000 subscribers paying $10 a month for "The Sims Online" by the end of the company's fiscal year, next March 30. Executives have since backed off those numbers, as the delivery date for the game has slipped, but EA insiders and analysts still see a clear road for "The Sims Online" to become the biggest thing in the developing world of online gaming.
"To be a success, it really only has to appeal to a fraction of the users that play 'The Sims,' " said David Cole, president of research firm DFC Intelligence. "Whether that's 5 percent or 10 percent, the barrier for breakeven success is fairly low."
News source: c|net