Demonstrably Unhelpful: Sims 3 Demo

By Adam Smith on September 30th, 2011 at 1:36 pm.

There is absolutely nothing sleazy about that image and none of you have dirty minds

Today we are faced with a series of questions. How is it possible to convince even more people to buy The Sims 3? Who would be targeted in such a drive? People who are still clinging to the arguably more complete and less buggy Sims 2, where they can already own pets? What about the cynics and naysayers, can they be convinced? What is the hook that will snare a new audience? EA have decided to offer a teaser, which is kind of like a demo but not. The teaser can be downloaded or played online through the Gaikai cloud service. That’s a new one on me so I decided to see how it worked and what it offered. The first and most difficult step was making my way inside.

Earlier this morning, clicking ‘Play now!’ led to a screen informing of scheduled maintenance. Fair enough. Gaikai is probably preparing itself for the influx of people who want to try out browser-based personal hygiene simulation. I checked back sporadically and by around 11 the maintenance appeared to be complete.

progress!

I don’t know who the proper authorities are but I’m glad they’ve been notified. Maybe they’ll be able to schedule more maintenance in order to fix the problem. Before I closed the window though, I read through the possible reasons for the unknown error. The Sims 3 teaser page distinctly says: “If you have access to the Internet and the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Java installed, you will be able to play The Sims 3 Teaser.” The error page elaborated on my potential ability with the following.

Elaboration

So let’s rephrase the opening statement. “If you have access to the Internet and the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Java installed, and live in a geographically appropriate region, you will be able to play The Sims 3 Teaser.” Now we’re getting somewhere. It is entirely possible that my particular corner of These British Isles is too far from an EA server. Hopefully everybody around me is also trying to play though, because then a new server might appear in the next five minutes, meaning that this post won’t be entirely futile.

Five minutes later I was still seeing the same error screen whenever I tried to play. Then something odd happened. Despite being told that nothing was happening anytime soon, I left the tab open. Not out of a misguided belief that something might happen, simply because I was distracted by something else that was actually working. A couple of minutes later, this happened.

Anticipation

It was like being in line for a not-very-exclusive nightclub or a theme park ride with notorious safety issues. Four entire other human beings were all that stood between me and Sim Browser. Presumably this means the closest server is full and we have to wait for people to drop out. It is like a nigthclub, with a one in one out policy. Maybe I could tell them who I am and get rushed to the front of the queue? I am a very important games person indeed.

disappointment

Oh. My experience, since they’re asking, was being located in an unmoving digital queue and then having unexpected somethings happen that meant my demo didn’t load. That was my experience, the whole shebang. I told them about it.

Ten minutes pass and I try again. Only two people in the queue this time and then, without two becoming one or any such thing, suddenly the familiar Sims 3 music fills my room and a loading bar appears. It takes about three minutes to fill, while I’m barraged with the usual nonsensical spiel about recalibrating llamas and diagnosing emotional matrices. Then I’m in and I’m actually playing The Sims 3 in my browser!

It’s at this point that I forget to actually take any screenshots of the actual game because I become distracted by what’s actually happening. Go me. I tried to go back in to take some but, guess what? I haven’t been able to get back inside. That was it, my one shot at the big time. In fact, I get a new error message sometimes.

I write all my posts from a zeppelin

I honestly haven’t moved house since this morning.

It looks fine though, despite significant popup when loading in a new area. It’d be more instructive to see it in motion because that’s where the lag is noticeable. Every now and then, a Sim will appear at the other side of the room as the connection struggles to keep up, but it’s hardly a disaster considering the type of game this is.

The problem, however, and where the teaser lost me completely, is that it doesn’t contain any of my favourite parts of the game. Characters are chosen from three boring stereotypes, which can be played either male or female, and their homes are prefabricated. I didn’t expect a full building mode but it would be useful to be able to decorate a room, or extend a bedroom. Something that shows that there’s more to the game than guiding a generic man through his generic life.

It’s like The Sims Greatest Hits, a series of set pieces that are so far removed from what is impressive in The Sims 3 that I can’t imagine it’s going to convince anyone to jump on board. Your chosen Sim can go to a wild party, head off on a holiday or meander around town trying to find meaning in his/her life. The main problem I have is that these constructed events have no meaning without the emergent gameplay that leads to them. The Sims is at its best when it allows players to create their own narrative.

Here's some Sims. In a gym.

The Sims can be an excellent storytelling device when in sync with a willing imagination, but this teaser doesn’t show any of that. It shows wacky gadgets, plush pads and preformed relationships. I don’t care about the time the Sim I know nothing about went to a party with other Sims I know nothing about and then I quit and will never see them again.

I didn’t expect more but I expected something different. As far as I can see, this teaser doesn’t fulfill any of the functions a great demo can, and I’m a huge advocate of developers providing demos. But this doesn’t help me to work out how well my computer will run the game, it doesn’t show me the features of the game I’m most interested in and it doesn’t reflect any of the experiences I’ve enjoyed in the full product. The teaser makes The Sims 3 seem static, like the handheld versions of the game, when in reality it’s anything but.

You can avoid all the browser issues by downloading the teaser but it won’t make it anymore representative of the final product. When I quit, EA seemed convinced their work was done, despite my obvious aura of misgiving.

The end of the road

I closed the tab.

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50 Comments »

  1. Real Horrorshow says:

    “I closed the tab” is the new “Jesus wept.”

  2. ChainsawHands says:

    The first and most difficult step was making my way inside.

    Good thing none of us have dirty minds…

  3. djbriandamage says:

    Was the demo actually demonstrably unhelpful, or just plain monstrably?

  4. alh_p says:

    hm. You deserve a medal for your perseverence Mr Smith.

    When it comes to messing with imaginary people’s lives, personaly I prefer to do so on the scale of socio-economic megalomania you get from Vicky2.

    Although a simms where you could put them in the context of Orwell’s 1984 would be pretty interesting/fun.

    • Dozer says:

      And a second medal for putting alt-text on each of the screenshots. Yay!

  5. AgamemnonV2 says:

    I gave up on EA being able to do anything right awhile ago. Few developers actually push out demos for games, so when you couple this with archaic return policies, people are pretty much left with two options; find a friend who has the game or pirate it to test it out yourself. Me, I go option two. EA can call me a bastard all they like, because option two led me to purchasing The Sims 3.

    That didn’t stop me from just continuing to use the pirated version, however. And it’s not like I didn’t first try the “honest” avenue first: http://agdom.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/pirated-games-work-legitimate-copies-dont/

    These days if a game requires any nonsense like DRM, online checking, or it works through an online distribution service (like Steam), I just purchase the copy, set the unopened box in some corner of my room, and play a copy of the game that I know will work forever.

    • Diziet Sma says:

      And therein lies the problem… you can sell the unopened box as new.

    • djbriandamage says:

      Thank you so much for stating this often neglected detail. Publishers are so quick to decry piracy, yet demos are increasingly rare and there’s little recourse for product returns if we are dissatisfied. I don’t have the answer to this situation (though OnLive rentals would be my first guess) but we need to take everything into account, including details we’ve taken for granted, if we’re going to come to a mutually acceptable compromise between gamers and publishers.

    • UnravThreads says:

      Wow, what a ridiculous thing to do.

      Firstly, pirating = more DRM for honest customers. You’re kicking yourself in the nads there.
      Secondly, by buying the game, you’re saying “Hey, Ubisoft. Give me more of your DRM!” or “Hey, Stardock, I love Impulse and want to mate with it”, again contributing to the cycle.

      Simple solution: Don’t buy games with anything you don’t support and buy the games with things you do support. You save money, don’t look like an arse and you don’t contribute to honest people getting frakked over by publishers.

    • AgamemnonV2 says:

      @UnravThreads

      Congrats, you bought what ever garbage Ubisoft has sold you into believing. It’s not MY duty to change THEIR problems. And what I’m doing is completely legitimate (at least playing the pirated copy after I have proof of purchase of the product). I’ve lost a CD drive and days of time fiddling around with DRM, which is in EVERY SINGLE PC GAME these days. Toss your “love it or leave it” argument to someone who believes that garbage instead.

    • diamondmx says:

      @UnravThreads Sounds to me like he paid for a game, and then got to play the experience he paid for.
      As for the DRM – why would he worry – it doesn’t seem to be affecting him?

    • Ultra-Humanite says:

      @UnravThreads: Game companies make up whatever numbers they feel they need to justify DRM anyway so the argument that software piracy necessarily equals more DRM is flawed at best. Also consider that DRM has yet to actually stop anyone from pirating any game.

    • UnravThreads says:

      AgamemnonV2;
      Every single PC game? I think GOG itself disproves that, plus a couple of companies are shipping games with either minimal or no DRM, but it’s not commonplace.

      And no, it’s not “completely legitimate”. If you buy a loaf of bread with sunflower seeds on it, you don’t go and steal one without just because you don’t like them. If there’s a book you’ve bought and a new edition comes out with a bonus short story, you don’t borrow it from a library and photocopy the short story. You buying the game is irrelevant, it’s a separate event. You might be linking them, but the fact is you pirated a game and that itself is terrible.

      You feel entitled to a game without certain restrictions, and you go and get that. But no, that’s not how the world works. When you buy a game, you agree to the restrictions – legally valid or otherwise – set by the publisher. If they say “You can play this game, but you have to put the disc in when you do”, then you do that. You don’t go “Nah, fuck you buddy” and then go and steal it.

    • psyk says:

      @Ultra-Humanite

      Black shark

    • Ultra-Humanite says:

      @psyk: Nope

    • Chufty says:

      UnravThreads is my hero

    • Sumanai says:

      @UnravThreads
      In order to make the analogy complete we’ll have to note that EA doesn’t provide bread without sunflower seeds, and that the only way to get them is to steal them. At which point (according to you) EA curses at the damn thieves and puts more seeds into the ones he sells. Oh, and AgamemnonV2 is allergic to sunflower seeds so much that he can’t actually eat the one he bought.

      And EA doesn’t actually lose a physical object, but instead a hypothetical sale. Which is important, since they’re not deprived of a bread they could have sold to someone else.

      Except they weren’t selling what AgamemnonV2 wanted to buy in the first place. So he bought the one he can’t eat as a payment for the one he stole.

      I very much doubt EA gives a rat’s ass about AgamemnonV2 playing with a pirated version as they still got his money for the game. EULA/whatever be damned.

      @Chufty – It doesn’t take much to be your hero, does it?

    • AgamemnonV2 says:

      @UnravThreads

      I wasn’t aware someone could fail on so many fronts. Until I read your comment.

      Analogies are generally terrible and are implemented by the layman that is unable to convey an intelligent conversation about the topic at-hand. Piracy is not like a loaf of bread. It’s not like a car either before you start off with another terribad analogy.

      Your second fail? Piracy is not stealing. l2law.

      And I do indeed say, “Nah, fuck you buddy” to publishers and developers in which I’ve lost CD drives to and had their customer service tell me it’s MY FAULT that their rootkit malware fucked up my computer and then flat-out denied to compensate me for their draconian distribution methods. Right about that time I stop even seeing that company as being run by humans. And not even animals, either. I’d stop my vehicle to let an animal cross the road. If an EA employee walked out in front of my car, they’d better get the hell out of my way, because I’m not stopping. That should give you an idea of how much respect I have for that company.

  6. Ham Solo says:

    When a player is angry/disappointed/sad/mad/insane EA’s work really IS done.

    • Diziet Sma says:

      Except gaikai has nothing to do with EA, despite appearances and games listed on the front page. It’s a private company founded by David Perry of MDK and Earthworm Jim fame.

    • Sumanai says:

      If it walks like EA, swims like EA and quacks like EA, why not call it EA?

      (Answer: because it is not EA. Though you could still blame them, because if they cared they could have checked the service and pressured them to make it work.)

  7. abremms says:

    that picture up top looks like he’s giving her a free trial, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.

    • bigdeadbug says:

      You just took my innocence…

    • RPS_flybycommenter says:

      LOL…

      *abremms says:

      “that picture up top looks like he’s giving her a free trial, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.”

      I nearly spit all over my monitor and keyboard. I laughed so hard at this (for some reason… the caps maybe?), i felt compelled to sign up just to post this comment explaining it.

      Thanks.

  8. Gnoupi says:

    Not sure that a demo for The Sims 3 happening on some remote location is really the best “lever”, even if you take away the technical problems.

    In my opinion, the best lever would be to continue the family you started (a bit like torchlight demo did, in a way). If this is online, you will anyway have to start again from the beginning, so you lose this “link” to the demo.

    • bigdeadbug says:

      I quite like the idea of trying a game such as the Sims out through the net. Allowing a gamer to download that saved file to later use with their brought copy would solve the issue you came up with. If the system works it saves me the painful download/install process that such games have put me through in the past. I would have though a timed trial (say a few hours) of the full game would have been a better approach.

    • simonh says:

      Also, I think a good idea for a sandbox game like this would be to simply offer the whole game as a demo, and put a time limit on it, say one hour. That’ll make you see all the sprawling possibilities of the game, and then whisk you away just when things start rolling, making it very likely that you’ll want to purchase it to continue.

      OnLive would be an excellent platform for demos like this. EA would have all the technical stuff taken care of for them (on a more tested and reliable platform), and OnLive would get potential customers see their store.

    • Sumanai says:

      @simonh What about people who don’t live in countries with OnLive? If it were available globally, it would be a perfect system for demos, but not right now.

  9. Diziet Sma says:

    Odd, the title appears to be complaining about a Sims 3 demo, but what is actually demonstrably unhelpful would be the gaikai service no? Which isn’t an EA service to boot.

    • Bhazor says:

      Yeah, but it’s attached to an article about EA and Origin and those are e(a)vil. According to the RPS coverage at least.

      So really this third party platform is all EAs fault. Boo!

    • Adam Smith says:

      Once the service let me into the demo, I actually found what was offered unrepresentative of the game it’s demonstrating. Unhelpful indeed!

    • skurmedel says:

      Whoever provides the service is kinda moot, it’s EAs responsibility to provide a functional service. Since it’s essentially a demo, you don’t really get to be mad at them. But you can criticise it’s deficiencies. If you travel on a train and it breaks down, nobody expects you to contact the railway companies subcontractors and complain about it. That’s the job of the railway company.

    • Ultra-Humanite says:

      Whatever content is in the demo, or lack thereof, is it at the discretion of EA. I don’t see how complaining about Gaikai would be more accurate when the article is talking about how unhelpful the actual demo is in ascertaining the true value of the finished product.

    • Stromko says:

      @Bhazor: If you think RPS coverage makes EA out to be the bad guys, you don’t know EA. The writers / editors / whatever are actually quite forgiving.

      The Sims series itself is a pretty good example of EA’s malfeasance. They marketed console and portable versions of The Sims 2 and The Sims 3 alongside the PC version in the same commercials and periodicals, giving the impression that they were identical or similar experiences when in fact the console and portable versions are just expensive knock offs.

      I also find it suspicious how The Sims games always stay so expensive even years after release. It all seems a bit greedy, and if I knew enough about economic law I’d suspect price fixing. But, being ignorant of just what constitutes price fixing, I’m just insulted that they expect me to pay 20 – 40$ a pop for years-old expansion packs that offer sparse content and increased glitchiness. Bit peeved that they can be so successful and treat their customers that poorly when there are so many superior and more recent games that I can buy for a tenner on sale.

  10. Shooop says:

    My condolences for having to actually have to keep at this “game” Mr. Smith.

  11. Moni says:

    It may just be a problem on EA’s end, I just randomly tried the Mass Effect 2 demo on the Gaikai main site, and it seems to be working well.

    I really hope Gaikai works out, because I think it’s the ideal platform for demos. In fact, it would probably be the ideal platform for something like The Sims, where lag isn’t an issue.

  12. radioactivez0r says:

    I got a good deal on Sims 3 thanks to a D2D coupon, ran into the unfixed bug that prevents your Sim’s mood from ever increasing until you quit out and load again, and gave up. Seemed kind of ridiculous not to have fixed that.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      There’s actually a mod that fixes that (yes, believe it or not TS3 has mods. I was surprised too). But otherwise I do agree with you. The amount of unfixed bugs in the game and the horrid optimization reeks of poor programming. I guess when they’re being forced to churn out an expansion every 6 months they don’t have time for silly things like “quality assurance”.

    • Bhazor says:

      The best Sims glitch I’ve found in the Sims was the baby glitch in Sims 2.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdrFiqxOm8I

      Ban this sick filth.

  13. Bhazor says:

    I think the last shot makes it clear.
    This demo is designed to annoy you so much in order to get it working whilst promising so much that you give in and pay full price for the game instead. Evil geniuses.

    Also, streaming games can go squeeze a puppy. To me it’s just a way to justify always on in single player games. If that is the ultimate plan for Origin I’ll join in with the Origin hate. At the moment Origin is just Steam with bad publicity.

    • Shooop says:

      Streaming for simple, non-system intensive games wouldn’t be a terrible idea Bhazor. You just need a reliable source to stream them from.

      I think we can caulk this one mostly up to not understanding how to use the method instead of EA’s usual draconian methods.

      …That is until Adam explained when he did get in, the demo was not representative of the product at all. What the hell EA.

  14. skurmedel says:

    Reply fail.

  15. Vandelay says:

    Your pain and suffering gives me much merriment.

    The Sims 3 is on my ever growing pile games on my “I really should play more than the 5 minutes I’ve played.”

  16. zeekthegeek says:

    Gaikai = OnLive without a central service, and without WORKING

  17. pilouuuu says:

    Why can’t they do it right?

    I have been creating some pets on The Sims 3 Pets demo. The demo was terribly broken as it needs Origin to be dowloaded. I tried many times to create an account on the website, but it was broken too. Then I came to know that many people who downloaded the demo lost their savegames and custom content, because the demo is connected to The Sims 3 and uses the base game launcher.

    Then I decided to simply download a hacked version that doesn’t use stupid Origin program, that doesn’t break the base game and I can say that besides all stupid thing EA does, the game seem to be fairly decent, much better than The Sims 2 iteration. The animation of the animals is spot-on and they look quite good in a cartoony kind of way and the customization options are quite impressive.

    About the demo, why didn’t they simply made a downloadable demo? But it should have been released about two years ago.

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  19. MythArcana says:

    Upon first playing Sims 3, I started off as a janitor at City Hall…and within about 4 hours I had become President of the entire land. I ate all the high-end cuisine, sampled all the town’s femininity, drove all the best cars…and then I was done forever.

  20. melzidek says:

    One of the most hilarious articles on RPS I’ve encountered in a while!

  21. qwiggalo says:

    I had no problems installing Sims 3 + all the expansions the free way.