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Playfish And Facebook Speak On The Launch Of  The Sims Social

Playfish And Facebook Speak On The Launch Of The Sims Social Exclusive

August 9, 2011 | By Christian Nutt




EA threw an event in San Francisco to promote the launch of The Sims Social, which is currently in open beta and which will launch soon -- and Gamasutra got a chance to speak to Playfish's CJ Prober and Facebook's Ethan Beard about the game.

The event began with a presentation from three execs: John Buchanan, the VP of marketing for EA's Play label; Ethan Beard, Facebook's director of platform partnerships; and CJ Prober, VP of publishing and platform management for EA's Playfish studios.

Said Buchanan, he expects The Sims Social to "not just revolutionize social gaming, but also revolutionize The Sims."

The game is a collaboration between EA's The Sims Studio, based in Northern California, and Playfish's London studio. It also marks a substantial "collaboration and partnership with Facebook," said Buchanan.

Said Beard of Playfish, which was already an established mover in the Facebook game space prior to its acquisition in late 2009, "We were obviously thrilled when they became part of EA," thanks to the opportunity it enabled to bring the company's brands and franchises to Facebook.

He said the developer is "working closely with us to make them social," and in particular he sees great opportunity for The Sims franchise on Facebook because "it's a game that's inherently social." He expects "lots of future innovations, working together in the future."

Prober agreed, saying that "Facebook is the perfect next frontier to take this franchise." Describing the new game as "an authentic Sims experience," he also said it was "truly social, as a lot of [Facebook] games out there, including ours, are truly static." That is not the case for The Sims Social, he said, as it offers interaction he calls "truly meaningful and core to the gameplay."

Interview: The Development of The Sims Social

Speaking to Gamasutra, Prober elaborated, saying that the game is the result of a "heavy collaboration" between The Sims Studio and Playfish London, where it was developed.

"The Sims players, Sims fans -- one of their top requests for the franchise is to enable gameplay with friends," said Prober. That dovetails with part of EA's new "big shift to 'offense'", as outlined by EA CEO John Riccitiello recently. "We're a key part of the offensive, and the offensive strategy," he said. The Sims Social is a big part of that: "One of our strategies and missions is to enable our consumers to play the games they love anytime, anywhere."

While Facebook games, in the past, had short development cycles, Prober says that is not possible anymore. With The Sims Social, "we really put the pedal to the metal, and started in earnest, in October of last year," he told Gamasutra.

"We were on a track of releasing games... They'd be in development for four to six months." That has changed, however, as "the platform's more competitive, and the bar has been raised in terms of what you launch on Facebook. It used to be minimum viable product, launch, iterate, but the bar is higher."

So too is the bar higher for the franchise the team is working with. "Part of it's the intellectual property and doing justice to it," he said. Another big part: "This is going to be a living product for half a decade, if not more."

The overall strategy for the game drives it. "Our goal isn't just to get people who like that IP to play the game; we're looking at a chance to broaden the franchise," said Prober. And "when you get somebody in the game, you need to hold onto those players."

Consequently, the game has a big team and an aggressive update plan, said Prober. "This game will have our biggest team of all of our games, and we iterate weekly if not more frequently. Our roadmap is so exciting, in terms of what we can add to it."

Bringing The Sims Social To Facebook

Prober sees the game as "a bit of a milestone for us on the Playfish side. It's a title we've invested a lot in, in terms of a partnership with another part of EA, leveraging the best of what our traditional business knows, not only from game design, development, and marketing, and taking everything we know from that [social] space and bringing it together in a compelling way. This is a bit of a milestone for us for sure."

Facebook's Beard agrees, he told Gamasutra. "I think it's tremendous. We've never had a title, and a brand, this big come onto the platform, so we couldn't be more excited," he said.

"We're extremely excited. EA is a very important partner to us, and they build great games, and they have a very storied past, and they build great titles and franchises. And this is one of the best that's out there.

"What I love about The Sims," Beard said, "is it's inherently social -- but it's not the kind of typical social gaming mechanics we've seen on the platform up to now. So in some ways, it lends itself being brought to Facebook, but at the time is quite unique compared to a lot of the titles we've seen out there."

He's also excited because of the franchise's massive popularity, of course. As he concedes, "We tend to see games succeed on Facebook when they really have mass appeal."

Prober played up the "meaningful, very social interactions" the game will enable. Comparing the title to other titles on Facebook, he said, "A lot of games have this very fixed path," he said, but "there's a lot of depth" in The Sims Social.

Tom Sarris, Playfish's director of global communications added, "This is the ultimate realization, in many ways, of a social game. It's such a perfect marriage of what you do in The Sims and what the intent is of social gaming." Players will be able to either pull pranks on each other or build relationships together in the games -- via their Sims characters.

"The Sims is a testament to the diversity of titles that can be brought to the platform," said Beard.

Facebook's Partnership With EA

Beard, Facebook's director of platform partnerships, is in charge with the company's efforts to work with all app developers who publish to the platform. Gamasutra recently spoke to Sean Ryan, Facebook's director of games partnerships -- who reports to Beard -- and who told us that he was brought into the company recently to "build a really killer game network system, because people who game on Facebook like Facebook better, because they game on Facebook."

Beard told Gamasutra that Ryan's team worked closely with Playfish on The Sims Social, "helping them understand how we can help make the gameplay better, how we can help them understand how they leverage the communications channels," he said.

"Their outreach to the development community is really strong," Prober confirmed. Though he underplayed the social networking giant's direct contribution to the game, he said that "any game we're working on, that they get visibility into, they have good feedback on what's fun."

Beard downplayed the company's input too. "At the end of the day, The Sims is EA's baby. It's a fantastic and very important franchise, and certainly what you see on the screen is their genius at work, not ours."

Beard did say that Facebook's relationship with EA is important, however, and helps drive the direction of the platform: "We spend a lot of time with them." Part of that is "looking at existing titles and how they're performing. The feedback they give us on how the platform is working, and improvements that can be made, is extremely important for us."

"There may have been a time when Facebook was unsure about the importance of gaming, but if there ever was that time, it's gone now," said Prober.


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