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Milla Harper

The Maxoid Tom Letters, part 2

MaxoidTom bumbled into MATY, was eager to please as a new puppy. Alas, the hornets were ANGRY. Computers were melting down, anti-virus programs were zorched, DVD/CD-r drives were acting up,  media burning software was screwing up, and it was all down to SecurROM, which had been installed with Bon Voyage but without user agreement.

He asked for and got feedback, but didn't necessarily like what he got.

Dear MaxoidTom:

Well, now I am even less motivated to install BV due to SecuROM and lag. Last thing I need is more computer problems. (Same thing with StarForce-protected games. I even have a StarForce Zorcher program and still don't want to knowingly install something that is known to cause problems, even if I have a "fix" on hand. It feels too much like knowingly drinking poison and hoping the antidote works as advertised afterwards.) Thank you for initiating a discussion with peers at EA.

I see the same complaints over and over.

* You ship with a heck of a lot of broken features. You fix them (sometimes) later. Then you ship a new EP/SP and break the fixed features yet again. Stop breaking crap you previously fixed. Do you not have a list of known borkages at hand when testing new EPs/SPs?

* Game makes it all too easily for users to do game-destroying things like attempt to move populated lots and add NPCs to the families that should never, ever be made playable, like Grim. Why have a "delete all characters" command if it does not, in fact, delete ALL characters? Sorry, 'all' means 'all', not 'most of,' and thus does not include bits of code detritus lingering around.

* Suggestions that you make available a list of "This Is A Bad Idea" issues are sound, though it would be much better if it wasn't quite so easy to break the game by using the tools / characters that come factory standard. When publishing fixes, don't try to blame the users for stumbling across something your coders made possible without third party add-ons. "Why would you do that?" is a piss-poor response, as there will always be gamers who like trying everything their games make possible. Why did YOU make it possible for it to be done (without hacks or mods) in the first place?

* New game EPs/SPs ship with game-killing borks that the user did not cause. Example: at one point, if a Count or Countess decided to bite Mrs Crumplebottom, Bad Things happened. Why was this possible in the first place? Then there was that fun game-breaking issue of portals getting deleted for no (immediately) apparent reason. Nice one.


* Claiming that the game will work if a user's computer meets a certain list of stats, then backpedaling when a user had a computer that meets or exceeds those stats (but still has problems) and claiming that you didn't mean THAT TYPE of computer, oops, is false advertising. Clearly you can't control modifications users make to their systems, but if you publish a list of standards and say your game WILL work with them, it better work. Also, forcibly resetting user-chosen settings after each new EP or SP install when they don't need to be reset is a frequent gripe.

* Being apparently more far more motivated by 12-year-olds' wants and whims than those of adult customers is counterproductive. Your game has a T-rating, perhaps you should be marketing to customers who are actually old enough to be considered "T"s. Too bad you can't split the BBS up into "kid" and "adult" boards. Which group should you court more? Those who control their own finances, or kids who have to get their parents to help them install their new shiny game?

* It might behoove someone from EA / Maxis to look at the most prominent mod / hack boards and look at the hacks that are most popular with your customers. These are obviously features (and bug-zorchers) that the community wants. Hint: stop disabling the ability to disable the censor blur. There's nothing salacious about bare Barbie and Ken doll forms. (Jack Thompson is an attention-seeking loon, and loons should not be pandered to and cosseted. He isn't your target market.) In fact, modders are probably your best, and most reliable, sources should you desire to pursue tracking down persistent bugginess. Not only for the reasons Amber described, but also because modders have a better awareness of what the coding / AI can do and what it can;t or what would be too difficult to work around. They are typically more savvy about computer specs and innards than the average Joe, too. Get content suggestions from end-users who don't mod, sure, but try to dissect game problems with the help of people who can "talk code" and "talk specs" and who probably understand programming frustrations and limitations better.

* If you have an NPC type that is supposed to perform certain functions, make sure the NPC actually does its job properly. Maids should clean, and should focus on cleaning things that cause the most problems if left uncleaned. Beds being made should be a lower priority than clearing swilly, fly-swarmed food plates and noxious toilets, as Sims will still be able to use beds that are not made. Nannies should provide childcare (not get a whim to cook something or play games solo).

* No more colour-blind content creators, please. No more incomplete sets of furnishings / electronics / kitchenware. No more blindingly fugly mismatched outfits. Not a big issue, but more people would be happy with the defaults if a large portion of them weren't vile to look at. When I decided to buy Sims 2, I remembered things I disliked about Sims 1 and actually did a search online before shelling out my money just to ensure that default replacements, Maxis-match objects (to complete sets), censor blur removers, fug-hiders (I really don't need to scroll past fourteen pages of knights' helmets and monkey heads and scuba helmets every time I try to create a new Sim, do I?) and bug fixes/zorchers were available. I knew from experience that the EA site would not provide those things. My purchase of the Sims 2 game was entirely due to third-party modders, not EA. I knew before I got it that it would be buggy, and I can't be the only one who automatically assumes an EA product is going to have to be fixed by someone other than EA to be tolerable / playable. Not a good reputation for a game company to have, obviously. (When the fugly EAxian default objects don't even work properly, that's adding insult to injury. How many times must the piano get fixed? Was it really necessary to make the dishwashers and hot tubs quite so deadly? A Sim with a maxed cooking skill should manage not to start a house fire. A Sim with maxed mechanical should manage to fix things without getting zorched. Enjoying the hot tub should not inevitably be an electrifying experience. If those odds were more on a par with satellite death, it would make sense.)

* As JMP said, why do Maxis Sims have to piggyback into every new hood you make? Geez. Empty lots for each hood? Yes, please. Unoccupied houses? Good call. The same EAxian characters again and again? Do stop. Really. At least give players an option. "Do you want us to create some characters for this hood? Y / N?" If no, then the hood created should be clean. Really clean. No character files whatsoever. No dangling SWAFs or fuxxored tombstones. No huge packs of wolves and strays. Let NPCs be generated only when a Sim needs them. You need a mailman / papergirl, fine. Two files. A Sim is going Downtown? Generate ONE Vamp, ONE Prude, et cetera. Not every single possible NPC that may ever possibly be needed, right now. Why generate a maid before anyone actually calls and asks for a maid? Perhaps this can't be done, given the coding. I'd understand that. What I don't understand is the need to foist EAxian defaults on users for each hood and subhood. Provide what is necessary and no more. When characters spawn, doesn't that often contribute to lag? Why spawn redundant or not-yet-needed ones?

* If you, as the player, are directing a hungry / tired / "gotta pee now!" Sim to eat, sleep or urinate, the Sim should actually go do those things instead of dropping the directive from its queue to whine and wave. Nothing is more annoying than directing a Sim to go green up its bladder motive by using a (clean and available) toilet, only to have it stop when it is standing directly in front of the loo, wave and whine, pee itself, and take a motive hit as a result. If you tell them to go eat or pee, then by God, they should go eat or pee. If you play as designed, half the time you have to re-direct a Sim over and over to care for the needs it is whining about.

* As noted before, if a Sim can't route to a desired object, there is no need for them to try again and again and again. Witch Doctors who wish to fish should be able to get to the pond to fish. Ninjas should not pop up inside of inaccessible areas Sims can't enter. WTF? YOU guys set up your huge, bloated lots this way and there are routing flaws and an enormous amount of lag thanks to a lot of unnecessary decorative touches. Don't huge lots cause lag when they load up?

* You may notice a large amount of "no autonomy" hack and mods out there. Perhaps we don't need Sims obsessively kickybagging and waterballooning in the middle of the night for hours on end. Player-directed actions should not drop from the action queue in favour of some autonomous and useless whim of a pixel person. Player-directed actions need to take precedence. Stopping Sim stupidity gets old, not fun. Seriously, look at the hacks and mods being done, especially those here that are labeled Critical. Get an idea of what your customers are annoyed by or need to keep their games from experiencing meltdown.

* Threads to check here: 'Bon Voyage dissatisfaction', 'Bon Voyage satisfaction', the BV 'L&P Deadpool', and the Mod / Hack threads. See what your paying customers are saying. Make an attempt to address problems that are due to your coding, ignore problems that are down to players wanting, say, stupid stuff like washers and dryers. (Speaking of, if you already have a green or hairy creature type in your game, perhaps you need to branch out and not make yet another green or hairy creature. That's a minor quibble, though. See the difference between that and "oh crap, my portals are gone!"?)

* When customers express unhappiness, the proper response is not to try and make us feel stupid for continuing to buy your flawed products. If responding usefully to legitimate concerns and complaints is too difficult, get someone else to do it for you. Why should we run down a list of what you have done right to justify our purchase of your product just because we have serious problems with it? Obviously you do enough right--as far as concepts go--that the Sims franchise is popular and successful. Believe me, it is the open-endedness and customization features that are appealing, not the crazy coding and buggy AI you choose to employ. The concepts are good, the execution is repeatedly PHAIL. Feeling butthurt that your baby is being criticized when the criticism is valid is a completely useless response. To use a rather lame analogy: I may REALLY like apple pie (a customizable God-game with talented free creators adding to the content available), and you may make the best darn apple pie available, but if you continue to screw your recipes up and I risk getting ill most of the time, no amount of love for your particular brand of apple pie is going to keep me coming back for more punishment when I have had enough. I'm going to develop a taste for another kind of dessert instead and tell all my friends that your apple pie is not worth the aggravation. So, how are those BV sales figures, then? Are you selling to new customers or your existing customers? Winning new customers without pissing off your existing ones seems to be a good idea to me. If your existing customers--people who are already sold on your game--are griping, word of mouth is going to dissuade new customers to give it a whirl. When you sell more units, both you and your customers benefit. You, because you make the big bucks. Us, because this motivates you to Make More Stuff. Win-win. If the New Stuff is ALWAYS a hassle to incorporate into your existing game, though, we eventually don't buy the new stuff. And, since it only works with the base game, new people don't buy the New Stuff either. Lose-lose.

You are doing the right thing by coming here and at least appearing to desire mutually-agreeable solutions. I give you kudos for doing so "unshielded by moderator powers," as it were. I hope you choose to brave the inevitable outpourings of frustration and anger and stick it out. It can only benefit everyone. EA gets valuable information for free, and players get stuff fixed (hopefully).

Things like SecuROM and the inevitable bugs with new EPs are what motivate people to NOT buy legit copies of your goodies. How about a disk-specific CP tool that does not install itself on the customer's computer? I paid for Sims, I didn't pay for another program. I wanted to install Sims, not SecuROM. Also, as noted, it PHAILS at being able to prevent what it was designed to prevent. Ditch it.

In an ideal situation, I could go into a store, note that my computer specs meet required specs, purchase a game, install it, and then actually play it without glitches. I wouldn't worry about SecuROM, or new bugs, or forty thousand Travel Guides, Charlatans and so on spawning like mad, or primp actions and pianos breaking. There would be no massively bloated default Maxis lots with routing problems. The portals would stay put. Objects would work as expected. Babies wouldn't start shrieking like banshees. Nannies would actually nanny, maids would do maid-ly things and not obsess over already clean fishtanks. (No invisible fish, either.) No blue screens of permalag. No phoning home (whether Sims or SecuROM is doing it, it was bundled on the discs YOU sold).

No "register now and get goodies" promises that makes you give up your personal data which only benefits EA but which does not produce any promised goodies: why give up your private stats without a reasonable benefit for doing so? You only need to register one game to get an EA site ID, and a lot of us already avoid the BBS like the plague.

No more waffling about enforcing your EULA and telling paysites they are breaking the law and raping the community and, when it comes down to it, taking money away from EA. If I have $20 to spend and your Stuff Pack has only a couple dozen items (which may or may not break other existing Maxis items / meshes / objects) but a bunch of paysites offer their crap for the same amount of money, you may miss out on a sale. People do not have bottomless pockets. When you let paysites cut into your potential profits, you look incredibly retarded.

Lastly, when I buy games from your competitors, surprise, they install and work without borking my computer and perform as advertised, unlike EA's Sims products. To be fair, the Sims, being customizable and open-ended and level-free, comes with a different set of issues the designers have to plan around. The core of your game design is different from a FPS or adventure or puzzle game. It is probably a far more complex game engine because the average non-techy end user can customize it. Other games are less open-ended and variations between one user's game and another user's game are minimal. Even so, how much aggravation do you expect your customers to tolerate? Debug more, ship later, make it work, and stop claiming it is user error causing all the issues when you know darn well it isn't ALWAYS the user.

How would you improve Sims games, if you had ultimate Sim Power? Share your ideas.

And deleting criticisms and critiques and so on off the official BBS is really poor PR. A wise company addresses concerns truthfully and promises to fix what can be fixed, and then keeps its promises. It doesn't deny there is a problem because their clearly limited play-testing failed to reproduce the issue. Geez. Deleting complaints and banning people who raise them does not magically fix those issues. Der.

As for beta-testing, would interested parties submitting a DxDiag file help?


ETA: EA folks and Maxoids have been given exhaustive lists of paysites many, many times. EA Legal is supposedly breathing fire over it. Then Maxoids link to The Sims Resouce and interview TSR employees. All that money they are raking in would be better spent on EA items, wouldn't you think? There's only so much cash per customer that they can fritter away on their Sims hobby. I happen to think EA should be th eonly company profiting from EA's IP and tools and games. NOT paysites which defy the EULA and try to squelch freesites out of existence. It's the freesites that make you, indirectly, more money. Downloaders can afford to pay legitimate EA content with their spending money instead of unsupported, poor quality crap that was made with free tools and EA code. See the link in the newsbox (the "attention K*Mart shoppers" box in the upper right corner) if you really want to get yet another list of copyright and IP thieves making bucks off EA's and your hard work that YOU will never see one penny of.

If you had the chance to talk to the powers that be at EA, what would YOU say?

Comments

IAWTC. All of it. Seriously. Brilliant, brilliant work.

If only we could be sure that they would actually consider these things, I might buy Sims 3 when it appears.

Until then...

Anyway, I really hope what you wrote sunk in, because it was heart-felt and well-reasoned.
Well said!
I would love to know what EA and Maxoid Tom's response is. Unfortunately, I don't have time to go to the MATY website right now.
Wordy Mcword to all of this. And anyway what is the point of a security programme that got cracked immediately anyway.

But I could probably live with Eaxis' screw-up far more if I believed that they actually cared enough to do something about the paysite issue.
I agree with that 100%.

As it is, I have but have not installed BV (pre-ordered before all the flack about SecuROM came out).

I have also not played the Sims at all.

Will I go back to it? Sure, eventually. But I doubt I will ever enjoy dealing with BV / SecuROM crap.
God. I'm so glad to find that I'm not the only one who was this pissed off about it. Getting the news on BV was what put me off the game. I slowly backed away from it because I can't believe it has come to this.

Third party software?? That wasn't even fully tested?! And I'm just supposed to put that on my computer because I like the game so much, right? Fuck no. Fuck EA. Fuck Maxis. Fuck everyone who had something to do with this.

They've proven what idiots they are. Way to fail your masses by not listening. That's exactly what they do, too. Just ignore any and all customer response. It couldn't be any noteworthy, could it? Because what does the person playing the game know?

What a bunch of corporate dickwads. This is good, people like it, they'll buy it and we now have power to do whatever we want with it. See how far that gets you. People are speaking out. It's so obvious that they don't care about the fans of the game, but only the paying grandma's who are buying it for the kids who shouldn't be playing the damn game in the first place.

I refuse to buy anything sim related until they get their shit straight. Why not next time, you take your fucking time to get the game right, go through and right down the bugs you need to fix, FIX THE DAMN THINGS, and then go double check it all - just to make sure.
Then you'll be doing your job. Until then, you're lazy assholes who just want money. You're not getting mine.
I...I think I love you.

That was magnificent.

I agree, obviously.
Milla Harper

March 2008

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