ReTakes are second or even third looks at things that have previously been reviewed here, with the intention of updating previous takes on things.
The original review of The Sims FreePlay dating back to January 2012 is currently one of the most read articles on the site, but since then the game has been updated so often and so comprehensively that it’s one of the reviews that now seems most out of date and inaccurate to the present situation, and hence most urgently in need of a revisit.
That first review led heavily on how bug-ridden the original release was, and even though I added some updates to the article later on I think it’s important to redress the balance by stating upfront and clearly that the first major upgrade in February from makers EA – while on the surface just offering a few cosmetic changes for Valentine’s Day with some new pink-themed house decor items – was in fact the most thorough and effective bug-fix release that I think I’ve ever seen in a product. After that upgrade I think it’s fair to say that it’s become one of the most rock-solid, bullet-proof reliability iOS apps that I use on any sort of regular basis. If only all software companies could nail their bug fixes so comprehensively in their 1.1 releases the world would be a significantly happier place.
That’s not to say that new glitches haven’t occasionally slipped in through subsequent version updates – name any software where that doesn’t happen – but nothing has ever again affected the core stability of the app (touch wood!) The few glitches I’ve seen are at worst mildly irksome, and at best actually quite endearing: currently there is an issue whereby a toddler left sleeping in his bed is found later to be standing next to the bed in a zombie-like state rather than in it, sleeping. This may be less a bug and more a sly comment on the reality of the problems of early parenthood. A similar previous glitch was more laugh out loud funny and weird, in that someone left having a bath would subsequently be instead found reclining semi-naked in the living room while everyone else was trying to watch the TV around them…
That bug-fixing first upgrade out of the way, EA then got down to work adding more functionality and gameplay through successive releases, adding the ability to move Sims in together, get engaged, married, have a baby and even get divorced. More careers and locales were added, all of which gave even long-time players of the game reason to return and carry on playing. The most attention of late has gone into allowing the babies to grow into more active toddlers, which manage to be cute and entertaining without being annoyingly over-saccharine and winsome. With the toddlers comes an ever-expanding range of items to buy for them to keep them amused, and just as in real life the kids get all the coolest stuff. It’s a delight to see them play with something new, whether a set of building blocks or teddy bears or race tracks or doll houses.
What’s really fascinating about The Sims FreePlay though is EA’s ongoing strategy for making ‘freemium’ work: how to offer a complex, highly-programmed app for free and still make it economical enough to warrant all this bug-fixing and ongoing development. Each version tries a different tweak or feature to see what will and what won’t work and be accepted by the game’s user base without generating too many howls of backlash against it by the users. At one point it seemed as though they made more items accessible only by expending high quantities of ‘lifestyle points’, then making it harder to win these LPs in-game and instead requiring people to buy them from the in-app store with real cash. That went down badly because it stopped people progressing with the core game itself, and the most recent release seems to roll back on both fronts – the LP price of items has gone down, and LPs themselves more readily awarded in the game rather than needing to be bought.
However the latest initiative from EA is not without controversy, since it adds a ‘social’ aspect to The Sims FreePlay world that requires users to connect the game to their Facebook account and then win features in the game by connecting with a sufficient number of other FreePlay fans. I for one am not interested in being made to use my Facebook account as a way to market a game for anyone, so I’ve not tried that out; so far I can’t say I’ve missed it from the game or that it’s impeded the day-to-day playing of the app in any significant manner.
And I guess that’s the delicate dance that EA are exploring with their advanced freemium strategy: how to add features that people will pay for without crippling the core ‘free’ game and driving existing users away in the process. Other approaches in the current release include a range of offers from partner companies like Netflix, in which in return for taking up one of their free trial offers you get rewarded with extra LPs in The Sims FreePlay. Another tactic is to make some highly desirable but non-essential items like wedding attire or a highly detailed animated fishtank available as pay-for purchases in the store.
Some will hate this commercialisation of their Sim world; but doesn’t that just make it a better and more accurate simulation of the commercially-obsessed real world? And in any case, realistically something has to pay for the development of the game if it’s to remain free. In many ways, I’m finding EA’s public thinking-through and evolution of its freemium strategy as engrossing as anything within the game itself, and it certainly offers another meta-dimension as you plant another crop of zucchini, throw a frisbee for the dog, tuck the toddler into bed or pack the grown-up Sims off to work.