For those of you who do not know, the Sims Online is undergoing a revolution. Having been left standing for the last few years with little to no input, EA are at last re-shaping the game, and the world of multiplayer gaming as we know it. Sound like hyperbole? Perhaps, perhaps not; Check out their latest addition to the online gaming experience: AvatarBook.
Facebook made flesh
So what is Avatarbook? Well, the clue is in the name. What is one of the largest social networking websites on the planet at the moment? That's right – Facebook. With over 58 million users, Facebook is the primary reason that many of us log on in the morning. But, as we all know, it has its limits. As do online games.
One problem with online games is that they can be too divorced from reality – you have your friends, and your real-world friends, and the two remain firmly divided. Ditto Facebook – your user-circle is limited by who you already know, and it's hard to get to know people outside of that circle on a one-to-one basis without sharing all your private data or being introduced by a friend of a Friend.
All that is set to change, with a new application that could change our networking community forever. When Linden Labs made Linden Dollars (the currency of the hugely popular game Second Life) exchangeable for real-world currency, they opened up the world of online gaming by bringing it into the real world. Now EA wants to do the same thing, by allowing users of the Sims Online to link their Avatars' accounts to their Facebook profiles.
Avatarbook has two faces – the in-game version and the Facebook version. In-game you can use it much like Facebook, in that you can find other Avatars and view their limited profiles. For friends the full profiles are visible, with walls for people to write on and updatable status. Your profile will also show if your lot is open or not, and the application an be used to quickly make your way around EA Land as you jump from friend to friend.
In Facebook, the application shows your Avatar's details (unless you have chosen a private setting) and picture, and whether or not you are logged on to the game. This is a useful way for players to find out who is online without having to log in themselves. You can also invite other users of Facebook who are not already Sims Online players to download the application and see your Avatar profile – a move that EA hopes will attract more people to the game.
For the time being, then, the bulk of information that can be shared is Avatar-related. Their skills, properties and friends can all be viewed, and their Wall. The identity of the real-life person behind the Avatar is kept private, at least for now.
Privacy is a major issue as far as EA are concerned, so at the moment Avatarbook is fairly limited in how much information can be shared. In the Sims game you can add people to your friends list, which will provide them with a link to your Facebook profile rather than making a direct link, though that is set to change as the application grows. Also, nobody in EA Land (the Sims Online world where the application will be available) will have access to your real name – you will be searchable only by your Avatar's name. EA has stated that they intend to allow players to lower their privacy settings so that more information can be shared, but at the moment they're playing it safe.
This application obviously shows great potential, and it is something that EA is going to continue to develop as they gain feedback from users. The Sims Online game is going through a revolution at the moment, with their free trial set to become permanent free play in the very near future (with limited gameplay for non-payers, much like in Second Life). For years now Second Life has been leading the pack in terms of innovation and social interaction, but if EA keeps this up then we could be looking at a new contender for the crown. After all, they did come up with the two most popular games of all time (Sims and Sims 2), so some would say that this is less than a surprise than a belated homecoming. Certainly one to watch, at any rate.