I don’t want to get in a tit for tat exchange; but I will talk about some of the broader topics that people have brought up in response to my post.
Perhaps most importantly is this perception that we pay more attention to the people on Twitter and Facebook than those of you on the forums. That simply isn’t true. Twitter is a great tool for quick communication and interaction with fans; it lets me chat with people and get immediate feedback, even have a real time conversation at times. What Twitter isn’t good for is getting in-depth information – for that I come to the forums. If I tried to talk to people on the forums the same way I do on Twitter, I simply wouldn’t get any work done. The talk about Facebook is intriguing as well; I have absolutely no idea where the perception comes from that we value our fans on there more than the ones here. Do people assume we implemented the new My Page and the in-game social stuff due to requests from Sims fans on Facebook? Realistically it’s something that EA is interested in implementing across all of our games. There’s stuff like Autolog in Need for Speed, Battlelog in Battlefield, and the new social features that got introduced in Showtime are part of that whole movement. It’s an effort to emphasize and build communities, connect people with their friends, and ultimately provide deeper game play experiences. Outside of our main Sims 3 Facebook page, there isn’t any direct developer interaction there that I know of, in contrast with how we have our own individual Twitter accounts. On another note, I don’t point out that it isn’t my job to be on the forums with the idea that people should be grateful that I post here, I just want people to see that those of us who get involved with the community do so because it’s something we genuinely want to do.
We have community managers who interact with the community here on the forums, on the official Sims Twitter, on our Sims Facebook page, and our Sims Youtube channel. One of the aspects of their job is to gather feedback from fans in all of those locations, and compile it in reports that get sent out to everyone else, to draw our attention to hot button issues. If you think the forums are intimidating for a dev, imagine trying to sift through thousands of comments within a single thread on some random Facebook topic. That’s what’s great about the forums, due to their format they’re the absolute best place to read topics about serious issues; to see others respond and contribute to those topics, and to get an overall sense of the state of the hardcore community.
It’s interesting seeing people bring up other game developers and directly compare them to us. I have the utmost respect for other studios throughout the industry, but the idea of the perfect game, the perfect dev team, or the perfect community management… it’s a fallacy. There are always things that can be improved, mistakes are made and then learned from. Evil_One, you mentioned Bethesda and Epic. Speaking strictly as a gamer for a moment, I think Skyrim is an absolute achievement in gaming, but have you payed attention to what many of their customers who purchased the game on the PS3 are saying? They’re none too happy with some of the problems they’re experiencing. Epic is a studio whose games I’ve played for many years now, but they’re constantly accused of being sellouts to Microsoft for developing console exclusives and abandoning the fanbase on the PC who built them into the studio they are today. Is that a fair criticism? What about their loyal long time fans?
I don’t want anyone to think I’m making light of the amazing work that modders in the community do. I have a long history of working on mods for popular games as well; and I know how much hard work people pour into them for nothing in return other than the enjoyment of seeing others use it. I started out scripting my own mods for the original Rainbow Six, adding new competitive multiplayer modes for the game. I’ve worked on all sorts of mod teams for first person shooters over the years as a level designer; most notably I was part of the original Counter-Strike team before it was purchased and released commercially by Valve. A healthy mod community is not only great for players; I think it’s great for us as a business as well. Its been shown time and again that games that have good community tools and an active mod community extend the shelf life of a game and give people reasons to keep coming back. What disappoints me is when people feel they have to make mods that fix something that’s bothering them about the game… be it an invasive design flaw or a bug; either way I wish it wasn’t necessary. Having worked on mods before though, I know the benefits of mod development that let them get to things more quickly than we can patch them as a studio. A mod developer doesn’t really have to be accountable to anyone… they work when they want, they test as much as they want, and they release when they want. If something goes wrong, they can immediately fix it and release again, or if they want they can just leave things as they are. In a development studio, there’s just tons more that goes into any “simple” fix. To give a very rough idea of the process, we first have to find someone that can fix it who has time in their schedule to work on it… if they’re currently committed elsewhere, any time they take to fix an issue is time lost or delayed somewhere else. Depending on what we’re changing, that can mean any number of programmers, modelers, animators, UI artists, etc working on something. They can’t just make a change and add it to the game either, we have different code channels that developers work out of depending on the work they’re doing, and each new update means a new code channel. QA has to go in and test the changes they made, and not just those changes, but to try and determine if anything else broke due to the change that was made – sometimes they cause something to break that you’d think would be completely unrelated. Each change goes through multiple rounds of testing… alpha, beta, and final release. The code channel then has to be integrated back into our main “retail” code channel, the one that you all play on when you launch the game. That code integration has to be tested. There are variations for each update we release as well… we have to do one update for disc versions, one for players who purchased on Steam, one for people who play on Macs. We have a patch matrix that we test against that accounts for the different versions of the game a player may be updating from to get to the most recent version… do they need the full patch that contains every update we’ve ever done, or do they need an incremental patch that only contains the most recent changes? The store and web team have to prep the website for release. Patch notes have to go out to Europe and Asia for translations. Once all of that is accomplished (and the hundred other little steps in between) we can release an update. As I’m sure you can imagine, that all takes time – it’s a significant commitment each time we release an update That doesn’t dissuade us from making updates to the game, it just means that we can’t always immediately change things that on the surface seem like a simple fix. We’ll continue to support products we release post launch – you saw some updates for Showtime that had very quick turn around times to address issues ASAP that we felt were vital for player’s experiences.
People wonder if I truthfully enjoy talking to Sims fans; and why I’d want to come here and throw myself into the fire on various occasions I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite aspects of my job. First and foremost I’m a gamer; I have been for a really long time. I understand what people express on this forum because I’ve been in your shoes doing the exact same thing with games I’m passionate about over the past 15 years. The first online game I played was Interstate ’76, a great old auto-combat simulation game. It was right around the time when message boards were starting to become more common on the internet, and there was a very healthy community around that game. The devs would talk to us, we’d give feedback, they’d do cool things for us… it was a great time, and it was how I formed some of my very first contacts within the industry. Eventually those devs released a sequel called Interstate ’82; there was a lot about that game that upset many long time fans. When I look back on that now, I think about the perspective that I lacked… as fans there were things that mattered to our community; and as paying customers that was our right to voice our concerns. But the reality of game development went beyond just us, and there were all sorts of factors that go into the final game that makes it to store shelves. Seeing things from both sides gives me a really unique perspective; I can look at other games and think, “huh, that seems odd… but I bet I know why they did it”.
All of that leads to me wanting to chat with fans and pull back the curtains where I can to give you a better perspective on why we do some of the things that you ultimately see when you play the games. Ironically the majority of my posts in the forum are when I jump into a delicate situation and try and let people know what’s going on; I care about our players and don’t like to see anyone feel like they’re intentionally being left in the dark. I have absolutely never lied or purposely misled fans of this game. If anyone asked me to do that at work, it’s something I would have a serious grievance with. Thankfully I’ve never been placed in that situation; I don’t think anyone on the team is interesting in deceiving fans to make a quick buck. Unfortunately there have been a couple of situations where the information I shared ended up being incorrect, and all I can tell you is that I felt absolutely awful about it. I want to be both an advocate for the community within the team, but also someone that Sims fans can trust to give them the straight truth when you get an answer from me. In the instances where I’ve been wrong, I’ve done everything I could to track down the people who I gave bad info to, personally apologize, and do what I can to set things right.
Not everyone is going to trust me or even like me, and that’s fine. I’ll admit I roll my eyes at the conspiracy theories that crop up, some of it can get a bit outlandish. The live chats are one example… people post their criticisms and then get upset when it doesn’t get commented on in our own chat that we’re producing. Do you really expect us to blindside our own devs on our own broadcast? That’s what game journalists are for The live chats are a chance to get a look at upcoming games and learn more about them. I push for as much openness and transparency in those chats as we can provide, and I gather questions beforehand so I can be sure that we address some serious ones (the people on camera don’t get to select the questions from the live chat themselves – the chat window moves by FAR too quickly for us to both be on camera and keep up with everyone’s comments), but that isn’t the time and place to try and grill us. I’ll keep interacting with the community in one form or another I hope that overall I can have a positive impact and share some unique nuggets of info about what goes into each game that you wouldn’t normally hear without talking to a dev.
One final note; I saw a few people making an assumption that I’m the lead producer. That’s not the case… I’m one of approximately 15 or so producers that are actively working on Sims 3. There are many people on the team who have years of seniority within the Sims and years of experience with the game industry as a whole on me. SimGuruMeatball talked about it before, but for those of you wanting Maxis back… it’s really the same people who have been working on The Sims for years that are still here I wasn’t around during that period of time, but the team used to operate out of the Maxis studio on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. EA has a great campus that houses their headquarters and multiple game studios, and the team that was working on The Sims moved over to this newer location, and the growing team that was working on Spore stayed at the old location. So we got a new studio name, and a somewhat new location, but the people are the same. Other than natural attrition and new hires (like me!), there are people in our studio who have been with the franchise since the beginning.
Whew! Definitely time to catch some sleep after all that, goodnight
SimGuruGraham on The Sims 3 – Part 2