Over the last couple of years of my gaming life I have been drawn, on occasion, to those games that offer a free gaming experience that can be dipped into on occasion and offering premium goods for real cash. From Farmville to Smurf Village I’ve tried them all (possibly in Soho and Brighton), but none really grabbed me with the addictive nature that some folks seem to suffer. When EA announced an iOS Simpsons title, involving that gaming model, but with the humour of the Simpsons I was intrigued, especially given the successful transfer of the television series to the world of gaming in the recent The Simpsons Game. What could have been a cheap licensed product became a sarcastic, parody filled title that EA allowed to run, despite some scathing pokes at their very own dark side.
So, with the eponymous yellow family now on it’s way to sending up the Freemium game world I was positively a quiver, but would that expectation hold up? The title of this post might give you a clue…
See the elephant in the room here – possibly Stampy, more likely Homer with his Ganesha outfit on – is the on-going technical issues that have blighted the game’s launch, and I feel it necessary to rant about this before I even tell you what the game is like.
EA made a statement regarding the on-going issues (that range from game glitches, crashing issues and connection problems) that essentially blamed the app’s tremendous success for the connection issues.
Yep, you read that correctly.
EA hype a game up, a game that features an incredibly popular bit of IP (Intellectual Property, fact-fans), limit the release to Canada first to enable reviews and hype to grow further, putting the whole thing out on one of the world’s most popular hand-held operating systems and are then surprised by it’s success.
I mean, honestly, WHAT THE FUCK EA!?
I think, personally, it has more to do with the fact that you enforced a web connection requirement on the game, and shoved in Origin support. 90% of these Freemium titles have an offline game mode, which is especially useful if a certain task or action completes while in a dead zone, but instead EA insist on a web connection, and when that web connection doesn’t work, well, you don’t get to game.
Now worse still is that this game is – as previously mentioned – a freemium title. So while some are justifying the issues with the comment ‘It’s a free game, stop complaining!’ it is also perfectly possible that some users, if demand was huge, let’s say 20% of them as a minimum, paid for content in their game. This payment went out of their accounts onto a game that they struggle to play.
Buy now, play later?
Following a flurry of negative reviews on iTunes EA pulled the game from the store:
To ensure current players have the best possible experience, we’ve temporarily removed The Simpsons: Tapped Out from the App Store to limit the game’s server capacity to its current players and address connectivity and lag time issues.
If you’ve downloaded the game, you can continue to play. Actually, your experience should only improve as we work on a solution. As soon as we have resolved these issues to handle greater player capacity, we will return The Simpsons: Tapped Out to the App Store so that even more people can enjoy this game. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone for their patience, and we will provide an update as soon as we have more information to share.
Which in some way is a positive step, but let us not forget that EA recently also pulled that god-awful Battlefield game from the App Store, after a similar run of complaints, and have now stated that it will not be coming back. Surely they will have learned a lesson?
So, now it’s off of the app store, and no more people are going to be joining the game, then the experience will immediately improve? Surely?
Well, logic would dictate a no here. Think about it, if the strain was too much with the amount of people before taking it down, then the servers are still under strain. The experience can improve, but not immediately, as this hastily taken screenshot proves:
So, with all the efforts EA is putting into ensuring that the service improves for users, we are still suffering server connection issues, and as we have to be connected to play, we can’t play with our beloved little Springfield. Which wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, were it not a very good game.
So, leaving these tales of woe behind, what is the game actually like?
Well, if you’ve ever played Farmville, Smurf Village, Guantanamo Guard or Rectal Polyp Grower you know what to expect, in fact the opening animation has Homer ‘hard at work’ in Sector 7G, playing a game on his MyPad based on the Happy Little Elves franchise within the series’ world. Ignoring his duties a meltdown occurs blowing Springfield apart and it it down to you, as the player to reassemble the town in your own way.
At first you are given The Simpsons’ humble abode, but before long you will have the Kwik-E-Mart, the brown house next door, the Flanders’ home, Krusty Burger and everyone’s favourite slack-jawed yokel, Cletus Spuckler. Sideshow Bob pops up from time to time, and if you place water in your town you might just spot Blinky. Each character can be interacted with, and more are added as new homes and buildings are constructed. Milhouse, for example, offers up character focussed missions like ‘Hiding Wet Bedsheets’. It all works very well, but there is a lot of grinding required to level up and get the new key buildings. I wouldn’t have an issue with this if the grinding missions had some variety, but early on you are mostly restricted to three main missions, ‘Collect Taxes from Homes’, ‘Collect From Shops’ or ‘Collect From Restaurants’. These missions don’t have the humour that ensures that character-based stuff amuses, and as such simply feel like a chore.
In-game currency is a blend of dollars – the regular stuff you buy normal buildings with – and donuts – the premium currency in the game – much like in other games of this type you can earn the premium currency or purchase it with real money, and you would be correct if you expect, somewhat cynically, that the best buildings will be tied to this currency. The game ensures that you get the buildings you need, but if you want to have Hank Scorpio’s mountain lair, or the Duff Factory, then you will have to stump up some cash unless you are willing to wait a long time. Instead of just looking pretty EA have ensured that most, if not all, premium items have some intrinsic benefit for the player. Some give boosts to cash collected for completing tasks for example, while others have other perks attached. I have to say that this is far more preferable than simply having that ‘Must Have’ building, purely for aesthetic purposes.
So far my experience has been jaded by the connectivity issues, but I can honestly say that once these unacceptable bumps have been ironed out there is potential for this title to be a must have for any Simpsons fan. The details in the game ensure that the fan base is well served, even if the customer has issues, and the idea of developing your own Springfield is something that should entice many more users into this freemium world.
It may be having a shaky start, but I am confident enough from what I have experienced to recommend the game to anyone with a passing interest in yellow folk and donuts. The humour is spot on – when applied – and the game has potential to last for years as a dip in, dip out experience. Let’s just hope that EA don’t give up on the game too soon. It may fail in it’s attempt to parody the freemium model, given that it is set up to reap the financial harvest that they can bring in, but the jokes seem to be directed in the right direction. While The Simpsons Game for consoles was far more successful in it’s jibes, having that distance from the targets of it’s spite, The Simpsons Tapped Out instead represents a game for folks who want a time sink, but appreciate the fact that they are playing a time sink. Mocking design choices established by the genre while you are performing the tasks might not hit the note for some, but I found it humorous enough to not be distracting or insulting.
The Simpsons Tapped Out is not available at time of writing this, due to the previously mentioned pull by EA, but I’m sure it will be back soon enough. It is free to download, with a variety of premium purchases available.
Oh and when you do play, get Homer to use his MyPad and tap him 10 times consecutively for some free donuts and a Jebediah Springfield statue. (This may work just tapping him in general, but I did it while he was using his MyPad, so give it a go.)
Lolocaust Animal Comparison Rating: Seaside Donkey.