For those of you who don’t know, The Sims Online is undergoing a revolution. Having stood up for the past few years with little or no input, EA is finally redesigning the game and the world of multiplayer gaming as we know it. Sounds like hyperbole? Maybe, maybe not; check out their latest addition to the online gaming experience: AvatarBook.
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So what is Avatarbook? Well, the clue is in the name. What is currently one of the largest social networking sites on the planet? That’s right – Facebook. With over 58 million users, Facebook is the main reason many of us log in in the morning. But, as we all know, it has its limitations. Like online games.
One problem with online games is that they can be too separate from reality – you have your online friends and your real-world friends, and the two remain firmly divided. Ditto Facebook: your circle of users is limited by who you already know and it’s hard to get to know people outside that circle on an individual basis without sharing all your private data or being referred by a friend of a friend.
This is all about 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 Second Life game) exchangeable for real world currency, they opened up the world of online games by bringing them into the real world. Now EA wants to do the same thing, allowing The Sims Online users to link their Avatar accounts to their Facebook profiles.
Avatarbook has two faces: the in-game version and the Facebook version. In the game you can use it in a very similar way to Facebook, as you can find other Avatars and view their limited profiles. For friends, full profiles are visible, with walls that people can write on and an upgradeable status. Your profile will also show whether or not your lot is open and the app can be used to quickly navigate EA Land as you switch between friends.
In Facebook, the application shows the details of your avatar (unless you have chosen a private setting) and the image and whether or not you are connected to the game. This is a useful way for players to find out who is online without having to log in on their own. You can also invite other Facebook users who aren’t already Sims Online players to download the app and view your Avatar profile – a move EA hopes will attract more people to the game.
For the time being, therefore, most of the information that can be shared is related to Avatar. You can view their skills, properties and friends 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 is concerned, so at the moment Avatarbook is quite limited in the amount of information that 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 instead of creating a direct link, although this is likely to change as the app grows. Also, no one in EA Land (the world of Sims Online where the app will be available) will have access to your real name – you will only be searchable with your avatar name. EA said it intends to allow players to lower their privacy settings so they can share more information, but they’re playing it safe at the moment.