With the recent release of The Sims: FreePlay, MCV took the time to speak to Iron Monkeys’ Tony Lay (founder) and Todd Huchinson (producer).
How much autonomy does Iron Monkey have with The Sims franchise? Is it hard to gain control when the franchise itself is so large?
TL: We have to be respectful because The Sims guys have built such a popular franchise that we really can’t just make anything we want out of it.
So we talk to them and tell them about our plans and what we’d like to do, but then they always remind us of what’s important about The Sims franchise, and we strike a perfect balance somewhere in there.
When it comes to owning the audience and our platform, they let us define what that is.
It’s good to hear so much freedom to explore with such a large franchise is being bestowed upon a local developer.
TL: Yeah, and we do that a lot with all our franchises, including Dead Space and everything else. We developer everything from scratch here and just work with our partners.
That’s the way we’ve always seen it and the way they see it. There’s just so much trust. There’s a lot of pride in how it works.
We’ve been working with EA for something like 7 years. For any developer, when you set out, the first thing you try to sell is your ability to create, and that’s something that I think we’ve always done.
So we had that trust with EA from the beginning. It was easy for us to get more projects, with them saying ‘What do you want to work on?’ and if we pick an IP, pitch our title to the franchise holder (like we would with clients), and if it’s good enough then we get the green light.
We just have thank our team for all the good work, because we’ve been in that enviable position for a while now.
And how has that ability to carve your own signature on the franchise stuck out with this particular game?
TH: One of the main things is the fact that it’s in real time, so it fits in with what you’re doing. So when it’s nighttime, it’s nighttime in the game; when it’s daytime, it’s daytime in the game.
When you go to sleep, you can send your Sims to sleep and they’ll sleep for up to 7 hours. When you go to work, you can send them to work as well.
TL: And I think one of the big things for us was it going free. It is of course a risk for us, but the upside is that everyone will be able to play it.
TH: Also there’s the fact that you can have up to 16 Sims. You can control up to 16 Sims, which a major difference considering that in the previous game you could only control 1 sim. The main reason we did that is because the game is in real time, you have more to do with your Sims and it feel more natural.
So if one Sim is doing a task, you can play around with your other Sims.
That makes a lot of sense for an iOS platform. When you’re engaging a time-conscious audience, you wouldn’t want them to be forced to watch a canned animation for 10 seconds in those precious few minutes on the bus.
TH: We tried to also make it so that if a player wanted to spend a couple of hours playing a game they can. You can customise your Sims and houses any time, no matter what your Sims are doing. So you can spend a long time putting your house together, trying different furniture and because the houses are so customisable you can spend a couple of hours easily just doing that.
So where does the paid element of The Sims: Freeplay come into play and how has it been balanced?
TL: All it is is choice. Instead of charging up front like we’ve done for the last three Sims iOS games, we’re just giving people a choice of how they want to spend money in the game.
It’s a current trend which is quite popular at the moment with freemium games, where the barrier to entry is a lot lower. That suits us as game makers because all that means is that a lot more people will get to play our games.
I don’t know whether it’s a direct result of the App Store and how things are going or not. They’ve done it with music as well – no longer selling albums but singles. So I’d say we’ll be following that as well.
So when people do decide to spend, what choices are they given?
TL: Well, one thing which is very important to note is that you can play through the entire game for free. We feel that’s vital.
The paying is coming in when you have people wanting to speed up their actions and help their progression…
TH: …or buying items, so buying furniture for your house, new businesses and workplaces for your town. It’s for if you want that stuff straight up.
We’ve designed it the way (I guess) a lot of game developers do it, where you can play it normally, but if you want to speed up, you can buy ‘life points’, but those are also given away quite liberally in the game itself as well.
Now that the game’s out, are you keeping on top of the wealth of information which is coming back to you and tweaking the game accordingly?
TL: Absolutely, and that’s the other first for us is that we’re seeing this as a service that we’re providing. It’s quite exciting on the development side to see it all happening and start making lists of what we are hearing that people want, and seeing things that we may need to alter to enhance people’s experiences.
TH: It is quite exciting to think that we can make differences very quickly. We’re reading all the reviews that come up on iTunes and seeing what we can do to fix things.
It’s also really gratifying because a lot of the things that people want us to put in the game are things we already want to put in there anyway, so I think we all have a pretty common goal. It’s just getting around to getting those things into the game.
We built this game from the ground-up using our own engine, which has made it very customisable for us, so if we want to slot in a new feature we can, and it won’t be that hard.
TL: Todd says that now, but when I ask him for a new feature…
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