Goodbye Sims Online, hello EA-Land

Virtual world becomes branded freebie.

EA has closed down The Sims Online and is replacing it with a new, free-to-play virtual world built on a re-engineerd version of the same platform. In an added twist, it has decided to call the reworked game EA-Land.

The Sims Online was a subscription-based, massively multiplayer version of Will Wright's smash hit soap simulator that launched in late 2002. Although it was ahead of its time in many ways, it never achieved the popularity of the main Sims games.

The last of The Sims Online's city-servers was shut down last week - must have missed it amid all the GDC hoopla - and all cities are now being merged into one giant isometric kingdom under EA's corporate moniker. The other principal change is to allow players to play for free, although there are still benefits to being a paying subscriber, such as having a larger house.

Non-paying players will only be able to earn money from other players, not the game. Paupers will have to scratch a virtual living by getting other players to pay you to be their roommate, or to dance for them. Isn't EA-Land a happy place?

Other changes include a fix to the economy to stop everyone becoming billionaires, and loads of trendy web 2.0 stuff like uploading and sharing custom content, Facebook apps and iPhone widgets.

Frankly, we don't understand any of it, and it scares us. If you want to try and figure it out, head over to the official site and be our guest. Be warned, however, that clicking that link will expose you to gratuitous and prolonged use of comic sans. (And clicking that second link will expose you to a cuss word.)

This is the second move by EA towards free-to-play online gaming this year. Last month, it announced Battlefield Heroes, a version of its multiplayer shooter supported by advertising and micro-payments.

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