Plans for the future – Additional Preparation and Invite Beta

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Hello folks!

Though early testing, it’s clear the transition to ASP.NET will work. While Nancy would crash with a pitifully low number of requests, ASP.NET does not drop any requests at all with several thousand. However, as I mentioned before, we did not expect to see several thousand users attempt to register on day one. Admittedly, we got a bit ahead of ourselves; planning to implement many moderation features after the game had been established, due to a rather small expected userbase. This means a few things for us:

Our new projected user count is way larger than our original launch plans allow

Originally, we planned to launch the game with a large starter lot available for users to skill and earn money, until they could purchase their own lots. This is because we would not be able to provide starting funds for new users since registration was free. This plan was devised when I had projected a maximum of 200 initial users, and assumed we’d be able to fit most people on a super lot with a 128 avatar max count for an opening ceremony.

With over 1000 people, we would not even be able to get everyone in the building, and having all new users play at exactly the same time without lots to split everyone into would be a recipe for disaster. Picking a server configuration to allow this many users to play would be a complete shot in the dark – and we wouldn’t know the root cause or true capacity of a server configuration if we were way over it (it would just crash immediately)

Automated Moderation is Required

A large potential problem with launching a TSO-like game with free registration is multi-accounting to profit faster than other users. Unfortunately, it is currently very easy to do this – we do not have any automatic detection for botting and multi-accounting. As mentioned before, it is possible to do this by monitoring one-way transactions, suspicions large transactions, suspiciously predictable command submissions to the game (botting), and other checks. This would be enough to flag the few suspicious behaviours for investigation by a moderation team.

The plan was to implement this soon after launch – as it would take people a bit of time to rake in enough funds to transfer from a secondary account to their main. With over a thousand people, things can very quickly spiral out of control, so it’s important to get this right as early as possible.

Large demand from Brazilian fansites

On launch day, half of the traffic to the WordPress site was from Brazilian fansites. Our English discord even gained a Brazilian-Portuguese channel and voice chat for a short duration of time, since they were talking in Brazilian-Portuguese in the normal channels. This caused a small scale language divide, and only with a few members. With an equal number of Brazilian and English speaking users, the game’s city would experience a harsh language divide very quickly, and the quality of moderation and gameplay would be severely degraded, with half of the community expecting the other half to speak their language.

I believe to solve this problem, the Brazilian community need their own instance of Sunrise Crater. If this were on the same server as the English one, and I were able to take server donations, an imbalance in donations and game activity could mean that one side’s donations would be paying more for the other. I don’t think I would be able to deliver a satisfactory server to the Brazilian community, due to the language barrier. It would be ideal if the Brazilian community could find and elect their own server admin and moderation team to run their server in a way that works most for them. For this to work, I need to make the servers easier to run/maintain, and help a trusted server admin set up a separate server for Brazil. This would happen close to making the revised game server public, and ideally launch alongside our official servers.

I am still in full time education

I was banking on everything working fine for the launch, as the date was actually set as the latest possible before I had to go back to university and work on my final year project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it was ever actually meant to be – I was hoping I could get a lot more of the required features done, and sort of hoping that some of them wouldn’t be necessary with a rather small playerbase. It turns out that all of these are completely necessary, as manually moderating thousands of players without some kind of automated assistance (reports, transaction flags, botting flags) would cause some kind of mental breakdown.

I also need more server administrators to help keep the server up. Especially in early days, it’s likely that the server will go down, and I can’t be there to keep it up 24/7. If I am also making sure the servers are running all the time, I would have no time to develop the game itself. I’m a feature developer at heart, so it’s crucial to my own sanity that I don’t become a slave to my own server. Unfortunately, the servers are also quite hard to maintain right now – there is a confusing setup for running our watchdog, updating is complicated and sometimes requires a manual restart, and some things like the server nfs on linux need an easy way for casual systems administrators to set up. I will likely pick people I already know to do this, so please don’t suggest yourself. The problem is, I need to make it easy enough for them!

Because of my situation, things have to slow down again (as they have several times in the past few years). However, contributions to the project in GitHub are more than welcome. We can still launch while I am in full time education, it just needs to be well planned in advance.

A new plan for a “closed” beta

We have a few problems to cover. We have no idea how the city and lot servers will scale with a large number of real users, which is a function of how many lots we have open, how many players are on each lot, how many players are idle in city… We do not know at which points city or lot servers could become unreliable, or how they might behave. A large scale instant launch will break these servers so fast it will be impossible to diagnose where any of these issues start.

The solution is simple, we need to stagger the number of players we allow into the city. The current plan is a beta mailing list, where you submit your email to recieve a FreeSO beta invite code some time in the future. This way, we can gradually scale the server up, see how it behaves, and there will be no need to join a large “city lot” style lot to get started (this would only need to be available through the first few invite phases). I’m also predicting that many people will quickly stop playing. An immediate playerbase of say, 2000 users that gradually drops to 750, is a lot harder and more expensive to deal with than increments of 50 to get to the same 750 end users point.

This will be announced on this wordpress when it is available. The emails to recieve codes will probably be picked in order, but it’s likely some randomization will be employed. Please stay tuned.

Revised Roadmap

Here is a list of things that really need to be done so that we can try again.

  • Complete API transition to ASP.NET (require admin api, some bugfixes, testing)
  • More tools for admin UI, for viewing reports, transactions, flags and bans.
  • Transaction logging and automated flagging tasks.
  • Bot detection plugin (closed source).
  • Ingame moderator tools for bans and warnings, and user reports.
  • Ensure the distributed portions of the system work, including distributed shutdown, emergency shutdown of one component into reconnect and distributed update. Required for horizontal scaling.
  • Set up a system to gradually roll the server out to users via email invites.
  • Cleanup hosting the server to be less of an active chore. This will be necessary to start letting other language communities set up their own server, and let me get on with my life on the other side of things.

This large list means that we cannot launch soon. This isn’t a problem of money, it’s a problem of time (specifically mine). This is definitely possible, we just have to do it right. Sorry for getting you all excited! @_@

A note on private servers & instead helping develop the game!

Please remember, if I, the developer of the game for 3 years, could not successfully run a server, that you or anyone else definitely will not be able to run one successfully! Please also be careful of private servers hosted by non-developers. I know that at least one of the groups that may attempt this were involved with the DOS attack a few days ago, and due to their unpredictable nature I would not trust them with any of your user information.

If you have the ability to host a basic server, your time will be better spent helping me implement these features, so we can launch the game for everyone. The MMO server stuff should be rather easy to jump into developing (especially compared to simantics), so if you have experience with C#, give it a shot! We will be accepting pull requests on our GitHub repo.

I’d like to end this post by saying that we will not be accepting any donations until at least a server is open for players to see the game running for themselves, so be wary of any requests for money posted on social media. The TSO community has been burned once before, and I don’t want it to happen again in case for some reason we fail!

Thanks,

Rhys

34 thoughts on “Plans for the future – Additional Preparation and Invite Beta

  1. Thanks for the update Rhys. I hope you receive what you need in order to help you out and ease the struggle for you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for all that you have done and what you’re doing. School comes first and foremost, we can wait a bit longer ^_^

  2. Thanks for this update Rhys! I hope you’ll get a lot of people to help! I wish i could support the project, but i’m afraid i’m not tech-savy enough for that . 😛 I want to thank you so much for all the work you have done for the project, i’ve seen it grow trough the last 2 years and it really is impressive how much you’ve done! Succes with your studies!

  3. Seems like you have made tremendous progress despite the work still to be done.

    One thought regarding the invite/closed beta… At least one fan-remake of an MMO that I am aware of utilized a “play list” during their closed beta. In order to be able to log in users could sign up for a single three-hour time slot at a time. After that time was up, they were logged out and could then sign up for another three hour slot in the future. Usually this meant you could play for three hours every couple of days (or more often if you were willing to take less desirable time slots (eg: 3am-6am)). The end result was everyone being able to participate in the early stages of the game, rather than perhaps some users not being able to play at all until months down the line. This also has the benefit of easily scaling up or down the user base by simply increasing or decreasing the available spots for a given time-slot.

  4. Thank you. I agree that your schooling is top priority. I thank you for the time and efforts you have poured into trying to make this a reality. I wish I were tech smart but I’m not. I await patiently for your updates when you are able to make them. Please know that your efforts are so appreciated. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  5. Thankyou for the update Rhyl, you’ve been solid gold these however many years and I have every faith in you, as we say in sl, real life comes first, I hope your final year project comes easy to u and that you do well, we have waited this long and we can wait some more, you’ve impressed us time and and time again and done things we could only have dreamed about before. So thankyou so much, was super disapointed in those who were being nasty and rude, things never go smoothly the first time around, but we have come this far and time is all we have 🙂 x

  6. Appreciate the update.

    An invite system seems like the way to go.

    In truth, I am bummed we are looking at a longer wait time, but I totally understand. You’re one guy. (I think you’ve got a few people helping?) I would gladly help if I could, but while I am good at using computers, their inner workings and game code is not my area.

    Hopefully this will all work out in the end. Good things come to he who waits. 🙂

  7. Thanks for the update,
    i understand why this has to happen!
    I’ll wait for the day this gets released!
    No matter what!
    I wish you the best Rhys, and if the closed beta goes live.
    I’ll be sure to set myself on the mailing list and help out where i can.
    I’ve been following this since around 2014 and i’m not giving up this easily 😉

    My support you have 🙂
    And i am not the only one that still supports you and understands your situation!

    – TheGamer3399 ~ Sven Missorten

  8. Apart from EA’s general incompetence, I believe there were two things instrumental in the eventual collapse of TSO, and both are interlinked.

    1) The economy, and 2) Top 100 lists

    Given that this is a fresh start the developer(s) have the opportunity to implement some completely new ideas.

    Regarding the economy, is there anyone who played the offline version and didn’t “rosebud” frequently? The skill/money grind was a big time consumer and to get anywhere a lot of people used cheats, bots or exploits or bought simoleans through a third party, particularly towards the end. Policing this used a lot of resources EA weren’t willing to allocate, and if a company the size of EA can’t do it how can one developer do it?

    Regarding the top 100 lists, this became very competitive with increasingly ridiculous “payouts” per job object or skill point earnt, as a way to manipulate popularity. This would often be coupled with botting, in order to keep properties open where the hosts would all be afk and you’d occasionally get a buffet or more likely the McDonalds and ice cream stands for food because there was no actual host present to provide all the greening things required.

    I’ve been playing the “non online” TSO version provided and have taken advantage of the free money button to build, which is the thing I enjoy the most, not grinding for hours, in order to create a nice build that, if I had anyone to play with, they could enjoy what I have to offer. At the moment it’s just practising, refreshing my memory and trying out some new ideas.

    I offer a number of solutions.

    1) Keep the “free money” option currently available. This removes the need to cheat to get money, removes the “black market” for simoleans, rares etc, and gives everyone the same opportunity to be creative. It reduces the need for “payouts to pretend to be popular”, mafia/gang harassment for ransoms to remove enemy links, and many of the other things that filled pages of complaints about on the original forums.

    2) Remove the top 100 list in its current form. Don’t calculate visitor hours, simply randomise the list so, say every 5 minutes, a list of some of the houses in each category are open is presented. People can still find places to become their favourites and go back again through a bookmark system, rather than simply migrating towards the house with the most hours. Top isn’t always the best, of course – I would much rather be in a house with an attentive host and three chatty guests than a house full of afk zombies. You might as well just play offline if there’s no social interaction.

    3) Keep the initial city as a ‘free money’ sandbox concept, and open a second city with the normal §10,000 start for those that do want to “play that way”. A bit like the “hardcore city” of old perhaps.

    As a TSO player of a number of years, and owner of successful #1 properties in most categories in my city of choice, I don’t offer these options lightly because my roomies and I put in many hours of grinding to raise the cash through legitimate means to achieve all we did back then, but recognise that TSO’s original concept simply didn’t work then due to the usual problem of people wanting short cuts to success as happens in most games, and it’s unlikely to work now either.

    I play Elite: Dangerous currently and almost every other post on the facebook page is someone asking for shortcuts and quick money earning ideas in order to fast-track through what they perceive as ‘the grind’ to get the best ship, best weapons etc. I also play Second Life, which has an in-built real money to game money economy within the game itself, as well as player to player transfers through content creation and sales of your items, where you still can’t buy yourself to success unless you give away that money (and when you have to pay for it in the first place, most people don’t have bottomless real pockets).

    For me, I enjoyed building in the original TSO, and hosting, interacting with people that popped through the door because the light was on and gaining friends, some of which translated to rl friends I’m still friends with all these years later. Gaining skill points to gain interactions (particularly the resurrection shuffle for those with no mech skills) was one of those things that you couldn’t fast-track, but you can do pretty much everything else with little more than creativity – and after all creativity and the satisfaction it brings, whether it’s building the best looking house, or inventing new games with in-game objects, or role-playing, are things that no amount of money can really buy. It’s the imagination and the personality of the humans behind the sims that, I believe, ultimately gains real success in-game as no amount of money can substitute.

  9. Really thankful for your update Rhys! However, how will the invite system works? And take your time, we all grateful for even some groups gave their sweat to work for rebuilding the game, this is amazing.

  10. Keep it up Rhys. Invites are the best possible idea. I also like the idea of having a separate Brazilian server. Do not let multiple languages flood the game from the start.

  11. Thanks for the update. I’d like to contribute if I am able – I’m not a C# genius but I have a couple years of experience working on .NET applications.

    1. Hey Jimla,

      Please reach out to me with a PM here. My name is mistajack23 — I am trying to put something together in order to help Rhys out. Thank you 🙂

  12. Keep up the great work. Even the slight prospect of a completed, functioning version is worth any kind of wait. I hope you at some point begin taking donations again if money would help further development, because while I do not possess knowledge of server coding, I would like to contribute however I can.

  13. Thank you ! i actually am glad to see someone who actually puts their education first, i see gaming more of a reward for all the
    time and effort we put into our jobs and school . I also completely agree with Andrew, the Sims really are better with
    uninhibited creativity motivation, and from what i have seen here so far this community is far better and more positive than most gaming communities ,i would be a shame to spoil it with useless competivity for simoleons. Noone has given
    up , and thats a good start!

  14. At least you’re wanting to make sure everything is done right before you relaunch. Maxis and/or EA just dump more stuff into the game without taking care of the existing problems – thank you for taking the time to do it right and make it a satisfying experience for dedicated Simmers. We really do appreciate it!

  15. Very excited to still see this is still in the works! Thank you very much for putting so much into this, Its safe to say we all appreciate it! Please take your time, like some have stated we will wait for this! All good things take time. I will keep checking in on this, good luck and best wishes!

  16. Thank you Rhys for all your dedication. Though it’s not quite here, it can remain on everyone’s list of wonderful things to look forward to. I was a dedicated player till TSO shut down in 2008 and continue to play the Original Sims offline version. I fully agree with many of the compliments, as well as the suggestions & concerns made here by some. In particular, the cheating on money acquisition and the Top 100 lot achievements were completely out of control by the time TSO closed. They might not have been foreseen by EA, but we are now the wiser, and perhaps something can be done to prevent those from ruining the game in the future. Each of us has our own idea of what makes a game great. It was TSO’s simplicity (relative to most games today) that kept its hold on me and calls me back to play The Sims, again and again. I wish you the best in whatever you spend your time own.

  17. Well, it’s great to know everything in detail about all the needed work·

    About the Brazilian issue, personally I’m not fond of different language servers· It fragments a lot of games and somewhat segregates people by language· I suggest that the best solution is keep a single server, making the city an internacional place where people from all around the world can live aside and have chance to meet, without discrimination, New York-like, Singapore-like·

    You could add a neighbourhood system· Residential neighbourhoods could have its own language flags, so people could have their homes grouped together by language· We could see a lusophone neighbourhood, an anglophone neighbourhood, and so on· People speaking the same language would have direct neighbours speaking their own language, just like real life·

    Main commercial neighbourhoods could and/or couldn’t have a language flag, the last with each commercial lot on it having its own langflag· It also could have a third lot class, like public open places, parks, or theorical future gov’t buildings where langflags doesn’t apply and everybody would be welcome, to come and play along·

    Obviously, people could go anywhere, even in places with different languages· For the first time people doing it, could appear a warning like: You also can visit places with languages you don’t speak· But take note that if you don’t speak the local language, don’t expect interacting with local people·

    I also think that this system would at least, a concept for online games that it’s possible to have an unified community living together, even with different languages· When the city grow and gets more advanced, players could create their own language schools there· In the future, players could learn new languages, experience different cultures, players could have a kind of virtual exchange programme· This would add some flavor into it·

    What do ye people think about it? Is it a good idea or am I just dreaming too high? I would love to read suggestions and additions to this World city concept for FreeSO·

  18. Hey Rhy!
    I have no experiences with C# but I can provide you with a dedicated server.
    You’ve got a lot of Thai fans here!

  19. Wow, it looks amazing, keep up the great work. I only wish I could help you bring this project to life sooner.. I am really looking forward to the opening!

  20. Thank you so much for making this game possible! I will wait for as long as it takes for this to finish.
    I wasn’t old enough to play the original at the time so I’m looking forward to this.
    I hope and wish you get the help you need to get this up and running to the public asap! 🙂

  21. I peek in every week to see whats going on, hope everything is going well, wish I had programming skills or anything to help out but I don’t =/ I do look forward to this game being back I was a tester in the original one a million years ago , I lived in Alphaville and Dan’s . Thanks for bringing it back. Pizza is calling me

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