So here’s a weird thing that’s come to a head these past several hours.
It started five months ago, when a reddit account going by the name of /u/projectvie began posting to the Sims subreddit about a competing game that may or may not be in the works. This garnered quite a lot of attention rather quickly, garnering several more reddit posts dedicated to the mysterious ‘Project Vie’ as well as posts and discussion among the Sims communities on tumblr, twitter and miscellaneous Sims fansites.
For context, a true competitor to EA’s cash cow series has been something talked about for some time now. The Sims series exists completely in a genre of its own and has done so for 17 years. It’s quite a popular (and probably not false) thought among fans that the series having to compete with others for its role in the game industry would force EA to create more consumer-friendly products and business practices. Combine that with the complete commercial failure of SimCity(2013) and subsequent success of Unity-built indie city sim Cities: Skylines in 2015, people are interested to see whether or not Will Wright’s other popular brainchild could get a decent equivalent outside of the EA realm.
And so people got interested. And the whole thing took off from there.
/u/projectvie kept posting in /r/TheSims, dropping vague hints about its totally real and happening video game, and posting a link to their official twitter, the only web presence that the project had (and still have) at the time. With only the working name of a project in hand, and not even the name of a studio that would be working on the game, it was easy to be skeptical.
But whoever was behind the accounts got the attention they wanted, nonetheless, after yet another vague post, this time made on twitter, promised an official announcement on March 15th. There were also some rumors about the /u/projectvie account being shadowbanned for breaking reddit’s self-promotion rules (which they were).
But March 15th did come, and the people got what they were asking for, in the form of no official announcement, but in a tweet, with two supposed ‘alpha’ screenshots attached.
Well, let’s take a look at these, shall we?
I can’t provide a larger resolution for these two images, because when I went to start writing this blog post six hours after that tweet was posted, it, along with the screenshots, has been deleted. After it was laughed at. Mercilessly.
(A big thank you to lumialoversims, by the way, who screen-capped the images on his phone before they went down.)
They also seem to have deleted a whole lot of other tweets from their timeline, and are currently accusing anyone who managed to capture screenshots of them of photoshopping.
Now that the screenshots have been taken down and Project Vie has been laughed at from across the internet, some are trying to claim the while thing was a hoax from the start, citing this older forum post from long-time community member ~MadameButterfly~ as evidence. Which, as respected as MB is in the Sims realm, doesn’t doesn’t actually hold very much evidence at all.
So are we looking at a hoax here? Or an honest to god well-meaning project that’s just extremely unprofessional.
One has to wonder why the game was being talked about at all this early in the game’s development. Most legitimate projects get bogged down by so many NDAs secrecy that even hinting at an upcoming title before the marketing guy says its ok will get you in hot water. I’ve had to sign at least one NDA for every software developer job I’ve ever held. Hell, I’ve had job interviews at game studios that I had to sign NDA’s for. In the game industry, controlling information going out is king.
Speaking of controlling information, let’s get to those screenshots.
Those aren’t just early visuals, those are very early visuals. I’m almost kind of astounded that they said they were from alpha, because, to me, they look like they belong in a build miles before you can even think of beginning alpha testing. And I’m pretty sure those trees are just the products of free photoshop brushes.
You see, most people don’t understand the software release life cycle. When you release your first images of a product that you’re trying to build hype for (and we all know that hype is all that matters in games marketing these days), you have to understand that the average viewer wont take that little “pre-alpha” watermark to heart. They wont really understand or care how your visuals might change in between now and release, they want to know whether or not they should be getting excited about what you’re working on. And these screenshots… really don’t look like anything to get excited about.
For an example, look at one of the earliest Sims 2 screenshots released.
Notice how almost all of the assets present in this screenshot were also present in the final game? How the UI pretty much identical to the one that would be present in the final product? The lighting looks different, and I’m not sure that floor lamp ever made it to release. But it’s all more or less there. That’s because these screenshots are from a much later build of the game. Probably a beta build considering how complete it all looks. Every other bit of promotional material EA released for The Sims 2 before then had been completely pre-rendered.
Here’s the first ever piece of media that EA released concerning The Sims 2, by the way.
So you see, you can’t just throw some shitty, pre-alpha screencaps into the wind and expect people to get hyped about what you’re making. Wait until you’re ready and have a product worth showing off to potential customers. And until then, that’s what concept art and renders are for. Don’t show your hand when you haven’t even been dealt any cards yet.
Anyway, that’s enough about the difference between an alpha screenshot and an “alpha” screenshot.
Whoever is behind the Project Vie twitter account is either trolling or really just doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing from multiple angles. And if they are trolling, they don’t seem to know what they’re doing from that front either. Why delete everything only a few hours after delivering the punchline? A weak punchline, yes, but purging everything right after your long con game came to a head?
That whoever was behind the accounts had a game at all was highly unlikely from the get-go. Maybe the apparent hoaxers were angry that they couldn’t get enough people to believe in them for the joke to properly land. Or maybe they were some legitimate but incredibly shitty game developers who choose to just pack it all up when faced with criticism.
Honestly, I was expecting this whole thing to end up with a questionable kickstarter and a whole bunch of disappeared money. Like that time someone “crowdfunded” (it was through PayPal) a Sims-themed social network site before running off with it all.
But this one’s just weird.
I can’t believe anyone legitimately thought that this guy was a real game studio.