I find myself with mixed feelings about EA's announcement of The Sims 3: Showtime, the sixth expansion for The Sims 3. At first glance, the game reminds me very strongly of The Sims: Superstar, which is arguably my favorite expansion pack for the original The Sims. However, what catches my attention more than the new in-game features, is how much the expansion, at least currently, seems to be focused on the out-game (i.e. between games) features. I call it out-game for lack of a better term to describe exactly what EA is shooting for here.
I will not take this time to cry about how much everything seems to be moving towards social networking. I think it's a natural progression for all video games, and the TS series is no exception. In a game that is so incredibly single-player, it's interesting to see how EA plans to move forward; Showtime seems to be that first step, or at least, the first step after the failure that was The Sims Online.
I tend to think, though, that the introduction of social features won't stop with Showtime. We all know that a new The Sims will be coming sooner or later, and it seems to me that EA is likely trying to figure out the direction the series is going to take. There seems to be a divide, and I'm not sure if I'm imagining it or not, in how casual games are designed and, more importantly, how and where they're played. Ten years ago we didn't have Facebook or anything of the sort, so casual games were like any others - a single-player experience. But now we have massive social networks and games tailored to be played on those networks, including The Sims Social.
If I were to make a guess, I would say that any new The Sims game - call it The Sims 4 or whatever you want - is going to move ever closer to Facebook. You'll see levels of interaction between players that wasn't conceivable earlier in the series, especially following the failure of TSO. In that way, Showtime seems to be the beginning of a new era in The Sims... whether we're ready for it or not.