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@Play managed to scoop producer Margaret Ng away from the busy offices of Maxis Entertainment to talk about her latest hit, The Sims Online. For those of you who haven't played the game, The Sims Online lets players take on a completely new persona. If you're a nerd in real life and you want to be a jock, The Sims Online is for you. And if you're tired of being hit on by members of the opposite sex wherever you go, a few simple clicks of the mouse and your alter ego becomes as appealing as the geeky Erkel from Family Matters. If you can't stand twitch gaming, if watching a first person shooter makes you nauseous, or you simply want to step outside of yourself for a few (hundred) hours, The Sims Online is for you.

@Play: Give us a basic rundown on The Sims Online and how it differs from the single player version.

Margaret Ng: The very first thing you will notice in The Sims Online is that the Sims talk to each other by way of chat bubbles. The ability to communicate in the world is something that you couldn't do in the single player game. Also, you are in complete control of your Sim. You make it walk, talk, eat, greet, dance, backflip, etc. We've taken autonomous action out of the game so you can truly express yourself in your Sim. Instead of playing dolls or playing God, you're playing "make believe." You are that Sim.

@Play: Playing a game about, well, getting a life doesn't appeal to me, and yet millions of fans love it. Where does the allure of the game come from?

Ng: The Sims Online appeals to different people for different reasons. The top reason appears to be the social aspect of the game. They are forming relationships while they play the game. Others enjoy the fantasy world of creating a home or a business or a hangout and having people come over. And still others really get into the competition of being the best property, most popular property, etc. And yet others seem to enjoy just wreaking havoc in the world.

@Play: What can you tell us about these Sims New Year's Eve parties?

Ng: Over a half million kisses at over 5,000 on-line parties occurred in this exciting virtual world.

@Play: What would you say to someone who says "I'm addicted to The Sims?" Was this your goal?

Ng: Maxis' goal has always been to make very good games for a wide audience. We are in the interactive entertainment business. And just like other types of entertainment - like music and movies - one measurement of quality is the level of immersion you experience. The Sims and The Sims Online are designed to give you another world that you can immerse yourself in and have fun!

We designed the game so that you could have a satisfying experience without spending a lot of time in-game.

@Play: What would you say to a player who develops SimAddiction?

Ng: Well, then they are probably having a blast playing the game!

@Play: How has The Sims franchise evolved over the years?

Ng: The Sims franchise celebrated its third anniversary this month. The game skyrocketed to the top of the charts when it began shipping to stores and quickly became a universal gaming and cultural phenomenon. The Sims base product was the No. 1 seller in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Translated into 17 different languages, The Sims has inspired five expansion packs that have all been top sellers. They include The Sims Livin' Large, The Sims House Party, The Sims Hot Date, The Sims Vacation and The Sims Unleashed. The Sims has recently transitioned on-line with The Sims Online and to the console with the launch of The Sims for the PlayStation 2 console. Soon The Sims will make its appearance on the Xbox video game system from Microsoft and the Nintendo GameCube.

@Play: Do you consider The Sims Online to be a MMORPG (massively multiplayer on-line role-playing game)? If so, do you see combat and exploration - the two driving forces behind most MMORPGs, becoming part of it? Will we see Sims entering a SimMcDonald's with a machine gun?

Ng: It is a MMORPG in every way, from the persistence of Sims, money, and objects to the social dynamic to the gameplay. Most telling is the way that people play the game. You can play yourself. You can play your hidden self. You can be a banker, casino owner, lover, hater, entrepreneur, entertainer, roamer, roommate - the role-playing possibilities are endless.

Combat plays a role in other MMORPGs. In The Sims Online, competition takes a different from. You compete for friends, fame and fortune.

And no! You won't see anyone blowing anyone else away with machine guns! The most violence you'll see is very comical and cartoon-like.

@Play: The press release talks about Sims falling in love. Are these the Sims themselves, or the users behind the computer screens?

Ng: Both. Some are play-acting being in love. And some people are establishing truly meaningful relationships in game.

@Play: Does The Sims support the negative side of humanity? Theft, homelessness, drunkenness, addiction? Can Sims be murdered? Die of old age? SimSTDs? SimAIDS? If not, why not? If so, was that a calculated risk?

Ng: Stealing and griefing are strictly prohibited as stated in The Sims Online Terms of Service. You can be without a home if you choose to but you can make a decent life off other's generosity. Others might even give you a job or invite you to hone your skills or earn Simoleans on their property. [ Editor's Note: "Griefing" is when players intentionally try to ruin the experience of other players.]/p>

As of now, your Sim cannot die. They also do not catch diseases.

@Play: Do you see real-world commerce becoming a factor? Will people sell Sim characters on Ebay like they've done with EverQuest?

Ng: It's happening and we do not endorse any of the selling on auction sites. We act on issues where players cheat or grief in the game

@Play: Do you have your own Sim? How have you lived his or her life?

Ng: Yes. The one that I play the most looks just like me. But, I do things I wouldn't normally do in real life.

@Play: Anything else coming soon for The Sims?

Ng: Expect to see The Sims Online become more and more robust as we add store and trading functionality to the game. We also listen to our community, which does have an influence on the way we add to the gameplay.