The Game Archaeologist: The Sims Bustin’ Out, the online Sims game nobody remembers


Many gamers who complete that Venn diagram of being fans of both MMOs and The Sims no doubt will be familiar with the tragically unfulfilled potential of The Sims Online. This 2002 entry into the franchise sought to capitalize on the hot trend of massively multiplayer action but greatly stumbled in the execution.

While that failure is quite well known, today we’ll be looking at a lesser-remembered Sims spin-off that also took the franchise online in the early 2000s. So pull up a plumbob, reticulate your splines, and let’s talk about The Sims Bustin’ Out.

As the very first console-exclusive Sims entry, The Sims Bustin’ Out arrived in late 2003 for a variety of platforms, including the derided N-Gage (remember the N-Gage? Pepperidge Farm remembers!). Maxis’ then-newest title built upon the former console adaptation and drew elements from The Sims expansion packs, following a story of a greedy and oppressive neighborhood landlord named Malcolm Landgrab and the Sims who strike a blow for justice.

The whole title was whipped up, start to finish, in an impressive six months and garnered fairly positive reviews, with some sites praising the fact that this game was built for consoles instead of ported from the PC. Players loved the kooky attitudes of this game’s Sims, not to mention a feature that allowed them to save their game on memory cards and insert those into a friend’s system to see their Sim appear at that friend’s virtual house for some couch co-op fun.

But it’s the PlayStation 2 version that we want to examine, as this was the only edition of Bustin’ Out that made use of a modem to take the gameplay online. Keep in mind that around this time, most consoles and titles weren’t online, with only a paltry handful of titles (Phantasy Star Online, EverQuest Online Adventures) forging into this extremely niche space.

Players who had the modem installed and a USB keyboard controller or headset could engage in Bustin’ Out’s “Online Weekends” to hang out with another gamer in either story or freeplay modes. It took a bit of finagling to find a friend through the 30-player lobby (which had a chat window of its own), but there was also the option to simply connect to a stranger and see where that went.

Unlike multiplayer in The Sims Online, where the database and action took place on the official server, Bustin’ Out’s multiplayer happened in a peer-to-peer connection between two consoles. It also limited the players from a few features: They couldn’t build or buy while online, nor could they connect with more people than just a duo. That said, it did offer remote online gameplay where people could go through the story, show off their houses, trade unlockables, or mess around the neighborhood together.

This game mode lasted only a half-decade before it was shuttered due to a lack of players. Ironically, the shutdown of Bustin’ Out’s online mode was overshadowed by the closure of The Sims Online, which happened the very same day: August 1st, 2008.

But that’s not quite the end of this zany console game. In 2018, player-run rogue server Free SO announced that it was also opening realms for The Sims Bustin’ Out, although this did require fans to jump through a few hoops to set it up.

To this day, The Sims Bustin’ Out remains a cult hit in the series for its step up in console quality, zany storylines, and online features. It is incredibly curious that EA Maxis stopped working on multiplayer features after 2008, although we have hopes that The Sims 5 will revive those online connections whenever that arrives.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to 2004! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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