Game Over

A few months before the end of the world, everyone was saying their goodbyes.

The world that was ending was “The Sims Online,” an online version of The Sims. Even though The Sims was one of the most popular computer games ever made, the massively-multiplayer online version did not do well.

Despite rebranding the game as “EA-Land,” sales did not improve, and EA Games decided to pull the plug.

EA-Land was not a normal video game. There were no monsters, no killing, and although it had some competitive elements, for many players the point was just socializing.

It was just a place to get together, chat, and meet strangers. It was a nice place. It was intimate.

And it was slated for virtual apocalypse.

Credit: Wired

Most games are easy to archive. For a game like Pac-Man, all you need to do is preserve the cartridge and the console. But the heart of EA-Land was the community of people using it. If you only saved the computer coding and opened it up years later, all you’d have is an empty world.

Enter Dr. Henry Lowood, an archival researcher at Stanford and head of a project called How They Got Game, which chronicles and preserves what happens inside of digital games and simulations. He wanted to capture the social relationships that would be lost when EA-Land went dark.

Lowood studied the final moments of EA-Land. It was like standing on the deck of the Titanic.

When EA Games pulled the plug on the server, bits and pieces of the world started disappearing. The environment began to disintegrate. The texture on the trees flickered. All the people froze and blinked out of existence.

The last thing they saw was a blue pop up window: “Network Error — Lost server connection”.

2015-02-16 04.15.33 pm



This story was a collaboration with Robert Ashley, host of the podcast A Life Well Wasted. This story originally aired on Snap Judgment‘s Utopia episode, back when Roman was a staff member there.


“Toward a Tranquil Marsh” — Chihei Hatakeyama
“Girl’s Math” — Depth Affect
“Oyster Bunch” — Depth Affect
“No Surprises (Radiohead)” — Superpowerless
“Bonfire On The Field” — Chihei Hatakeyama
“Outside” — OK Ikumi

  1. J

    Does anyone know where I can find the “No surprises” chiptunes remix that’s playing around 4:20? Thanks.

    1. Tim V

      Same thought, I’m not normally into chiptunes, but this one is great.

  2. DaveDisaster

    I would like to third this request for info on the tune. Came to the site hoping to find out…

  3. Walpurgisnacht

    This actually made me cry. I never played TSO but I am part of a community which is in a certain amount of danger due to nearly continuous attacks against our servers, and so i think it really hit home. Maslow’s comment in particular was spot on, as a large part of the aforesaid community is on minecraft.
    This was a really good, well made episode about the end of a community. Thank you, 99PI.

  4. James Tiago

    I don’t keep up with video games and never saw the appeal of virtual communities, but listening to this gave me chills. Thanks for imparting some empathy!

  5. Geroge Z

    I legitimately cried listening to the radio person signing off for the last time. It sounded like how I imagine a lot of people would sound at the end of the actual world.
    Also that choice of song hit me right in the feels.

  6. Larry

    That kid at the end worried about Minecraft shutting down? That’s not actually as safe as you assume it is. Online servers are all privately run, and most depend entirely on donations. Many servers get shut down either because the owner can’t maintain it anymore or can’t afford to. A small tight-nit Minecraft server being taken offline is even more depressing than this story about The Sims Online. These are not just chat communities. These are communities that have built structures and developed together in virtual spaces. Entire towns and villages built by several people. You can keep in contact with the people, but what you built together is gone.

  7. Alex

    I’m working my way backwards in time and listening to all 99% Invisble episodes until I hit episode 1. Game Over is hands down the best episode I’ve heard yet. The way you and your team open with a seemingly innocuous event then build up its emotional significance until the end is brilliant. The editing, music, and script lead to an amazing crescendo at the end… design at it’s best.
    This episode really captures the toll that getting rid of an “obsolete” design can have on those who are closest to it. It humanizes what was otherwise a foot note in history. Kudos.

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