Want to know what I was doing in the summer of 2000? I was hunched over a keyboard playing The Sims. These were the early days when design options were limited, no one ever aged, Sims were confined to a single lot, and the term “woohoo” has no meaning. As simple as it was, I spent hours building a loving family and designing the perfect household. Then, I’d set it on fire.
Toward the end of that summer, the first expansion pack was released. I was all too willing to spend my money so my Sims could be Livin’ Large, and I was officially part of the ecosystem. For the next few years, I would spend $30 on multiple occasions for expansion packs. My Sims could go on vacation, have pets, and use a little bit of magic.
The Sims has come a long way from its inception in 2000, but one thing has not changed. They’re always adding content into the game. The gaming industry is built on a system where DLC (downloadable content) has become commonplace. The Sims was having players add content to their games since discs were more effective than digital. Yet Sims players have found the game to have many flaws and the future isn’t looking hopeful.
Two decades have passed, and The Sims remains a juggernaut in the gaming industry. The Sims 4 has reached over 20 million people, but the game doesn’t seem to be growing. Hardcore fans have more complaints than compliments and the community is overwhelmed by the number of microtransactions required to make the game playable.
It’s hard to deny The Sims and its distributor Electronic Arts (EA) as a trendsetter in the gaming and software world. Now the story of The Sims is one with many successes, but many lessons. As we look at the current state of the game, we can see areas where EA has made software blunders.
1. Expansion Packs Have Become Necessary
Many video games offer DLC, and that’s certainly not going anywhere. When The Sims 4 came out, fans started to realize how boring the game was without expansion packs and additional content. In fact, they started to realize how many features from the Sims 3 base game were missing.
Reviews from the time were unforgiving, and there’s no doubt EA took notice. There wasn’t a lot to do in the base game before additional content was released, usually at a fee. To this day, Sims fans are still plagued by features from The Sims 3 missing from The Sims 4.
If the base game is lackluster, you’re going to lose some fans. You’re also going to come across as greedy, requiring players to cough up more money to have a decent gaming experience. EA is lucky The Sims has such a strong fan base because The Sims 4 launch could have been a financial disaster without the preexisting support of Sims fans.
2. The Experience Has Regressed
Over a decade of gameplay had given Sims fans expectations from their games. When The Sims 4 launched, some major features were omitted. Most specifically, there were no swimming pools, hot tubs, toddlers, or customizable neighborhoods. Needless to say, fans were disappointed.
Gamers know new installments in a franchise are going to have some changes. The Sims 4 changed the ways Sims interacted with one another and the ways their personalities are crafted. This was an attempt to redesign functionality, but not a decision made out of laziness. Omitting beloved features in the game without a reasonable replacement left fans upset.
With any software, each generation should be an attempt to improve the overall experience. When basic functionality is compromised, the experience is regressing before any improvements can be made.
3. Collaborations Aren’t For Quality
In the Sims Universe, collaborations aren’t known for being particularly useful. This started with an Ikea collaboration in The Sims 2, which was underwhelming but made some sense. However, Sims 3: Katy Perry’s Sweet Treat really ruined the concept of the collaboration for some Sims fans, becoming an infamous cash grab.
(photo: Star Wars / Sims 4 collaboration. Via TheGamer)
Now, Simmers maintain this hesitation when they see a new collaboration. This holds true for Sims 4: Journey to Batuu, a Star Wars adventure game. It’s a story that players only need to complete once and incorporates Star Wars attire into the game. This doesn’t fit with the rest of the aesthetic of The Sims, only appeals to a niche demographic.
You don’t need to buy this game pack, but it so demonstrates the way EA views the game. Hardcore fans will buy the expansion, even though it has no longterm importance.
4. Moves Became Predictable
When I started playing The Sims in 2000, expansions were exciting. I remember the first time my Sims could leave their house and have a pet. It renewed my interest in the game and allowed me to do more than before. The Sims 2 mostly did a good job of keeping this momentum. Expansion packs added seasons, businesses, and university life.
The Sims 3 started to follow a similar trajectory as The Sims 2. Expansions included pets, seasons, university life, and other features we’d seen before. It took a while before we had new features that were truly new. When The Sims 4 was introduced, players had to go through many iterations just to get features they’d previously purchased for The Sims 2 or The Sims 3. Each life cycle gave us much of the same content with a new price tag on it.
5. The Value of Content Decreased
Since the release of Sims 4, expansion packs seem to have fewer features when compared to similar products from prior generations. Sims 4: Cats and Dogs is a prime example when compared to Sims 3: Pets. Both packs retailed for $39.99, but Pets gives players many more creatures and customizations than Cats & Dogs.
(photo: My First Pet Stuff via EA)
Simmers feeling their pet experience is lacking might want to add a few more rodents into their game with an additional game pack, Sims 4: My First Pet Stuff. For an extra $9.99 they get a few caged animals and interactions. If a player spent $49.98 for Cats & Dogs and My First Pet Stuff, they would still receive fewer animals than they would have gotten in the single Pets expansion pack in Sims 3.
Fans have noticed the game fragment prior expansion packs in a similar way. To relieve the experiences from prior generations, players need to bypass multiple paywalls.
6. They’re Forcing Connections
When The Sims 4 was in development, there was a rumor that gamers would have to be online at all times to play the game. This rumor turned out to be false, but other games (like SimCity) had disastrous launches due to forced online gameplay.
It seems this rumor still haunts Sims fans over half a decade later. Simmers are anticipating the release of The Sims 5, and they live in fear of forced online gameplay and competitive modes. The Sims was designed to be a life simulator and allowing the player to become a god of their neighborhoods. Allowing others into your digital world defeats the purpose.
There doesn’t seem to be a great benefit of going entirely online, but fans have made it clear they want an offline mode. EA knows what they could do to lose a lot of fans, but we keep getting hints that they’re willing to take the risk.
7. The Community Feels Ignored
The Sims has been known for having swarms of fans, and these people fill forums and social media. EA does have “gurus” who interact with the community, and these people tend to be really nice and understanding. Just because they have nice messengers doesn’t mean people are going to buy what you’re selling.
(photo: A pool table in The Sims 1 via GameFabrique)
Some of the requests from fans seem simple because they’ve been featured in prior generations. For example, people want bunk beds in the game, yet they’re still absent from the game as of March 2021. Another missing item: pool tables. I had them in the original Sims in the summer of 2000, but they’re absent from The Sims 4 despite it having been available for six years.
Over time, users feel their voices go unheard. Mostly, their requests are fairly simple and doable. Instead, Simmers get to send their Sims to Batuu before they can play billiards.
8. Certain Users Feel Downgraded
When The Sims 3 was released, people builders and designers were thrilled. The levels of customization were unmatched, players could fine-tune all of their clothing and match all surfaces in their house. You could spend hours making a single house if that was your prerogative.
Then, The Sims 4 came out. Clothing could only be customized with a few different color patterns. Items in the house only had a few different options. It was much quicker to build a house, and the Simmers who are dedicated to gameplay can start playing quickly.
When I play the game, I don’t spend too much time designing. I don’t feel the impact of these changes, but some people are upset. They loved the level of customization in Sims 3, and it was significantly reduced in Sims 4. EA chose their priorities with this installment, and some people felt left out.
9. They Find New Ways to Make You Pay
In 2021, EA released a new form of downloadable content: Kits. These were mini-upgrades to clothing, lifestyle, or design. As a whole, the community was angry. Nobody was asking for this content, especially at a $4.99 price point.
(photo: Sims kits via EA)
Fans of the game have very reasonable demands, but EA has dedicated their resources to create a kit so your Sims can dust the house. By this point in time, we know DLC is part of playing the Sims, but these Kits are viewed as opportunities to charge more for less content.
Many people are wondering the direction of Sims 4. It has lasted longer than any other Sims generation, and EA is charging players so they can dust their houses. If Sims 4 continues to expand, it seems likely they’ll be charging high amounts for little content.
10. Modders Do It Better
If you’re part of the Sims community, you know there are two types of players: vanilla” players and “modded” players. The modders have given players more clothing, hairstyles, designs, and interactions than EA has given us.
Modded games have become far more interesting than the vanilla games, and this speaks to EA’s understanding of its fanbase. People have to rely on mods so they can enjoy features that were included in prior generations of Sims games.
Of course, modders can implement more extreme features than EA would ever release. It’s unreasonable to ask for X-rated features in a mass-produced Sims game, but it’s sad to see Simmers resort to mods just so they can control the lengths of lifespans or have realistic social interactions.
Will The Sims Survive?
With tens of millions of players, The Sims has solid footing in the gaming industry. They’re not going away any time soon, and there’s a lot of fun to be found in their games. While it’s easy to point out faults in the game, there could be another list dedicated to all of the great things in the game.
Issues come when players begin to feel ignored or they feel they’re being taken advantage of. In many areas, Sims players do feel this way. When it comes to gaming, The Sims can be a really expensive hobby. If the content isn’t worth the cost, EA needs to expect people to stop spending.
Few pieces of software can compete with the lifespan of The Sims. Its survived two decades and multiple generations. EA has a lot of data surrounding the game, and anyone with internet access can hear the voices of the fans.
The Sims franchise has grown a lot over the years, and but it’s discouraging to see fans grow increasingly frustrated. As a game with a public presence, The Sims can tell us a lot about product management. When the product doesn’t deliver, people stop caring. It’s especially hard when longtime players are missing simple features they’ve grown dependent upon. Luckily, some things never change. Just like the very first Sims game, when something goes wrong, you can set it on fire.