Franchise Festival #99: The Sims

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll create-a-history of The Sims. Cover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium.

Please be sure to scroll (or skip!) to the end of the article for an interview with Twitch streamer and cosplayer SuperNamu. She has a much longer history with the franchise than I do and her observations are exceptionally insightful.

While I cite specific sources and interviews below, I am especially indebted to the The Sims Wiki for its overviews of the series. Any errors, of course, are my own.

Table of Contents

Background
The Sims (2000)
The Sims 2 (2004)
The Sims 3 (2009)
The Sims 4 (2014)
Spinoffs
Interview with SuperNamu

Background

Will Wright learned how to write software on the Apple II in an effort to control toy robots he built as a teenager in New York City. His interest in simulations soon led him to pick up British mathematician John Conway’s zero-player Game of Life (1970) and copy it from scratch using then-common Applesoft BASIC programming language. As his interests turned towards recreating in a digital environment the complex physical strategy board games he’d grown up with, however, Wright found this method of programming increasingly inefficient. 

Raid on Bungeling Bay has much in common with other top-down shooters of the 1980s. Source: MobyGames

Sensing an opportunity to get in on the expanding computer games market when the Commodore 64 democratized this pastime around the world in 1982, the young enthusiast moved to California, developed a rudimentary 2D shoot-’em-up called Raid on Bungeling Bay, and successfully convinced Broderbund to publish his first commercial game in 1984. While it was heavily pirated and sold poorly in the West, Raid on Bungeling Bay’s cartridge-based Famicom version sold over 1,000,000 copies in Japan. These sales gave Wright the resources and time he needed to produce the game that would make him a household name.

SimCity shares little in common with Will Wright’s preceding commercial release. Source: MobyGames

Wright spent much of the next two years building SimCity (1989) around a landscape constructor tool he had written for Raid on Bungeling Bay. Originally titled Micropolis, SimCity takes its cues from the urban planning theories of MIT professor Jay Forrester and eschews the violence of contemporary titles in favor of allowing players to design their own simulated cities. Broderbund was uninterested in backing the project, as it lacked straightforward win and fail states, so a commercial release proved unlikely until Wright encountered Jeff Braun at a party in 1987. Though Braun already had an established career running an Amiga font-editing company, his passion for computer games led him to partner with Wright and co-found a new studio called Maxis shortly after their serendipitous meeting. 

Maxis published SimCity for the Macintosh, Amiga, IBM, MS-DOS, and Commodore 64 platforms in North America in 1989. Despite its experimental nature, the game sold over 1,000,000 in under two years and inspired a vast array of spinoffs and spiritual successors. This popularity set the stage for Wright to try his hand at a more granular type of simulation a decade later.

The Sims (2000)

As with so many things that seem inevitable in hindsight, the process of creating The Sims was startlingly arduous. Wright was inspired to explore virtual architecture and lifestyle simulation by the loss of his own house in the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm; while Wright and his family were thankfully unharmed, this jarring tragedy had provoked an assessment of what he needed to live out a fulfilling daily routine. The resulting game prototype centered on designing buildings with an eye to achieving a high score based on metrics inspired by Abraham Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation” (1943), the Berkeley Center for Environmental Structure’s A Pattern Language (1977), and Charles Hampden-Turner’s Maps of the Mind (1981).

Wright began professionally focus-testing the concept as early as 1993, but prospective players consistently lacked interest. Others in the leadership at Maxis were similarly unmoved by the potential for simulating interior design and ordinary people living ordinary lives. During the mid-1990s, though, the game’s emphasis shifted definitively from architecture to lifestyle experimentation as Wright took inspiration from John Robinson and Geoffrey Godby’s Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans use Their Time (1997). According to an interview in John Seabrook’s Flash of Genius: And Other True Stories of Invention (2008), Wright’s teenage daughter Cassidy was also instrumental in The Sims shifting design as she tested out iterations of the game and largely eschewed the intended goals in favor of pure creativity.

Character customization is limited by the standards of later entries, but The Sims offered surprisingly robust design options for 2000. Source: MobyGames

Given that their own founding was inextricably linked with another prototype that performed better than initially anticipated, it is surprising that Maxis continued to turn down Wright’s proposal for The Sims. According to Jeff Braun, Maxis’ board of directors derisively referred to the concept as an interactive dollhouse and refused to support further development. Electronic Arts (EA) bought out Maxis in 1997, however, and was much more interested in financing Wright’s bold idea. The publishing juggernaut accurately predicted numerous opportunities to grow the intellectual property (IP) out into a popular franchise over the next decade. Following its reveal at E3 1999, The Sims was released for Windows PCs in North America and Europe to widespread critical acclaim in February 2000.

House designs start out quite spartan but grow increasingly complex as the player puts in more simoleons. Source: MobyGames

The game meets players where they are by offering either open-ended customization or a more closely guided tutorial experience. With regard to the latter, players are immediately introduced to a sparsely populated virtual suburban neighborhood upon booting up the game for the first time. A handful of houses, including one with a premade family, dot the map. If the player is nervous about jumping in feet-first, he or she can explore The Sims’ basic gameplay by observing the premade family moseying about its day.

The player is encouraged to begin creating characters and homes once they feel sufficiently comfortable with the game’s menu-driven interface and isometric perspective. Create-a-Family allows the player to design individual family members (“sims”) using physical characteristics, personality attributes, and even a biography. Individual sims are joined together to form a family and use an initial gift of simoleon currency to either purchase a vacant lot or a preexisting house. Houses are constructed on a grid using a combination of general architectural features, like walls or floors, and individual decorative furnishings. Every design element costs money, so the player is encouraged to start simple and make their living spaces more eccentric over time. 

While sims can die in the base game, the introduction of the grim reaper in the Livin’ Large expansion lets the player gamble their sim’s life on a round of play rock-paper-scissors. Source: SariaFan93

Once they have been placed into a house, the player’s sims start going about their daily routines. These roughly simulate real-world lifestyles, so young sims will attend school and adult sims will go to work. Some activities, like exercise or romance, must be actively initiated by the player when he or she takes command of an individual sim. Though no traditional gameplay objectives exist, the player keeps sims mentally and physically healthy by ensuring that they have fulfilling careers, hobbies, food, and social interaction; the latter is carried out in Simlish, a charming gibberish language performed by actors Stephen Kearin and Gerri Lawlor using an improv comedy technique called Foreign Poet after a planned phonetic recitation of Ukrainian, Navajo, Swahili, and Cherokee fell flat in the recording booth. Failing to maintain sims’ emotional needs leads them to become depressed, while failing to maintain their physical needs will eventually kill them.

The Sims was quickly augmented by a combination of player-created mods and expansion packs following its release. Active fan participation in content creation was fostered by Wright and his team through the publication of modding tools months ahead of the game’s launch and a community website, accessible from the game menu, called The Sims Exchange. Players could even produce stories with their sims using in-game screenshot tools. Expanded ports for the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 – featuring the series’ first fully 3D graphics and a goal-driven “Get a Life” mode – deepened the game’s already-expansive fan community when they launched to positive reviews and strong sales in 2003.

Polygonal graphics give the home console version of The Sims its own atmosphere. Source: Troidy’s Game Reviews

For better or worse, expansion packs became a reliable staple of The Sims’ publishing history beginning with August 2000’s The Sims: Livin’ Large. Livin’ Large introduces additional neighborhoods, sex, aliens, and divination alongside premade non-player characters (NPCs) like the grim reaper, Sunny the tragic clown, and a wish-granting genie. Six more expansions would update the base game’s creative potential and settings over the following two years: House Party (2001) features party elements like DJs and dance floors; Hot Date (2001) adds a downtown area; Vacation (2002) introduces a vacation island and costumed mascot characters; Unleashed (2002) adds pets while expanding overall neighborhood size; Superstar (2003) allows sims to pursue careers in show business and meet real-world celebrities like Christina Aguilera; and Makin’ Magic (2003), perhaps inexplicably, integrates magical spells and supernatural elements. 

The Sims was a commercial blockbuster, selling nearly 2,000,000 copies by the end of its first year on store shelves. A vibrant fan community and expansion packs ensured that it retained its best-selling PC game status for a second consecutive year in 2001. Much of this success has been attributed to the game’s popularity with women, who had been largely ignored by the wider video games industry during the late 1980s and 1990s. In spite of the original PC game’s popularity and historical significance, it remains unavailable on modern operating systems at the time of writing in September 2020.

The Sims 2 (2004)

The overnight success of The Sims immediately prompted EA to greenlight a sequel by Maxis. Will Wright had moved on to Spore (2008), leaving Charles London as the creative director on The Sims 2. The development team grew from fewer than 20 people in late 2000 into a vast group of 250+ people by the end of production in 2004. 

Thanks to a leaked postmortem analysis by Maxis’ Andrew Willmott, fans are aware of the myriad challenges faced by The Sims 2’s developers. Artists crafted 11,775 unique animations, 4,500 models, and 8,100 textures while the sound team included over 16,000 distinct sound events. The game was developed from the ground up using Edith, an unpopular proprietary programming language named by creator Don Hopkins in reference to All in the Family’s Edith Bunker character and as an abbreviation for The Sims’ “Edit House” function

Character customization options are much more extensive than those in the preceding game. Source: MobyGames

Frequent requests from EA for demo builds during production hindered development, while a change of lead designer in 2003 and the integration of Maxis with EA Redwood Shores (EARS) in early 2004 led to a lack of cohesion and continuity. Working conditions at Maxis and EA’s other studios were so brutal that they led to widespread burnout and expensive class-action lawsuits filed by its employees in 2004. Following an eight-month delay from its planned release, The Sims 2 launched on Windows PCs in North America and Europe in September 2004.

The Sims 2 introduces one of the series’ more amusing long-running features, a bed in which sims can “woohoo” once they fall in love. Source: MobyGames

The most apparent changes greeting returning fans of the first game are cosmetic. In contrast with the fixed isometric perspective of The Sims, The Sims 2 allows players to zoom in and rotate the camera around its fully 3D environments. Characters are built on the basic design of the first game’s 3D models, but are much more expressive and detailed. Even the soundtrack is enhanced through an original score composed by Devo luminary Mark Mothersbaugh.

Gameplay retains The Sims tripartite live/build/buy structure, though updates are evident. Community lots allow sims to interact with others outside their homes while genetic attributes produce baby sims who resemble their parents following courtship. A host of iterations around the periphery – including more career and school events, the addition of wants and fears to sims’ personalities, and the integration of a moviemaker tool into the game’s storytelling options – enhance without fundamentally altering the game’s underlying systems. Many of the earliest ideas for a Sims sequel had actually been poached by the teams working on expansions to the preceding title.

I’m not sure there’s anything that says Sims expansion like a zombie playing with a cat. Source: LGR

Among these smaller-scale improvements, the biggest new feature in The Sims 2 is an aging mechanic. Baby sims grow into toddlers, toddlers grow into children, children grow into teenagers, teenagers grow into adults, adults grow into elders, and elders eventually die of old age. Each sim’s wants and fears govern its aspirations in each stage of development and even impact its total lifespan. While the game largely preserved its predecessor’s freeform creativity, aging brought a new sense of linear advancement to the player’s experience guiding a family through their virtual routines.

Since The Sims 2 was in development during production of The Sims’ expansions, many of the unique elements from those content packs would only be integrated with The Sims 2 through its own expansions. University (2005) introduces the young adult age group and the opportunity to live in university housing while attending college; Nightlife (2005) expands romance options through the reintroduction of a downtown area; Open for Business (2006) introduces new career options; Pets (2006) gives sims the chance to own animal companions; Seasons (2007) adds a weather system governed by newly introduced seasons; Bon Voyage (2007) takes the traditionally Western suburb-dwelling sims to foreign settings; FreeTime (2008) emphasizes hobbies and aspirations; and Apartment Life (2008) lets sims live in apartments for the first time. Nine Stuff packs, which were sold for a comparatively low cost between 2006 and 2008, also added furnishings and fashions based on general concepts (e.g. Family Fun) or the product lines of specific real-world retailers like IKEA.

The Sims 2‘s horror-influenced PSP adaptation is among the franchise’s more delightfully bizarre entries (if not especially fun to play). Source: MobyGames

In contrast to the limited ports of the first Sims title, The Sims 2 was adapted to a wide variety of platforms. A relatively straightforward enhanced edition of the PC original featuring the franchise’s first split-screen cooperative play was developed in-house by Maxis and published on GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 by EA in 2005. The Sims 2 next made the leap to Java-based J2ME mobile devices in a stripped-down 2005 adaptation by Ideaworks3D; though a surprising amount of the core live mode gameplay remains in place here, including wants and interpersonal relationships, players select their avatar from a group of premade characters and have limited home customization options. The last of The Sims 2’s 2005 ports, a PlayStation Portable (PSP) adaptation by Amaze Entertainment, allows the player’s custom avatar to improve a local hotel and attempt to preserve their sanity when they become stranded in the supernaturally sinister Strangetown.

The Java-based version of The Sims 2 is impressively faithful to its PC forebear. Source: DanPlaysSims

As if this wasn’t enough, 2006 produced an entirely new crop of ports for The Sims 2 under the name The Sims 2: Pets. The most popular of these, developed for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Wii, and PSP by EARS, is largely faithful to the core Sims gameplay experience with additional pet mechanics. Full Fat Productions’ Nintendo DS version of The Sims 2: Pets, on the other hand, sees players aiding pets and improving a ramshackle hospital as a sim veterinarian. Finally, Artificial Mind and Movement’s GBA game of the same name features a customizable sim and their player-created pet carrying out their daily lifestyle and entering pet competitions in the town of Baskerville.

The Sims 2: Castaway features more resource gathering and exploration than core series titles. Source: xTimelessGaming

Lest any potential customer go a year without a new Sims experience, EA published a handful of additional ports throughout 2007 and 2008. The first of these, The Sims 2: Castaway (2007), was another large-scale internal project by EARS for the PlayStation 2, Wii, and PSP; players create an avatar who builds a community of castaways after being washed ashore on a deserted island. Full Fat Productions returned to the series with its own DS version of The Sims 2: Castaway later that year, though this iteration of the game emphasizes touch-based minigames rather than dense customization options. The last port of The Sims 2, The Sims 2: Apartment Pets, was likewise developed by Full Fat Productions and released by EA for the DS in August 2008. As its name suggests, the player trains and cares for pets while attempting to live out a fulfilling life in a customizable apartment.

The Sims 3 (2009)

The Sims 2 sold 4,500,000 copies by 2005, heralding another huge success for Maxis’ flagship IP. A corporate reorganization in 2006 then led to the franchise being handed off to EA’s newly created Sims Division (The Sims Studio from 2007 to 2011) under the leadership of Nancy Smith. While Will Wright would leave the studio he had co-founded two decades earlier following the high-profile critical failure of pet project Spore (2008), the strength of The Sims’ central premise and a more or less consensus-driven development process for The Sims 2 ensured that the series could persist in the absence of its creator. Online fan feedback heavily influenced the direction of The Sims 3 (2009), culminating in EA inviting mod creators to a January 2009 Creator’s Camp event to preview the game, offer criticism, and begin producing custom content for The Sims 3 Exchange website ahead of the game’s worldwide PC launch in June 2009.

The massive neighborhoods of The Sims 3 can be explored on foot or by car. Source: MobyGames

Graphical improvements to the series’ third entry are less significant than those of its predecessor. Gameplay instead receives the biggest updates, as EA anticipated the biggest video game trend of the 2010s: open-world design. Sims now live in a fully explorable neighborhood with communal and private living and commercial spaces. Movie theaters, parks, hospitals, and other public locations dot the landscape and offer myriad opportunities for socialization among a larger number of autonomous sims than ever before.

Character customization has likewise undergone a radical reinvention. While sims had had the opportunity to engage in same-sex romances since the series debut – originally a glitch embraced by programmers Don Hopkins and Patrick J. Barrett III following its accidental appearance during the game’s E3 1999 unveilingThe Sims 3 introduces same-sex marriage for the first time. Sim creation is more robust than ever, allowing players wider latitude in choosing skin tones, body type, and personality. The latter replaces statistical attributes with traits like friendly, technophobe, or daredevil. Wants and fears are similarly omitted in favor of wishes that, if fulfilled, improve a sim’s lifetime happiness rating and offer the opportunity to acquire lifetime rewards; rewards include discounts for purchased goods, increased fertility, the ability to ignore bodily functions, and more.

Create-a-Style opens up more customization options than ever. Source: The Sims Wiki

Environmental alterations are correspondingly more extensive than in any earlier title. Blueprints and gridded layouts in build mode allow casual players to get right into their sims’ activities, while a grid-free option enhances the micromanagement of house design. Two new modes also present enhanced customization tools: Create-a-Style allows players to edit patterns and colors on premade game assets like clothes and objects, while players can design entire neighborhoods in Create-a-World and share them with others via The Sims 3 Exchange website. All elements of the user interface (UI) are simplified in such a way that players who had once been overwhelmed by earlier titles’ array of customization options found The Sims 3 more approachable.

The Sims 3 Store includes copious customization and building content locked behind SimPoints, a fictional resource purchased using real-world currency. Source: EA

With the introduction of large-scale outdoor spaces, expansions for The Sims 3 are more ambitious (and numerous) than ever. Among the most noteworthy of these are World Adventures (2009), which adds neighborhoods set in France, Egypt, and China; Generations (2011), which introduces life milestone events like graduations and weddings; and Supernatural (2012), which offers the ability to create vampire, witch, werewolf, and zombie characters alongside the integration of an eerie neighborhood called Moonlight Falls. Returning Stuff packs offer a combination of generic new items and content associated with brands like Diesel, though the silliest of these – a tie-in with singer Katy Perry featuring a simlish rendition of her song “Last Friday Night” – was sadly discontinued in 2013.

A critically and commercially successful PC launch, as ever, led to ports for other platforms. Internally-developed PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions broadly resemble the original game aside from the introduction of a karma system in which karma points are portioned out by the cosmos to players, who can then make use of good karma abilities to improve sims’ lives or bad karma abilities to torture their virtual wards. Surprisingly, a smart device adaptation developed by IronMonkey Studios is also quite faithful to the PC original. This version even received a handful of expansion packs before it was shut down and delisted in 2017.

The 3DS version features the ability to control sims through a top-down perspective on the bottom screen while observing their actions up-close on the top screen. Source: ZetaMage

Stripped-down ports for the Nintendo DS and 3DS in 2010 and 2011 – which primarily differ from one another in their respective 2D or 3D graphics – were developed by The Sims Studio rather than a contracted third party. Technological enhancements to the latter device also let players digitize their faces using the 3DS’ camera for use in-game and share sims with friends through wireless StreetPass communication when the console is in sleep mode. Finally, a 2010 Wii version set in the town of Vista Beach eschews child-rearing mechanics in favor of expanded minigames like skateboarding and expanded career elements.

The Sims 4 (2014)

In light of The Sims 3 becoming EA’s best PC launch to date, plans for a sequel were necessarily put on hold for a couple of years while expansion packs delivered new content using the game’s already-built proprietary engine. Development eventually began under the leadership of senior producers Lyndsay Pearson and Shannon Cooper as well as lead development directors Michael Duke, Berjes Enriquez, James Rogers, and Robert Vernick. The Sims Studio focused on striking a healthy work-life balance for its employees and improving in-game diversity and inclusion while integrating fan feedback from The Sims 3. The work of a staggering 1,078 credited developers resulted in the game’s PC release in September 2014.

Though you won’t generally be this close during live mode, you can even adjust your sims’ nose structure during the creation process. Source: The Sims

As in The Sims 3, myriad new customization options have been added to Create-a-Sim. Clicking and dragging parts of sims’ physical models allows players to reshape them on a granular level, producing more distinctive characters than ever before. Walking style and sim voices are likewise now available to edit. While Create-a-Sim initially retained the gender selection widget of prior Sims titles, a collaboration between the recently-rebranded EA Maxis and LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD led the studio to remove the series’ traditional gender binary in a 2016 patch

While Create-a-Sim has grown more complex, live mode has been streamlined. Sims now only have three character traits that determine their attitudes and aspirations. Multitasking is now possible, reducing the need to plan out a sim’s activities one by one. Fulfilling a sim’s moods and newly introduced emotional states grants temporary or permanent bonuses to their character attributes. Emotional states feature causes (e.g. researching pick-up lines leads a sim to feel flirty), effects (e.g. feeling flirty enhances the likelihood of successful romantic connections), and even remedies (e.g. a cold shower returns a flirty sim to their neutral state). Less traditional emotional states include asleep and possessed.

Life milestones like weddings, which had been introduced to The Sims 3 with the Generations expansion, are present in the base version of The Sims 4. Source: MobyGames

Build mode features fewer overhauls than Create-a-Sim or live mode, but is still distinct from earlier iterations of the concept. Rooms can now be constructed and furnished by a player before being moved around the lot and plunked down into their preferred location. While Create-a-Style has been omitted, individual room tiles now flow together more coherently to produce more naturalistic living spaces; Create-a-Sim’s click and drag tool can also be used in build mode to carefully alter the dimension of individual wall and floor tiles. Surrounding  neighborhoods, which remain as ripe for social interaction as they had in The Sims 3, are now smaller but nested within a larger in-game world.

At the time of writing, nine expansions and 17 Stuff packs have been released for The Sims 4. The latest of these, a space-faring tie-in to Disney’s Star Wars franchise called Journey to Battuu, was released on September 8, 2020. In contrast to earlier series entries, no console version of The Sims 4 was announced alongside its PC edition; executive producer Lyndsay Pearson instead entirely denied rumors of an upcoming adaptation to the eighth-generation home consoles. An internal conflict, which reflected longstanding debates among players, focused on whether direct or indirect joystick controls would be more conducive to navigating the series’ increasingly interactive virtual space.

In an effort to improve performance, neighborhood sizes are slimmed in The Sims 4. Source: MobyGames

EA Maxis began working with third party Blind Squirrel to produce a version for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One following the PC version’s 2014 launch. Build mode and buy mode represented the biggest hurdle to this redesign, as the team experimented with no fewer than seven different control schemes. Consultation with preview audiences at Gamescom 2017 and a Sims Camp event at EARS aided refinement of UI and interaction mechanics ahead of the port’s official release in November 2017.

Unfortunately, The Sims 4 represents the core franchise’s first disappointment. Reviewers were highly critical, noting that it lacked many of the features that had defined its direct predecessor; improved graphics and character customization had not made up for the absence of Create-a-Style or the scaling down of available play space. While expansion packs failed to reverse this fundamental shift towards streamlined design, their addition of elements infamously absent from the base game (including toddlers and pools) has led to a broad consensus that the game has shed much of its notorious launch reputation. Impressively, EA Maxis continues to expand the game and respond to fan requests six years after its initial 2014 release.

Spinoffs

Though it has produced only four numbered entries over the last two decades, The Sims has spawned a plethora of spinoffs. Most resemble their source material, but a handful are genuine oddities. Some have even resulted in their own sub-series.

Maxis’ first attempt at a spinoff, however, never made it to store shelves. Development on SimsVille began in 1999 and attempted to bridge the gap between The Sims and SimCity by allowing the player to manage numerous households in a downtown environment. Sadly, the game was quietly canceled shortly before its planned 2001 release date and its staff was reassigned to other Sims games.

Simsville was featured in promotional material prior to its untimely abandonment in 2001. Source: The Sims Wiki

One of the beneficiaries of these newly-available Maxis employees was The Sims Online (2002), a PC-based reimagining of Will Wright’s lifestyle simulation within the booming massively multiplayer online (MMO) genre. Players could create a single sim and interact with other player-controlled characters while customizing their own living space within one of several persistent online neighborhoods. Graphics resemble the isometric 2.5D landscape of The Sims. Much of the game was economically driven, as players could improve sim skills in an attempt to perform jobs better and earn a higher salary; simoleons, as in core franchise entries, could be used to purchase new home furnishings and accessories.

The Sims Online offers plenty of opportunities to socialize but comparatively few opportunities to customize. Source: The Sandbox Social

The Sims Online’s poor performance was attributed to the game lacking much of what had made The Sims popular. In particular, the in-game economy and community aspects prevented players from engaging in the freeform creativity for which The Sims had already become famous. The Sims Online was rebooted under new leadership as EA-Land in 2007, emphasizing user-created content in an appeal to the vibrant modding community surrounding the core series entries, but this effort was unable to bolster the game’s flagging subscription numbers. EA-Land was shut down in August 2008.

Players drop blocks rather than crunch numbers to develop an urban environment in The Sims Carnival SnapCity. Source: Aquarius199

SimsCarnival, The Sims’ next online-oriented spinoff, represented another dead end. The first iteration of this short-lived brand was a set of open-ended game creation tools and an associated community website that ran from 2008 to 2011. The second version of SimsCarnival, seemingly unrelated in anything but name, consists of two 2008 budget retail releases aimed at casual players. The Sims Carnival Bumper Blast is a hybrid of top-down shooter and pinball mechanics, while The Sims Carnival SnapCity is a fascinating variant on Tetris (1984) in which players drop falling blocks onto a cityscape to expand it outwards.

The Sims Social is a fairly by-the-numbers Facebook game primarily designed to be played among friends. Source: Pitchingace88

Due to the rise of social media in the late 2000s, the series’ third attempt at an online experience was its most successful. Playfish’s The Sims Social was made available through Facebook in August 2011 and attracted 16,000,000 players during its first week alone. Its simple gameplay and graphics roughly resembled The Sims Online, though social interactions with real-world friends were encouraged by the game’s link to players’ Facebook friend lists. Microtransactions based on real-world currency granted access to additional in-game content. In spite of its initially strong commercial performance, The Sims Social was shut down two years after its release in June 2013.

The Sims: Castaway Stories more heavily focuses on interpersonal relationships than its home console namesake. Source: MobyGames

In addition to these experimental community-driven titles, EA also published a handful of single-player spinoffs on PC under The Sims Stories brand. The first of these, Life Stories (2007), sees players opting to either create a sim in the more traditional Classic Mode or play through the life of premade characters Riley Harlow and Vincent Moore in Story Mode. The game is built on The Sims 2 engine and plays similarly to that 2004 title, though its graphics are reduced for better performance on laptops. This was followed by Pet Stories (2007), based on The Sims 2: Pets expansion, and Castaway Stories (2008). The latter is the most effective of this sub-series, as it embraces a distinctive identity rather a stripped-down imitation of the core franchise; while players can still participate in an open-ended Classic Mode that takes its cues from home consoles’ The Sims 2: Castaway (2007), the Story Mode is a long-form 24-chapter tale that involves gathering resources and finding romance on a deserted island.

Yep, medieval sims have jobs too. Source: LGR

The Sims’ final single-player PC spinoff is The Sims Medieval (2011), a primarily role-playing game with life simulation elements set in a fantastical interpretation of Europe’s feudal era and built on The Sims 3 game engine. Players customize a heroic king or queen and fulfill their kingdom’s ambitions by sending sim adventurers on dangerous quests. While customization options are fewer than in nearly any earlier Sims game for PC, as buildings feature little opportunity for manipulation or furnishing, the game reviewed well and received its own expansion called Pirates and Nobles only five months after its initial release.

Uncle Hayseed’s farm isn’t going to tend itself in The Sims: Bustin’ Out‘s GBA edition. Source: MobyGames

Spinoffs on home consoles generally fared better than those on PC. The first of these, The Sims: Bustin’ Out, was published on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube in 2003. Though it’s built on the 3D game engine of The Sims’ 2003 home console edition, gameplay is more objective-driven than its source material; players create a sim and accumulate money through various career tracks in an effort to recover stolen goods from thief Malcolm Landgrab and eventually buy Malcolm’s mansion. The Griptonite Games-developed GBA title of the same name is a Harvest Moon-esque RPG set on a farm. This version was surprisingly well-received, despite a limited connection to its namesake, and provided the framework for a 2004 port by Ideaworks3D to Nokia’s ill-fated N-Gage platform. The N-Gage version is most famous for its developers’ recovery of a darts minigame dropped from the GBA version shortly before release.

The Black Eyed Peas both appeared in and contributed music to the soundtrack of The Urbz: Sims in the City. Source: HippieGirl

Maxis’ next foray into home console Sims spinoffs was The Urbz: Sims in the City (2004). The home console version of this game, released on the PlayStation 2, Gamecube, and Xbox, is set in Simcity and features the hip hop group Black Eyed Peas’ frontman will.i.am. Gameplay is similar to that of Bustin’ Out, as players accumulate reputation while improving their living space and socializing within nine districts of the city. The GBA and DS versions of the game, on the other hand, see the player controlling a customizable avatar who is hounded through a Louisiana-inspired series of environments by antagonist Daddy Bigbucks; locations include a penthouse apartment tower, a working class urban area in which the player’s sim leads a strike, and a bayou inhabited by vampires. While it remains one of the series’ most interesting spinoffs, mixed contemporary reviews and poor sales led to the cancellation of a PC adaptation and planned sequel.

MySims Agents is the most unique title in this sub-series, which otherwise consists of riffs on the core Sims franchise or other IPs. Source: MobyGames

The franchise’s last major set of spinoffs designed for consoles at the time of writing is a sub-series called MySims. The first four titles developed for Wii by EARS include town-building simulations MySims (2008) and MySims Kingdom (2008); multiplayer minigame collection MySims Party (2009); kart racer MySims Racing (2009); and espionage-focused 3D puzzle-platformer MySims Agents (2009). Unique DS versions developed simultaneously by TOSE, Hudson Soft, and Artificial Mind and Movement emphasize touch-based mechanics and minigames. A final Behaviour Arts-developed MySims title called MySims Sky Heroes (2010) sees players engaging in single-player and multiplayer aerial dogfights on the Wii, DS, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The only consistent aspect of the MySims brand seems to have been its charming chibi character models.

The Sims FreePlay looks like The Sims 3 but is largely designed to be boring without engaging in microtransations. Source: MobyGames

Though mobile devices have been receiving ports of core series titles since 2010, the first Sims game developed exclusively for the platform is The Sims FreePlay (2011). Developed by Firemonkeys Studios and published by EA for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows smartphones, this game offers objective-driven gameplay within a fully 3D engine that resembles The Sims 3. In contrast with the core franchise, though, sims do not act autonomously and lengthy wait times can only be reduced through the payment of real-world currency. A closer approximation of the core franchise, The Sims Mobile, was subsequently developed by Maxis and released on iOS and Android devices in 2018. Sadly, this free-to-play game is similarly burdened with intrusive microtransactions that encourage the player to spend real-world currency to obviate in-game waiting periods.

Conclusion

Though its road to release was fraught with hurdles, the persistence of series creator Will Wright ensured that The Sims became one of the most critically and commercially successful video games when it was finally supported and published by EA in 2000. The Sims 2 refined its predecessor’s fundamentally strong gameplay, The Sims 3 introduced open-world elements, and The Sims 4 was joined by a host of spinoffs in making the franchise more approachable than ever on home consoles and mobile devices. While there are no plans for The Sims 5 at the time of writing in September 2020, expansion packs continue to provide new experiences for longtime players in the world’s most popular life simulator. The Sims will remain a joyful reminder of what games can be as long as Maxis continues to follow Wright’s vision: leveraging approachable game design and creativity to bring the magic of video games to players who seek to create and explore their own worlds.


Interview with SuperNamu

Could you tell readers a bit about yourself and your Twitch channel?

Hi, I’m SuperNamu, but most just call me Namu. I’m a Variety Streamer, with a focus on JRPGs and Retro games, on Twitch! Although most of the time you’ll find me streaming a Final Fantasy game, I do, every now and again, play Animal Crossing: New Horizons or FortNite with my community, or even a horror game, such as Resident Evil or Dead By Daylight, though I get startled very easily when playing any kind of horror! I originally started out on YouTube, uploading multiple videos weekly, but I moved to Twitch full-time. I’ve now been streaming a variety of games for a little over 2 years now. I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember (there are actual photos of me, sitting in a shoebox with a PlayStation controller in my hand), with Final Fantasy VII being the very first video game I’ve ever played at 4 years old.

What is your history with The Sims? What makes the series appealing to you?

I’ve technically been playing The Sims since I was 7 years old when it was first released. My mom bought it originally and I used to just sit around in her room and watch her play the game or, sometimes, just laze around on her bed dozing off to the soothing music of her building a house. As a kid, The Sims actually really stressed me out. Having to take care of the sims and make sure they ate, slept, went to work, not burn the house down, or get robbed was hard for me. I was a kid playing a life simulation, and taking care of them was hard; I couldn’t even take care of myself! So a lot of the time, I just built houses for mom to move her sims into. I played a lot of the non-PC Sims games though and, to be honest, I actually preferred those when I was a kid, but that’s probably because it was a bit easier to manage your sim and not get them killed!

Which is your favorite series entry and why? How about your favorite expansion pack?

Out of all The Sims games I’ve played, I truly preferred the handheld ones, though, specifically The Sims: Bustin’ Out and The Ubrz: Sims in the City for the GameBoy Advance. The amount of hours I put into both games was ridiculous! There was so much to do, and it was so much easier ‘taking care of’ my Sim in those games. They hold a special place in my heart. Plus, The Sims: Bustin’ Out was the very first GBA game I ever played! I probably replayed those two games just as much as I replayed Final Fantasy 9 (which is my favorite JRPG of all time!). The different paths and decisions you can make in those two games made the replayability very high for me as a kid. When it comes to the PC versions and their expansion packs,  I have two favorites. For the original Sims, the Hot Date expansion was my favorite. Like I had said, I was too stressed as a kid playing The Sims but I sure loved creating and building! In Hot Date, the game’s location expanded to include a downtown area, where you could build your own club or restaurant, and I would sit for hours on end creating the perfect, at least in the eyes of an 8 year-old, club for the sims to go to. I would utilize all the new items and features that were included with this new expansion. However, with the most recent game in the series, The Sims 4, I haven’t, unfortunately, been able to buy all of the expansions and packs yet, but I have so far really enjoyed The Sims 4: Vampires game pack. I’m a sucker for vampires and their whole aesthetic, so with this pack’s gothic-themed objects, clothing, and the ability to create an actual vampire, I was sold from the get-go! The Realm of Magic game pack is a close second because I love anything related to magic and wizards and witches!

What has been your experience streaming The Sims? What do people like to see the most?

So far, I’ve been enjoying streaming The Sims 4! It can be a little frustrating at times because, when building, something doesn’t look right or I’m having a hard time actually getting the building mechanic to work with me and I want to step away or quit, but then I remember I’m streaming and can’t just end it when I’ve only be live for, like 30 minutes! I think what my viewers enjoy the most is how creative I’ve gotten with my building. I’ve recently started building a new house that’s shared between three sims, with each sim getting a floor for themselves. I’ve only completed a couple of rooms on the first floor so far, but quite a lot of people have told me how much they liked the rooms or how enthused and eccentric my decorating was because the first floors sim is a spellcaster but her bedroom’s aesthetic is a combination of a Realm of Magic decor and the Vampires decor. However, her bathroom is the complete opposite, with nothing but the Get Famous expansion pack furniture.

Given your background and expertise with cosplay, what do you think a Sims cosplay would look like?

The easy thing about cosplaying as a sim is that you could basically look like yourself. The sims, for the most part, wear normal clothes. The only major difference is the Sims ‘Plumbob’ which indicated the Sims mood and feelings. The Plumbob hovers over the character’s head, making it easy to see how the sim is currently feeling. Most who cosplay as a sim simply wear a headband with the Plumbob attached to it. I’ve also seen people cosplay as a sim when they were in the middle of showering. When a sim showered, the sim’s body itself is censored; a blur of squares and colors cover them. If i were to do a sims cosplay, I would just keep it simple, go casual, and wear a Plumbob headband. Maybe even make the Plumbob an orange or red color to indicate I’m not in the best of conditions at the moment.

Do you prefer to play The Sims using the standard rules or do you make use of cheats, mods, etc.? If so, what are your favorite ways to modify the game experience?

I personally have only played the vanilla version of The Sims, but I do watch quite a few other simmers stream with mods and CC. I do intend to eventually use CCs and other mods that a lot of others use, though. Although I love how far The Sims have come when it comes to creating and customizing a sim, the game still has a ways to go when representing skin tones, specifically darker skin tones. There’s a lack of diversity in the game, and it can be frustrating at times. As a black woman, when creating my sim I would like my sim to look similar to me, but unfortunately the skin tones don’t always match or just not look right (to put it nicely). Still, thanks to some amazing black simmers like Xmiramira and her Melanin Pack (a skintone pack), I and thousands of others are able to create the perfect sim!

What would you like to see in The Sims 5 or a future expansion pack?

Related to the previous answer, more diversity and skintones is something I would love to see better incorporated for the next Sims or expansion pack. Other than that, maybe more quirky and fun concepts, similar to the Realm of Magic or Vampires packs. Perhaps a steampunk-esque location, with clothes and hairstyles related to that aesthetic. Perhaps a return to The Sims 3: Into the Future pack for a new expansion. The ability to travel to a future world and with a new futuristic art style would be fun to mess around with.

If you enjoyed this interview as much as I did, please follow SuperNamu on Twitter and visit her consistently excellent Twitch channel here. You can also find her on Instagram.


What do you think about The Sims? Which is your favorite entry? How about your favorite in-game activities? What do you think has made the series so appealing for so long? Why are you so mean to your sims, anyway? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Be sure to come back in two weeks for Franchise Festival‘s 100th entry, in which we’ll be covering highlights of the Tetris series. Here is a tentative list of upcoming articles:

  • #100: Tetris – September 25
  • #101: Dead Space – October 2
  • #102: Dead Rising – October 16
  • #103: Luigi’s Mansion – October 30