About 9 years ago a game company with a knack for creating in depth simulation games decided to take a crack at something new, letting people take control of other people lives. The game company of course was Maxis and the game was The Sims. Initially it was just a curiosity, basically a digital sandbox for putting all your dolls and action figures in and making up a story for them. I must admit at first I really didn’t understand what kind of market there would be for a game like this, until I discovered the two sides of the game that attracted people to it.
My first impression was that I was already living a life, why did I need a game to simulate another one for me? Well the bastard child inside me managed to find a something pretty quickly, and that was torturing the little buggers. Anyone who’s played the sims for any length of time will tell you that eventually true human nature takes a hold of you and all you want to do is make life miserable for your little simulated person (or, the other sims in the game). This culminated in what I liked to call the house maze, whereby everything in the house was connected to each other by a long and tedious string of doors, walls and dead ends. Want to cook your breakfast? Well you can get the ingredients from the fridge but heaven help you if you want to cook them, that will take at least 20 minutes just to get to the stove! Want to sit down to eat? I hope you have your afternoons free for this.
So queue many hours of manic cackling radiating from my bedroom as I watched my poor sims struggle to cope in a house that was built to torture them endlessly. Sure after a while that got boring and I decided to reward them with a real house and lots of nice things, but that’s when the game play sort of fizzled out for me and I left the game for a long time. What surprised me was how popular the game became amongst the fairer gender, until I realised that this is the kind of game that would appeal to such a demographic. I’ve noticed that most of the gamer girls I know (yes they exist, shocking!) enjoy being able to make something their own and the sims is like the ultimate customisable doll house. Top that with the ability to create a soap opera with a cast of your choosing and you’re onto a winner.
I missed the whole expansion pack mania and sequel to the original game but I did however pick up a copy of the recently released Sims 3. What I did notice is how similar to the original it was in many aspects, with the needs system and general overal feel of the game. The addition of traits, lifetime goals and various extra-curricular activities add quite a level of depth to the game and I must say I’ve already lost a couple hours building a world for my little sim. I haven’t yet succumbed to torturing them yet but I can’t say that it isn’t far from my mind, what with him being a neurotic, evil, dare devil athlete who loves to party. I guess his career in the military is satisfying his need to revel in other’s misery as he always comes home extraordinarily happy with himself.
Looking back on the sims empire I noticed one thing, they pioneered what we now call episodic content for games. With their seemingly endless expansion packs for the games EA continued to guarantee consumers something new to do in the world of the sims at regular intervals, something which kept their dedicated mass of fans coming back. The releases of the sequels then brought in things that couldn’t be added into the expansion packs, typically things like underlying changes to the game or what parts of your sims life you could control. It’s a very good business model for a game like this as there will always be things missing from the game that exist in real life. That means there’s an endless amount of IP available to these guys, something the publishers must be drooling over.
I’m actually kind of sad that I missed the whole sims 2 game as I can’t make a decent comparison between this version and the last. From what my friends tell me though it’s a good refinement of the game with a lot of the unecessary junk removed and lots more of the fun stuff added in. From the few hours I’ve spent playing the sims 3 I can tell you that its addictive and there’s something in the game for everyone. Right now I’m focused on making my sim an astronaut, since that came up as one of his lifetime ambitions, and really, who am I to deny him that? 🙂