A couple of days ago, a friend gleefully announced to me that she had purchased an expansion pack for The Sims 3.
You must know the Sims, it’s the life simulation game that you rediscover every now and then and proceed to play for three days straight without realising. First released by Electronic Arts in 2000, the franchise went on to hold titles and accolades on multiple different platforms and become one of the best-selling video game series of all time. So, it should not have been surprising that my friend was so excited about purchasing an add-on that would enhance her Sims 3 experience…and yet, it was. There are four main titles in the Sims franchise, so why was she intentionally and happily purchasing an expansion pack for a 5-year-old predecessor?
Casting my mind back to 2013, I can recall the massive fanfare, ‘create- a-sim’ free play displays and novelty Plumbob tiaras promoting The Sims 4 on the gaming expo circuit. But one year on from its late- 2014 release, I’m struggling to locate a copy of the Sims 4 (now demoted to the bottom shelf at my local EB games); a title that should still be alive through expansion packs and add-ons.
The issue lies in the nature of the game and the composition of the player base.
When I asked another friend if she was going to purchase the Sims 4, she replied, “Why? I have so much invested in my Sims 3 family” and then proceeded to tell me all about the aspirations, relationships and jobs of her characters.
As a sandbox, life simulation game with 20 expansion packs, the Sims 3 has near- limitless replay (or rather, play on) value. This makes superior graphics and operation the only real incentives for players to invest their Simoleons in a new main title- especially since the player base is comprised (arguably) largely of the most frugal gamers i.e. casual gamers.
The Sims 3 brought significant changes to the classic formula- most notably vastly improved graphics, the seamless neighbourhood/ open world element and the ability to easily adjust lifespan. These changes contributed to the reported sale of 1.4 million copies of the Sims 3 in its first week of release!
The Sims 4, on the other hand, brought no outwardly genre-changing elements and was perceived to have been a step backwards in some respects. The Sims 3 was criticized for having performance issues when expansion packs were added on to the core game (though, I personally never had an issue running the core game and multiple expansion packs on my late-2008 Macbook with OS X Yosemite). A new game engine for the Sims 4 might have been revolutionary and solved these performance issues but it was provided at the expense of in-game content and now beloved staples of the games (e.g. toddlers, cars and swimming). This compromise was not met positively by players and was reflected in the middling review scores. Some of these review scores were quite generous, considering the loss of an open world aspect, and the return of load screens.
Furthermore, the closure of the Maxis studio at Emeryville earlier this year cast doubt on the future development and support of the Sims franchise, potentially leaving the Sims 4 experience forever “incomplete.” Despite reassurance from Electronic Arts that future plans would not be put in jeopardy, the release of add-on packs (most recently the Spooky Stuff pack on September 29th), and a Sims 4 anniversary post highlighting the high level of community involvement in the game, the seed of doubt (Level 6 Gardening) has been planted. This seed was watered on Wednesday, October 7th when an announcement on Electronic Arts’ official website stated that the Get Together expansion pack (due for release in November) was being delayed until December 8th.
With an improved home building tool, and a much larger emphasis on emotions and inter-sim interactions in the Sims 4, it is clear that Maxis are attempting to bring the franchise back to its roots- an intimate player- sim creation experience. However, it feels that in its current form, more has been lost than has been gained with the latest installment.
So perhaps it is not surprising that my friend gleefully purchased a Sims 3 expansion pack rather than delving into the world of Sims 4.