The Sims 4 & What It Needs to Stay Relevant
When Maxis originally released the first entry of a world renowned franchise thirteen years ago, the video game industry was taken by storm with this new and innovative take on simulation gaming. The Sims was greeted with critical acclaim and two years later, it became the top selling PC game in history. It was a success in many ways and it attracted casual gamers (almost 60% of them being female) and while open-ended gameplay had been done before, it gained popularity for its particular style.
Four years later, The Sims 2 was released which presented substantially upgraded graphics as well as gameplay. While The Sims was typically viewed as a game where players could create their own character(s) and live out their lives as they saw fit, The Sims 2 served as an indiscriminate sequel to the lives of the pre-made characters featured in its predecessor. The Sims 2 was an instant success, selling a then-record one million copies in its first ten days. In 2012, it stole its predecessors limelight and became the best selling PC game of all time, with The Sims following in second place today.
In 2008, Maxis was almost taken over entirely by Electronic Arts and development of The Sims was - in essence - done the "EA way" and Maxis' ideas and direction for the franchise had taken a back seat. This change was evident in The Sims 3, released in 2009, and while it was critically praised as its predecessors, hardcore fans were able to differentiate between Maxis' work and EA's spearhead.
Significant changes were heavily critiqued by the fans, including features from The Sims 2 that were replaced with place-holders and animations that were heavily altered or removed completely. This included, but is not limited to Sims walking out to their driveway, getting into their vehicle and backing out before driving away. In The Sims 3, Sims would walk out to the sidewalk, press a button on an invisible device and their vehicle would disappear from its parking spot and materialise before them. The Sim would then materialise into the vehicle and drive off. Fans were also up in arms about features introduced in The Sims 2 that should have been included in The Sims 3 base game that were instead removed and re-added through inevitable expansion packs.
Some controversy had sparked over at The Sims 3 official forums when fans learned that Electronic Arts had decided to perform a handful of cut and paste jobs from The Sims 2 and apply them to The Sims 3. For example, some expansion packs from The Sims 2 (University, Seasons and Pets) could have easily been included in the base game of The Sims 3 and were instead re-released as expansion packs.
On 6 May 2013, Electronic Arts announced that The Sims 4 had been in development and that it would be released sometime early next year. It was announced that Maxis had returned to develop the game alongside EA's The Sims Studio. It was not explained whether or not the decision to include Maxis in development was influenced by fan feedback, but it's highly likely.
Coming from an avid gamer and a substantial fan of The Sims, I feel that there is a lot that Electronic Arts needs to focus on in order to keep The Sims a relevant contender in PC gaming. Bringing Maxis back to help develop the game is a huge step in the right direction and it foreshadows good things happening. However, I still remain sceptical and will until I learn more about the game. Here are a few things that I feel should be taken into consideration, lest they lose a chunk of their fan base:
Don't Fix What Isn't Broken
- If you include a feature that is well received and praised by the critics and fans alike, don't attempt to change or alter it unless it'll be for benefit. Fans have stated time and again that they love the immensely realistic aspects about The Sims as well as the unrealistic/supernatural/silly elements as well. So if you have an animation in the game that people like, don't replace it with something silly or unrealistic, like materialising into vehicles and things of that nature.
Make It Accessible
- The biggest thing that fans complained about The Sims 3 was the fact that its system requirements were unholy, and I don't mean the information printed on the box. Many players have met and exceeded the printed requirements and still experienced issue after issue whether they installed third-party content or played the vanilla version. Constant bugs, freezing and crashing that made the game nearly unplayable and it was utterly disappointing. I myself have a computer that has decent enough hardware to run Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on moderate settings without an issue, but I continue to have problem after problem with The Sims 3.
Discover Your Priorities
- A continuation of my 'Make It Accessible' point: if players are reporting issues that need to be fixed immediately, do not continue to produce expansion pack after expansion pack until the issues are resolved. Focus your development, time and effort to fixing the problems your customers are experiencing and then and ONLY then you may continue to attempt to get them to purchase more content for the game - content that should have been in the game at launch.
Stop Being Greedy
- A continuation to my "Discover Your Priorities" point: you have expansion packs for The Sims 2 that introduced universities, pets and seasons. The subsequent game should have those features by default and your expansion packs should offer new and innovative additions. Customers should not be expected to pay for the same thing twice. It's greedy, it's rude and by doing such, you imply that you're just trying to pork consumers for their money. There's no need for it. The Sims 4 should not reintroduce features included in The Sims 3 as to-be-released expansion packs. They should come with the base game at launch. No exceptions.
Learn From Your Mistakes
- If there's anything Electronic Arts is notorious for, it's repeating history. Take notes as to what works and what doesn't work and apply them to your future projects. Listen to your customers, listen to the critics. You'll make more money if you show that you care enough to listen and make the appropriate changes instead of hoping to attract new customers with ignorance to your history.
While I'm looking forward to The Sims 4 primarily because I am a fan and that Maxis is involved once again, one can hope that Maxis' influence will be applied where it counts the most: pleasing the fans. Electronic Arts needs to take the opinions from the fans with heavy consideration because in the end, those are the customers that matter. I do not include critics in this closing argument because Electronic Arts has most likely supplied critics with what they needed to experience the product properly, such as a computer with space-age technology. For some people, it seems like no matter how much you exceed the system requirements for The Sims 3, it was not enough to keep you from miscellaneous issues.
In closing, EA will need to make the game accessible to a wider audience by developing the game properly and not requiring a computer from the year 3013 to play and enjoy such a simple game with simple mechanics. They'll need to listen to the fans and hear what we want and what we don't want. Most importantly, they'll need to learn from their mistakes and apply them where it counts the most in order to continue keeping The Sims a successful franchise. Should EA fail at this with The Sims 4, then as it pains me to say, I think The Sims may have had its time.