Back in February 2000, The Sims launched on PC, immediately charming countless gamers with its unique blend of life simulation and open-ended freedom. Nearly 20 years, four mainline titles, and a dizzying number of expansions later, The franchise’s popularity endures with the ongoing wild success of The Sims 4.
Why is that? Why does a game that deviates so abruptly from the tastes of the stereotypical gamer continue to draw in millions of players?
To kick things off, it’s worth looking at a few eye-popping numbers.
In the latest earnings report, EA saw a 40% year-on-year growth in Sims 4 players even though the game launched five years ago.
Altogether, The Sims franchise surpassed $5 billion in lifetime revenue in October of this year.
Over the past 12 months, Google searches for The Sims 4 obliterate those for other big EA titles, including titans like FIFA 20 and Battlefield V. There are more searches now than there were when the game first launched.
According to an earnings report dated October 2018, The Sims 4 expansions packs have been downloaded over 30 million times. We imagine the number has soared even higher in the intervening year.
In February of this year, EA reported 4.8 million unique players for 2018 alone.
It’s one thing to attract gamers with a flashy launch. It’s quite another to continue attracting even more of them half a decade later.
Here are ten reasons why The Sims 4 remains such a breakout success for EA.
While we take anecdotal evidence that The Sims player base consists primarily of women, it is more inviting to the “casual” gamer, a term we prefer to use sparingly for its inherent connotations.
The subject matter, i.e., life, is one everyone can relate to with ease. The game is devoid of complex mechanics that are second nature to the weathered gamer and is all but free of any prohibitive learning curve.
It’s easy to pick up, understand, and play – even if you haven’t touched it for months.
Within its basic premise, The Sims 4 melds multiple game genres into one and does so to significant effect.
There’s, of course, the life-sim aspect of dictating the routine of a Sim to developing relationships, having children, and pretty much any other aspect of daily life.
On top of that, The Sims offers a lot of sandbox-like freedom with few gameplay objectives to jump through to progress forward. Through an open-ended loop, the player is very much left to their own devices to play as they see fit. In other words, there’s an appeal to playing god.
The final important aspect of the game is the home building component. With an almost limitless palette of furniture, ornaments, appliances, color schemes, and styles offered thanks to a dizzying array of adds on and expansion packs, players have a blank canvas.
Devoid of the real-world obstacles of time, finding contractors, budget, and so on, it’s a satisfying and empowering tool – a dollhouse of sorts.
In many ways, The Sims is a game of options. Whether that be bringing a cutesy cat into the home, embarking on a career, or decking out a house in garish kitsch furnishings.
The Sims franchise owes a lot to the humble Sim, both as a playable character and NPC. From the fictional Simlish gibberish language to the rich cast of inhabitants with backstories, the Sims are endearing.
It’s easy to get attached to these oddballs. Especially given they are prone to being pretty silly when left to their own devices. Their volatility and discovering how their lives and families may evolve creates emotional attachment.
The allure of Simlish has even led pop icons of the ilk of Katy Perry to record their hits in The Sims language, as you can see below.
The Create-A-Sim feature also plays its part. It allows players to define their Sim’s physical appearance as well as their personality traits. The near-limitless permutations mean that the slightest change can drastically alter the gameplay experience. This naturally adds to the replayability value of the game.
A full catalog of DLC allows The Sims 4 to be an ever-evolving world for players. There’s always something new to explore.
The Sims 4 has eight meaty expansions packs bringing in content as varied as careers, a path to social media stardom, and a new city-based set of neighborhoods.
The haul of fresh content doesn’t stop there. The Sims 4 boasts fifteen Stuff Packs that bring in new clothing, furniture, buildings, game modes, and animals.
Like any game worth its salt, The Sims 4 has a vibrant community of creators that pump out related content regularly.
The content ranges from straight-cut gameplay videos to game news coverage and everything in between. YouTuber Hatsy has even dedicated her content to crafting fantastical stories within The Sims world with subject matters as broad as “The Spoiled Brat Story” to “Addicted To Plastic Surgery.”
While the lack of defined goals or objectives works in the game’s favor, players haven’t shied away from injecting their own. The Sims 4 community conjures up all manner of player-created content, in the form of challenges, mods, and trends.
One of the most popular trends is “simself,” whereby players use the game’s in-built Create-A-Sim feature to craft virtual doppelgangers of themselves.
Challenges are a whole other kettle of fish: the 100 baby challenge, legacy challenge, build recreation challenges, runaway teen challenge, etc. It all gets pretty mad. It’s easy to see how it keeps the community topped up with fresh ways to play the game.
The inspiration for The Sims came to SimCity creator Will Wright when a fire burned down his home in 1991. Left with few worldly possessions, he embarked on a journey of reconstruction. And, it’s that very notion of building from scratch that resonates with players.
Video games increasingly boast artistic merit, but at their core is escapism. The Sims offers people the chance to swap out the hardships and tribulations of the real-world for a virtual sandbox where creativity, unrealized potential, and ambitions can flourish. It’s a chance to weave a perceived perfect life through precision micro-management of the minutiae of a Sim’s existence.
The Sims simplifies the real world into a condensed set of mechanics and parameters that feel manageable. From relationships and all manner of other social interactions to careers, domesticity, pastimes, and child-rearing, the game runs the gamut of the most relatable aspects of life.
It’s a mimesis of real-world aspirations that may never come to be. Or, at least, a playground for experimenting with these aspirations free of responsibility and the condemnation for breaching societal mores, for better or for worse. It’s a big game of what-ifs – a powerful formula with an almost infinite number of outcomes free of life-altering consequences.
Race, gender, sexuality, and socio-economics don’t play a part – giving everyone an equal footing.
And, of course, there’s f**king sh*t up.
There’s a sinister pleasure to be found in toying with your Sims. You can leave them to fester in their own filth in a closet-sized room with no windows or doors. There’s a macabre fun to be found in that descent into the pit of emotional rock bottom and the inevitable appearance of the grim reaper.
The notion of creativity also works into the puppet master fantasy. Familiar The Sims haunts on Reddit are peppered with bleak stories of players coaxing Sims into pools only to remove ladders. Or, concocting rumpus extra-marital love affairs that ruin virtual families. Leaving toddlers to their own devices and watching the chaos ensue. The list goes on ad nauseam.
That spectrum of gameplay styles is possibly The Sims 4’s strongest asset and explains why avid players invest hundreds upon hundreds of hours into the game.
The Sims 5 seems an inevitability at this point. With each earnings call, EA confirms it’s investing in The Sims franchise for the long term. A steady stream of expansion packs attests to that, with the latest – Discover University – released last month.
Many gamers don’t see the appeal of The Sims. But those that do, do so with vigorous affection for what is among the most recognizable gaming institutions around. The Sims isn’t going anywhere.
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth for CCN.com. If you see a breach of our Code of Ethics or Rights and Duties of the Editor, or find a factual, spelling, or grammar error, please contact us and we will look at it as soon as possible.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:41 PM UTC