The Sims videogame officially turned 20 years old on the Tuesday (4th February) and although the original game is hardly played anymore, the franchise lives on.  Most people have heard of The Sims with many having seen footage of it or even played it.  The original game became the biggest selling PC game ever not long after it was released and has continued to sell well, despite increasing problems.  But now in it’s fourth version, and a fifth Sims looming on the horizon, is the game still worth playing?

Simmer since the start

The very first game I ever owned on my very first home computer was The Sims.  I began playing the game in October 2000 and fell in love with it right away.  My life wasn’t brilliant and I was struggling with a lot of things that were happening.  I was stressed and depressed and suffering a lot bullying at school, so when The Sims came out, it was an escape from my reality into a world where things were pleasant, where I could have the house I wanted, could live the life I wanted, and where the biggest worry was whether my sim was going to get to the car pool or school bus in time.

Over many months and subsequent years, I would escape into the world of The Sims buying up expansion after expansion and living out the lives of these little people, while often ignoring my own! Playing with the sims was like playing with a doll’s house (one of the names the developers gave the game before release was actually Dollhouse), except unlike most dollhouses, this one was okay to play with regardless of your age, and there was something so thrilling and freeing in being able to do what you wanted in the little sim world – even though mist of the tasks I enjoyed were mundane things like cooking dinner or taking a swim!

As the years moved on, and my life did too, I never stopped playing The Sims.  When the second game was released in 2004 I went and bought that one too, but unlike most simmers, I kept the original game and played the new one as well.  Most simmers couldn’t afford the space to keep both games on their PC, but I made it work, having invested well, into a computer that could run both.  The Sims 2 was so different from the first game, better in some places and such a revolutionary game in how genetics worked when sims had babies.  The game went on to have its own set of expansion packs, and stuff packs which I diligently bought, and I never lost my interest in the game despite the fact things were happening in my own life.

The decline

I knew The Sims 3 was on the way, before it had been released.  A small little leaflet at the back of one expansion or stuff packs for The Sims 2 showed an enticing image of the new game with an early year release date.  But the game was buggy and had issues, so EA (the publisher) pushed back the date by a few months.  And we were treated to another stuff pack focused around gardens and mansions in the meantime.  This I didn’t mind, I was happy playing my current game and unlike a lot of people I was willing to wait, preferring to wait a while and get a game that worked properly rather than get an on-time release.

But when The Sims 3 finally came out in 2009, one of the biggest bugs in the game still existed.  A key feature called story progression which hadn’t existed in previous games (which allowed the households you were not currently controlling to live their own lives – getting jobs, moving in, moving away, etc.) was broken.  The progression itself didn’t work well even when turned on, often sending your most loved, and much played with, families away for good (essentially deleting them from your game as if they moved away), but the problem with the game was that you couldn’t turn it off, despite a checkbox suggesting you could.  This was a major bug/break in the game and caused a lot of anger among the community of simmers who had spent so much money buying the base game.  A lot of people didn’t want the story progression on, and I, among them, felt cheated out of spending so much for what was a half-broken game.

Apart from that very obvious bug there were others too.  Sims would take forever to route themselves to a destination, at other times they would get stuck, acting more like Sims 1 sims trying to get through a door, than the quick speed which Sims 2 sims could move in or out of the way.  These routing errors had never happened on such a scale in any other game and it led to a lot of frustration.  A lot of the sims interactions in this new game were also repeated from The Sims 2 as well, making it feel like the developers got lazy and decided to just copy things from previous games into this one.  However all these problems paled in comparison with what became known as the biggest bugs in the game.  Random memory crashes.  Unlike any other game I had ever played before, this one became almost unplayable as soon as you loaded it up.  There was literally a 50/50 chance every time I played that the game just would crash, telling me it had a memory error and couldn’t save my game!

The beginning of the end

As The Sims 3 progressed it was clear that the game would never be stable.  Subsequent expansion packs tried to fix the routing and story progression errors and succeeded to a certain degree.  But the memory crashes still continued and it became clear that the developers would never fix them.  Expansion after expansion pack came out with brilliant new features.  The creativity and new ideas that came were amazing, but all the while the base game was unstable and so it would always have some sort of problems, no matter how much effort you went to keeping your computer updated.

The third game in the franchise had such potential to be amazing and the creative ideas that made it into each expansion and stuff pack were great.  But at the same time it started to become very clear that publisher EA was pushing for more and more content to be released in time with its own schedule, regardless of how buggy it was.  And all in the efforts of making as much money as possible for as little effort as possible.  This became evident to me when most of the new Worlds (different neighbourhoods you could play with) could only be obtained if you bought them online.  Before these worlds or neighbourhoods had always been included with expansion packs, but now the majority never came with a new exansion and instead EA enticed players to buy stuff and download it online.  A clever tactic which would lead to even more profit in the future.  If people downloaded instead of installed from a disc, then EA could gain more prifit from not having to make the discs in the first place!

As The Sims 3 released its last expansion pack, the new The Sims 4 was promising to bring ever newer features while fixing all the buggy issues and problems of the previous game.  But upon its release it was clear that EA really hadn’t cared to produce a decent game that simmers would enjoy, because the fourth installment released with so little content and such difficult installation issues that it instantly led to a lot of people criticising the series and the sales for The Sims 4 were probably far below what EA had expected (evident from the fact EA refused to release sales figures for this game compared to the first three).

No longer worth it

The Sims 4 marked an end to my playing any new games in the franchise, and in fact the end to me ever touching an EA title again.  I still loved the first two games, and the third despite its many problems.  But the fourth game was a huge disappointment and I actively shunned the game and ignored any advertising around it.

There were two reasons I didn’t want to play the fourth game in the series: one was a practical one, I didn’t have a gaming PC hooked up to the internet so going online to ‘activate’ my game just wasn’t going to happen.  But even if I had an internet connection at the time the second reason has still held up to this day and is really the core of why I refuse to play this game: because the game, compared to the first three, is a shameless attempt by the publisher EA to grab as much money as possible without giving back a decent play experience.

As news about the game and its expansion packs were released, it became clear to me I’d made the right choice.  The game might not have been heavily buggy like its predecesor, but it looked like a mobile game that had been released onto PC.  The game looked and seemed more like The Sims 1 than the fourth game in the series and half of the gameplay features were missing, including things that had always been included in the games like pools and toddlers (a life stage available since the start of The Sims 2).

As expansion packs were released they had barely any content compared to their predecessors.  Instead EA would strip some things out and release them in seperate game and stuff packs instead.  Where The Sims 1, 2 and 3 would release a menagerie of animals both large and small in a ‘pets’ expansion pack, The Sims 4 would make you pay twice, first a Cats & Dogs expansion followed by one with smaller pets like hamsters.  Where the earlier games games would include some Halloween things with a seasons expansion pack, the fourth game has a seasons pack and a spooky stuff pack seperately, etc., etc.

The more and more news I heard about the game, the worse it seemed.  Many said the game lacked the vibrancy and soul of the earlier ones, and even silly things like the grass having no texture (it had a texture all the way back in the year 2000!) made the game feel cheap and app-like, rather than the beautifully complex and ground-breaking game it had been years ago.

Is it still worth buying?

A game publisher’s goal is always to make a profit, both for the CEO and staff and also for shareholders.  If the company doesn’t make a profit then they’ll go out of business, so of course I understand the need to keep a steady income coming in, and the need for The Sims 4 to make EA money.  However, people like me who are old enough to remember playing games around 2000 and before, will remember how quality seemed to matter every bit as much as quantity.  And it was because the games were released with quality in mind, that they reached such amazing sales figures in such a short space of time.

Although publisher EA has for so long been so ruthless in making money, the last decade has really shown how different games are to how they used to be.  Unfortunately The Sims will never be the game it once was, not while EA is desperate to make so much money out of it.  The people who work tirelessly on the game, the designers and creators of the game are brilliant.  They work really hard trying to produce something that people will love and something that will still be loved by so many.  But while the people on the ground work hard, they are pushed by their bosses who demand that games, expansions and stuff be released on time, regardless of quality, regardless of whether it’s ready to be released or needs more time to be developed.  And while that is the way the system works, the future of The Sims and in fact all games created by big publishers is a grim one.

A return to the old

A lot of people will disagree with me, they will defend The Sims 4 as if it was their own relative and be shocked that I could say such harsh things about the company that produced the game they love.  But I’m guessing most people who will criticise me for my views will be young players, people who don’t remember games before the year 2000 or they never played games back then.  Because those of us who do and have, have seen a huge decline in the gaming industry and a lot of us no longer care about the companies or games like we used to.

I have no doubts that The Sims 5 will be released within the next year or two.  People have already been hired to create the game and EA’s CEO has even confirmed the game will be more online than ever with a multiplayer feature as well as a single player that we all know.  I’m sure there will be a lot of people who will play the new game and I’m sure it will, on the surface, seem better than The Sims 4 given how poor this game still is.  But will we ever see a return to the amazing ground-breaking games that were created in the past?  Will we ever see games that amaze everyone, that don’t need you to download huge files that reached your broadband monthly limits?  Games that make everyone smile because they aren’t broken? I’m not sure we will any more.

In the meantime I will stick with playing the first three sim games.  I may not get any new expansion packs any more, or have a game with the latest super amazing graphics, but I don’t care.  What I do get is the satisfaction that I’m playing something that was created with a want to make it great, a game that was once created with a lot of care and love behind it, and it shows in how amazing all three games (especially the first two) still are to this day!

So is the sims still worth playing?  If you ask me about the recent installment then: no.  But if you ask me about the first three games, then: absolutely YES!

-The Sims logo copyright of the EA and is used in header under fair use.

Have you ever played The Sims?  What do you think about a dollhouse simulation game?  Do you have any favourite videogame franchises?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂