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What Happened to The Sims?


My issues with this generation of EA’s obscenely popular franchise, The Sims 3, are legion but, until now, I had no idea that they were shared by so many others, and not just to the point of general grumbling. It appears that this iteration of The Sims has stirred up an alarming level of emotion, from vitriol on one hand to genuine despair on the other. I understand that people love The Sims. So do I. It has many good points, but when people – and we’re talking hardcore fans – are struggling to continue their loyalty to the point where they are retreating to past titles or simply giving up, there is obviously a problem, but is it enough of a problem that anything will be done?

When The Sims 3 was released in 2009, it was a mixed bag that, in hindsight, was a good indicator of the issues that would continue to bother players years down the line.

When The Sims 3 was released in 2009, it was a mixed bag … a bag that, in hindsight, was a good indicator of the issues that would continue to bother players years down the line. The content of the base game was typically sparse – the real meat of any Sims generation has always lain in its expansion packs – but this time it seemed a little more sparse than usual.

The Sims 3 Store would appear to be why; it is essentially an online portal, through which players can purchase extra baubles for their game via microtransactions.

While fan sites continue to report on the latest store releases, it is not without a note of bitterness, because as much as players want the creations on offer, they resent having to tear off a limb and throw it into EA’s coffers. The new furniture sets available are pricey enough, but each new themed “world” for your Sims to live, work, and play in typically costs 2450 Sim Points (the store’s currency), and when you consider that these can only be bought in blocks of 1000 points at $10 a block, the cost becomes eye-watering.

It is little wonder then that fans looking for decent content have turned to The Sims‘ mod community for salvation, paying a nominal fee at most to download a vast selection of original objects from sites such as TheSimsResource and ModTheSims, where the sheer breadth of creativity is astounding.

Perhaps more of an issue is that with each successive expansion comes a new array of bugs, while old ones have yet to be completely ironed out. The problems extend beyond this, however, to something fundamental to an enjoyable Sims experience: expansion packs.

The Sims 3‘s expansions may have doled out vampires and pets yet again, but the Generations pack contained a weak hodge-podge of stuff that should have been in the base game, and the series’ (frankly, bizarre) infatuation with Katy Perry in the form of a special edition expansion and dedicated stuff pack has been the final straw for some players. It isn’t just the content of Generations that should have been included as standard, though. The Sims 3: Seasons expansion will be rearing its head come November and, once more, The Sims pulls the cheap trick of making the weather an add-on when it, too, should have been in the base game.

While expansions can be a gamble and bugs are, sadly, to be expected, harder to swallow are the basic gameplay issues such as management of saves and Sim families, but the community’s wrath seems to be primarily reserved for The Sims 3‘s most controversial inclusion, colloquially referred to as “Rabbit Holes”. These are impenetrable buildings, into which your Sims will routinely vanish for work/coffee/a massage/shopping, leaving you with nothing to do but wait. They came about, ironically, thanks to the complaints of fans. During The Sims 2, players had clamored to be able to control their Sims while they worked, rather than have them vanish and return hours later. The Sims 3 proclaimed that you could do just that, which is partly true; you can control your Sims, but only through a small menu of actions, none of which you get to see played out. Players got what they had asked for, but not in the way that they had imagined. They weren’t happy. They complained. Three years later, they’re still complaining.

Sims fans are a passionate bunch, but, as with any large franchise, they are partly to blame for the current situation; they buy the game and expansions, regardless.

It isn’t just the players who have been put out, either. EA’s stand-offish (and often prickly) attitude, along with personal apathy and frustration, has inspired some fan site webmasters to walk away. One venerable site, SimsPrograms, announced recently that it was considering closing its doors – a true blow for the community, should it come to pass, and indicative of the strength of negative feeling towards The Sims 3.

It is hard to envisage where we go from here. It is possible that EA have shed so much goodwill that fans will stick resolutely to The Sims 2, or simply keep their backs turned altogether. Many of the issues discussed are too hardwired to be put right at this late stage, even if the publisher was willing, so it will be left to an inevitable fourth title to fix things.

Sims fans are a passionate bunch, but, as with any large franchise, they are partly to blame for the current situation; they buy the game and expansions, regardless. No matter how great the volume of complaints, they will always be dwarfed by vast sales figures, so EA can be forgiven for thinking that they just don’t matter.

There are so many fans out there who are willing to settle, to overlook the problems, and to make apologies for EA, that it isn’t worth the publisher’s time addressing the issues, because the money has already spoken. Even I have bought the majority of the game’s expansions thus far, therefore making myself a hypocrite and enabling the problems to continue, just like millions of others. I may complain, but those discs are still lined up on my shelf.

Players didn’t come to The Sims 3 with the intention of hating it, and therefore haven’t walked away from it feeling vindicated or triumphant, just sad and disappointed. They have tried desperately to stick by something they love and have been let down, and that is perhaps the worst part of it all. They won’t matter to EA who will sell millions, regardless, but they do matter – they are, after all, the reason The Sims is where it is today. It is they who will carry the series through to the future, and therefore they deserve their complaints to at least be acknowledged.

There is hope, as the inevitable Sims 4could put things right, but flaws need to be banished, more meat hung on the frame of the next base game, and worthy expansions produced. Overall, a little more respect and far less exploitation would go a long way toward healing the rift between publisher and fan-base.

For all of the series’ flaws, Sims fans want to remain loyal – they just need more of a reason than they are currently being given.

Lorna Reid is an Editor and writer for UK magazine site, GamingLives.com, where she spends her time defacing the office whiteboard and occasionally scribbling about games. Find her on Twitter @SketchStone.

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