The Eighteen Year History of The Sims

This month marks the eighteenth-year anniversary of The Sims, one of the besting-selling videogame franchises of all time. Having sold nearest makes no difference 200 million copies worldwide since the launch of the original Sims way back in the sepia-toned days of the year 2000, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of series, at least in passing. Admittedly, the actual anniversary date was on February 4, so please forgive the brief delay, but we at Cubed Gamers couldn’t bare to let such a historic date pass us by without popping the champagne and salivating over the rich and varied history of such a stoic gaming franchise.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” – on the sixth day, God created mankind. On the fourth of February in the year 2000, mankind created The Sims.

Inspired by A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander’s 1977 book on architecture and urban design, as well as creator Will Wright’s personal experiences during the 1991 Oakland California Firestorm, which saw Wright lose his home, resulting in him having to rebuild his house and repopulate it with a plethora of new home furnishings, the project that was to eventually be called The Sims began development after the release of SimAnt in 1991.

Originally known by the synonym, Project X, the game languished in obscruity for several years due to its poor performance during focus testing. This was due to fact that, at least initially, the game, then known internally as Dollhouse, focused purely upon the idea of home design, with the life-simulation aspect that made the franchise so iconic being wholly absent at this early stage. Players were able to create their own home, which would then be judged by a panel of virtual people in order to ascertain its viability.

Eventually, however, upon the realisation that the social aspect of the game’s virtual characters was highly engaging, Wright and his team shifted focus towards the implementation of a rich and dynamic social system whereby the virtual people within the game could develop long-lasting relationships, which lead to the creation of the game we now know today as The Sims.

It would seem that shift in focus was a stroke of pure genius, as by March 2002, the game had sold more than 6.3 million copies worldwide, a figure that allowed it overtake Myst as the best-selling PC of all time. This success prompted the creation of seven expansions packs over the next couple of years, starting with Livin’ Large in August, 2000, and ending with Makin’ Magic some three years later. The game eventually saw console releases on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and the GameCube, resulting in the sale of an additional 3.5 million copies by July 2006.

With such impressive sales numbers, it was inevitable that The Sims would get a sequel, and on September 14, 2004, the franchise make the leap from the weird and wonderful world of dimetric projection into glorious 3D with the release of The Sims 2. The dimensional shift, however, was least of innumerable changes found in the hotly-anticipated sequel. Sims could now age up through distinct seven life stages, from infancy to adulthood and, eventually, death, and each Sims’s personality was now more unique thanks to the inclusion of the aspiration system.

These new changes proved to be a resounding success, with the game selling one million copies in its first ten days on the market, which was record at the time, and by March, 2012, The Sims 2 had sold over thirteen million copies across all platforms, 6 million of which included the PC version. As with the previous game, The Sims 2 saw the release a number of expansion packs – eight to exact – and nine stiff packs, the latter of which was a new addition to the franchise, one which gave players access to new items centred around a certain theme.

Now, before continuing on the story, let us take a moment to examine the plethora of spin-offs the sprung up between The Sims and The Sims 3. The first, and most notable, has to be The Sims Online, an MMOG version of the original The Sims where people could interact with one another in game with their own custom Sims avatar. While garnering initial popularity, the title failed to attract sufficient numbers and was eventually renamed EA Land before shutting down on August 1, 2008.

The next notable spin-off, or should I say spin-offs, were The Sims Stories, a three-game mini series based upon a modified version of The Sims 2 engine. Much like in the main Sims 2 game, The Sims Stories featured a Free Play mode with the classic, open-ended game play the series was known for. However, in addition to this, the games also featured a linear story mode that required players to complete a series of goals in order to progress the narrative. The Sims Life Stories was the first in series, and was released on February 6, 2007, with The Sims Pet Stories following just a few months later on June 19, 2007. The Sims Castaway Stories marked the third and final release in the Sims Stories series, and arrived on PC on January 29, 2008, with a Mac OS X port coming three months later.

After the release of The Sims Castaway Stories, it would a little over a year until the release of the next major instalment in the franchise. On June 2, 2009, nearly two and a half years after being announced, The Sims 3 was released. Within just week, the game sold an unbelievable 1.4 million copies, making it the largest release in PC gaming history at the time.

The Sims 3 added many new features to the tried and true formula established the two previous main entries in the franchise, the most prominent of which was the inclusion of a fully open neighbourhood, one unburdened by loading screens. This seamless, open-ended approach was echoed by the introduction of Create A Style, a system that gave players the opportunity to use any texture in the game on any model they desired. Fancied having red brick jeans or a wood-grain sports car? The Sims 3 allowed you satiate such desires.

The strong week-one sales would continue throughout the game’s life-span, culminating in over 10 million copies being sold to date. As was now accustomed for a Sims game, The Sims 3 saw the release of a record eleven expansion packs and nine stuff packs, alongside a whole host of downloadable objects and worlds on The Sims 3 store.

During this time, the series saw the release of yet another spin-off, this time in the form of The Sims Medieval, which released for PC, Mac OS X and iOS on March 11, 2011. The Sims Medieval marked a notable shift for the series, with the game choosing to forgo the open-ended nature to the core Sims games in favour of adopting a role-playing gameplay style. Players had to upgrade their kingdom by fulfilling objects and striving towards the completion of one a number of possibility overall ambitions for the kingdom. To do so, player assumed the roles of various heroes around the world, ranging the king/queen themselves to the local priest, merchant, and even a spy cosplaying as Ezio for Assassin’s Creed. The game would see the release of one expansion pack, titled Pirates and Nobles. While EA have yet to provide concrete sales figures, estimates lifetime sales to be around 700,000.

On September 2, 2014, more than five years after the release of the previous iteration, the fourth entry in the franchise, The Sims 4, was released, having been officially announced the previous year. The game kept the same open-ended formula that had proved be so successful for the franchise, although many of the features introduced in both The Sims 2 and the Sims 3 were missing, like toddlers (which were eventually patching into the game in January, 2017), the seamless open-world, as well as the Create a Style feature, to name but a few. Once again, it is hard to pinpoint exact sales figures, although puts the total figure at 3.78 million copies sold. It is not known, however, whether or not this includes digital copies sold.

Since its release, The Sims 4 has seen the release of four major expansion packs (the latest being The Sims 4: Cat & Dogs back in November, 2017), thirteen stuff packs, and five game packs, the latter of which is a new type of DLC for the series, one which focuses upon adding gameplay features that are too large for a stuff pack but too small to be classified as a full-on expansion.

Well then folks, that does it, for now. After eighteen years, The Sims is still a hallmark of PC gaming, one that shows no signs of stopping. It seems inevitable that EA will eventually release a Sims 5, yet as of right now such a thing seems far away. Perhaps, upon the franchise’s 20th anniversary in 2020, we’ll see The Sims 5. Only time will tell…

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