I’ve been obsessed with “The Sims” since the release of “The Sims 3” in 2009; I would spend my weekends glued to my grandparents’ computer attempting to befriend the Grim Reaper and jamming out to My Chemical Romance in Simlish (the official Sim language). When I entered high school, “The Sims 4” was released and quickly became the series’ best-selling entry. Between an active modding community, a growing number of fanmade sites and forums and an abundance of “simmers” (YouTubers focused on creating stories from their “Sims” gameplay), it seemed like the reign of “The Sims 4” would last.
Over the next few years, however, “The Sims 4” lost engagement. Views on “Sims” content dwindled, publisher Electronic Arts made an endless string of bad business decisions and, like many others, I lost interest in engaging with the simmers I had previously loved to watch. EA raised the price of expansion packs and slowed the rate of patches and new content, and simmers began to disappear. Searches for the game significantly decreased, and it seemed that the golden days of “playing with life” were over.
Search trends over time indicate that “The Sims 4” has maintained somewhat of an online presence, as the dip in popularity is more like a plateau. While there was a boost in popularity around April 2020 due to the pandemic, the game never truly reached the peaks that “The Sims 3” did. The launches of each game were significantly different, with Google searches for “The Sims 4” in September 2014 at a measly third of “The Sims 3” at the time of its release in June 2009.
Despite all the negativity facing the series, I’ve rediscovered my love for “The Sims 4.” This was not exclusively of my own volition or a sudden, random urge; rather, I noticed that the game was creeping back into my life via YouTube and Twitch. A steady stream of new expansion packs were released, drawing out the community into a sort of revival period. This left me wondering how a game that’s nearly a decade old could make such a notable comeback.
In an effort to push back against waning interest and respond to negative feedback about missing features, developer Maxis Studios has made every effort to remain not simply relevant, but as trendy as possible. Expansion packs like “The Sims 4: Cottage Living” have taken the best of internet culture and integrated it into the base game, even adding new gameplay features to keep up with trends in gaming, such as farming and interacting with animals other than pets. The “simple living” lot challenge, along with the “off the grid” challenge, added what is essentially a survival mode, only allowing sims to consume food they’ve cooked with individual ingredients they must buy or grow.
Staying relevant has clearly come with its own challenges for Maxis and EA. The most recent release, the “My Wedding Stories” game pack, faced a legion of angry fans online after announcing that the pack would not be released in Russia. The official Twitter account for “The Sims” posted a statement, saying that the move was in order to preserve the integrity of the expansion. This was met with mixed reactions from fans, ranging from praise to calls for the pack to be completely boycotted. Even when EA backtracked and decided to release the pack worldwide (and unedited) a week after its initial release date, fans still weren’t satisfied, as it was filled with so many bugs that it was borderline unplayable.
Adding features years after release is far from new for the video game industry, but many of these additions have been features from previous games that were missing at launch. Some aspects of past Sims games continue to be lost to time, including key storylines, genuinely helpful non-player characters and a virtual store. At the time of this article, Maxis recently released an update to “The Sims 4” that is a huge step toward the more natural, casual progression of “The Sims 3,” which featured a true open world and the ability for neighbor sims to experience life changes without prompts from the player. Nonetheless, the expansions have yet to live up to many simmers’ expectations.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference in “The Sims” community now is that Maxis has dramatically increased their direct communication with Sims players. The “Inside Maxis” presentation series has been popping up on Twitch every few months, focusing on quality of life updates and developer-supported community content. In fact, the most recent Inside Maxis featured new clothing designed by Sims players who are real-life fashion designers.
These presentations have given the Sims community further opportunities to connect and provide feedback, for better or for worse. Along with this, a multitude of Maxis employees can be easily found on Twitter by searching for “SimGuru” in their username. Although this direct line of contact can be welcoming for players, it begs the question: are we treating these people as hardworking human beings, or scapegoats to dump feedback onto?
Unfortunately, not all of this negativity can be discounted as “gamer rage.” It’s a wonder that “The Sims 4” was a hit at all considering the laundry list of disappointments at its release. Petitions regarding missing content reached the media, and fans speculated that the game’s more limited scope was a result of rushed development and plans to release these missing features in paid expansions, which ended up being EA’s true intentions after all.
Although it took years for Maxis to flesh out “The Sims 4” and some players are returning to “The Sims 3” as a result, the game is without a doubt seeing a renaissance. Despite views on Twitch decreasing as of this month, the slow and steady rise in popularity is sure to result in a much higher plateau once the hype inevitably dies down.
Rumors of “The Sims 5” being in development are all but confirmed at this point, and the next generation of the series will hopefully take it to new heights not only in popularity, but also in gameplay innovations. As compelled as I am to agree with some of the disappointment, “The Sims 4” and its community have changed dramatically since 2014, thanks in part to more vocal players. Behind every good game is a group of loyal supporters, and despite the ever-present issues with “The Sims 4,” I’ll be waiting with bated breath to say “sul sul” (hello in Simlish) to each new expansion.
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at email@example.com.