A while back I wrote a post raving about my love of the Sims franchise. I still stand by my love of the series, but recent events has reminded me of a lot of the flaws of this game series I love.
I was introduced to the series in The Sims 3, a game that, while amazing, fun, and vital to my development as a storyteller, had a lot of flaws. For one thing, it was slow. Sims 3 introduced an open world, where things happened in real time even beyond the current household you were playing. It made the worlds of the Sims 3 feel a lot more alive, but it also made the entire game a clunky nightmare to anyone without the highest-speed computers in the business. (And, if you wanted to play the game with fanmade custom content or mods, you basically had no chance to have a nicely running game.)
In addition, while improved from their Sims 2 counterparts, the sims in Sims 3 were rather emotionless and robotic. Though they technically had “emotions,” these tended not to show in anything they did. They had problems moving freely through spaces as well, and I would often have to pause the game and rework furniture layouts because a sim was blocked from leaving a room by a couch sitting a good distance away from it.
To make it even worse, Sims 3 was prone to glitches and bugs, some completely game-ruining. It was commonplace for save files you had spent days playing to suddenly corrupt without warning, causing you to lose all of your progress. Graphical bugs were also common, some making the entire game’s textures go blue or making sims’ anatomy wack out into terrifying alien monsters.
But that all being said, Sims 3 had a lot going for it. It was endlessly customizable, with a system in-game that allowed players to make almost any furniture object and clothing item any color or pattern they wanted. Plus, and this is the thing I want to focus on, Sims 3 had the best expansion packs.
In its heyday, I used to excessively look forward to these expansion packs, released on a pretty constant schedule and containing all sorts of new features added to the game. The expansions were slightly cheaper than the base game itself, but they added up. It was a clear business ploy on EA’s part, sure, but they still upheld their end of the bargain by packing most of these expansions to the brim with new content. Some of the best features of the game came in these packs, and they kept gameplay fresh and fun.
I say all this because I think Sims 3 is an excellent counterexample to what Sims 4 has become. I’m not gonna say Sims 3’s methods of releasing new expansion content for the game was perfect. (For example, the smaller stuff packs released alongside the expansions were usually lackluster to me and I never bought any of them.) But it’s a load better than Sims 4.
But before I get to that, I want to start out by saying that I really do love Sims 4. As a diehard fan of Sims 3, I can still say with certainty that I play Sims 4 nowadays a lot more than Sims 3 just because it runs so much better. Sure, they eliminated the open world from the gameplay, and that’s a step back in theory, but in practice the open world of Sims 3 harmed the game more than it helped it. Plus, the sims are way more emotive and most of their routing issues were solved, making the whole game feel more like a realistic simulation of life (where people are usually able to step around a couch to get through a door).
And in some cases I think EA has done well in adding content to this game. Notably, fans were disappointed by the lack of pools and the lack of the Toddler life state to the game, but EA later added both of these features in a free patch. But this seems to be the exception, not the rule.
Because I really hate how they’re doing expansions for the Sims 4. Now, instead of expansions and stuff packs, Sims 4 has expansion packs, game packs, and stuff packs. This wasn’t initially a problem for me except EA has really doubled down on the game and stuff packs but… really hasn’t done a ton with the expansions.
Putting aside the stuff packs, which I never much cared for since I always had a bunch of free downloadable CC to fill my item desires in-game, there’s only been 4 expansion packs since the launch of the game. That’s only 4 since February 17th, 2015, more than 3 years ago. By comparison, 3 years after Sims 3’s release on June 2nd, 2009, there had been 6. It’s not a huge difference, to be fair, but it’s also notable to point out that in the run of Sims 3, 11 expansions were released in a little over four years. Sims 4 is gonna have a lot of catching up to do in the next year if it wants to match that.
Now, there have been 6 game packs for the Sims 4. But here’s my problem… game packs aren’t expansions. Of the 6 released, I consider both Outdoor Retreat and Jungle Adventure to be basically just new worlds, Spa Day and Dine Out to be like… one new feature and one new building, and Vampires to be just a new sim state. Only Parenthood I consider truly worth the title of a “game pack” (and worth the money), because it introduces a lot of new features for the toddler, child, and teen states as well as parenting features for older sims.
By comparison, Sims 3’s expansions usually contained these features as well as others. Late Night added Vampires as a state as well as an entire new world, new building types, and new interactions, all of those separate from the Vampires. World Adventure was basically a souped up version of Jungle Adventure with more locations to travel to. Even Generations was meatier than the comparable Parenthood, adding new features to all of the life states as well as a bunch of new events and, in my opinion, drastically improving the way the game played (becoming my favorite expansion of the Sims 3).
And yeah, I know game packs aren’t expansion packs. They aren’t meant to be as meaty as expansions. But why, then, is EA focusing so much on them? Most of them contain features that are niche at best. Like… I didn’t need restaurants or spas or jungles or campouts or vampires to enjoy my game. Those are fun as add-ons to other, more interesting features, but the problem is these aren’t being treated as add-ons to other content. These are the content.
I’m sure people out there enjoy them, but I feel like they’re not worth it if you’re not also getting something that actually enhances how you play the game. It’s the difference between these features being released as a part of a broader expansion and these features just sitting on their own.
I think that’s a mistake. Because it seems as it EA is taking away time from developing cohesive expansion packs to make these niche, skimpy game packs.
And that all brings me to recent events, and for that reason I’ll have to turn to the topic I’ve ignored thus far – stuff packs. I’ve avoided them mostly because I don’t particularly care for them, but the most recent stuff pack is the worst example of this problem I’ve always had with the game packs.
The newest stuff pack, called My First Pet Stuff, is your pretty quintessential stuff pack in my opinion. Just a collection of objects, in this case objects for taking care of small pets like hamsters and outfits for the already-released cats and dogs from the Pets expansion. What’s that you heard about cats and dogs? Oh right, yeah, this stuff pack is only available for those who have already bought Cats and Dogs, a $40 expansion pack. You know, for all those people who want to pay an extra $10 for stuff that should have just been in the expansion they bought anyway.
Here’s the core of the problem with how EA is handling Sims 4. They don’t care about making the game better. And yeah, probably they never did, even during Sims 3. But it felt like with every expansion pack I bought I was really getting exciting new features I cared about, and it seemed like the people making the expansions were really trying to change and improve how the game played.
But with Sims 4…? I feel like none of the expansions or game packs have done anything to try and improve or change how the game is played. It’s just a bunch of add-ons, skins and objects and clothes and a few new interactions. Game packs like Parenthood that got close are in the minority. It seems like with Sims 4 the team behind the games are just churning out new content because they have to, and slapping price tags on the new content with no regard for how it’ll all fit together. They simply expect people will buy all of these new packs as they come out (and people do).
In the meantime, problems in the game that have existed since its creation persist. The genetics don’t work, several of the careers in one of the expansion packs are broken, and a game that was once fun, a game that once improved so much on its predecessor, has fallen behind. I’m worried that this franchise I’ve loved for so many years is resting on its laurels, content to just keep kicking niche content out and never bothering to fix any of its problems or improve itself.
It’s sad to see something I’ve loved so much being treated this way by its creators.