Maxis senior vice president Lucy Bradshaw and Sims Studio GM Rachel Franklin see the voyeuristic side of our society as a wealth of source material when it comes to making The Sims.
Their fireside chat at the GamesBeat 2014 conference, Franklin and Bradshaw cited the ever-changing entertainment media landscape as key inspirations for their long-running franchise. It’s not only about entertainment but also how people consume it.
The pair took this opportunity to share what Sims means to them. Franklin noted that this is a game that relies on little to no consulting with behavioral professionals, “It’s less of a life simulation but more a game about drama.” Bradshaw added that the Sims is a reductionist view of life, influenced by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s also a series that combines behavioral tension with user experimentation, were the best possible outcome is drama. Those outcomes are complemented by happy experiences like giving birth to a child or a first kiss.
“We want players to imbue a sense of importance. Create-a-Sim in Sims 4 just became all the more important. …” Bradshaw said. “You can choose traits that reflect real stories, like coming out of the closet or the death of a family member.”
The studios behind The Sims also do not get enough credit for striking that balance between the serious moments in life, while also keeping things lighthearted. A perfect example is the Grim Reaper, the avatar of Death who also uses a tablet. As Franklin put it, “We want to explore all these different facets of life, but it’s still game. … You should have a satisfying journey, but it should still be fun.”
Regarding the series’ longevity, Bradshaw explained that it was simply “life” that has been a key factor from the start and has been ever since; people’s experiences comes before any other inspiration. “We start with ‘life’ and that gives us and the user a wide breadth,” Bradshaw said.
When asked about how the series’ design philosophy has changed, Bradshaw replied that it hasn’t changed much fundamentally: “We always come back to Will Wright’s philosophy of taking things apart and putting things back together.”
This transitioned to the subject of emergent gameplay and how it has always been important to the series. As an amusing anecdote, Bradshaw recalled a time a user got the Grim Reaper to pick up a baby and fed it its bottle, since the rest of the family had already been reaped.
One sign of a good game series is when different consumers come to it for different reasons, and The Sims is the perfect example of that. Franklin said, “Others play to achieve, others tinker, others decorate.” She stressed the importance of the game being continually fun and noted how The Sims 4 addresses the problem of penalizing players for changing their minds after making design choices.
Wrapping up the session, Franklin and Bradshaw talked about the reception for Sims 4, which came out two weeks ago. They were certainly proud of the game, most notably the capability to share creations between friends. That said, Franklin was open about how the game fell short in communicating how you shouldn’t approach the The Sims 4 should with a Sims 3 mindset. “We haven’t done a great job in explaining to the world what the game’s possibilities are,” Franklin said. Still, they’re both optimistic that the fans will soon figure things out.
They’re equally confident about the future of the franchise, especially when real life and ever-evolving entertainment media are there inspire the studios. As Franklin put it, “Life keeps happening. We have tons of fodder.” The pair also gave the users themselves a lot of credit for providing new ideas and source material by just the simple act of playing the game. Bradshaw ended the session by sharing her amusement that some users are so emotionally invested in the series that they refer to their Sims as “I.”