“How do we take that core idea of these Sims and their little lives and expand on that?” Pearson said of the theme from The Sims 2. “Putting that clock on them really changed what you did with your Sims from day to day. It added life moments.”

The Sims 3

The Sims 3

Above: It wouldn’t be The Sims 3 without a pool.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

This installment was all about the outside world: what things around you poked at your Sim for attention. How you interacted with what you ran into became much more important to the game.

“It was another way to change up the way you were thinking about your Sims’ day and your Sims’ life,” Pearson said. And of course, the technology was improving as each new game was released, making the game look and play better.

“The tools evolved along the way, based on where the tech could now take us,” she said. “People always wanted more content, more control, more detail.”

For proof, just check out that timeline image up there and the flood of expansion packs with new stuff that came after TS3 released.

The Sims 4

The Sims 4

Above: The Sims 4 added complex emotions, and the ability to create and share Sims and buildings like this one with other players.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

If TS3 was all about the outside world, this fall’s The Sims 4 was about the inside: What your characters were thinking, feeling, and exactly how what they did impacted that.

“Now they think differently about what they’re doing,” Pearson said. “Who they are is now changing the way you can talk to your Sims’ friend, or advance at work, or practice a skill.”

Fans didn’t universally embrace TS4 when it was released, noting the stark contrast between the content they had from TS3 and its expansions versus the more bare-bones framework of TS4. The GamesBeat review called it “less customizable and hollow,” comparatively.

EA reps say they heard fans’ complaints loud and clear. They introduced a variety of new content for the game this fall, including beloved former features such as pools and ghosts, for free. Next month’s expansion pack is the first paid expansion pack to appear for TS4; a smaller paid “game pack” called Outdoor Retreat hit early this year.

What might have been

The Sims 2

Above: A neighborhood party in The Sims 2.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

Pearson says her personal favorite is The Sims 2, in part because it was the first where she was involved in the development from the beginning. She loved the houses and neighborhoods, she said.

But every time they talk about a new expansion, a fun discussion opens up: What stuff could they sneak in this time that they’d always chatted about?

“This is a life simulation. There are parts that we definitely haven’t tackled,” she said. One that comes up all the time are bills, loans, and credit debt. “But when you look at that and say, how do I turn that into a storytelling opportunity and turn that into something fun, we haven’t figured out a way that would deliver a good match.”

Same with true illnesses or injuries, she said. It would require a huge amount of development time and graphic assets but then just limit how you could play out the rest of your game with those Sims. They concentrate on tools that help gamers tell lots of stories, not just one, she said.

“I love what we’ve done with boots and the hats in Sims 4,” she said, which can be placed on almost any Sim regardless of outfit. “I wish we could figure that out for clothing layering.”

The Sims 4

Above: Now that’s a hat.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

But her biggest unfulfilled wish is to get The Sims completely out of their comfort zone. And do we mean completely.

“I really really wish we had some more of the super-themey fantasy worlds,” she said. “I wish we had Atlantis or that my Sims could go to ancient Rome. But the expectation that comes with that is delivering on a much bigger entire world.”

They get a lot of questions about why something like “Sims Medieval” couldn’t be an expansion pack, she said.

“The depth of the content changes have to be a lot more than you would see in just an expansion pack. It would feel weird to send my Sims to an ancient world and have them check their computer or calling on their cell phones.

“My nerdy Sims brain is like, maybe someday.”