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Check out one fan’s story of how The Sims changed his life.

Lyndsay Pearson is the perfect person to chat with about today’s 15th anniversary of The Sims. The senior producer started working on the game 12 years ago, but she had an illustrious start with the series even before that.

“I came to it as a fan,” she said. “My first experience was the very very first Sims — I played at a friend’s house. [My Sim] tried to make himself breakfast and immediately set himself on fire and died.”

There’s something about that godlike influence you exert over The Sims’ tiny people that keeps gamers coming back year after year. To celebrate the 15th anniversary today, Electronic Arts and Maxis are releasing anniversary content in game: genealogy, allowing you to trace the ancestry of your Sims for generations before (and after) their creation.

The companies are also announcing a new expansion pack today: The Sims 4 Get to Work, due out in April. It’ll add active, on-screen careers and the ability to control your Sim at work as a doctor, detective, scientist, retail business owner, and the like.

The Sims 4 Get to Work

Above: If things don’t go well for that patient, I’m going to suspect Pearson was involved somehow. (Just kidding. But no, really.)

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

Pearson joins The Sims team and keeps on killing

Lyndsay Pearson

Above: Lyndsay Pearson

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

Despite her stellar start with the PC life-simulation game, Pearson didn’t see a future for herself in The Sims or the gaming industry until she attended a game developers conference a couple of years later.

“I was at art school. I really wanted to make movies,” she said. “I had never considered video games as an industry. I thought they magically appeared, somewhere. It really opened my eyes. They’re like movies, but you control them.”

So a friend who worked at Electronic Arts got her in the door as a QA tester, and once there, she volunteered for the Sims team. Fortunately, her prior experience in Sim assassination was about to come in handy.

“Testing the Sims is totally not the same thing as playing it for real,” she said. One week, she was assigned to test puppies and kittens — which included killing all of them. She laughs about it now. “It was terrible – noooo!”

Still, she was thrilled to be working on the game she had always liked to play.

“It was really cool to come in and see behind that curtain. I loved it,” she said. “I really, really loved being part of that team. This is just not the same as everything else. I loved that I could talk to my family about it, even though they’d never played it before.

“I’ve never left.”

Fifteen years of expansion packs

The Sims timeline

Above: A timeline of The Sims releases, including its many, many, many expansion packs.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

I asked Pearson to run down the major milestones in The Sims — the best of what each chapter had to offer.

The Sims

Your Sim has its own thoughts, its own wishes, its own life, she explained. That’s what captured her attention.

“You exist as this force, benevolent or not, to guide them on their way. You can do whatever you want.”

The Sims

Above: The Sims, circa 2000.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

The Sims started as an architecture game, she said, but quickly started becoming about the little people they built to populate the houses people built.

“They’re not going to like that cheap bed that you bought them. You’re going to need to keep them busy and bring them friends. [In the original Sims] it’s quite hard to keep your Sims alive.”

Sure, Pearson. We believe you.

The Sims 2

The Sims 2

Above: The Sims 2 was when things started getting goofy. Gramps, meet the Grim Reaper.

Image Credit: EA/Maxis

The second full chapter of the game is when things started getting goofy, she said, and time pressure became real. Suddenly there were kooky content spaces, 3D pieces of art to play with, really big objects, and extreme goofy things.

“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.”

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