• The Sims


  • Simulation


  • Maxis


  • Electronic Arts

Release Date:

  • February 4, 2000

On Wikipedia:


  • PC

Box Art Credit:

  • Wikipedia

The following review was largely copied from this page, having originally been written in February 2020, with some edits made in later paragraphs.

Released twenty years ago today, I figured it's time to add the original The Sims to the list of games here. From a design point, it's kind of a weird point between SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4 with elements of both. While it has a great soundtrack and joins the illustrious ranks of games like Deus Ex being some of the last great computer-exclusive games before the ecosystem changed and consoles essentially took over...it makes me wonder why it became such a hit (especially compared to the later SimCity titles) and why every publication (including the late MacAddict) raved about it.

I suppose there's a certain fun to finding your own stories with the goldfish-like way Sims move around and interact with objects, like two grad students who manage to get success only to be killed in a tragic fire, or a family torn apart by incest (both of my early attempts), it's a fleeting feeling. Part of the problem is no built-in likes or social norms, so even if you create a "husband" Sim and a "wife" Sim, they won't inherently like each other, leading to problems. The other problem I've found is that if your Sim loses his or her job (via missing the carpool), they'll often get "too depressed" to look for jobs. While that's a common factor in this post-2008 world (unless you have led an extremely sheltered life, you've probably been there—I have), your Sim never snaps out of it or gets lucky, instead money dwindles and items have to be sold off to pay for their upkeep. This ends up with the Sim in question ultimately starving to death.

Before EA figured out that it was a cash cow and to be exploited for years afterward (the later games got "Stuff Packs" and had features removed to be added back in expansion packs again), it makes me wonder how close we were to the vision to what Will Wright described in this mid-1990s interview and actually prototyped as a SimCity 2000-compatible title. As I mentioned in my old SimCity 2000 review and others, the idea was for a bunch of interoperable "Sim" games to be released. The cancelled SimsVille elaborated on here might have gotten closer to that, but even then, it would be a stretch to translate the micromanagement of The Sims (with individual personalities and objects) to a large scale like a real city, unless it was more of a "broad strokes" system with only a handful of "traceable" objects and people. (I'm looking forward to Phil Salvador's book on the history of Maxis; he agrees with me that the 1996 SimGolf (not the Sid Meier one) was almost certainly intended to be SimCity-compatible.

Even now, the idea of interoperable games is criminally underutilized. I guess there's Automation and its compatibility with BeamNG.drive, but I can't think of any more, which is a shame.

In any case, while the in-game options (items to buy, design choices for Sims, etc.) are pretty limited, there exists hundreds of mods out there to extend the game. I've strayed away from these, partly because I find The Sims fundamentally boring...spend a handful of hours on it and then away for months...and I've learned that mods are merely a drug that will give you a five-minute high until the novelty wears off. This is what I learned with SimCity 4 years ago.