We throw some questions at The Sims' Rod Humble - here's what he had to say!
NZGamer: We've just heard that The Sims 2 has hit the 100 million mark! This is great news (Sims fans are going to take over the world someday), but do you find with so many fans, it becomes more difficult to to try and experiment with the model rather than just giving players whatever they want? We really can be pretty rabid at times.
Rod Humble: We’re so lucky to have such a passionate fan base! It’s important to remember that without our fans we would’ve never reached such a monumental achievement.
One great thing to having a community of more than 4.3 million unique members a month is that there’s always new ideas coming our way. We listen closely to the community and try and deliver what they’ve been asking for. It can also be challenging at times. Sometimes we come up with a concept we think is great, but then we test it out at focus groups and it doesn’t resonate with the Sims players. Of course we could always go ahead and build it anyway, but most often we have learnt over the years that the customer is right, and we have to go back to the drawing board.
NZGamer: In line with the question above, how hard has it become to generate new ideas or features and incorporate them into the series? How do you keep those working on The Sims feeling fresh and positive about what they're working on?
Rod Humble: Again, it’s all about the community! They help us with a lot of ideas and we listen to them continually. It also helps is that The Sims studio is one of the most unique and diverse in the industry. We have an extremely balanced ratio of men and women on the development team—it really is the right mix of talent and people that makes each The Sims game a success.
NZGamer: What was the process and rationale behind creating an entire major division at EA dedicated to The Sims? What are the benefits of this? Has it - or will it - allow you do achieve a lot more with the brand?
Rod Humble: When Nancy joined The Sims in 2005, she saw a tremendous amount of potential in taking The Sims studio and making it independent from the rest of the organization. Doing so would allows the studio to focus it’s time, money and resources on the creative process that was specific to The Sims franchise itself. Having doubled our profit as a result, it’s safe to say that structure worked! EA CEO John Riccitiello has adopted this business model and applied it across the orgainzation, forming four Labels: The Sims, EA Sports, EA Casual Entertainment and EA Games.
NZGamer: Creating all the content for each new iteration of The Sims must be a mammoth task. What are the challenges with creating products that have exponentially more content to produce? Is it something you'll continue, or might you adopt a Spore-like attitude, where users can populate everyone's world with their own content? Or if not, do you foresee user-created content playing a bigger role as the series progresses?
Rod Humble: Actually, user created content already plays a huge part in The Sims franchise. The Sims fans love to share their creations, and thesims2.com, a destination for players to share user-created content, now has over 4.3 million unique visitors each month. There have been over 70 million downloads of user-created content.
With The Sims, we’ve essentially provided a canvas for each player to use their imagination to create the type of gameplay experience they enjoy the most, and in most cases, content of their own.
NZGamer: As shown in both SimCity Societies, and the glimpses we've seen of The Sims 3 and Spore, it appears that there is (and has been) a definite shift away from the number-crunching side of Sims gaming to a 'fuzzier' style of gameplay that puts greater emphasis on the communal, social experience. Has this been an intentional change of direction, or is it a natural evolution in line with how we play games now?
Rod Humble: We are always pushing in new directions. In terms of themes then yes we have been feeling our way into new topics such as the more mental space of life. How people think and the power of ideas. This isn’t an exclusive direction though; we certainly have a lot of other interests as well. I wouldn’t say we are moving away from numbers really, it’s just more a polish on which numbers matter.
Here is one way to think about it: if you are making a simulation of a little world there are literally millions of changing numbers you could track, from how many shoes there are in the world to the temperature to your hunger. The question is which numbers do you have first and foremost in the players mind? What numbers are interesting every second versus numbers which are only interesting when they reach critical versus numbers that are never interesting? That’s the trick, figuring out when you cut into a simulation which numbers are interesting to show.
NZGamer: Along those same lines, do you see the paths for The Sims, Sim City and Spore games ever ultimately converging? Are you secretly already making Sim Absolutely Everything?
Rod Humble: The Sims and SimCity remain two very different, successful franchises within The Sims Label, and SPORE is a completely separate product — all of which with exciting new plans going forward. Stay tuned for new product information on each franchise to come later in the year!
NZGamer: We've noticed that a lot of features that came with Sims 2 expansion packs seem to appear in the base Sims 3 game, such as gardens and weather. Are these just artistic representations of the game, or will the base game really have all of this built in? Speaking of expansions, can we expect The Sims 3 expansion pack model to be the same as The Sims1 and 2, or will this have a different structure?
Rod Humble: We have a lot of exciting news planned for The Sims 3 that we’ll be announcing this year. In the meantime, check out thesims3.com for more details.
NZGamer: In previous interviews you've mentioned that with the large pool of personality types available in Sims 3, players can come up with some interesting combinations that often result in unpredictable emergent behavior in the neighborhood. What are some of the stranger examples you've seen?
Rod Humble: Once when I was playing, I noticed all of my books were gone! As an avid book collector it was a pretty obvious void and I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I figured it was just a bug in-game, considering it was a very early build I was playing. But then I noticed all of my books in my neighbor’s house! I should have known – he’s a well-read kleptomaniac, the perfect suspect to the book stealing crime.
NZGamer: Speaking of which, you've no doubt got a ton of stories to share of ridiculous moments in all the Sims games - what are some of your favourites?
Rod Humble: Oh I love watching children in the Sims. As a parent I find kids endlessly fascinating, watching them do zany stuff in the game is fantastic. Personally I don’t enjoy the big moments like the house catching fire as much as smaller amusing stuff such as a Sim being crunched for time so they take a body wash in the kitchen sink rather than the shower. I find potty humour just hilarious, when a sim pees him/herself, that’s still cracks me up every-time J
NZGamer: Finally, what's your take on the Sims franchise's placement in both video game and mainstream history? It's obviously hugely significant, but what do you think people will remember about it in years to come? And how can you top that going forward?
Rod Humble: I think it’s a great tribute to the hundreds of people who have made the game over the years and the millions who have played it and contributed to the community. My opinion is that The Sims is a success story everyone can take some pride in, it is a unique game that was and remains incredibly innovative, it’s a game that gives a strong counter example to anyone trying to stereotype games as just for kids or as violent and finally it’s a great example of something that resists categorization. What is it? A simulator, a role playing game, a creativity tool, a critique of modern life? It’s all those things at once but none of them in particular. It’s a strange and wonderful thing.
NZGamer: Thanks for your time!