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Joystiq interview: EA talks The Sims, from milestones to expansions

Jason Dobson

With 100 million units sold to its name, The Sims is certainly the most prolific PC game in history, if not the most popular. The milestone says a lot about the industry and consumer tastes, as well as Electronic Arts and the gaming giant's love of little computer people ... and money.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with The Sims' studio head Rod Humble about the brand he holds so dear. Over the course of the conversation we went back and forth on a number of topics, from the expansions that never were to what he felt has been key to The Sims' widespread success. If you are at all a fan of the series, jump into the pool. We promise not to delete the ladder after you dive in.

Gallery: The Sims 3 | 37 Photos

Hi Rod. We of course know that most titles, let alone franchises, once successful, find themselves on the business end of copycats and 'me too' clones attempting to ride on their coattails. The Sims seems have shielded itself from this somehow. Why do you think this is the case?

The Sims is an incredibly hard game to make -- both technically and creatively. Technically because players can change the environment within the game at any given point. On the creative front, The Sims studio is one of most unique and diverse in the industry. We have an extremely balanced ratio of men and women on the development team -- it truly is the right mix of talent and people that makes each The Sims game a success.

Speaking of that, in what country or region has The Sims enjoyed the most widespread success? Is there a particular area of the world in which the franchise has had a tougher time establishing a foothold?

"UK, France, Poland and Russia have embraced The Sims the most"

Although The Sims has been very successful worldwide, it's the European territories such as UK, France, Poland and Russia that have embraced The Sims the most. In Asia, The Sims is extremely popular in Thailand. And although the traditional look of The Sims characters haven't been found aesthetically appealing in Japan, we're happy to report that MySims has been very successful there.

You've said now that with 100 million copies sold, The Sims represents Electronic Arts' top selling franchise. What do you feel has been key in driving the franchise to this milestone?

The Sims enjoys the most diverse appeal in the industry. About half of our players are men and the other half women. Fans of the franchise range from young tweens to people in their 60's. This type of expansive fanbase and the loyalty our fans have to the franchise is what drove us to achieve this feat – in just over seven years.

I think The Sims has such a lasting draw because everyone who plays it has a different experience. By that, I mean we have essentially provided a canvas and each player has the ability to use their imagination to create the type of game experience that they enjoy the most.

So is this milestone taking into account then everything carrying The Sims brand, from the PC games and numerous expansions and compilations, to the console and portable versions and even those for mobile phones?

This iconic entertainment milestone takes into account all PC products within The Sims franchise, including base games, expansion packs and stuff packs. Although this milestone doesn't include mobile, we're happy to report that The Sims is one of the most successful mobile games on the market, having sold more than 9 million games to date!

Speaking of expansions, The Sims has certainly become home to a number of those over the years. I'm more interested in hearing about the sorts of expansions that ended up on the cutting room floor. Are there any that you recall that you can talk about?

Great question. We've often considered making a history expansion pack. A sports EP would also be lots of fun if designed the right way -- we still looking for the right way to make that happen!

What expansions do you keep getting requests for from fans that you haven't been able to figure out yet, or don't think you'll be able to?

"Other ideas I've seen ... include a rave/party pack and science fiction pack."

Right now our players are keen to playing an expansion pack that focuses on living in a big city. Other ideas I've seen in the community include a rave/party pack and science fiction pack. Remember, community is more than 4.3 million unique members strong! It's safe to say there's never a shortage of creative ideas to choose from!

So obviously The Sims has proven itself to be a lucrative property. However, there is a negative perception, particularly in the media, that EA has continued to milk the franchise. Is this something that bothers or concerns you at all?

Sims gamers are like all other types of gamers – they love their favorite game so as long as the quality is high and the gameplay is fresh, they'll be happy.

Our fans are extremely loyal and committed to the franchise -- it's important to remember we would have never reached this milestone without them. In fact, most of the expansion packs we have brought to market have been created from fan reaction or feedback as we listen to our audience and respond with making exciting additive content available to them.

We work hard to ensure that every version of The Sims and every expansion pack offers a unique experience to Sims fans whether it be fashion, nightlife, pets, or University -- and just about everything in between.

You've talked some about the franchise's following. What sort of insight do you have into The Sims community? The games can be very time consuming, addictive even, so do you see these players playing The Sims as their primary video game drug of choice?

Like any other game series, Sims gamers play time varies, from an hour each month to hours a day. It's safe to say that people enjoy different types of media in different ways -- nowadays, playing games is as common watching TV. Except a lot more interactive!

So, where does the franchise go from here?

This week we're shipping two new titles including The Sims 2 Double Deluxe and The Sims 2 Kitchen & Bath Interior Design Stuff. The Sims 2 Double Deluxe contains The Sims 2 Nightlife Expansion Pack, The Sims 2 Celebration! Stuff Pack and a bonus DVD. Alternatively, The Sims 2 Kitchen & Bath Interior Design Stuff gives new players and old fans all the items they need to unleash their inner interior designer.

And of course, there's always The Sims 3 launching in 2009 – you'll be hearing a lot more details on The Sims 3 later this year. I also urge you to check out – we just announced the closed beta at GDC and the response has been amazing.

We're particularly interested in The Sims 3. What you can you tell us about the sequel, which I believe is in production for release in EA's fiscal 09?

The Sims 3 features a brand new engine that has been in development for nearly three years. The initial feature-set unveiled includes the new seamless, open neighborhood, new Create-A-Sim, new realistic personalities and new unlimited customization. The Sims 3 will launch globally in 2009.

Finally, if there was one thing to be learned from the success of The Sims that could be applied to other EA franchises, what would that be?

We're honored to be in the same company as such fantastic studios such as EA Canada, the creators of Skate, Madden and hundreds of extremely talented game developers around the world. One lesson we really take to heart? To take more creative risks. This is something I'm confident we're doing more and more each day.

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