Microtransactions are here to stay. Following the industry discourse that has come with the many games that now have the words “loot crate” attached, or companies stating they are moving away from single player games, video games find themselves in a tight spot. Big game companies want players to stick around long after they are done with the main course, another analogy might be the scene from Hook, where a table of delicious imaginary food never runs out, with all sorts of sweets and goodies to partake from. Even with course correction, as seen with Star Wars Battlefront II, many companies are figuring out how to navigate the waters they’ve created. A seemingly innocent game, though, could be the teacher needed to show how to get game enthusiast to keep coming back over and over. The Sims, in its current iteration, The Sims 4. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t EA behind The Sims series, though?” Yes, but they’ve done a fantastic job.
The Sims has always had one key feature standing out over everything else: there is no end game. No matter how many hours put in, no matter how focused on the task at hand, the neighborhoods that make up The Sims 4 will always be right there, ready to welcome anyone new to the neighborhood. It’s with this core mechanic that The Sims series has become so successful. Of course, the numerous expansions help too, but we’ll get to that.
The Sims series is the ultimate gameplay loop. It’s the mundane made exciting, and with no end game in sight, it’s easy to understand the option “play Sims for hours” (an actual in-game activity.) It doesn’t even need to run anything in the background, instead creating the illusion of life going on. With how far The Sims series has come through four iterations, it’s amazing that more games aren’t picking up on what can make for some great gameplay.
The second most prominent thing about The Sims has always been the options. With each rendition of a Sims game coming to pass, so too do more options become available. Unfortunately, some options aren’t included, but mods are readily available thanks to a wonderful community. Whatever Sims game one finds themselves playing, the options feel limitless. Each iteration of The Sims has been able to match what already exists while expounding upon it. It doesn’t feel stagnate, like the game hasn’t learned anything from itself (a problem many games seem to face — any shooter ever). The Sims wants to give the player options because they know it means they will keep coming back, and with the dolling out of expansions and free content slowly, it helps keep the wheel spinning.
Expansions along with free content might not be at the core, but helps make up the structure. The Sims may have created an almost perfect gameplay loop, but play any game long enough and it will turn stale. By timing each expansion along with frequent updates backed by free content, it keeps the base happy and gives them something rewarding for sticking around. That could be the very thing holding other games back from learning from a game like The Sims series. Other games must account for RPG elements, stats, weapons — all in the name of getting an edge on the game or your opponents. This competition factor means tedious work that wants (requires) the steady dolling out of cash for in game rewards. Not so in The Sims. Just buying the base game is enough. Sure the expansions might come with new jobs, new cities and new furnishings, but that doesn’t mean they’re required to win the game.
Star Wars Battlefront II has made the egregious mistake of literally paying to win, even if they didn’t mean too…oops. The thing about creating an infinite loop — the hamster wheel — it needs to be fun, it needs to create a sense of reward. Paying real life money for little pay off just to win a match or two or hold down your castles feels dirty and demanding. If companies want players to keep running on the wheel then the wheel needs to look like a theme park, not the scary run-down traveling carnival. That ride doesn’t look safe at all and why do I get the feeling I’m being cheated here?
The Sims 4, as it stands right now, is the best example of creating this “loop” while having players consistently stick around or return over and over. I might not play The Sims religiously, but I can always return to make a new family or pick-up where I left off. Maybe I’ll even buy that new Cats and Dogs Expansion Pack; who doesn’t lover furry friends? Whatever I do when returning to Sims life, at least I don’t have to pay money to feel successful.