Q: Get Together is The Sims 4’s second expansion. What was the internal feeling at the studio about where the game was prior to its creation, and where did you want to take the game?
Rachel Franklin: I think there’s something really special about The Sims 4, the personalities, and the way that when the sims get together as individuals, they have really interesting dynamics. So, when we were looking at that dynamic and how we would expand that, it made sense that you would be able to lead groups into interesting dynamics as well. It felt like that was a missing piece that we really wanted. We hear about how people are playing, and we have data that shows how people play the game, and to be able to have those group dynamics come through and create really interesting moments is what we felt like we needed to add to the game.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the metrics you collect on player behaviour, and how that shapes the game?
Rachel Franklin: We use it to think, ‘Are people even getting to the incredible content that we put into the game?’ If we find that people aren’t getting to see certain content or certain gameplay moments, we know we have to change something in the game. So we’ll use it for something like tuning. We’ll also say, ‘You know what? People aren’t really using this skill so much – maybe they prefer these other skills. Why don’t we make more of the things that they like?’ It’s really telling when you put together what people are saying they want with what they are actually doing in the game – it’s sometimes quite different.
Q: The possibilities for what to add in a new Sims expansion are almost endless. Scanning the official forums, people want pets, college, toddlers, the afterlife… How do you decide what to focus on?
Rachel Franklin: it’s pretty complex for us to take all of the inputs we get. We listen to our fans, absolutely. We are taking all of the inputs on social media and we have groups that we bring in to talk to us. That’s really important – to have that one-on-one time to really talk to people, so we can go deeper into what they’re actually thinking. We have the data from the game. We have a nice big team that loves The Sims and are active players, so we have our own player base within our own team. Then we get inspiration rom life itself. We think about how all of those factor in, and also the development cycle for things is different – certain things are going to take us a while. Certain things we’re starting on won’t come out for a long time, other things have a different pace. So, we have a long term vision, but that gets modified by how people are playing the game and what we hear from the players.
Q: The main criticism of The Sims 4 at launch was that it lacked content compared to prior Sims titles. Do you think that’s a fair criticism? If so, what do you attribute this shortfall to?
Rachel Franklin: People feel what they feel, and I’m not going to criticise someone’s feeling about the game. Ultimately, it’s our job to try to make something fun that people want to play. So, when we put out the game, we truly believed we had created really fun really rich Sims game that was worthy of the title. We poured our effort into the sims and their personalities, making that robust, but also giving them a ton to do.
I think a couple of things: one, we didn’t do a great job of exposing all of that gameplay to our players. That unfolding process that I was describing before – some things were too hard to get to. It didn’t make sense that you would have to go through such a difficult rigmarole to get to the juicy stuff. So we learned that just because we put it in there, doesn’t mean people are seeing it or finding it or appreciating it, and it’s our job as game makers to make sure the fun stuff is where it should be.
I think the second thing is: I did talk when we launched about this being a live service, about this being a foundation that we would continue to evolve and grow at a pretty rapid clip. And in a different way from The Sims 3, because in that game we took quite a long time to do it. With The Sims 4 we really wanted it to be something that felt like we were bringing fresh gameplay to quickly and regularly. But until we actually do what we say we’re gonna do, I think people just will be, ‘Yeah you’re just saying that. We either don’t believe you or don’t know what you mean by it’.
Q: Tell us about the new world of Windenburg.
Rachel Franklin: [Creating it] was pretty fun for us. We have such a global audience, so we wanted to make sure that feeling of relatability that you have for your sims, we have that in the places they live as well. We were inspired by European architecture, definitely that mix of old and new that you find in Europe that we don’t have in the States at all. We think that a Liberty Bell is ancient, you know? Then you come to Europe and there are these ruins right next to a modern office building. It’s such a cool juxtaposition that we wanted to make sure we captured that. So Windenburg is inspired by multiple cities around Europe, with that old/new mix in mind. And it’s beautiful, by the way!
Q: I’ve read about people using The Sims to rehearse things they need to do in their own lives. Is the design team mindful of this?
Rachel Franklin: When we’re designing, we think about possibility, without placing any judgement on events that play out. We get into these wonderful conversations – I do think every single day ‘This is a unique place to work!’ And people do use it to play out their lives. I’ve had stories from coming out, where people play that out and see what the response is with their sim family and then had the courage to do that in their real life. I’ve had people tell me that they’re socially awkward and didn’t really know how to approach people, so they’d do it in The Sims, and they learned some social graces from it. It’s really touching and meaningful, and I think we’re really lucky to work on a game that has such a deep connection with people’s lives.
◆ Matt traveled to Gamescom courtesy of EA