Lies, Damn lies, and 8 Years of EA bait-and-switch tactics on The Sims players
Sul Sul? More like sue sue, class action.
(“T-Posing Doctor during surgery standing inside patient with patient outside of machine”, Screenshot from The Sims 4 “Get to Work”; photo credit EA Help forums/Google Image Search)
Okay I am actually a little inspired to write some more today. It’s also a niche topic that I don’t often cover (I leave video games to Stephanie Sterling) so I don’t expect it to rank high across search nor do I expect many of my normal audience to read it, but since Commander Sterling hasn’t covered this as the game is not their cup of tea, I figure I may give it a go.
(from The Sims 4 official launch video, via YouTube, used under fair use of critique)
The Sims 4 launched exactly 8 years ago today, and it was not just threadbare but described as many as “incomplete” and with major gameplay and immersion breaking bugs. Core features from previous base games like swimming pools (added in “patch 7” the following October) were notably absent and the game felt desolate. To start, you had just two world spaces with a combined total of just 32 primary lot spaces split across 2 unique worlds, Oasis Springs (my personal favorite to this day) and Willow Creek.
This might sound ample for anyone not previously acquainted with the franchise but previous base titles such as The Sims and The Sims 2 had 2-3x the unique worlds with considerably more lots available to play on in each. In short, The Sims 4 was a massive step forward backwards in terms of gameplay and re-playability from day one, even though the price increased considerably from The Sims 3’s $49.99 to $59.99 for the most barebones copy of The Sims 4, a product that was designed from the start to be a constant work-in-progress.
This progressed through 2014 and into 2015 with various patches addressing visual and gameplay breaking bugs, and adding additional features into the game.
In comes the DLC
(Official EA/Maxis artwork for The Sims 4 DLC item, Get Together, launched in December 2015 for a retail price of $39.99US)
With any The Sims title, “expansion packs” are commonplace. These historically have added additional scenarios (like owning a restaurant or business) or extra content (new furniture/set dressing/decor and enhanced gameplay/storytelling) and for the most part, the community of The Sims players has never been upset at the concept of additional paid content on top of the base game. In fact it may be fair to say The Sims was one of the pioneers in “enhancing post-sale revenue and consumer commitment” with these expansions, and paved the way for microtransactions and DLC-for-DLC mechanisms.
That tide however seems to be turning today on the 8th anniversary, with what can only be described as a near community-wide boycott of purchasing more The Sims 4 content (with the newest release yesterday of the “My First Fits” kit; which is a $4.99 mini-pack of children Sims fitness apparel/everyday clothes) due to what is being perceived by many as a mixture of over promising and under delivering through incompetence, neglect and false/misleading/manipulative advertising.
From 2015 thru today, the EA/Maxis (owners of The Sims and related IP) strategy of “release it half baked and patch it next Tuesday” has not really worked and now more than ever is starting to become careworn and a detriment to the business model, to say the least.
The most recent expansion kit “High School Years” and tandem base game update (game version 1.90.375.xxxx, “late July patch” and current version 1.91.186.xxxx “August patch”) is a gameplay standout with new features that deserve applause while being absolutely, completely broken, even after recent hot fixes. Those include Sims characters wanting to date/be sexual with direct kin family members, actions not completing/objectives failing, random aging/death, furniture disappearing from the lot and so many others that not only interrupt the fun of some and ruin their gameplay, but in fact their work. I know it might sound crazy to hear this, but people pay people to play video games. The internet is weird like that.
Adult story telling
(A screen capture from YouTuber and “EA Game Changer” brand ambassador LilSimsie video “my sim didn’t even graduate lol”, uploaded July 29, 2022 using pre-release EA-provided software just prior to launch)
Now I want to be clear, I’m not a streamer. I don’t have a face for video or a voice for radio but I do have a way with words and I can tell a story, mainly to a courtroom. I’m not Slippin Jimmy but I am litigious like James McGill. I smell a lawsuit a mile away. And in a world of post-Fallout 76 and Cyberpunk 2077 lawsuits, The Sims 4 is ripe for the pickin’.
Some streamers use The Sims 4 as both a storytelling vehicle (a digital dollhouse, with some going as far as making Polly Pocket replica “lots”) and a video game, and they broadcast these stories and gaming interactions to their audiences both large and small across a variety of platforms, mainly YouTube and Twitch, and in the process make advertising and or tipped revenue by playing through the DLC packs as they first launched (thus being a semi-product review and highly ranked in SEO at launch of the title).
With recent patches causing severe and to this day unaddressed game breaking bugs however, this has become harder and harder to manage for streamers and casual players alike. In the patch notes for the most recent “august patch”, an issue was addressed that had been in the game for many years (Ed: some comments said 7 years but that can’t be independently confirmed). That issue? A broken surgery animation for the doctor career path, part of Get To Work DLC - the first released Gameplay kit, released March 2015.
The above photo of LilSimsie and even her video title highlighted a bug that would also be addressed in this most recent patch, in which the game would consider your overachiever high school honor roll early graduate Sim no different than a Sim who flunked out and got a job washing dishes as a busboy. What a break in the story and what a let down. Hours of gameplay building the story and putting in the work and it was all for not. No prom, no bonus, no extra plaudits for effectively meeting the challenge of the scenario (because who doesn’t want their Sim to do well in high school?) and it unceremoniously dumped her back into the base game, ready for her to pick up the story as would any base game player without High School Years.
If she’d had the The Sims 4: Discover University pack (C.2019, $39.99US) installed during that demo we would have seen the Sim possibly go to university and run a similar gameplay gauntlet, who knows.
This issue of broken gameplay and half-baked ideas being sold at full retail price over and over, month after month, has become unpalatable to many in the community - as an example, YouTube streamer Fantayzia (video below) has shared that they feel that there’s a total lack of communication on the part of EA and the major issues don’t seem to be getting addressed, and that not only ruins their fun but makes them unwilling to play more or buy additional content to then go on to create content for their channel. The tools of the trade are broken.
In short, the community is tired and running out of second chances to give to the TS4 team. A petition with thousands of signatures is circulating demanding the TS4 team address the issues.
(Screenshot from YouTuber “Speed Builder” KateEmerald, video “Family DREAM MANSION: Split levels”, June 2022)
The core basis of The Sims is that you climb an American dream-style ladder, starting off on the bottom with very little money and knowing nobody but your direct family, and working your way from a 1 bedroom house to a literal mansion, if that’s your wish - or a country cottage, or perhaps a scenic cape cod with lighthouse on the bay.. You choose. You can build as much or as little as you’d like, choose the plants, plant them, change grass to dirt, control the weather - the world is literally your oyster.
The core gameplay is twofold: simulating the lives of Sims and building/decorating buildings/“lots”. To say this is an architectural or urban planning tool is a misconception, this is far more vague and user-friendly and pre-defined, though people have built amazing properties in The Sims 4 using a variety of objects and fixtures from kits released using cheats and tricks alike.
However it has always been square. Until recently, all walls were flat and had to intersect at 45 or 90 degree angles along a grid along the ground/flooring. This includes foundations, if you desire - make them as high or as short as you’d like but it had to be square. The “August patch” introduced “rounded rooms” to the base game and they were featured heavily in High School Years, as they are a necessity for Art Deco style building, and have been conspicuously absent in the franchise until this point.
(Photo credit EA Help forums/Google Image Search, showing flooring that should lay flat against the apex of the curve show to be pulled up against a “tall platform” causing a visual glitch)
The above is a perfect example of the craftsmanship on display. No tool used by professionals would ever cause such an undesired and visually grabbing quirk. That issue remains unfixed from 1.90.375 and unaddressed, even though it has been raised many times by many people across a variety of avenues both indirect and direct to EA. This issue has further relayed quirks with the walls, windows, roofing and associated relations to flat walls surrounding the curve.
In short, the feature is entirely broken, and it should not have shipped in the current state. It is an insult to players, and among the many other bugs it is one of the most egregious. Simmers expect gameplay to work correctly, not this.
EA doesn’t care
(A mock-up of EA CEO Andrew Wilson performing the “throwing Simoleons” action, The Sims 4/Google Image Search)
EA has shown itself to only care about quarterly sales goals and maximizing profit. This isn’t unique to The Sims, this is across their entire brand. It is the ethos of their brand and it is why they’ve had the turbulent decade they find themselves exiting right now, unceremoniously into the next.
The actions of the company speak louder than words and deafening silence is an action of the worst. The lack of communication tied to consistent/on-time product releases and marketing pushes (which in turn add additional bugs to the base game, other packs, and themselves) opens EA up to arbitration or litigation, and if litigation it has the merit of a class status suit provided enough people opt in and other conditions are met.
Petitions and product boycotts are a great first start but the only way you’ll sway the attention of a giant like EA (or Bethesda, or CDPR, or..) is a class action suit/flooding them with individual arbitration requests. I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that the products demonstrated in the advertising are materially different from the shipped product with flaws that were purposefully omitted from view and remain unaddressed. It’s a bait and switch - you pay me for a product now and I’ll give it to you eventually, piece by piece. Sims As A Service.
There’s even worse aspects of a bait and switch - for example, recently the “Whims” system (introduced in The Sims 4 which was a feature of the basic game that would from time to time give you random objectives framed as desires - this could be buying a widget, or visiting an event in the world and completing goals, or interacting with other Sims and when complete would give a reward widget) with what had occurred in the game prior to The Sims 4, a system called “Wants and Fears”. Rather than 3 selfish and pure desires, you get 2 desires and one potential fear given the situation the Sim finds themselves in. This was a community request, but the implementation was so poor that most people turn it off, though it still persists after they do.
The bait and switch here was bait with Whims, Whims did have years long multi-pack integration and pretty okay functionality if boring; with Wants/Fears, a badly implemented mono-pack and broken feature that still has incest and teen on adult/adult on teen romance/age bugs that were supposedly already addressed and that likely threaten the age classification of the main title.
if I were the investors, I’d be very worried at this point. A beloved franchise is falling victim to Android Wilson yet again and this time it might be fatal, and it would be a loss for us all.
What comes next
(A screenshot from Home Street - Dream House Sim, mobile game available on iOS and Android, courtesy Google Image Search. This is not an advertisement or an endorsement, just an example of competitor “life simulator” titles. Other titles are available)
The rise of mobile gaming (that is, tap to play ad-based freemium gaming we find on our respective smartphone app repositories) is not to be denied. The market share just based on device volume alone compared to desktop/laptop gaming-capable PCs is immense. You’re talking about billions vs a few hundred million at best, globally. And EA sees the writing on the wall.
Their largest competition, Activision, is already home to King Games (a mobile publisher), and EA itself is no stranger to mobile gaming or buying studios that develop mobile games. The Sims as we understand it, is not long for this world. Maxis has long dabbled with bite-sized adventures like The Sims Urbz and The Sims: Breakin’ Out, both for gaming handheld and consoles in their respective eras. The space and time are right for a genuine, bonified, Sims title on what now is the dominant portable gaming handheld - the cellphone in your hand.
What comes next is not The Sims: Mobile, far from it. That already exists and isn’t very good and isn’t making the profits the shareholders (see their most recent investor calls for a better understanding) because it’s just such a limited and imperfect experience, even compared to The Sims 4. It’s not quite there yet and it doesn’t pass muster for most of the franchise diehards who see it as a Fallout Shelter tier cash grab.
This explains why EA is so desperate to sell itself to someone - anyone, anyone will do. They’re a sinking ship and the water is starting to flood the third fourth and fifth compartments. The monetization approach was so egregious the UK government had to get involved and make sure EA wasn’t just flat out letting kids gamble - no, they called it player choice.
And you’re surprised your Sim wants to woohoo their mom and date their elder teacher? Now that’s funny. They were so focused on selling you things that they had no time or concern for making sure the things they were selling you were actually functional to the degree they marketed them as.
Game Over for Mortimer and Bella Goth
(Screen capture from The Sims 2, Courtesy Maxis/Google Image Search)
Many simmers (the players of the game) feel like this could be the end of the franchise, some feel that this is merely the last throes of an 8 year old base game before the launch of the next edition, The Sims 5 (rumored to launch no earlier than 2025). Others still feel that The Sims 4, for all its flaws, is a perfectly fine product and suggest people buy it. I am not one.
I am a casual observer of this title, a latecomer who bought the game on sale and largely avoid buying the DLC by giving EA the same approach they give me. If it takes them 7 years to fix their product, I’ll buy the product in 7 years when it’s fixed. I’m just not interested in the base game I already paid for and liked being changed and broken in such egregious and fundamental ways.
I’m out. I used to be a diehard, as a kid I used to buy the game packs in cardboard boxes at Boarders Books and rush home and slot them in my PC and install them, and enjoy the zany antics of my Sims. Now I don’t even want to touch the franchise with a ten foot pole. I occasionally play my duly licensed copy to check out the base game updates and what few updates the packs I do have get. Other than that, I don’t bother.
Maybe I’ve outgrown it, or maybe EA killed yet another beloved franchise and studio. I hope I’m wrong and I hope this can be turned around but it’s certainly not up to me to decide. It’s up to the captain of the ship to do his job, and clearly Wilson isn’t doing that.
As a penny stock investor, I won’t be holding EA. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Seemingly nobody with the clout wants to buy, but they’re selling. Selling boring beige pixel clothing for boring beige pixel children, for $4.99. 🤷♂️