Since its release in 2000, The Sims franchise has not only dominated the life simulation genre - it’s defined it.
Sure, there have been simulation games from other sub-genres like farming sim Stardrew Valley and social sim Animal Crossing that capture similar feelings and communities, but realistically, nobody has released any game that quite captures the uniquely creative and broad raw potential presented by The Sims.
That could all be about to change, however, with the arrival of Life by You - and it has roots intrinsically embedded in what some (including myself) think of as the golden age of The Sims franchise; The Sims 2 and 3.
News of Life by You sent ripples through the life simulation fandom when it was announced in early March, with many positioning it as Paradox Interactive’s answer to The Sims. From the looks of it, the publisher wasn’t satisfied with just contesting EA’s dwindling Sim City franchise with City Skylines; now, it’s coming for EA’s cash cow.
We’ve seen other Sims-like games in recent years - Paralives, an Indie game announced in 2019, stands out as another example that captured the attention of fans - but none of these have bore fruit yet. Conversely, Life by You already has a September 12 early access release date, meaning we’re the closest we’ve ever been to The Sims finally getting some competition. It’s also a massive swipe at the recent announcement of Project Rene (a.k.a The Sims 5), for which we still don’t currently have a release date.
More testament to the potential power of this game, though, is the legacy behind some of the team working on Life by You. The game is being led by former EA exec and ex-Linden Lab CEO, Rod Humble. Humble brings to the table some massively influential simulation genre chops, as well as insight into the inner machinations of two power-house development teams.
So, what does this mean for The Sims and Life by You?
It’s a big world after all
In its recent announcement show, Paradox showed us our first glimpse of the moddable Life by You, and several key features caught the attention of life simulation fans.
Firstly, there are the world mechanics. Life by You will feature a fully open world without loading screens, featuring vehicles to get your sims from A to B and even granting players the power to time skip by years. In this game, you truly are the master of everything; you can even take control of any character in your world.
Then we get into customization, which is arguably the most intriguing thing for me about Life by You. It’s clear Paradox wanted to capitalize on the gaping hole in The Sims 4’s creation and customization mechanics, with Life by You featuring some amazing creator tools, offering a degree of granularity in customization completely beyond my wildest dreams. Beyond the fully free-placed town assets, terrain and road customization, and furnishing design, you can get right down to the nitty-gritty by scripting the possible interactions with an item.
Last but never least is the gameplay. While it’s clear Paradox is angling for a more adult, in-depth and technical player with Life by You - of which The Sims community is abundant - the developer has made sure to maintain the beating heart of life simulation games… simulating life. It’s a bit less quirky than The Sims - although even The Sims 4 is a bit dry these days - and the characters in-game are a little “meh”, but it seems like there is going to be plenty of fun to be had in playing through the lives of your creations.
Barring gameplay, there’s one thing everything else I’ve mentioned above has in common; none of these features can be found in The Sims 4. Better yet, it’ll all be in the base game. A gentle reminder; The Sims 4 hadn’t even gotten around to pools and toddlers at launch.
Sul-sul Siri, play ‘Bare Bones’ from The Sims 2
Humble hyped the “unparalleled levels of storytelling” made possible in Life by You, and judging by the features we’ve seen so far, I’m inclined to agree. From what we’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if the creative community surrounding life sims games renews its love of machinima videos, and perhaps even creates interactive stories of their own.
Comparatively, The Sims franchise is at an interesting crossroads. While The Sims 4 is nowhere near as offensively money-grabbing as its predecessor, it’s certainly been a profitable title with its many expansions and DLC. EA very much went down the family-friendly route following The Sims 3, trimming as much raunch and raucous as it could without losing all of the franchise's tongue-in-cheek identity, and also made efforts to decomplexify the game for the benefit of both its performance and younger players.
In doing so, EA carved a monumental hunk right out of the heart of The Sims for long-time players, and we’ve just not seen enough of Project Rene to know yet if The Sims 5 will rectify much beyond the lack of customization features in The Sims 4.
It might be approaching its decennial year, but ultimately, The Sims 4 still feels like a bit of a work in progress. Expansion packs and DLC release with pretty nasty bugs (including incest… I don’t think I’m ready to let EA live that one down), some of the original DLC is borderline unplayable and we’re only now getting some of the most beloved features from previous titles like memories (now called Milestones)... and they’re gated behind an expansion pack.
However, there’s no denying that it’s been wildly successful, too, and certainly still plays well despite its age - at least they learned their lessons from the lumbering behemoth that was The Sims 3 with more than three expansions installed. With new content still released regularly and a well-established player base, it’s certainly been enough to hold my attention.
But would it be the same if there was any alternative? I’d argue probably not, and certainly not if Life by You delivers on even half of its promises.
Ultimately, this could be exactly what EA needs to step it up a notch with The Sims 5 and the final years of The Sims 4, especially when it comes to the base game. For too long, EA has treated The Sims as a back-catalog game with year-round revenue potential coming from DLC, at the expense of its fan loyalty (see; Journey to Baatu, My First Pet Stuff, and the 20th birthday hot tub DLC). If there’s even a whiff of Paradox treating the beating heart of Life by You, its base game, with more respect, it could spell trouble for The Sims’ uncontested reign.
Competition drives innovation, and as much as I adore The Sims 4, flaws and all, EA needs to get creative if it stands a chance to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation.
My solution, of course, will buy to buy all of the life simulation games, obsessively play them until I burn out on controlling other people’s lives, and decide it’s probably time to control my own for 2-3 months until my next sim-hyper fixation phase.