How the developers of The Sims 4 For Rent approached representation and the expansion pack's more sensitive subject matter

A Sim cooking in The Sims 4 For Rent
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

For Rent is the latest in a long line of paid downloadable content (DLC) expansion packs for The Sims 4, the hugely popular life simulation game first released for PC back in 2014 before coming to consoles in 2017, and it introduces a whole host of new content centered around the theme of rental living.

While previous additions, like the popular City Living expansion pack, have brought rented apartments for your Sims to live in, For Rent turns the tables by allowing you to create your own bustling rental properties complete with unruly tenants to manage. This comes alongside the arrival of a new playable world, Tomarang, which features architecture inspired by Southeast Asia and is easily one of the most visually striking locations we’ve seen yet.

As a long-time The Sims player intrigued by everything on offer in this expansion pack, we sat down with Rebecca Doyle, lead producer on The Sims 4, and Jessica Croft, senior game designer at developer Maxis, to find out more.

Around the world

The world of The Sims 4 For Rent

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

With a selection of worlds inspired by various parts of East Asia and Europe already in the game, I was interested to discover what kind of research went into the creation of Tomarang. “We do extensive research and work with consultants to make sure we are properly respecting and elevating that region,” explains Croft. 

“We worked with Jason Chu, who is an activist that is very involved in the region. So that was a really valuable resource to double-check what we wanted to do and make sure we're on the right course and there's certainly a lot of decisions that his feedback was very valuable in creating [the world].”

In addition to their work with external voices, the team was also able to use some of their own knowledge of the region. “A lot of our team is from Southeast Asia and we were able to draw from our own lived experiences,” Croft continues. “I'm Southeast Asian and Vietnamese and being able to speak to things I saw in my childhood, things that I grew up with, was so very satisfying. I do want to emphasize that anyone's lived experiences are ultimately very narrow because it's one person's life. That's why working with internal consultants and external consultants like Jason is really valuable.”

An apartment building in The Sims 4 For Rent.

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

While the authenticity of Tomarang may be pleasantly nostalgic for some, I was curious as to how the team were approaching the theme of property ownership at a time of economic uncertainty where many are dealing with concerns about housing insecurity. 

“The team is very aware that there is ongoing anxiety about things like cost of living and the relationship between landlords and tenants. I think the thing that's really important for us is to make sure that we are paying the proper amount of respect to those real-life concerns,” says Croft. “We've had many, many, many discussions at every turn of this pack to try to make sure we're delivering a pack that really recognizes that these are things that people are dealing with right now.

I think ultimately, the Sims is a storytelling game and it is our job to provide you with the tools to tell the stories you want to tell. Within our own content, we try to tell more optimistic stories, the story of what it looks like to have a great landlord. We try to incentivize being a good landlord, but we also want to leave the door open for people who want to tell other stories too.”

“People can play their lived experiences,” adds Doyle. “Being able to provide that variety and that range is very important.”

Given the similarities between some of the ideas in For Rent and City Living, I was also keen to learn the team’s thoughts on what makes this specific pack more than what we have seen before. “The thing that sets For Rent apart is our Build Mode, the new residential rentals have such a versatility of being able to build whatever you want,” says Doyle.

“Whether you want to say like, ‘Hey, I'm renting out this room and this bathroom and that's what you get’, or ‘we have two townhomes next to each other’, or ‘it's an apartment building’. There's so much versatility and so much ability to build what you want in terms of how you want to set up your residential rental.

It’s really exciting to see what players are going to build. We build, but I think players are just fantastic. And I can't wait to see all of the things they make.”

For Croft, on the other hand, the distinction comes in the kinds of scenarios that players will encounter. “I think City Living and packs like it are telling very specific stories. It seemed like it was very much about living in a Manhattan highrise; it's about living in this really luxurious kind of penthouse apartment. It's a very, very downtown lifestyle whereas this pack is more about building communities.

It's about those more grounded multi-unit stories,” she continues. “This pack is also about a vibrant new world and a region that we've never been to, it's a number of new features like being able to actually snoop on your neighbors and find out their secrets too.”

Little touches

Sims in an apartment in The Sims 4 For Rent

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Although DLC for The Sims 4 generally focuses on major mechanics or items, I always find myself appreciating the smaller, sillier additions that some packs bring. The likes of the mysterious Greg from Werewolves or the aliens in Get to Work are a real pleasant surprise so we talked a little about some of the more whimsical and exciting features waiting in For Rent

“One thing that's not initially obvious until you play the pack is that when you are getting tenants for your multi-unit property we have made a whole tonne of tenants that might move in all with their own stories, I think there is something like 20 or 30 of them,” says Croft. “They're all very much characters in and of themselves and I'm not gonna spoil who might show up, but you're gonna get some fun surprises.”

The introduction of a new “cringe” trait is one source of amusement for Doyle. “Cringe sims are really fun because there's just a lot of fun interactions and like buffs that come with it,” she explains. 

Cringeworthy sims can even be left wondering “‘oh, am I cringe? Oh, no’, you know, they're embarrassed. Then there's, like, a [stage] that can come after that's just like, ‘you know what? I love being cringe, this is awesome.’ And then there is another interaction [where your Sims can] spout memes and that one is really adorable.” The animation for this new interaction is filled with allusions to internet culture, too. “I love that some of the community has found them and shown off like, ‘hey, this is what it's referencing!’”

I’m excited to try and decipher some of these references for myself and see what else The Sims 4 For Rent has to offer. It is available now for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in addition to Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility.

If you’re searching for more to play, see our guides to the best free games or the best single-player games for our top recommendations.

Dashiell Wood
Hardware Writer

Dash is TechRadar Gaming's Hardware Writer. Before joining TechRadar, he was a print journalist writing articles for some of the UK's biggest gaming magazines including PLAY, Edge, PC Gamer, and SFX. Now, when he's not getting his greasy little mitts on the newest hardware or gaming gadget, he can be found feverishly devouring the latest Nintendo Switch otome.