Ghosts, aliens and swimming pools: How The Sims 4 got back on track

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After the success of The Sims 3, The Sims 4 seemed like a sure-fire hit.

Released in 2009, The Sims 3 sold 1.4 million units in its first week and went on to tot up more than 10 million sales. A sequel – and further success – was inevitable.

But by the time of The Sims 4's release last September, something had changed.

The game topped the charts, but its sales didn't match up to the runaway triumph of its predecessor. Players posting on community sites accused the game of missing content and offering less, rather than more, than its six-year-old parent.

More than six months on and the game has made a recovery, thanks to a series of free updates which have added a host of fan-requested features.

Azure Bowie-Hankins, producer for the game, says that taking player criticism into account has been key.

To be completely honest, we definitely heard that feedback, and that brought about this philosophy of creating really strong communication between the players and the studio,” she explains.

There were all of these free updates that we added to the game; we added ghosts, pools, more careers and a family tree, genealogy. All of that was based on player feedback. They told us and we heard them very loud and clear.

It's been really exciting because the players have responded really well – they really do feel like we've been listening to them. We want to be a live service, where we listen to them and can action on the things that they want.”

"Players have told us what they want and we have heard them very loud and clear."

Azure Bowie-Hankins, The Sims Studio

With the fans back on board, EA is now bringing an inaugural expansion pack to The Sims 4 – Get To Work.

Likely to be the first of many (The Sims 3 received 11 during its tenure), Get To Work allows players to take up one of three careers – doctor, detective or scientist – and actively participate in the day's work.

This is a big change from past entries in the franchise, when employed Sims would just disappear for chunks of the day, free of player control.

Introducing an entirely new neighbourhood to the game, it also allows players to set up their own retail outlets and run the businesses directly – be that a bakery (baking is also new in the add-on), costume shop, art gallery or otherwise.

There's also the addition of aliens, who will bring quirky happenings such as a freeze ray, male pregnancy and an alien world into the mix.

Asked how the studio decided what to give away for free, and what to charge players for as part of an expansion, Bowie-Hankins responds: It's not necessarily a clear one-to-one ratio.

Some of the things that we've given away for free – like pools – are actually big features that have a lot going into them, while other free things – like outfits – are smaller.

An expansion pack is a theme that expands the base game in a way that's very different. It's stuff that you don't need to have a good Sims experience, but that we want to offer to players.”

Bowie-Hankins concludes that it's all part of a new way of pleasing fans.

We picked the number one theme players said that they wanted,” she says. It's a new way of deciding what to do, and we're really enjoying it.”

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