In 2002, EA/Maxis released The Sims Online, an MMO born from the smash-hit success of the original Sims game. At the time, The Sims was one of the biggest PC franchises on the planet and users flocked to the game to share in multiplayer adventures, banter and good times. While the initial fervour around the title faded quickly due to the relative newness of the internet, the lack of available features and constant development changes, the concept behind the game remains solid. It’s an idea that should be implemented in the upcoming Sims 5.
For the next Sims game to succeed, it needs something new.
Something that makes fans want to invest in every expansion and game pack. There needs to be a reason to leap from The Sims 4 beyond slightly different graphics and gameplay. This was a major challenge faced by the franchise when The Sims 3 became obsolete. Arguably, this transition wasn’t pulled off well. There’s still plenty of old features missing from the The Sims 4, and fans have been vocal in sharing their disappointment.
Sims 5 can’t make the same mistakes.
It can’t rely on aesthetic changes to draw people away from a game they’ve likely spent hundreds (and hundreds of hours) on already. It needs more elegance, the kind you only find in multiplayer. Early rumours point towards multiplayer being a viable option for The Sims 5, but whispers of the franchise’s future are still quiet. Outside of references to ‘more social gameplay’ we don’t know exactly what plans are for the sequel, or when it’ll arrive.
Given expansion packs are still actively releasing for The Sims 4 it’s likely we won’t hear anything about The Sims 5 until much further down the track. Until then, we should talk about why a loose reboot of The Sims Online would make for an excellent sequel.
Arguments against The Sims going multiplayer again will likely stem from the flashbang popularity that saw The Sims Online go from the hottest new thing to the absolute mess that was the short-lived EA-Land rebrand. But in 2002, online games weren’t mainstream. In fact, most of target audience for The Sims didn’t have access to good ADSL, cable or even reliable internet, not to mention buying a subscription to the game. (I was in this boat as a child.) It was bold experiment, but EA can learn from its failures.
Today, multiplayer games are common. Gaming is more social than ever. Most gamers spend at least part of their day playing online with friends.
The Sims is also as popular as its ever been and one of gaming’s biggest franchises with over 200 million games sold. With a massive active player base — 20 million according to EA — it makes sense to give players more ways to interact and connect.
Having your Sim venture out to hang out with your real-life friends would be incredible. As would entering a hub world with hundreds of other players. The capacity for this is already there. The Sims Online 2 is within our grasp. It doesn’t have to be a flagship feature of The Sims 5, but having the option to play with friends would be a welcome difference for Sims fans.
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the global pandemic, it’s that human connections are incredibly valuable. Having The Sims help you keep in touch with your friends would be a dream. Fresh gameplay shouldn’t be sacrificed in the process, but that social element should be a high priority for EA.
Imagine being able to set up a neighbourhood with all your closest friends nearby. Visiting their houses, judging their furniture. Sure, you can do that in real life already. But it would be so much sweeter in The Sims. It would also make the game feel less solitary.
We don’t know what the future holds for The Sims franchise. We don’t know when The Sims 5 will be on the radar. But what we do know is something needs to change. Games must evolve to say fresh and fun — and multiplayer could be the key to unlocking the future of the Sims franchise.
It’s time for The Sims Online to get the redemption arc it desperately deserves. Players weren’t ready for it in 2002, but it would absolutely thrive in the modern era.