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How do you go about improving a game that’s become, at well over 100,000,000 copies sold, the best-selling PC game franchise of all time? EA Black Box, I’m guessing, began with another question: Why didn’t the other six and a half billion people in the world buy it? If only 10 percent of the world’s population owns a computer, and 60 million of those people just aren’t very much fun, that still leaves half a billion people who objected to some part of the idea of creating, managing, and lording over a little virtual society of simulated people.
At a recent visit to EA’s Bay Area studios for my first grubby hands-on with The Sims 3, the first thing I noticed was that EA seemed to have done a clean sweep of all the annoying elements of the two previous games, beginning with the torturous loading screens. I took my Sim on a brisk stroll around the continuous, seamless hamlet of Pleasant Valley, alongside other Sims who were driving to work, tending to their families, going to picnics in the park, and visiting their neighbor’s house for a quickie in the afternoon. EA just bagged 170,000,000 new fans.
Even better, the most aggravating micro-management aspects of the game are now kaput. Players are no longer required to hover obsessively around their characters in order to send them to the restroom before they soil the carpet, for instance, and don’t have to worry about finding gravestones instead of Sims if they’re left on their own for a few minutes during lunch. Instead, Sims are now capable of managing most basic essentials of life on their own, and that’s another 280,000,000 new fans there.
Players that don’t want to dedicate an entire week to upgrading their bachelor pad into a spacious family estate can hit the ground running and move into fully-furnished houses, but apprenticing architects will face fewer obstacles, too: when I moved a wall to open up a living room into love nest proportions, the objects on the wall moved with it and the roof adjusted itself, sparing me the embarrassment of a house that comes off looking like a toddler’s papercraft project. You’ll also be able to launch the game and take control of any of the Sims you find next door, down the street, protesting outside City Hall, or grabbing a bite to eat at a sidewalk café. Chalk up another 32,000,000 fans.