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The Sims 3: Rod Humble - Part Two

The EA Play boss on the expansions business, customisation, simulating taste, and his favourite moment from the game

We're concluding our five-part series of features on The Sims franchise with the second part of the interview with Rod Humble. Over the course of this week, which has seen The Sims 3 launch worldwide, we've covered the background to the franchise, examined the impact of ideas such as Simlish, and looked in-depth at how one of the biggest ever game franchises has been marketed up to release - and beyond.

Here, the EA Play boss talks about his first involvement with the game, looks at how the expansions changed the industry, explains why he's deeply disturbed by the 'Sim Taste' tool, and gives us one of his favourite moments from five years of development. What was your first involvement on The Sims franchise?
Rod Humble

I joined in 2004, and The Sims 2 had just launched, so I was thrown into the deep end. We got used to the expansion packs, and I remember that we did Nightlife, which was a lot of fun. University came straight out of the game, then we went into Nightlife, where we added cars.

And the first one I really enjoyed, because we had some time, and did a good job, was Open for Business. With that one I just wanted to take The Sims in a whole new direction, so we literally made a gamble that you could make any kind of business - it was like a business editor.

Of course, the first thing the beta testers did was make a house of ill repute... human beings are pretty predictable... but you could do anything. I made a house that turned into a rave, and I charged people to come into the rave. But you could run a restaurant, all of these different kinds of houses and businesses. I was really happy, because I thought we'd fundamentally added with to the gameplay.

Then we got into a pattern, with the summer expansion pack was basically a theme that the players wanted, and then the spring expansion pack was always going to be something brand new, that put the franchise out there. We did that with Open for Business, Seasons, etc.

So that was my first involvement, and it sort of set the tone of how we were going to do the business, which was serving the core and then making sure that we had at least half of our product portfolio really innovating as much as we could, and pushing the boundaries. The Sims pretty much invented the expansion business, and EA came under a fair bit of stick for the whole monetisation of a franchise idea... which was a bit unfair wasn't it? Looking at any franchise now and expansions, DLC, sequels - it's all an assumed part of the business.
Rod Humble

I've heard it over the years - when we opened the Store, which enables you to buy selected items of furniture, and now with Sims 3 I hear it a bit as well.

My perspective is that first of all, this is additive stuff - so if we weren't making the expansion packs or the extra content and charging for it, we wouldn't be building it. It's not like anybody is losing anything if they're thinking they could have gotten it for free - I assure you, I've seen the profit-and-loss, we just couldn't afford to do it from a business perspective.

The second thing is, from a player perspective, I've always been in the opposite camp and I just don't get it. I just wanted more stuff for my game that I loved. I like my extra Burnout cars, I like the extra content I get in the games - I like the extra content in Fallout, I like the game so much I want more stuff.

So to me, I like it, and I think that for a lot of our core players they'd say they love it. I just think that for the players that don't have it, they feel like they're falling behind if they don't have all the expansion packs, and to help serve them is over time we put out a value price compilation - say the first two expansions bundled for a lower price. There's a significant proportion of players who wait for that, they know it's coming and they can afford to wait a year or two, get the whole lot in one go.

The majority of Sims 1 sales, for example, happened after The Sims 2 had launched. It just kept going, and going, and going. With the Sims 2 sales we still see the same thing - they're still tracking incredibly strong, and this is happening the week before the launch of The Sims 3. There's just so much value in those games - if you bought The Sims 2 compilation now it would keep you busy for a very, very long time, and I think that value is recognised.

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