I was invited to the sims panel at Gamescom 2016 by SimGuruDrake! It took place on Thursday 18th in Cologne and I want to summarize everything I’ve learned for you guys and share my experience. First up, I’d like to thank her and EA for the lovely goodie bag I received (I’ll include a picture below) and for the nice dinner. It was a really fun day! But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning. (If you don’t care about my experience and just want to read about the panel, scroll down to the heading that says “The Panel”)
Trade visitor entrance at Gamescom
Chaotic organization – but in the end, it all worked out
About two weeks ago I was asked by SimGuruDrake on Twitter whether I wanted to attend the closed sims panel at Gamescom. EA didn’t have a sims booth in the public area this year but the team felt the need to do something, so they invited a bunch of fans and creators from all over the world to attend this panel and Q&A.
I was super excited that I had been selected! Given the fact that neither my Twitter nor my Youtube channel are particularly big. SimGuruDrake asked for my full name and E-Mail address which I gave to her. Now here it starts. I have a middle name which is also printed on my ID so I wasn’t sure if I had to give her that, too. I did and explicitly put my middle name as part of my first name. Two days later I received an invitation E-Mail by EA. I was asked to register to confirm my attendance – only that my middle name was put as my last name and I could not change it. I told SimGuruDrake about the matter and she said she’d have them work on it – which never happened. In all follow-up E-Mails I was addressed as Mrs. <Middle Name>. In the invitation for my ticket I received later even my first name was slightly changed.
Now, I don’t particularly care what they think my name is but I wasn’t sure whether I would get inside Gamescom with a false name printed on my ticket. Since I didn’t hear back from anyone at EA I had no choice. Glad for me, no one cared for my ID and I got in fine – so it all worked out in the end. Good to know if I ever go to Gamescom as a trade visitor again. (But let me tell you, being a trade visitor is not as exciting as I thought it would be. You got in faster but all the booths in the business area required an appointment. I wish I had one for 2k games, they had a real pub in their booth.)
Do you see the pub?
At least I didn’t have to endure the insanity that is visiting gamescom as a normal visitor (not trade visitor). I did it before and the trade visitors entrance was so much smoother and less crowded.
Public entertainment area
I arrived at the venue at 11 am. The panel was scheduled for 1pm but I wanted to check out the place so I would know where to go later. This was because in none of the E-Mails about tickets, schedules or other things the location of the panel was ever mentioned. Literally no one knew, where it was taking place. I went to the EA business area and asked one of the ladies at the desk about it. First off, she had no idea what the sims panel was. Then she led me through the business lounge for 10 minutes trying to find someone who knew what was going on. Gladly, we found SimGuruDrake there and I thought, yay, confusion is gonna clear up soon. Drake said she knew about the problem and told me to follow her. I explained that I only wanted her to tell me where exactly the sims panel was going to be. Instead, she disappeared into a closed booth and said she’d be right back. So I waited… and waited. She didn’t come back for 15 minutes and I decided to ask the girls sitting at the booth desk what was going on.
They confirmed to me that the sims panel was taking place in that booth – finally! I took off then and spread the information through Twitter. After that ordeal, I needed some of the free drinks in the business lounge to cool down.
EA business lounge
Meeting other Simmers – the best part of the day
This was probably the most fun part of my whole day. Meeting like-minded and fun people whom I normally only know off the internet. I met some really great – and famous – simmers, like SourpatchSimmer, EnglishSimmer, LittleMissSimmer, Deligracy, H_Lebanna, Sims_Online, HatsyYT and JamesTurnerYT. Oh, and not to forget Cinderellimouse who was there as a cardboard popup and got to take pictures with all the people. (PS: these names I mentioned are all Twitter handles)
Guess who I am
Talking to these guys inspired me to get back into youtube more and to continue to engage in the community on Twitter. None of my friends play the sims and I doubt they would get what I do – so it was refreshing to discuss it with people who understood and liked the same things. Simmers really are the best people!
After the panel, we went to an Italian restaurant in cologne and had a great dinner with many funny conversations (“Sock monster stuff confirmed.” (this was a joke, there’s no sock monster stuff coming)). The Gurus engaged into conversation with all of us and we had an amazing time. Rachel Franklin even offered to send me a Sims 4 launch T-Shirt when I mentioned I didn’t get one at Gamescom 2014. Food was great, too! All in all, this was an amazing experience and again I’d like to thank EA for making this possible – and SimGuruDrake for the invitation. Despite the chaotic organization, I had a great time in the end!
For those of you, who’ve always wondered – SimGuruDrake is in the bottom right, with the purple hair
The Panel – About disclosure and development
Now, this is probably the section you are reading this blogpost for: The Sims Panel. After we got settled in the small cinema room – I would say there were about 25 of us – one of the EA community managers started his presentation (yes, I admit, I forgot his name. But apparently, he was important). EDIT: I just learned, his name is Chris Mancil.
His talk started out promising – he talked about how EA wanted to work closer with content creators and fans, like us. The community vision is about letting fans and influencers have more say by providing more ways to give feedback, like surveys, creator camps and more. He said that EA wants to encourage Content Creation and collaboration with fans and influencers.
“Honesty is the best policy.”
At this point, he bridged over to another topic: Disclosure. In my eyes, this part of his talk can be summarized in one sentence: Whenever you receive something from EA you have to disclose it to your fans/viewers/readers at the beginning of your content. I can’t believe he stretched that out to a talk of 15 minutes. (You’ll probably recognize the first few sentences of this blog post now).
There was one more notable thing. He talked about EA’s program called Ronku, which handles sponsoring – and also works with celebrities to endorse products. He said that this wasn’t for The Sims yet, but he said it might be a thing in the future. Just so you know.
“We love constructive feedback.”
Next up was SimGuruDrake herself. Her talk was focused on the community side of The Sims. Heads up, this wasn’t about how or when the sims team shares information about new packs (that comes later) but about features on official sims channels and community events.
I didn’t note down a lot from this presentation – a lot of the usual “We embrace your creativity” stuff. A funny tidbit she shared: The Sims team has an E-Mail called “Sims 4 spam” which they use to share awesome builds and posts from the community.
The more interesting part was the question session afterward. I summarized a few interesting questions and SimGuruDrake’s answers for you guys:
- Many features on official sims channels are about YouTubers – what about sims story blogs? That’s definitely on Drake’s plan for the future. She has a long list of blogs she would like to feature. Some they can’t feature for various reasons, e.g. when the blog shares content not suitable for younger readers or when it’s more of a personal life story blog. But it’s on her radar!
- Would it be possible to let us chat with SimGurus on our own lifestreams? Yes, that’s actually in planning. You can always reach out to the team to request interviews or chats even with smaller Gurus. They would love to give developers more exposure even those who aren’t normally in the front row.
- What about promoting custom content on official sims channels? (After this question, Drake had to think for a little while and didn’t quite know what to say). She then explained that CC is a bit of a legal gray area and that they can’t feature it on official channels because it would give people the wrong ideas. For example, they might think that it’s EA’s fault if CC breaks their game or that they will fix it if it doesn’t work. However, she said that she loves looking at CC and finds it very creative. When I pointed out to her that I have seen sims being featured on the German sims facebook page that obviously included lots of custom content, she and important guy shared this weird “What’s she talking about”-look. I have a feeling someone is getting in trouble for this.
- Could you make some sort of office tour video at Maxis? Drake said this would be a really neat idea. She wasn’t sure if they would make a youtube video out of it though. She pointed out that many SimGurus already shared office pictures on Snapchat and Instagram and that they might expand that.
How We Make the Game – Insights by Rachel Franklin and Lyndsay Pearson feat. Gnomes
Next up was the really interesting part of the panel: Insights into the process of the game’s development and their communication strategy. Now, this was where I learned the most, especially about how difficult it is to decide what packs to make and what information to share. The community often criticizes the way information about new packs is released and I admit – I was one of them. But the panel has given me a lot of insights that enable me to have a more objective opinion of things. I thank Rachel and Lyndsay for doing this and I think if the whole community had been there, there would be a lot less hate towards the team in the future. The presentation was fun – especially because of the crazy gnome pictures included everywhere. I didn’t snap a picture but there was a very interesting variation of “The Creation of Adam” featuring Bob Pancakes and lots (lots!) of Gnomes (I’m gonna leave that to your mind to visualise). Now that I think of it, maybe it wouldn’t have been wise to include a picture of that in this post anyway. But we all had a good laugh about it.
The presentation started off with the vision the team has for the game. Now this was nothing concrete like pack names (did you really expect that?) but interesting nonetheless. So the team’s vision is based on four pillars:
- Life inspires us – keeping things relatable (not necessarily realistic) by creating features which are inspired by real life, though often simified (I mean honestly, how else could you justify cowplants).
- Creativity Tools – Enabling simmers to make the game their own and using their creativity to make amazing things. As far as I understood, this includes not making content and tools too specific to not limit people’s creativity.
- Entertainment and Fun – While inspired by real life, Sims is supposed to be entertaining and have fun features which sometimes are refreshingly offbeat.
- Friendly and Inclusive – The community is a big part of The Sims’s success and the team wants to make sure everyone feels like they can be part of The Sims and make it their own (think of the gender customization update).
“Game packs are deep, while expansion packs are broad.”
Rachel and Lyndsay shared an explanation on how they view stuff packs, game packs and expansion packs.
- Stuff packs – Very specific sets and gameplay objects, are created with a specific situation in mind
- Game packs – Think of it as a storyline, it’s still specific but there’s more than objects and it’s all about telling a story in your own playstyle. Game packs can get pretty deep too.
- Expansion packs – These are more like multiple storylines, spread broadly but not necessarily deep. Again all playstyles should be covered.
I found that a very interesting insight. Before this panel, I used to think “Expansion packs should just have even more stuff.” if you realize that expansion packs are not necessarily more detailed than game packs, they just include more possibilites, you think about it differently.
What happens next?
This is a question simmers aks themselves every day: Which pack gets out next? Rachel and Lyndsay explained a bit on that process – and why they just don’t announce everything they have at once.
First off, the showed a few factors that are used to determine which pack should be developed:
- Sims History – What was there in previous games
- Games & Player needs – Player feedback and developer feedback
- In-game technology – What mechanics can we build on?
- New ideas – Take risks, make something innovative
- Seasonality – Does this feel like a summer or winter pack?
They also showed that they are often working at 5 or 6 packs at the time while 2 or 3 more are in planning. And while most of their developers work on expansion packs, the small stuff pack team seems to be the most productive. There’s also a team called “Updates & Fixes” which is new for the Sims 4 and deals only with free content updates and patches.
Why not announce everything?
Of course we as simmers want all the information at once – when will we finally get toddlers, seasons and pets, huh? But after this panel, I’ve realised it’s not that easy. Especially with the team wanting to keep things interesting with new ideas rather than just warm up the usual expansions. But in terms of announcing here are a few key points that show why they don’t announce a pack as soon as it goes into planning.
- Things might not work out. If the team realises they have to change important things in the pack due to technical reasons or add other stuff to replace it, many fans might be disappointed. Retracting statements is never good. So they decide to show a pack when it’s clear that no considerable changes have to be made and that things work out the way they are supposed to.
- Be able to show stuff. If a pack would be announced just when the sims team starts planning it, there would be nothing to show – no animations, no items, no art. As long as that is the case, it’s just words. So the team decides to announce packs when they have something real to show us. At this point, they also said they don’t want to make fans wait too long between the announcement and the release.
- Keeping track. If the team would communicate every step of development to the fans, fans’ heads would be spinning. Since there are so many projects at once it might be hard to keep track. So the policy is quality over quantity.
- The perfect timing. This means that e.g. a tropical island pack would rather be announced and released in the summer rather than winter (though Rachel said it almost never happens that finished packs are held off because of this). It’s also about the feature space on origin – EA has other games too and they have to make sure to find a good time to talk about the sims. So announcing a new expansion when they just launched a new battlefield game might not be a good idea.
So, I guess your heads might be spinning already from all of this information. There’s one last interesting thing I’d like to share which was a graphic about balance. Making new packs for the sims is about balancing a lot of aspects and it’s difficult to hit the sweet spot:
- Believable and fantastical
- Sandbox and structured
- Stable and fast to launch
- Humorous and respectful
- Bountiful and affordable
- Innovative and expected
And this made me understand a lot of the struggles the sims team goes through while developing our favorite game. But they all put their heart into it and try to do their very best!
After the panel, we all received a bag of goodies and I swear this Sims 4 hoodie made my day! So comfy!
No, that’s not my name.
That was it about the panel and my experience at Gamescom 2016. I hope those of you who sadly couldn’t be there are filled in now and that you enjoyed these insights!