The Sims: Maxis’ Mistake was Reversed at the Last Minute!

Unbelievable but true: the studio first decided that the project code-named Dollhouse was not worth finishing, but then the rest is history…


Spore designer Chaim Gingold’s book Building SimCity: How to Put the World in a Machine was released last week by MIT Press. In it, he not only talks about the design process of SimCity, the alpha and omega of city-building games, but also outlines the timeline of the simulator and the studio behind SimCity. In the late 1990s, Maxis almost made a huge mistake, canceling a project that would become The Sims…

Shortly after the release of SimAnt, Will Wright, the famous Maxis designer, lost his house in a fire in 1991. He and his family had to rebuild, and it inspired Wright. The material and psychological motivations of daily life gave him the idea that human struggle should be simulated, and done as elegantly as the ants in SimAnt. This was a project codenamed Dollhouse, which did not sit well with Maxis’ management. They were about to go public, and poorly selling games and rising costs were risky for the studio, and Wright was slowly being pushed out of the team as SimEarth and SimAnt were not selling very well.

Jeff Braun, the CEO of Maxis at the time, said that a dollhouse was for little girls. In the 90s, the gaming industry was still very male-dominated, and this statement proves it. The studio’s marketing focus groups pitched the concept to teenage boys and they hated it. Dollhouse survived, however, because Wright renamed it a tactical home simulator and code-named it Project X, thus avoiding the perils of focus testing. Simcity 2000 was a success in 1993, and Maxis went public in 1995, but almost immediately the studio’s finances went south, and Project X was canceled by Maxis in 1996.

Only to be taken over by the head of a newly formed Maxis team (Core Technology Group), Jim Mackraz. As Maxis was heading for collapse, Mackraz quietly redirected development costs and developers to Project X (then renamed Jefferson…). The game was then picked up by Electronic Arts, who bought the studio in 1997. The new owners were much more enthusiastic about Jefferson, thanks in part to the women who worked at the studio.

Maxis was famous for giving women management and design positions in the 1990s. One of them was Robin Harper, who became Maxis vice president in 1991 and gave the studio a more modern brand. Two artists, Jenny Martin and Suzie Green, were responsible for the traditional Sims look, giving Wright the direction to focus on people and their personalities. The success of The Sims was ultimately driven by two other designers, Claire Curtin and Roxy Wolosenko, who were co-designers with Wright. Even Wright’s daughter, Cassidy, helped shape the game by testing early prototypes. For example, Cassidy, Martin, and Green convinced Wright to move away from the early emphasis on architectural efficiency.

According to Gingold, The Sims franchise, released in 2000, has already generated more than $5 billion for Electronic Arts. Not bad…

Source: PCGamer

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Anikó, our news editor and communication manager, is more interested in the business side of the gaming industry. She worked at banks, and she has a vast knowledge of business life. Still, she likes puzzle and story-oriented games, like Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, which is her favourite title. She also played The Sims 3, but after accidentally killing a whole sim family, swore not to play it again. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our IMPRESSUM)

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