A Sad Day for Sims

Upon seeing the news about Maxis yesterday, I realized that I had probably not sat down and really played a game from Maxis this century.

I bought a copy of SimCity 2000 from GoG.com for some tiny price back when EA/Maxis was busy shooting itself in the foot with the latest SimCity.  That was the last game in the series I could recall having played.  And I put SimCity 4 on my Steam wishlist and a reader actually bought it for me. (Thank you again!)  But I never managed to sit down and focus on playing either for any real length of time.  The crude graphics and the awkward interfaces of both chased me away pretty quickly.  Minecraft seems more palatable to me these days than either of those.  And I certainly wasn’t going to give EA any money for their latest version.

And without SimCity, what is there when it comes to Maxis?

Well, I guess there is The Sims, the best selling game series ever and probably the one reason that there is still a Maxis left to shut down in 2015.  EA seem dumb, evil, and heartless… often on the same day… but they do love the sound of money.  It’s just a good thing they haven’t figured out how to make money via malware or we would… oh, wait, I forgot about Origin.  Never mind.

However, I never played The Sims, aside from a brief dalliance with the Facebook version, back when that was how all game companies were going to get rich like Zynga, and we saw how that turned out.

And your father smelt of elderberries...

My usual interaction options with Tobold… we flirt shamelessly

And if I understand the history correctly, EA had already brought The Sims into their Redwood Shores lair, placing it directly under their control before letting it return to the Maxis logo, creating a taint that explained to some why The Sims 4 seemed like a step back from The Sims 3 in many ways.  So that wasn’t going to keep Maxis viable any more.  EA could just snatch The Sims back any time they felt like it.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And without The Sims, that left Maxis with… um… SimCity 2013 and… Spore maybe?  Talk about a couple of titles that failed to live up to expectations.  I didn’t even know that Spore had a follow-on game, which was even more poorly received.

So I suppose the real question is why it took EA so long to finally shut Maxis down and close their no doubt pricey digs across the bay in Emeryville. (I had a job interview right around the corner from Maxis back in 2010, with another company that is no longer around.)

Still, I feel some lingering nostalgia for Maxis.  I remember back when the original SimCity came out, when it was something new and different and people were struggling with the idea of it being a game because there was no obvious win condition.  Some were insisting we call it a computer “toy” or some other ambiguous title.

SimCity back in the day

SimCity back in the day

Back then I played many, many hours of SimCity.  Likewise with SimCity 2000 (which like a lot of games of its era, was much better on Mac OS).  I would let my city run while I was in the other room or at work (with disasters turned off naturally) to build up a tax base and then spend the evening expanding my domain and fighting off fires and alien invasions, all while trying to keep my ungrateful population happy enough to not flee the city.  I’ll tax you little bastards back to the stone age!  I remember the music especially, the jolly, bouncing, honky tonk tones of a happy thriving city or, more commonly, that trudging, day-to-day, we’re just getting by melody.  Is the SimCity 2000 sound track available on iTunes?

I am pretty sure I also bought SimCity 3000, but can only recall a mild sense of disappointment.  Plus it came out in 1999 when EverQuest pretty much owned my play time.

A bunch of other “Sim” games came from Maxis over the years, none of which really appealed to me.  Looking at the list of Maxis games, there are a lot of titles there that I let pass on by.  I think Maxis might have been ahead of their time in some ways.  SimFarm, as an example, was never a hit back in the day, but Farming Simulator has sold millions of copies on Steam.  Gaff can’t get enough of that one.  The simulation craze came too late for Maxis.

The only other Maxis titles I can muster much nostalgia for are RoboSport and Marble Drop.

RoboSport was a simultaneous move, multiplayer combat game, something of a precursor to the Combat Mission series of games, where both sides give their units instructions during the orders phase, then both sides act on those order at the same time during the combat phase.  For a season, when we were not playing Full Metal Mac or Bolo or NetTrek, it was the after work game of choice.

Then there was Marble Drop, which was probably the last Maxis game I purchased.  It apparently got poor reviews, but I recall it as being a fun little puzzle game that I played all the way through… though time may have fuzzed the edges of those memories.

A level in Marble Drop

A level in Marble Drop

And that is about it for the history of Maxis as viewed through the prism of my experience.  They mostly made games which I did not play.  Then they were acquired by EA which kept them around a lot longer than some other studios they have purchased.  But now Maxis has joined the list of the departed, along with Mythic, Origin, Kesmai, Westwood, Pandemic, and Bullfrog.

You can argue over whether Electronic Arts buys studios that were destined to die anyway or, if by buying them, EA destroys them on its own.  Either way, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between being bought by EA and being shut down by EA.

But the world of video games is volatile and it isn’t like the only studios that shut down are the ones owned by EA.  So we say farewell to Maxis and wish good luck to those who are now out there looking for a job.

I feel like I have been writing a lot of these nostalgic/memory/milestone/obituary posts lately.  What is up with 2015?

9 thoughts on “A Sad Day for Sims

  1. tsuhelm

    I read Bullfrog I think Dungeon Keeper :)

    The original SimCity was ace and I enjoyed Simcity 2000 a little but it never really caught my gaming attention again…


  2. wowstorylines

    Wow!! That was sure a shocker to hear about. I know that Maxis games were the very first games that I actually played (many moons ago) and my first online game was TSO (The SimsOnline). That is a bummer to hear that they are gone, they did some pretty good stuff over the years – I have all of the expansions from the original Sims through Sims3. I hope that the people can find jobs soon too, some great people worked there over the years.


  3. SynCaine

    Played The Sims (1, 2, and 3) a lot more than I’m willing to admit. Stupid game, yet so brilliant, and before you know it 50 hours have passed.

    SimCity 4 is, IMO, very playable today, and still holds up.

    That list of studios though, damn, so many classic titles produced prior to EA that you can’t help but wonder. That said most studios are, at best, one-hit wonders, so I doubt EA is even the main reason for their decline in most cases.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Yeah, I don’t think EA is buying many companies at their peak of success. They strike me more as being on the Computer Associates model, which made many millions buying companies that had a presence and an installed base and milking them out in a twilight maintenance mode for years and years. In the EA version of that, they get a studio name and IPs that have some traction in the market and try to milk those until the cow runs dry.


  5. Shintar

    I remember playing SimEarth and SimAnt on other people’s computers when I was little, not having a clue how they worked, and still having fun. (“I’m an ant! I’m running around! Whee!”)

    Sim City 2000 was a classic too, though I got it for free on Origin the other day and immediately had to uninstall it again because it looked and felt horrible on a modern PC.

    My time spent in Sims 2 was one of my golden ages of gaming. Such a great game.


  6. Jeromai

    I loved SimAnt, and SimFarm and SimTower. Never quite understood SimEarth but played with it regardless. And of course, a decent amount of SimCity.

    But as you say, I haven’t really touched a Sim game of this century much. Unlike what seemed like the rest of the world, I kept giving The Sims tries to hook me and got bored with the simulated mundanity. Spore was interesting as a tool for creating creatures, and not much of a game beyond it.

    I would still have given it some revisits, but then EA and Origin (which I am still steadfastly boycotting) came along, with horror stories about how you needed to have made an EA account at exactly X time to be able to log back into Spore on Steam, otherwise yer outta luck or what not. And I haven’t been able to convince myself to either reinstall from disk and see if I can access the game, or buy a Steam copy that may not even work at all. Too much trouble to go through, for something’s that’s only so-so and a fun pasttime.

    Well, there’s always the old games. The ones that actually broke new ground and simulated new things, rather than just prettier and more sophisticated incarnations and sequels of one previously successful thing (now, with DLC included!)


  7. PorterGirl

    I really enjoyed this post – I have spent soooo many hours on Sims games over the years. The first expansion pack I got hold of was Hot Date and I remember it revolutionising my experience! Then came the pets and vacation ones – I can’t remember now but I adored them all. I have The Sims 3 somewhere, it might just have to find its way onto my laptop this weekend…


  8. sleepysam

    I remember getting a pretty big kick of having Godzilla run around in some version of SimCity. Is that a correct memory?


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