Extra Time Media

Dear Sims 4, I love you, but we need to talk about how you talk

Look, I do not want to come across as one of those people who  just sit around whining about The Sims 4? and then goes on to play the game for hours on end.

The game has a lot of bugs ? we all know that. But the game also has a lot of good stuff going and while my wishlist is extensive and my wish-to-fix list is exhaustive, it is not my biggest bugbear.

Some of this might not even have anything to do with The Sims 4 directly at all. But, in the greater scheme of things, it is the fourth incarnation of this game that is played by over 33 million players, so it is the thing that gets spoken about most often and the thing that everyone has some level of expectation of.

I?ll prefix all of this by saying I do not know all the processes involved in passing and approving communications in a multi-national company like Electronic Arts. None of this is intended to be directed at any individuals and if you are going to engage on anything mentioned here ? in public or in private ? keep it civil and courteous.

Considering my perspective on all of this is seen through the scope of working as a sports journalist for many years, perhaps my expectations are skewed and I need to change my perception.

However, the core theme of this is one that has been mentioned on several Sims 4 related forums and many social network threads. We need to talk about talking. Or, far too often, not talking at all.

It is understandable that the past 12 months have been utterly unprecedented and communication systems and structures have had to pivot. The demands and challenges that come with adapting to those changes can, of course, create some unforeseen stumbling blocks leading to the bottleneck of communication constipation.

But many of these fallibilities have been seen before ? and the responses were similar.  So, let’s start there: responding to leaks.

When Sims 4 Turbodriver uncovered the first signs of these new Kits in the game code following the recent patch, it was encouraging to see The Sims Twitter (remember the Twitter part) account acknowledge the fact that something was afoot.

It was a much better response than previous instances where there was just no response at all. Let’s take a journey back in time to 2019 ? ahead of the release of The Sims 4: Island Living.

Before the pack’s release, there was much speculation about what the theme would be, with some online retailers listing it as some or other variant on the tropical or island theme.

But just a day before EA Play (when regular travel was still a thing) the new pack was basically confirmed. But not because of a savvy comms strategy ? because of a dedicated and crafty writer.

We will forever love Jovan Jovic from The Sims Community website for this, not just because they spent their birthday writing about it, but because they had always been on the hunt for clues and never held back on the sass.

That was not the first or last time The Sims 4 had to deal with a leak, though.

EA Poland leaked info about the Cats & Dogs expansion (well, modders found something hidden in the game code almost a year before the pack’s eventual release), EA Brazil slipped up on Spooky Stuff and there was the whole Star Wars icon-in-a-screenshot faux pax (not the first icon leak in a screenshot either) – to name just a few.

But whenever there has been a leak about anything relating to The Sims 4  ? genuine mistake, through Origin or other platforms or just a bit of old fashioned sleuth work by the gamers themselves ? the response has almost always been the same: chirp, chirp, chirp ? crickets.

This is partly understandable ? especially when these happen just before an announcement or launch of new content. Controlling messaging matters ? having covered a few boardroom debacles in the sporting world, I know that very well.

But it doesn?t matter how tightly you close Pandora’s Box, if you don’t want to talk about Pandora’s Box, somebody will find a way to pry it open.

There will never be a way to fully leak-proof a dynamic game that adds new content on a monthly basis. But there is a better way to control the flow.

Never has this been more prevalent than the way the announcement of the new Sims 4 Kits has been handled.

The Sims 4 Kits and its communication caboodle

Let’s take a step back to another leak last year before we get to Sims 4 Kits. An unnamed Stuff Pack (which turned out to be Paranormal Stuff) appeared on Origin in September 2020. The Sims and EA actually acknowledged it with a simple but effective Tweet (yep, that old chestnut again).

So, when the code of the new Sims 4 Kits got dug up, I felt a bit bad that the ‘surprise? would not be a surprise. But that dissipated quickly.  

Once again, using Twitter as the preferred means of communication, The Sims said that ?more details? about the Kits will come on 2 March. No details on what these details would be, what time they would arrive and certainly no details about the (well-hosted and informative) live stream that followed.

Maybe we?re just not allowed to sit with the cool kids, but judging by the initial response from some of the EA Game Changers on YouTube, the release of these Kits came as a surprise.

Now, I know our little site is but a small fry compared to some of the media giants, but we have had nothing but pleasant exchanges with EA’s South African PR and have received codes for pack reviews ? so no sour grapes here.

But here’s the thing: not all of us live in America, even if a large portion of the player base lives there. There are many of us who are not in an American time zone ? so knowing a time for any announcement helps when it comes to planning a work schedule and dedicating time to write about the game we love ? even when that means staying up past midnight.

It also helps to know what to expect ? under embargo ? to avoid refreshing your Origin screen to death and figuring out the information five minutes before the ?official? announcement anyway. Is there a risk of somebody breaking the embargo? Obviously. But you could ask the same thing about leaks.

Sim Gurus being active on Twitter (we know, we know, we’ll get to this soon) and answering questions (some quite useful answers about the Sims 4 Kits, actually) on that platform is helpful ? but it remains limited as a communications solution.

In part, because not everyone has a Twitter account but because nuance can get lost, people can feel ignored and you can send the wrong reply to a Tweet.

That last one is particularly pertinent because that is exactly what happened during an exchange where, surprise, The Sims were being called out on their dubious communications.

Being a social media manager is brutal and sending the wrong response really is an easy mistake to make, but the events in the lead up to that moment is probably what makes it difficult for players to accept.

If you?re not familiar with the kerfuffle or ?controversy? over on Sims Twitter relating to the new Sims 4 Kits, here’s a quick TL:DR.

A Twitter user, one of the #SimsTwitterRevolution members, in fact, responded to a Tweet (are you seeing a pattern yet….) sent by The Sims, which linked to a forum post on the “top questions” about Sims 4 Kits.

The response, sent in error by the official Sims account, was a Gif with “it happens” written on it. To their credit – both the original poster and The Sims – the apology was accepted and there was even a bit of bonhomie banter later on.

Hey, Sims 4? we just want to talk

Since I am a practical person, I am not going to write an entire essay without offering some very basic suggestions for how to improve things.

I repeat, my perspective is largely influenced by years working as a sports journalist and how the communications channel work between athletes, boardrooms, the media and the public. I also repeat that I have no idea of what it takes to manage or approve communication for a multi-national company.

But, let’s start with one of the most obvious sticking points: Twitter. I might be old and cantankerous and while I appreciate the reach and value offered by Twitter ? its limitations are? well? obvious.

Finding out about a live stream of brand new DLC through Twitter is not ideal. Answering questions only through Twitter, useful as it might be for ease of response, is restrictive and exclusive.

Yes, some questions are answered via live streams, but they happen so fast that it’s nearly impossible to get through them all.

In the sporting world, players ? carefully prepared and media-trained ? are usually made available for a press conference with a floor open to questions. At large, international events, journalists scrum in the mixed zone where athletes can choose to engage or ignore any questions.

While I am not suggesting a press conference after the release of each and every single piece of content for the game (although, that would be kinda cool), a more streamlined approach for how questions are asked ? both by players and content creators ? would help tremendously.

The interviews with content creators ? and the whole live stream –  @GrimSuruDoi hosted for the 21st-anniversary update was excellent. An hour-long stream once a month might not be practical, but if communication happens more frequently and with more transparency and accessibility, hourly streams won?t be necessary.

The key to press conferences (barring the most series/big win/controversial ones) is keeping them short and sharp ? with a moderator controlling the flow, setting the pace and running a tight ship.

Ten to 15 minutes a week ? a quick live stream or even a pre-recorded session, moderated between the Gurus, by EA Game Changers or content creators or somebody independent could mitigate some of the tension that builds up over time.

That does not mean Twitter communications should cease, but it helps know where to go to get useful information.

The recent announcement of the monthly ?Landry List? ? where some of the key concerns that The Sims 4 team is working on will be made public ? is a welcome change and if it can be done consistently, it will certainly help foster some understanding about what goes into developing The Sims 4.

The way communication for the Sims 4 Nifty Knitting Stuff Pack was handled – with regular updates and transparent blog posts – is another example of how little things can make all the difference.

Finally, we need to talk about those leaks. For as long as we love to speculate, leaks will always be a thing. The days of getting a flyer in your Sims Expansion Pack box to tell you what’s coming next are long gone.

Roadmaps that show what players can expect in the coming months ? like the one released last year ? can help keep some expectations in check.

Any sort of primer or embargo ahead of ‘surprise? releases when something that is obviously new is uncovered by modders, players or anyone not working for EA would be appreciated. Not just for the courtesy of the time zone difference, but in cases like somewhat controversial releases like the Sims 4 Kits, it would allow for time to assess content on its merits.

That is not to be confused for early access for pack releases when we already know what they are. We?re talking about the leaks that happen before we know what the content might be.  

Write-ups in the moment will rarely do any content justice. And while the internet age is hardly conducive to constructive dialogues, there is some merit in allowing for time to digest the information before creating content on it is incredibly valuable.

Who makes the list of being ?embargo worthy? ? well, in the sporting world there is an accreditation process where all applications are assessed on their merits and that access can be revoked for a number of reasons.

Many of these suggestions might be completely impractical or irrelevant. None of it will solve all of the toxicity that thrives on the internet. But at least some of them will ease tension that builds up before it explodes.

Last year, in the lead up to the skin tones overhaul update, there were glimpses of what concise communication can achieve. It didn’t last long, but it showed that it’s not a hard thing to do. More, please.

Post edit note: Speaking of courtesy ahead of announcements, nearly forgot that the December skin tones overhaul ended up being a “surprise” release a whole day early – lovely as that surprise was, the point remains – a bit of courtesy, please?