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Video game 'Sim'-mers at top of game charts


December 18, 2000
Web posted at: 4:45 PM EST (2145 GMT)

In this story:

The popularity of playing God

The mind behind 'The Sims'

The broad appeal

(CNN) -- They're not the family next door, but they're the best neighbors you could have, because they do exactly what you tell them to. And they're the top-selling computer game for 2000, according to PC Data.

Released last February, "The Sims" is the latest installment in a series of personal computer games created by designer Will Wright. "'The Sims' is like an extremely elaborate Tamagachi, in some sense. But it's also like a computerized dollhouse," Wright said.

The name "Sim" is short for "simulation," and the games defy simple description. "The Sims" and its new add-on, "Livin' Large," let you play God as you manage the lives of people in a virtual neighorhood. After selecting or creating your own family, you furnish the house, socialize with the neighbors, and get the kids to school on time.

"He literally created a whole new genre of games with the creation of the original 'SimCity' and now the current hit game, 'The Sims,' for the PC," said John Marrin, senior editor at GamePro Magazine.

The popularity of playing God

With the stress so many people deal with in orchestrating their own lives, you'd think the last thing they'd want to do is worry about a whole set of other lives. But since the debut of Wright's original game, "SimCity," in 1989, the games have proven wildly popular.

"In 'SimCity,' you kind of play a combination between mayor, city planning commission and God," Marrin said. "They've sold millions and millions of copies worldwide that have been translated into a number of different languages."

Success wasn't so assured when Wright pitched the concept for "SimCity," which challenges users to create a whole community. There were no takers.

"City planning just doesn't sound that interesting, but when you're actually the one making all the decisions and deciding where to put the freeways, all of a sudden it gets extremely interesting," Wright said.

To get the game published, Wright and a friend started their own company, Maxis, and released it themselves. Unlike many video games, whose sales peak in the first six months, "SimCity" continues to sell year after year. Maxis, now owned by gaming giant Electronic Arts, has racked up over $340 million in sales due to the Sim product line's success.

The mind behind 'The Sims'

Wright grew up in Atlanta, where his childhood hobbies were similar to his future work. He started out being "obsessed" with building models, which led to an interest in robotics and finally computers.

Though he never finished college, at age 22 Wright began designing computer games and quickly broke away from the pack. He describes his first game, called "Raid on Bungeling Bay," as a traditional game with users flying over islands and bombing them.

"I found very quickly that I was having more fun creating these islands in this little program than I was bombing them in the game. And that was what evolved into 'SimCity,'" Wright said.

The broad appeal

Wright thought the game would be of limited interest to anyone besides strategy gamers and architects, but its appeal proved much broader.

"When 'SimCity' came out, most games were really action-oriented," Marrin said. "They were modeled on the arcade counterparts, which were mostly shooting games with space ships and things like that. But 'SimCity' was definitely in a class by itself."

And that broad appeal continues with "The Sims." Women account for 25 percent of its sales.

"It's about life; it's not about conquest," said Gina Debogovich, a "Sims" player. "It's not about slaughtering people."

And while Wright enjoys playing violent computer games, he wishes more could be done with them, including showing the consequences of actions and reactions to death. Which is not to say Wright is above a little metal-twisting violence. He competes in a quirky technosport called Battlebots, a robot demolition derby by remote control. Despite all of the monetary success of Wright's games, he finds the real payoff is something far different.

"It's rewarding to be able to change people's perceptions of reality," Wright said. "They just see their environment in a different way. They have a kind of different-colored glasses that they can see their world in. To me, that's really cool -- when games can change you."

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