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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May 2008, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Inside the world of the Sims
By Jim Reed
Newsbeat technology reporter

Screen grab from Sims 3

The Sims is one of those ideas that sounds painful on paper.

Players control a computer character living in their own virtual environment. A typical day is spent eating, paying the bills and decorating.

But Electronic Arts continues to sell bucket loads of its virtual dollhouse, created back in 2000.

It has now shifted more than 100 million copies of the game on platforms from the Gamecube to the Xbox.

The Sims 2, released in 2004, introduced a full 3D environment and more life-like aging of its computer characters. The 350 developers behind the Sims are now working on a third update to the series, currently due for release in 2009.

Newsbeat caught up with Nancy Smith, Global President of The Sims at EA Games.

What is it about living a second, fictional life that appeals to people?

To some degree The Sims is more of a toy than a game. People want to create characters, tell stories and explore relationships in a way that is maybe different from their real lives.

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith says more women are coming to interactive entertainment
All the characters display their own artificial intelligence and the user is just taking the role of the playwright. It is that 'surprise aspect' of what happens in the world of the Sims that entertains people.

Our community features were also really ahead of their time.

100,000 Sims movies have been uploaded to You Tube ranging from music videos to intricate plays and stories. 70 million pieces of user generated content have been downloaded from our website.

Our communities are at peak traffic and the games continue to sell well. It's hard to imagine people would ever get bored with that.

Sims is the obvious example when we talk about the rise of casual gaming. Are you comfortable with that label?

I don't think of it as casual. We were one of the first games that started to attract a broad audience. We were one of the first games that bought in women.

For the first time it will feel like you are living in a neighbourhood, a town and a world
Nancy Smith
EA global president
They were attracted by the storytelling aspect of the Sims and interested in things like fashion and interior design that were not featured in other games.

Today we have a 55% female audience worldwide and a really broad age range from 13 to 50 years old.

Was it a conscious choice to pitch the game at that part of the audience?

Not really. Traditional male gamers bought the game home and the women that surround them - their wives, girlfriends and sisters - started to play it.

More and more women are coming to interactive entertainment. Products that allow you to play and experiment creatively attract the broadest audience.

The community aspects of the game are popular but you recently decided to close down the online version of the game. Why can't you make it work?

The Sims Online was shipped many years ago and we have learnt from that experience.

Our players like coming together to share what they have created. But the actual creative process itself is a single-player experience.

It's a bit like painting. You might paint alone but you still like opportunity to show your friends and exhibit what you have created.

Sims 3 is due for release in 2009. What can we expect from that?

Screen grab from Sims 2
Players control a character living in their own virtual world
For the first time it will feel like you are living in a neighbourhood, a town and a world. So you won't be limited to living on your own "lot", so to speak.

It is a bit of a technology transition for us. But we have a team of 350 people in San Francisco working on it. We are focused on launching it on the PC first and will see where it goes from there.

We are constantly talking to our players and running focus groups around the world. We hear a lot from players on what they want. Our job is to deliver that back to them.

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