The latest Sims 4 downloadable content, Dream Home Decorator, is a perfect encapsulation of the uncomfortable tug of war between Sims players and Sims developers. The Sims 4's devoted fandom knows what it wants, but the downloadable content from the developers sings when they're giving them something they didn't know they needed.
Dream Home Decorator adds a new Interior Decorator career to the game, allowing the player to redecorate, and in some cases, physically rebuild, the homes of the NPC Sims in the world. So far I've taken the pre-made Jang apartment from a Boho abode to a Mid-Century marvel; I added a Mission-style study to the Pancakes’ house; I even redid the living room of the vampire Vladislaus Straud, though he wasn't into the French Country decor I decked it out in.
In the run up to Dream Home Decorator, the Sims's fandom couldn't stop talking about bunk beds. Players had finally gotten them in a free update, but they had an annoying bug: you couldn't place any objects beneath them, cutting down on their usability as a space saving measure in a game where space is at a premium. With Dream Home Decorator, the bugged bunk beds are now fixed. You can put another bed, chair, desk, or dresser beneath them with no issues. But for the fandom, the fact that they were delivered in an unfinished or buggy state is a sin the series will have to carry until the end of time, on top of a laundry list of asks that circulate any time there's new content for the game.
This tension isn't unknown to The Sims's development team. In a conversation about Snowy Escape, Sims producer Graham Nardone told Waypoint that since the announcement and launch of Eco Lifestyle, the Sims's development team has changed how they introduce new content to the fandom.
"With our players, it's always about setting expectations with them because there's so many different things that they want," Nardone said. "One of the things that's most difficult for our players to wrap their heads around is that when we're making a pack, we want something that is a strong, thematic experience. It's not gonna include all the top requested bits and pieces from the community, because those don't all necessarily tie back to that experience in a smooth way."
Unfortunately, right now the thing that the fandom has hyper focused on is the game's issue with bugs, especially in respect to the new, otherwise brilliant expansion.
In some cases, like the notoriously buggy Dine Out expansion pack, these bugs have simply gone un-fixed. More recently, whenever I've had preview access for an upcoming piece of DLC, I've experienced issues with bugs that are usually patched out by the time they launch, but not always. When I played the preview build of Snowy Escape, the winter sports expansion pack, I had a totally devastating crash after a couple hours of gameplay that almost put me off the pack entirely. While playing a preview build for Eco Lifestyle, the mechanically impressive green living expansion pack, I had frequent crashes. I'm not a YouTuber who spends all day, every day playing The Sims, and I'm older than many of the people who comprise the game's most devoted fanbase and I don't have the time to scour every single new release for flaws. I'm good with what The Sims content I get, and it works most of the time. We also get a lot of it, as evidenced by the summer roadmap that The Sims's development team released shortly before the announcement for Dream Home Decorator.
Unfortunately for Dream Home Decorator, it's release has been positioned in The Sims 4's fandom as indicative of these issues. The pack has bugs; though I haven't experienced very many in time with it, Waypoint's senior social media editor Emily Lipstein had issues with crashes while using the in-game camera, something that's essential for the new Interior Designer career. When completing a renovation, I had an experience where one of my Sims' clients disappeared. I found her clipped through the ground floor of the building, and had to strategically angle my camera in order to be able to speak to her and finish the job I was on. YouTubers like Plumbella have had even more extreme problems, including characters clipping into the roof of her lots, making them impossible to speak to as well.
Dream Home Decorator is also probably the best usage of the existing mechanics of The Sims 4, showcasing the team's eye for detail and willingness to experiment with their existing systems. It shows the potential of what The Sims 4 can become after 6 years of active development. It's probably my favorite pack—it just has the misfortune to be released at this particular moment in time, when the fandom for The Sims has other needs.
Dream Home Decorator's Interior Designer career—the main draw of the pack—is a marvel. Breaking down this new career into its component parts shows how deftly the team uses the resources it already has and turns them into something new.
Interior Designer is an active career, like the ones introduced in the Get to Work expansion, but instead of having a variable checklist of tasks, every gig has the same structure; You get there, ask the clients their likes and dislikes, take before pictures, renovate, take after pictures, and then have a reveal. In fact, getting gigs works more similarly to the Acting career, introduced in Get Famous, which gives you a choice of available jobs to pick from. Once you're at the job, it simply functions like no other part of the game so far. In Dream Home Decorator, each type of job gives you selective autonomy depending on how much change your clients want. If you're just redecorating a room, you don't have any access to construction tools that let you add new walls. Once you've leveled up enough to be able to renovate an entire floor of a home, those options will be available again, though only on one floor of the house. Finally, once you've completed your gig, you host a Reveal Event using the Social Event mechanics that should be familiar to any player that has hosted a party in the game before.
These are all familiar enough that the new career isn't completely overwhelming, which is helpful, because the new career can absolutely be totally overwhelming. Although your clients will describe to you their likes and dislikes—a new mechanic that was added in a free update—there's always more to these characters than what they'll tell you upfront. It behooves you to keep talking to your clients, to learn what kinds of colors and decor styles they like and dislike, so you don't accidentally irritate them by designing in a style they hate. Suddenly the personalities of these Sims feel a lot deeper than they used to, and it's made me relish the interactions where I'm not meeting their expectations. The drama is delicious, just like you'd expect from a classic episode of home decorating show Trading Spaces.
Building on the new mechanics introduced in Snowy Escape and the free update that came with it, The Sims 4 is becoming less of a truly open dollhouse, where everyone follows your commands, and more of an unpredictable web of mechanics pushing and pulling on each other. Having full autonomy is an option, but the game is approaching a place where it feels like it's playing me as much as I am playing it. Just like Lifestyles are determined by what kinds of things your Sim frequently does, Likes and Dislikes can occur spontaneously, based on how you play the game. Whenever my Sim takes a jog, she ends up in a Tense mood because she's sweaty. I recently got a pop-up asking if this means that my Sim dislikes working out. Even though I'd made her jog pretty often, the game took into account her mood when she was jogging, leading me to learn about the character I had made in a way that I wasn't considering. I thought the poor girl liked jogging!
When describing the Sentiments system, which was introduced for Snowy Escape, Nardone said that the system is designed so that it feeds back into itself. If your Sim has the Workaholic lifestyle and gets tense whenever they've been away from work for too long, as a player you're incentivized to get them back to work.
"I think ultimately some of these things can be fairly subtle, but it does build this richer simulation for players to experience, which is a really cool thing," he said. "And, you know, it ultimately goes back to what players were asking for, more depth in those experiences."
Another longtime ask for The Sims 4's fandom is depth of gameplay, and it's something the team is actively working on. Before Dream Home Designer was released, The Sims 4's development team also overhauled some of the personality traits in the game, making them more distinctive from each other and have more impact on gameplay. Delivering on this aspect of what the fans want is harder than fixing bugged bunk beds, and ultimately I find it way more interesting. There's no straightforward way to add depth to a Sim, their family, their interactions, so every new addition to the game is never what I ask for, but exactly what the game needs. Dream Home Decorator is the expression of the team adding depth to the game's myriad systems. While it's buggy, it's a portent of good things to come.