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A Victim of its Own Success?

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This is the first of my online journal entries, used for GameSpot's GameSpotting columns. Please use the "comments" feature at the bottom of the page to let me know what you think. Thanks.


As I mentioned in the review of The Sims 2, it almost seemed, going in, like Maxis' remarkable success with The Sims series was working against the sequel. Here, you have the highly anticipated sequel to what is (stop me if you've heard this one before) reportedly the most successful computer game of all time. Months and months at the top spot of the bestseller list, then followed by its various retail expansion packs, still at the top of the list. And The Sims was a groundbreaking game whose highly innovative design and features were unlike pretty much anything else back in 2000. What's more, The Sims somehow managed to do something that hardly any other computer game had ever done until then: be as appealing to women as it was to men, if not more so. So there were so many incredibly high, maybe even unfairly high expectations for The Sims 2 that it was virtually impossible for this game, or any game, to meet every single one of them.

This column (or journal entry, or whatever you'd like to call it) isn't my insecure, defensive way of trying to "defend" the review, because I don't feel I have anything to defend, really. The point I'm trying to make is how highly anticipated sequels and follow-ups can sometimes seem like victims of their own success--The Sims 2 is only the latest example.

I have nothing but respect for all game development studios, and in this case, like with every other developer, I can't, and have never been able to, officially speak on behalf of EA Games' Maxis studio because I don't work for or represent Maxis, and never have. But I'm willing to bet that at a studio that could conceive of, and execute, a concept so ambitious and so creative as The Sims, there must have been at least one instance, one situation, where at least one member of the team wanted to do something radically different with The Sims 2. To take some fundamental feature of the original game, throw it out the window, and introduce a completely new system that worked in a completely different way, and was clearly brilliant, a stroke of genius. Except that it might have ended up alienating the many, many, many, many fans of the series who would angrily reject it because it was so different from what they knew and loved in their favorite game, despite how brilliant it was.

I'm also positive that The Sims 2 isn't the only sequel or follow-up for which this might have happened (though in the case of The Sims 2, this must have been an especially difficult task, because as far as I'm concerned, the first game hung its hat on just how distinctive and innovative it was). How can you add enough to a sequel so that it stands on its own merits, but doesn't end up being disappointing to fans who expect, to borrow an expression from a colleague who originally hails from the United Kingdom, "the moon on a stick?" Change the sequel too much, and fans may react negatively because the sequel no longer has what they liked about the first game. Don't change it enough, and you're guilty making a lazy, boring rehash.

I'm not going to give an answer to this question at this time--and part of the reason is that frankly, I don't think there is a single, easy, plug-and-chug answer that you can apply to any kind of sequel or follow-up on any platform. I'm not going to give an answer to that question for the specific case of The Sims 2 either (I've as much as done that in the review). I'm curious to hear what you have to say, though...and since I can, using the format of these journals, I'd like to ask you to post your answer to the question of how a highly anticipated sequel to a popular game can be successful, below. I'd like to ask that if you've played and enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) The Sims 2 specifically, please consider submitting a reader review instead (or even in addition). Thanks.