The Sims has been a popular and long-lasting franchise because it taps into such a simple but fulfilling fantasy: playing with make-believe characters in a dollhouse. The player is ultimately in control, but the story can manifest in a dozen different ways — or maybe there’s no story at all, and the joy comes from crafting the perfect tiny house.
The Sims developer Maxis recently revealed a look at the next title in the franchise, which is tentatively called Project Rene. Maxis didn’t share a release window, but we know that it’ll likely be a few years before we get to give The Sims 5 a spin. Despite the wait, it’s still an exciting time for the life sim genre, especially because competition is on the horizon in the form of Paralives, made by a much smaller studio.
The Sims fan base has never been a monolith; some people like the drama that springs up in a neighborhood, whereas others are there to obsess over the furniture and layout of the perfect office. Sims fans can’t even agree on what game to play; a significant chunk of fans stay with prior games in the series like The Sims 3 or even The Sims 2. The Sims 4 is also getting long in the tooth; with its initial launch all the way back in 2014, this game is coming up on being a decade old, whereas its predecessors had a lifespan closer to five years. Expansion packs are another contentious topic — in order to collect all of the DLC for The Sims 4, a player has to shell out hundreds of dollars.
It’s no surprise that when a genuine competitor to the Sims franchise emerged, it would pique the interest of players. Alex Massé began the project in 2018 after realizing that the life simulator genre was filled with games like Stardew Valley, but there was nothing else quite like The Sims. Massé is now lead developer on the Paralives team, which is funded by a very successful Patreon that, at the time of writing, pulls in $40,000 a month.
“The project started out as small prototypes to showcase new ideas for the house building part of the game, which has always been my favorite in The Sims,” says Massé. “I was immediately overwhelmed by the positive reception on social media which helped me raise money on Patreon to turn the project into something more ambitious, going from solo to a team of 10 people.”
The Paralives team has been sharing its progress the entire way on social media, sharing the process of building customization, creating custom characters, and now the life simulation elements that make up the day-to-day of a character’s life. There are some impressive features on display, like height differences for characters and custom color pickers for furniture. Some of these features have even shown up in the Project Rene preview, which focused on tools for the build and buy mode.
“Everyone on the Paralives team was really excited about the Project Rene reveal,” says Massé. “We liked the fact that they brought back customization elements that we loved in The Sims 3, like the ability to recolor objects freely and to select different patterns and textures. For Paralives, we wanted to offer a high level of customization because we believe it’s really important for building games and as players, we’re glad to see that Project Rene is going in that direction too.”
With a sequel to The Sims 4 still being a ways out, Paralives has a chance to shine — but there’s still room for both simulation games at the table. Massé speculates that it’s the day-to-day simulation that will make Paralives distinct, not just building and creating. Now that the developer has shared character and building customization on social media, the team is excited to start showing its take on social interactions and life simulation.
“If you think about it, managing your characters in The Sims works a bit like managing your characters in a role-playing game. There are so many RPGs out there but people keep coming up with new ideas and game mechanics, keeping the genre fresh.”
He adds, “Regarding people comparing The Sims to Paralives, we understand that it’s always going to happen because there are no other games in that specific genre. It’s clear that there will be similar features between both games but in the end, I’m certain that they will feel pretty different in their own ways and people will be able to enjoy them both.”