Maxis Releases Blog About “Project Rene” Development

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On yesterday’s Behind the Sims episode, players got to see a little of the behind the scenes at Project Rene – the working title for the next The Sims game. Today, Maxis released a community blog about the development process.

Here at Maxis, we are all about our community. Year after year, fans of The Sims™ continue to amaze us with their creativity, their insight, and their passion for our games. So, as we began brainstorming what the next The Sims experience might look like, there was no doubt in our minds that the community should really be a part of the development process.

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“We knew from the beginning that wherever we decided to take The Sims next would need to be a journey we took with our players,” says VP of Creative for The Sims, Lyndsay Pearson. “Whether it’s generating ideas, reacting to their feedback, or putting actual software in their hands, it’s important we find ways to share our goals and our vision as we go.”

“Direct player feedback has been one of the most valuable tools we’ve used at Maxis,” adds Production Director Stephanie Callegari. “It only makes sense for us to evolve this experience for both the players and the development team.”

PLAYTESTING AS WE GO

As a result, very early on in development for Project Rene, the next evolution of The Sims, the team decided to begin collecting input from members of the community.

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“In the fall of 2022, we released a small private playtest that evaluated interior design, furniture customization, and collaborative interior design on mobile and PC,” says Game Director Grant Rodiek. “You can actually see video of this in our First Episode of Behind The Sims.”

This “Apartment Customization” playtest featured only a tiny slice of what’s planned for the whole project—but it was a slice chosen specifically to test a huge variety of different systems in order to see how they interact with each other.

“One of the challenging things about testing The Sims,” Grant says, “is that it is a highly customizable experience with a high degree of interactivity. Sims need to be able to sit on the couch, prepare meals, go dancing, chat with a friend, or read a book—which means that when you customize a couch, say, or a shirt, that also factors into how Sims move and consider their environments. So this let us test a wide variety of critical experiences and technology for the overall project.”

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“And the object space and physical space are key tools to help us—and players—tell stories,” says Stephanie. “So the key innovations that we tested help with decisions regarding other creative spaces, like our character creator. We may have only tested a slice, but we’re looking at the way we approach the interface and creative tools with an eye toward a more holistic user experience.”

EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED

Of course, putting together a playtest this early in development had its own unique challenges. “While we regularly do user experience testing with smaller groups of eight to ten players,” says Lyndsay, “creating a larger playtest for hundreds or thousands of players was a very different experience.”

Project Rene supports both mobile and PC experiences,” Grant says, “which dramatically expands the complexity of testing. We need to support a wide variety of experiences: simulation, socialization, creative tools for furniture and interior design, creative tools for clothing and characters—plus new social experiences.”

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“We also had to figure out ways for players to connect without all the social experience features in place, like party voice chat and find-a-friend,” says Stephanie. “We had to make sure players could actually find each other and play together. Plus we had to figure out things like how to even deliver the builds to the testers! ”

Once the logistics were hammered out, it was time to fire up the test. But as eager as the team was to test specific mechanics, they also knew that for a small-scale test like this, it was important to follow where the players led.

“We’ve always had a collaborative relationship with our fans, and we bring that to any playtest,” Lyndsay says. “So we expected to see lots of feedback, we expected to iterate, we expected to see lots of speculation about what more could come. I think preparing for this ahead of time put us in a very open, learning mindset.”

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“You do have to listen to what your players are telling you,” says Grant. “For example, an earlier version of the test revealed that players were really struggling to find certain tools—they just weren’t clicking the buttons. So we rearranged the layout and provided more information and saw a dramatic increase. So it’s all an iterative process.”

ONLY THE BEGINNING

And the team plans for that process to continue through more community playtests in the future. Now, understand that Project Rene is still in the very early stages of development but even at this early stage, the lessons learned have been extremely valuable.

“This is how the best games are made,” Grant shares, “working hand-in-hand with players. It’s such a valuable tool that will help us make Project Rene truly special. But!—it is a long, involved process.”

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“Apartment Customization was our first test, but it will not be our last,” Stephanie agrees. “We’ve already learned so much from it. Being able to talk to players and get feedback so early is very scary—but it’s also very exciting.”

“You can learn so much before sending the project out into the wild!” says Lyndsay. “Not only are we getting feedback on the fly from our players, but it also gives us the chance to tell the story of how we make these experiences—both to our audiences today and to future audiences of tomorrow. “

“There is so much work remaining for Project Rene, though,” Grant says. “We still haven’t shared our Simulation experiences or character and clothing customization—not to mention new versions of apartment customization and additional social play experiences. All of this will be slowly stood up, shared, tested, tweaked, enhanced, reduced. And we intend to develop it hand-in-hand alongside our players.”

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For a closer look at what the Maxis team has been working on for Project Rene, check out the Second Episode of Behind The Sims.

If you’d like to have your own hand in the future of The Sims, pay a visit to the Maxis Careers Page. With remote and in-office opportunities all over the world, there’s a good chance our own community has a role for you.

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