If you lined up the boxes of the 100 million units of The Sims products that have sold since Electronic Arts' monster-hit franchise first launched in 2000, they would stretch from New York to Moscow.
Forgetting for the moment that many of those boxes would become awfully soggy if lined up like that, it's worth giving a curtsy of respect and admiration to EA and The Sims franchise for reaching the 100 million units sold mark, which EA announced Wednesday.
Originally, The Sims was a not-well-loved stepchild of Will Wright's hit games, Sim City and its brethren. But legend has it that the EA brass wasn't too excited about an extension of that series that tasked players with running whole families as the goal rather than building cities or buildings or helicopters.
But Will Wright isn't the reigning numero uno superstar of the video game world for nothing, and when the original The Sims hit the market back in 2000 it almost immediately became a phenomenon of unparalleled success, eventually spawning a franchise with two (so far) major iterations and seemingly dozens of expansions that allowed players to be rock stars, students, have special pets, and so much more.
Wright, in fact, became such a rock star himself that he was able to spin off Maxis, the company he founded and then sold to EA, as a separate studio that for the last few years has been focusing exclusively on Spore, an evolution game that some have jokingly called "Sim Everything."
Spore, in fact, is likely to be the king of all god games, the genre that The Sims popularized. In a god game, players control the world around them, building things and destroying others. The progress of the environment is entirely up to them, as are the fates of all the characters in the game.
Of course, not every iteration of The Sims has been a hit. After watching the original The Sims vault to the top of the charts, EA decided to release a multiplayer, online version. The resulting The Sims Online became the poster child for how not to build a social virtual world, and after sputtering and coughing for a year or two, it more or less disappeared from radar as other virtual worlds took its place in the public eye. Recently, EA has relaunched it as, promising to fix some of the major problems that plagued The Sims Online, like not being able to create true user-generated content.
But that was all just a sideline, as the regular, single-player The Sims games marched on to total dominance in the industry. Only a few games are even in its league, titles like the Halo and Grand Theft Auto franchises, and maybe one or two others.
These days, The Sims is available in 60 countries and in 22 languages. Its community Web site attracts 4.3 million unique visitors a month, EA says, who, in total, have made more than 70 million original creations. The more than 100,000 videos The Sims players have made have generated 200 million views.
For me, while I've never been a big-time player of The Sims, I hold the game in a special place in my heart, because pretty much the first tech culture story I ever wrote, the one that I attribute to really getting my career started, was about the emergent behavior of players using the wedding album feature in the original The Sims. Almost everything I've done professionally since has emerged, in one way or another, from that article I wrote in the summer of 2003.
So, while celebrating 100 million units sold is really nothing more than a marketing milestone, it is nonetheless noteworthy and a visceral sign of something really, really big and which has made a real mark on society. The game, in all its iterations, is the leader in what is now a growing field, and at EA, has been recognized by being made into one of the video game giant's four distinct divisions.
Think about that for a moment. A game the company wasn't really all that hot about making in the first place ended up becoming one of its four major divisions.
A tip of the hat to The Sims.