Sims 4: Tips, Tricks and Gameplay Basics for New Players

There's no right or wrong way to play The Sims 4, but here are a few pointers on how to get started in the game.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
6 min read
The sims 4 logo

The Sims first came out more than 20 years ago and is still going strong.


The Sims is an iconic life simulation game that has a strong following, even after more than two decades on the market. The game quickly became an escape and safe haven of exploration for many of its players

Electronic Arts and Maxis' latest iteration of the game, The Sims 4, made its base game available to download for free, though you'll still have to buy any downloadable content packs you want. If you haven't jumped on the Sims bandwagon yet, or you're new to the game, we'll walk you through all the gameplay basics.

Where can I play The Sims? 

You can play The Sims on PC through Origin, the EA app and Steam, as well as PS4, PS5 and Xbox consoles. The Sims 4 Freeplay and The Sims 4 Mobile are also available.

Can I still have fun without buying all the extra DLC packs?

You absolutely can! If you need inspiration, there are dozens of creators on YouTube who have dedicated videos on base game builds. Simmers also review packs online, which can help you determine whether you should buy one or another. 

The Sims 4 is constantly updated with new items. About once a month, Simmers will receive a Sims Delivery Express, which adds new free content to the base game. If you want more free extras, check out the Cheats section of this article to learn about Debug items.

Sims 4 High School Years Still

The Sims 4 High School Years is one of the latest expansion packs to come out. 


Here are the different types of Sims 4 DLC: 

  • Expansion packs are larger releases that include a new destination, aspirations, pre-made characters, as well as lots of build and buy items, Create-A-Sim items and more.
  • Game packs are similar to expansion packs, but generally smaller. Sometimes game packs introduce a new neighborhood, vacation destination or aspiration. These packs will also include new build and buy items, as well as Create-A-Sim content. 
  • Stuff packs revolve around a certain theme, but don't include new neighborhoods, and may or may not offer a new aspiration for your Sim. Stuff packs are more focused on build and buy and Create-A-Sim content. 
  • Kits, which are fairly new additions to The Sims 4, are smaller versions of Stuff Packs. Kits are the cheapest to purchase, but also include the fewest new items. With a Kit, you'll get access to a few pieces of furniture, clothing or decor. 

Getting started

Before you start playing The Sims 4, you'll need to make a Sim (or Sims) to play with. This happens in Create-A-Sim. Once you're on the Sims 4 main menu, click New Game to enter the creator screen.

Example of a pre-made Sim in Create A Sim

This Sim was automatically generated when I opened Create-A-Sim in The Sims 4. 

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Making a new Sim

When you start a new game, The Sims 4 will automatically generate a random Sim for you. You can either dive in and start creating or choose Create a Sim Story. This option provides extra guidance when creating your character. Create a Sim Story runs through a series of questions that help shape your Sim's personality. If you complete the quiz, the game will generate your Sim's aspiration and traits based on your answers. Creating your Sim manually is still an option if you're not satisfied with the Sim Story tool, which locks in your Sim's info. Once you're in-game, you can swap aspirations and change their traits with cheats. 

The menu to customize your Sim in The Sims 4

Create-A-Sim lets you make your Sim entirely the way you want them to be. 

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

If you're manually creating your Sim, click the Plumbob (the prism shape) in the top left corner of the screen to customize your Sim's name, age, walking style, voice, gender, sexual orientation and pronouns. Click the cluster of hexagons to customize your Sim's aspiration, personality traits and likes and dislikes. Click your Sim to get started customizing clothes, skin details, hairstyles, makeup, accessories, body type and more. 

Creat A Sim aspiration menu

Aspirations help guide your Sim's goal in life. 

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

If all of that customizing sounds more stressful than exciting, you can click the dice icon and the game will randomize your Sim for you. 

You can add more Sims to your family by clicking the plus icon next to your finished Sim in the bottom left corner of the screen. From there, you can create another Sim from scratch, download one from the gallery, play with genetics or use the Create a Sim Story tool. When you're finished, click the check mark in the bottom right corner to start playing.

Neighborhoods and moving in

Now your Sim needs a place to live. After you create your Sim, you'll be taken to the Residential World menu. If you're only using the base game, you'll have access to the suburban Willow Creek, desert-themed Oasis Springs and Newcrest, a blank neighborhood that you can fill with whatever you want. 

If you're playing with one Sim, you'll start with 20,000 Simoleons -- the in-game currency -- which limits the places you can live, unless you buy an empty lot and really start from scratch. When you select a starter home, you can choose to buy it pre-furnished or unfurnished, which will save you some money. 

Build Mode 

Build Mode opens options to customize your Sim's environment. To access the Build/Buy catalog, click the tools icon in the top right corner of the screen. From there, you can buy and sell items, as well as place and customize objects. 

You can also build a home (retail space, event venue, restaurant, etc) from scratch here, choose pre-made rooms, sort items by room and function, as well as access your household inventory. If you're out of empty lots, you can choose to bulldoze an existing lot and build from scratch. 

Build mode in the Sims 4

Build and Buy Mode in The Sims 4 gives you access to customize your Sim's environment from furniture to wall colors and more. 

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Sims 4 gallery 

The gallery lets you view other players' creations, keep up with Sims news, showcase your own creations and save stuff you like to your library. For example, if none of the available houses strike your fancy, you can open the gallery and search Starter Home for original creations from other players. And to avoid the disappointment of finding a creation made with custom content or packs you don't own, you can filter your search results in the left menu. From there, you can favorite the lot, place it in your game or save it to your library. 

sims 4 gameplay

Your Sim's Whims, Moodlets and feelings will be displayed in the left corner of the screen. 

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Gameplay basics

When you're ready to play, select a household from your neighborhood map and click the big Play button in the right corner of the screen. Everything you need to play is located across the bottom of the screen. Here's a breakdown: 

In the left corner, you'll see a picture of your Sim. The thought bubbles floating over their head are Whims -- quick activities or interactions that you can complete for Satisfaction Points. Completing Whims isn't essential to gameplay. This section of the screen also displays your household funds and your Sim's notebook, phone and calendar. 

As you progress in the game, your Sim will gain Moodlets -- or factors that determine your Sim's mood. For example, if your Sim loses a friend, pet or family member, they'll get a mourning Moodlet. 

Sims 4 gameplay

The right-hand corner of your gameplay screen gives more detail in your Sim's life.

Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

In the bottom center of the screen, you'll find basic controls -- Pause, Normal Speed (play), Fast Speed (fast forward) and Ultra Speed (fast, fast forward). You'll also be able to see the day of the week and time. 

The lion's share of the controls are located in the right bottom corner of the screen. Here you can monitor your Sim's Aspiration progress, career, skill building, relationships, check their inventory, view their traits, acquired lifestyle and reputation, as well as their needs and social groups.


If you've found yourself in a gameplay rut, there are dozens of ways to freshen up your Sims 4 experience. 


You'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't cheated while playing The Sims at some point. The game even has a dedicated page for cheats. To open the cheat code text field, hit Ctrl + Shift + C on a Windows PC or Cmd + Shift + C on a Mac. From there, type testing cheats on, testingcheats true or testing cheats yes. We've got a detailed master list of Sims 4 cheats, but here are a few favorites: 

  • Motherlode: Adds 50,000 Simoleons to household funds
  • bb.moveobjects: Placement rules no longer apply when moving objects in Build Mode
  • bb.showhiddenobjects: Adds extra objects in Buy Mode
  • bb.showliveeditobjects: Adds even more extra objects in Buy Mode after you've entered the previous cheat
  • FreeRealEstate [on/off]: Use in Neighborhood/World view to make all lots free

Challenges and scenarios

The sky's the limit when it comes to gameplay in the Sims, but it's easy to fall into patterns and become bored. The Sims gaming community has you covered with challenges. Creators from all corners of the internet have written gameplay and story lines with specific parameters and goals to reach like Rags to Riches and the 100 Baby Challenge.

The Sims 4 added a built-in version of challenges called Scenarios. On the game's main menu, click Play Scenario to choose between storylines like Finding Love After a Breakup, Too Many Toddlers, Super Rich Supervillain and more.