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Firaxis vet Jake Solomon unveils new studio making a 'life sim' game

Solomon and crew are taking a run at The Sims.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

May 14, 2024

4 Min Read
A headshot of Jake Solomon.

At a Glance

  • Firaxis Games veteran Jake Solomon has teamed up with former colleagues and investors to create Midsummer Studios.
  • The Maryland-based developer is making a "life sim" game, similar to Electronic Arts' The Sims.
  • Solomon said that enthusiasm for the genre is what buoyed interest from investors.

Longtime Firaxis lead designer Jake Solomon has unveiled what he's been up to since leaving the studio in February 2023. Today he and a number of former Firaxis and Maxis developers announced the formation of Midsummer Studios, a new Maryland-area game developer that is working on an unnamed "life sim" game in the vein of Electronic Arts' The Sims.

The studio is launching with $6 million raised by Transcend Fund in partnership with Tirta Ventures, Betaworks Ventures, 1Up Ventures, F4 Fund, Krafton, and Day Zero Productions.

Solomon is joined on the leadership team by game director Will Miller and chief operating officer Neslie Birch (who will also serve as chief financial officer). The trio and their colleagues have set up shop in Firaxis' old office in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

In an interview with Game Developer, Solomon explained that pitching a life sim game proved to be a potent strategy in a market where funding for new studios is hard to come by. "Life sims have been very underserved," he said, noting that every other game he's worked on like the XCOM and Civilization series spurred a number of still-thriving competitors, but The Sims has stayed dominant thanks to its fervently loyal audience.

"There were people who said, flat out, 'we've been waiting for somebody who seems equipped to do this is give us this pitch,'" he said.

Related:Building a "world class" character creator in The Sims rival Life by You

Solomon's systems-driven background is the foundation for Midsummer's life sim

On the surface, a strategy game veteran like Solomon may not seem like a natural fit for the life sim genre. But he's apparently been thinking about making a game like this since the last months of making Marvel's Midnight Suns at Firaxis, and he explained his long history of making systems-driven games at the studio means the two genres are closer than you may think.

"Twenty to thirty years ago, you could make a systems-driven game about anything and you'd still use the same design techniques," he said, alluding to his time working with Sid Meier on games like Sid Meier's SimGolf and Sid Meier's Railroads! Though the themes of each game were different, Firaxis used many of the same processes to bring them to life.

You should still expect big changes from Midsummer's untitled life sim, if anything because it's exceptionally ambitious. Solomon said he's eager to make a game with "player-driven" stories. "What if I made a game where the whole point of the game...was [to make] a story," he remembered thinking, saying players would be able to write a meaningful story "just by playing the game."

The unnamed game will be something of a soap opera generator set in a small town in "modern life," equally influenced by Stephen King's book Needful Things and the 1994 CBS drama Touched by an Angel.

Solomon said the team is exploring not just how to simulate characters and character interactions across a small town, but to make players feel excited to experiment with different character decisions that can make their stories swerve in surprising directions. He implied that the team wants to use a rewards system of some kind to encourage them to explore story choices outside their "core values."

With a relatively small funding pool and a lot of pressure on studios to deliver when taking venture capital funding, we pressed Solomon on how he hopes Midsummer can be sustainable while making such an ambitious project. His answer: stay small, be transparent, and lean into Early Access.

Employees at Midsummer have been briefed on how much runway they have before the initial funding runs out, and development has been planned out to produce a demo well before that moment comes.

But even after that demo is completed, Solomon says the goal for a long time is to keep the team size small, and to make the unnamed life sim the best game it can through sales in an Early Access program. "We're not going to go anywhere without building a community," he said. "A persistent game like this needs community."

It's a shrewd move to counter what will be Midsummer's greatest challenge: though there is opportunity to make fresh games in the life sim space, the existing passionate audience is extremely well-guarded by EA and Maxis. "Most people who play The Sims 4, play on Origin," he said, making the classic observation that even though Sims players have hundreds of thousands of hours invested in the franchise, they don't consider themselves to be the classic "gamer" stereotype you find on Steam.

He also knows that even with an opening in the marketplace, fierce competition is already underway to fill that hole. Paradox Tectonic is hard at work on Life By You, led by former Sims game director Rod Humble. Gameloft's Disney Dreamlight Valley is munching away at the Disney-minded fans who want to live in a kingdom far far away, and Krafton itself is working on its own life sim inZOI.

With multiple studios hoping to compete with The Sims, it'll be important to see not just which ones can find success, but which ones can find financial stability too.

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About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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