Why Maxis is looking to Europe for new developers on The Sims

Maxis executive producer Phillip Ring explains to Game Developer why EA is expanding out to Europe to find developers to work on The Sims.

It's been a busy year for The Sims developer Maxis. After a rough-and-tumble ride on the road to release The Sims 4: My Wedding Story, Maxis also announced that The Sims 4  would become a free-to-play game and that it's working on the next entry in The Sims series—which it described as a "next-generation creative platform."

That's a lot of work for one developer, and it's going to take a lot of talent to make the future of The Sims happen. As part of this big investment in The Sims franchise, EA and Maxis approached Game Developer with some interesting news: the company is now looking to hire new employees out of Europe. 

It's an expansion to the company's already-expansive remote work policy that will allow devs from more locations to work on The Sims. Some new hires will be working on The Sims 4 or other versions of the franchise, while others will be working on the next Sims game.

Executive producer Phillip Ring swung by the metaphorical Game Developer office (it was a Zoom call) for a chat about what's next for Maxis on this journey, and how the studio is making its European push possible.

Why is Maxis hiring in Europe?

It's one thing to expand a remote work policy to hire in the countries you're already based in (Maxis' offices are all in North America at the moment, with some existing European team members), but it's another to expand to a whole other continent. Ring told Game Developer that the company is looking to hire "fantastic talent from around the world," partly to bring in people with different perspectives or lived experiences.

That's because The Sims has a huge global audience. It's also a series that's all about player expression and living out unique fantasies, and it's still largely developed from the perspective of the North American game development world. "Lots of players around the world [...] want to see that reflection of themselves," said Ring. 

Promo art for The Sims 4: High School Years

The goal is to infuse The Sims' development process with more and more culturally diverse elements. That perspective can hopefully help lead to more types of clothing, furniture, or Sim behavior that can be regionally or culturally specific.

Ring said this shift in thinking was driven by the effect COVID-19 had on the workplace. Unlike some other developers, it apparently doesn't see a hybrid working model that favors remote working as a threat to productivity. "It does come with challenges, but it was something where we saw so many benefits," Ring said. "We were just like—let's engage with these challenges, let's figure out how we can make this work."

Subtleties in representation

If you're curious as to what kinds of systems Ring and his colleagues want to improve in The Sims, he had some useful examples on hand. For instance, Ring grew up in the United Kingdom and spoke about how his experience within the country's education system was very different to how that system is realized in The Sims.

One key difference is the presence of school uniforms. They're much more common in the UK than in the U.S., and in a game like The Sims, where fashion is a core tool of player expression, not having an easy way to assemble that uniform-based culture creates a different experience for British players than American ones. If that sounds nitpicky (or maybe you're a fan of looser dress codes), consider that lots of folks in school systems with uniforms are constantly trying to express themselves while following the letter of the dress code.

Think blazers around waists, hijabs that match or contrast with the uniform, buttons, pins, these are all the subtleties such a system produces. Ring went even further, talking about the different kinds of family dinners that appear on different tables. Meals in The Sims don't always reflect what might be common around the world.

Maxis wants devs with other professional experience too

If you read our chat with Maxis executive producer Lyndsay Pearson a couple months back, you might recall that she talked about how designers on The Sims are often studying not just other games, but other platforms that let users experiment with fashion, furniture, and beyond. She mentioned at the time that seeing how platforms like Wayfair display their goods, and let players experiment with them, can inform systems like in-game menus.

Ring made some comments in our conversation that seemed to build on that design philosophy. He said that one of the lessons the team is learning from its expansion into Europe is that this is a chance to talk to developers working in adjacent industries. "That's fantastic, because it means we bring in people who might not have come through...the traditional path for your career."

A screenshot of The Sims 4: High School Years

It puts a new spin on what "the best talent" means in the recruiting process. Often, major recruiting teams are looking for experienced developers in similar game genres. This helps them reduce onboarding times and sort out what can often be a huge pile of very enthusiastic applicants.

Maxis' choice to look at adjacent industries might be particularly relevant in the current hiring environment. It and other studios are competing for what are sometimes a very small pool of employees. A mix of industry retention challenges and limited promotion opportunities have meant some game development disciplines only consist of a few hundred experts across different continents.

And for his part, Ring is just excited to talk to developers not in the game industry who have a passion for The Sims. "Every time I get the chance to sit in on an interview, it's always fascinating to see the generous people who've come through—where they've been, what experiences they have, and how those skills compare well to what we're doing at Maxis."

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