As much a cultural phenomenon as it is a game franchise, "The Sims" is that rare combination of casual appeal and hardcore devotion that both attracts and maintains an incredibly diverse audience. The various iterations of designer Will Wright's "digital dollhouse" have now sold more than 100 million copies worldwide if you count the numerous expansion packs, and with the release of "The Sims 3," the rise of that figure shows no signs of slowing down.
"The Sims 3" doesn't overhaul the franchise, because really, how could they? The formula is a successful one, a simple riff on the idea that people like control; people like to "play God," so to speak. You create a Sim or a family of Sims, name them, give them various traits, put them up in a swank (or not-so-swank) home, and watch them go.
You can have control down to the tiniest details -- like when they go to the bathroom -- or you can see what they do all on their own, with no specific direction at all. The engine behind "The Sims 3" is brilliantly built to accommodate all play styles, and you can jump right into ordering them around (or not) with very little negative impact on the function of the game.
The most noticeable of the updates given to "The Sims 3" is the presence of an entire neighborhood in which your Sims will reside; visiting friends, going out to eat, and catching sporting events are suddenly an integral part of gameplay. Less noticeable is the idea that EA has managed to make it even more of a "game" with clear-cut goals that constantly pop up, which you can choose to pursue or not, depending on your own preferences.
Truly, "The Sims" has always had a way of turning the so-called casual gamer into a devoted stay-up-till-3 a.m. kind of gamer, and "The Sims 3" may even broaden the appeal of the franchise; no small feat for a game with a built-in audience like this one.