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24 years later, no-one can quite agree on when exactly The Sims actually came out

One year short of the franchise's big quarter-century anniversary, we set out to trace it back to its exact calendar roots.

A domestic scene from the original The Sims base game. In a kitchen/dining room stocked with middle-tier items, an adult male Sim gives a backrub to an adult female Sim, while a female child stands looking at a baby in a bassinet.
Image credit: Maxis / Electronic Arts

The Sims franchise celebrates its 24th anniversary this weekend, which is a much-needed reminder for me that as your resident Sims fanatic, I've got exactly a year to plan some fun coverage for its 25th (and that I should probably use some of that time to come to terms with the formal departure of the last vestiges of my youth, as someone who's been playing since practically the very start).

A 24th birthday is surely a milestone but feels less monumental than the big quarter-century, after all; or maybe that's just my own advanced age talking. But it did occur to me that we could mark this minor prelude to the big celebration by putting one question to bed once and for all: when, exactly, was The Sims first released?

Back in the year 2000 we weren't nearly as online as we are now, but it wasn't exactly the Dark Ages, and it's not usually too difficult to pin down cultural events with a high degree of accuracy using the documentation that survives from the time. Which is why it's weird that there are two competing release dates for 2000's original launch of The Sims: January 31st and February 4th.

And no, to address the obvious question, I haven't become confused because of a few days' gap between the game's release into different markets. In those pre-digital download days when there was no need to worry about FOMO driving fans to piracy if they had to wait more than a few hours after their friends on other continents started playing, many if not most games had staggered launches, and indeed The Sims did launch in North America about a week ahead of Europe (and everyone else was at least three months or so behind that). The point of contention here is that there are two pretty much equally plausible candidates for the date of the original North American launch.

Proponents of the February 4th date include the unofficial Sims Community website, the large fansite SimsVIP, and and the fan-run Sims Wiki; as well as Wikipedia, IMDB, the Encyclopædia Britannica, the History Channel, and our own sister site GamesIndustry.biz. And, for what it's worth, a post from the official Sims Twitter account back in 2015 suggests that The Sims team themselves are of the opinion that February 4th is the correct date.

It's a strong case for February 4th alright, only strengthened by the fact that the European launch date — which everyone can agree on — was February 11th, which would make a nice neat week's gap between the two. But nevertheless, a lot of websites (that really ought to know the date) authoritatively list January 31st as the big debut, including SimsVIP (in a different article to the one linked above, just to demonsrate the depths of this confusion) as well as Metacritic, IGN, GameSpot, GameFAQs, and frankly the majority of specialist gaming sites who venture an opinion on the matter.

To further complicate matters, a Google search for "when did The Sims 1 come out?" will return the confidently incorrect answer of October 4th 2002. This was actually the date that The Sims' first-ever compilation, The Sims Deluxe Edition, superseded the original base game by permanently bundling it with the contents of its first expansion pack, but otherwise didn't mark anything particularly noteworthy in the history of the series. It certainly wasn't either the beginning or the end of the first generation of the franchise, which saw its last major add-on in October 2003 and had its final complete collection rerelease in November 2005. So basically, Google is no help on this one, and I'll refrain from further comment lest I give in to the temptation to bite the hand that feeds.

A city street corner in The Sims: Hot Date.
Here you go, fellow millennials, enjoy the instant dopamine hit from this promotional screenshot from The Sims: Hot Date expansion pack. | Image credit: Maxis / Electronic Arts

Never one to waste an opportunity to uselessly pick over minutiae, though, I contacted EA for comment. While they didn't have much to say on the discrepancy other than to note that it was mildly interesting, they did confirm for me that the correct release date and therefore the official anniversary of The Sims franchise is February 4th.

So there you have it: mystery solved. I think at this point we'll never be able to trace the discrepancy back to its origins, but if you squint, you sort of get a simplified look at how urban legends that spread through the early internet can still impact on how we receive the remnants of this information as uncontested fact today, which could be the basis for some sort of modern cautionary tale.

But that's not really the point, is it? The point is that we've now spent 24 years living out both our most idealised lives and our most twisted gremlin fantasies across four main instalments (with the long-awaited fifth now confirmed to be in development), to say nothing of around two dozen spin-offs. That's a lot of memories, a lot of expansion packs, and a lot of Sims drowned in pools in the name of curiosity, cruelty, or just good old fashioned dramatic storytelling. So how about we raise a glass of alleged "juice" (because calling it champagne would bump up the age rating) and share some of our favourite Sims memories in the comments in honour of the big-ish day?

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