Two years ago my wife and I went on vacation to a little Bed and Breakfast on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle. Buried in a cupboard behind more well-known games like Monopoly and Uno was a green box marked simply “The Farming Game.” Since we were staying on a small farm, we decided to give it a whirl. Thirty-six hours later, we’d developed an addiction and needed to buy a copy to take home with us.
The Farming Game wasn’t easy; in fact, it taught us just how difficult it can be to get a business, or in this case a farm, off the ground. Promissory notes, blights, droughts, taxes, maintenance costs…it was all included in a very stress-inducing yet fun way. Nothing felt quite as good as being the one who got out of debt the fastest, or who was the first to reach $200,000 in annual profits.
Interestingly enough, The Sims 2: Open for Business teaches much the same way, albeit in a more electronic and less-consequential way. Establishing and managing a business is a natural extension for The Sims franchise, especially considering that we all do the majority of our socializing (and spend the majority of our waking moments) at work. But owning a business in this game isn’t just as simple as winning PowerBall and buying an existing superstore. Instead, it’s all about starting from scratch and finding joy in the baby steps you take toward commercial success.
Opening a store starts exactly as you’d expect from the eBay Generation: you pick up the phone or use the computer. Buying a plot of land (once you have the money) or deciding to start your home business is as simple as choosing the corresponding option from the telephone or PC menus. From there, find the items in your house you want to sell, buy a cash register, open your house to the public, and see where the game takes you.
This Sims 2 expansion pack is definitely slow at first, both in terms of inventory and cash flow, but depending upon your products and customer relationships (remember, this is a Sims game), your business will get to the point where you need employees. And that’s when the real socializing begins. Not only do you have to find which Sims are best suited for which jobs, but you have to micromanage them to a certain degree to make them happy. The last thing you want is for an employee to go postal on a customer, so you’re of course going to coalesce to some obscure needs, but you also have to maintain some sense of control. And as in any Sims experience, finding that balance is what makes the game.
Balance is also required from a commercial sense, of course; after all, this expansion is all about building the Next Great Business. The beauty of it is, that business can be anything you wish. If your Sim has a bunch of electronics, maybe you’ll want to create an electronics store. Lots of gym equipment? Let’s open a club. Is your Sim a garden fiend? Time to open a nursery. Lots of alcohol? Hmm, I’ve always wanted to open a bar. Open for Business really is just that: Open. Open to your creativity, open to your ideas, and open to testing every managerial style you’d ever want to test.
Success or failure as a manager is only part of the game, though, as you also need to make sure you’re making good with the customers. A new star rating (think Fodor’s) grades you on the customer’s overall experience at your store. The higher the rating, the more popular your store will become, and it snowballs from there. You can even get awards that, if placed near high-priced items, can boost customers’ confidence in you and inspire them to buy what otherwise might just be an overpriced widget that you built on your workbench. Gotta love good old-fashioned self-promotion.
As fun as this micromanagement might seem at first, the need to open and close your shop each day and personally tell your employees to go home (since when was that needed?) gets tiresome after a while. We all know that people eventually go on auto-pilot after going through a routine, and it would’ve been nice to see Open for Business include a bit more of that automation from time to time.
On the whole, though, Open for Business is a perfectly logical expansion for The Sims franchise, and it fits with the theme of regular social interaction probably more realistically than any other expansion. Sure, people go to nightclubs and school, but work consumes the majority of our life, so it only makes sense to have a work simulator, too. Of course, whether you will actually enjoy such a simulator is dependent upon whether you dig The Sims to begin with, but if you’re reading this review, the chances are high that you do. And in your case, Open for Business is a no-brainer.
- Gameplay: 8
- A bit tedious at times, but the business creativity slate is completely blank.
- Graphics: 8
- Exactly like the original Sims 2, with a few new characters, skins and animations.
- Sound: 8
- Simlish is as simlish does. Pink Floyd’s “Money” should have been included in the licensed tracks.
- Replay: 9
- Multiple Sims and hobbies means multiple businesses. Let the mega-corporation begin!
- Overall: 8
- A perfectly logical expansion, if not a perfectly intuitive and enjoyable one at times. In other words, it’s like real life.
— Jonas Allen