The Sims uses a combination of 3D and 2D graphics techniques. The Sims themselves are rendered in 3D, whereas the house and all its objects are pre-rendered and displayed diametrically.
While gameplay occurs in the game's live mode, the player may enter build mode or buy mode to pause time and renovate the house or lot. When the game begins, each family will start off with §20,000 Simoleons (regardless of its number of members). These funds can be used to purchase a small house or vacant lot on the Neighborhood screen. Once a lot is purchased, a house may be constructed or remodeled in Build mode, and/or purchase or move furniture in the Buy mode. All architectural features and furnishings customizable in the Build and Buy modes follow a square tile system in which items must be placed on a tile. Walls and fences go on the edge of a tile and can follow the edge of the tile or cross it, but furniture items cannot be placed on either side of a crossed tile. The base game contains over 150 items including furniture and architectural elements.
Sims are influenced by the player to interact with objects or other Sims. Sims may receive guests, invited or not, from other playable lots or from unhoused NPC Sims. If enabled in the game's options, Sims have a certain amount of free will, allowing them to autonomously interact with their world. However, the player can override most autonomous actions by cancelling them out in the action queue at the top of the screen. Unlike the simulated environments in games such as SimCity, SimEarth or SimLife, Sims are not fully autonomous. They are unable to take certain actions without specific commands, such as paying bills, finding a job, exercising and conceiving children. Sims communicate in a fictional language called Simlish.
The player can make decisions about time spent in skill development, such as exercise, reading, creativity and logic by adding activities to Sims' daily agenda. Daily needs such as hygiene and eating can and must also be scheduled. Although Sims can autonomously perform these actions, they may not prioritize them effectively. Much like real humans, Sims can suffer consequences for neglecting their own needs. In addition, Sims must maintain balanced budgets, and usually supplement an income by obtaining a job. Sims may earn promotions by fulfilling skills and maintaining friendships with others for each level, which lead to new job titles, increased wages, and different work hours. Alternately, Sims may also create and sell various artwork and items at home.
The inner structure of the game is actually an agent-based artificial life program. The presentation of the game's artificial intelligence is advanced, and the Sims will respond to outside conditions independently, although often the player/controller's intervention is necessary to keep them on the right track. The Sims technically has unlimited replay value, in that there is no way to win the game, and the player can play on indefinitely. It has been described as more like a toy than a game.
In addition, the game includes an architecture system. The game was originally designed as an architecture simulation alone, with the Sims there only to evaluate the houses, but during development it was decided that the Sims were more interesting than originally anticipated and their once limited role in the game was developed further.
While there is no eventual objective to the game, states of failure do exist in The Sims. One is that Sims may die, either by starvation, drowning, fire, or electrocution. When a Sim dies, a tombstone or an urn will appear (In later expansion packs the Grim Reaper will appear first), and the ghost of the deceased Sim may haunt the building where it died. In addition, Sims can leave the game for good and never return; two adult Sims with a bad relationship may brawl, eventually resulting in one of them moving out. Children will be sent away to military school if they fail their classes or if they have not fulfilled their needs (especially when hunger is very low), a social care worker will take them away from their household and they are no longer returnable.
Players have a broad choice of objects which their respective Sims may purchase. Objects fall into one of eight broad categories: Seating, surfaces, decorative, electronics, appliances, plumbing, lighting and miscellaneous.
The original inspiration for The Sims was Christopher Alexander's 1977 book on architecture and urban design, A Pattern Language. Game designer Will Wright was inspired by the book's focus on functionality in architecture, as Alexander based his design principles on structural usability rather than aesthetic values. Wright wanted to create a simulation game about enabling human behavior and interaction through design. Scott McCloud's 1993 book Understanding Comics became a big influence on the design of The Sims later on, as it advocates a certain type of "collaboration" between designer and consumer and outlines the value of abstraction for getting readers or players involved with a story.
Will Wright started working on The Sims after releasing SimAnt in 1991. However, the game's concept was very poorly received by a focus group, so Wright had difficulty getting the project off the ground. He managed to convince his company to let him work on the project (codenamed "Project X" at the time) in the background while developing SimCity 2000 and SimCopter. He was lend one programmer for the project, Jamie Doornbos, who went on to become the lead programmer for The Sims. During the first few years of the project, Wright and Doornbos were primarily developing an open-ended system of character behavior. As the project continued, Wright found that the social aspect of the game turned out to be highly engaging, and the team started to focus more on the characters of the game, such as by letting Sims visit the houses of one-another and by implementing long-term relationships.
For the game's Japanese release, the game was renamed to SimPeople (シムピープル) to match the names of the other Sim games from Maxis. 
The game music was composed by Jerry Martin, Marc Russo, Kirk R. Casey, and Dix Bruce. The game disc contains 37 tracks, of which 15 were published in 2007 as an official soundtrack album. Most of the tracks contain no vocals, but some of them feature Simlish lyrics.
The Sims has a total of seven expansion packs produced. Each expansion generally adds new items, characters, skins, and features.
The Sims: Livin' Large (The Sims: Livin' It Up in Europe) is the first expansion pack for The Sims, released on August 31, 2000 in North America. This expansion pack focuses on adding new unconventional characters, careers, items, and features.
The Sims: House Party is the second expansion pack for The Sims, released on April 2, 2001 in North America. House Party gives players the ability and facilities to hold parties and gatherings in their Sims' homes. House Party was reissued in October 2002, to mark the release of The Sims Deluxe Edition and to match the box covers of the Hot Date and Vacation expansion packs. Drew Carey also makes an appearance in the game if the player's Sims hold a good enough party.
The Sims: Hot Date is the third expansion pack for The Sims, released on November 12, 2001 in North America. Hot Date adds the ability for Sims to leave their homes and travel to new destinations. In this expansion pack, the new destination is composed of ten new lots and is called "Downtown". All of the following expansion packs for The Sims add new destinations as well. Hot Date also introduces a revamped relationship system involving short- and long-term relationships. Sims can also carry inventory and give gifts to other Sims. Hot Date also adds a variety of items and new characters.
The Sims: Vacation (The Sims: On Holiday in the Republic of Ireland, the UK, China, and Scandinavia) is the fourth expansion pack for The Sims, released on March 28, 2002 in North America. Vacation introduces a new destination called "Vacation Island" where Sims can take vacations with family members or with other Sims. This marks the first time Sims can stay on lots away from home. In other words, the game can be saved while a Sim is on Vacation Island. Vacation Island is split into three distinct environments: beach, forest, and snow-capped mountain. Sims can stay at a hotel or rent a tent/igloo to rough it in the wild. They can also purchase or find souvenirs. As with other expansion packs, Vacation introduces new items, characters, and features pertaining to the theme of vacations.
The Sims: Unleashed is the fifth expansion pack for The Sims, released on November 7, 2002 in North America. Unleashed introduces pets into the game. While dogs and cats are treated as Sims, other pets are treated as objects. However, dogs and cats cannot be controlled directly like human Sims are; only their movements can be directed by the player. The expansion game also introduces gardening. It has the original ten-lot neighborhood is expanded to over forty, with the added ability to rezone these lots for residential or community use. Community lots may be modified to shops, cafes, and other commercial establishments.
The Sims: Superstar is the sixth expansion pack for The Sims, released on May 13, 2003 in North America. This expansion allows the player's Sims to become entertainment figures and includes representations of several famous personalities. A number of celebrities make cameo appearances but cannot be controlled by the player, and include Avril Lavigne, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, Jon Bon Jovi, Christina Aguilera, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah McLachlan, Jennifer Lopez and Richie Sambora. Superstar adds new work and leisure items, and a new destination called "Studio Town". This new destination functions as a workplace for celebrity Sims where regular visits may be required to maintain their fame and career, marking the first time where players could follow their Sims to work. Non-celebrity Sims may choose to visit Studio Town for leisure.
The Sims: Makin' Magic is the seventh and final expansion pack for The Sims, released on October 29, 2003 in North America. It introduces magic to the game and allows Sims to cast spells, forge charms, and buy alchemical ingredients. Makin' Magic introduces the Magic Town lots, which house vendors of magical ingredients and items and a number of magic-related mini-games. In addition, it introduces baking and nectar-making. Additional residential lots are also included in Magic Town, marking the first time that Sims may live outside of the main neighborhood. These lots contain new aesthetic accents such as new grass textures and background sound effects; they also have a higher chance of growing magical items. This expansion pack includes a disc containing a preview of The Sims 2.
The Sims has been repackaged in numerous editions. These are not expansions in themselves, but compilations of the base game plus pre-existing expansion packs and additional game content.
There have also been compilations of expansion packs without the core game released in only North America, and some parts of the UK.
Critics praised the game with positive reviews. It became a best-seller shortly after launch. In 2002, The Sims became the top-selling PC game in history, displacing the game Myst by selling more than 11.3 million copies worldwide. In the United States alone, The Sims sold 3.2 million copies and earned $129.9 million by August 2006. It was the country's best-selling computer game between January 2000 and August 2006. Combined sales of all Sims computer games released between January 2000 and August 2006, including The Sims, had reached 17.6 million units in the United States by the latter date. By August 2006, the PlayStation 2 version of The Sims had sold 1.1 million copies and earned $43 million in the United States. Next Generation ranked it as the 45th highest-selling game launched for the PlayStation 2, Xbox or GameCube between January 2000 and August 2006 in that country. Combined sales of Sims console games reached 3.5 million units in the United States by August 2006.
As of February 7, 2005, the game has shipped 16 million copies worldwide. Will Wright, the game's designer, said the game has been a success in many ways—attracting casual gamers and female gamers (the latter making up almost 60% of players). In March 2009, Electronic Arts announced that The Sims, as a franchise, has sold more than 100 million copies. Game Informer ranked it the 80th best game ever made in its 100th issue in 2001. In August 2016, The Sims placed 31st on Time's The 50 Best Video Games of All Time list.
The Sims was first released on February 4, 2000. By March 2002, The Sims had sold more than 6.3 million copies worldwide; and by February 2005, the game has shipped 16 million copies worldwide. By March 2015, The Sims had sold more than 11.24 million copies for PC, making it one of the best-selling PC game in history. Since its initial release, seven expansion packs have been released, as have sequels The Sims 2, The Sims 3 and The Sims 4. The Sims has won numerous awards, including GameSpot's "Game of the Year Award" for 2000.
In 2012, the game was one of 14 video games selected by the Museum of Modern Art as the basis for an intended collection of 40 games.The Sims Online — Online version of The Sims, where players can interact with other players in real-time
The Sims 2 — Sequel to The Sims; second generation of the main series
The Sims Stories — Spinoff series featuring goal-directed Story Mode
MySims — A Wii spinoff focused more on building objects
The Sims 3 — Sequel to The Sims 2; third generation of the main series
The Sims Medieval — First title in a line of spinoff products set in medieval times
The Sims Social — Facebook spinoff.
The Sims FreePlay — A freemium version of The Sims for Android, iOS and Windows Phone based devices
The Sims 4 — Sequel to The Sims 3; fourth generation of the main series
The Urbz: Sims in the City — A console-only game with Sims gameplay, but with new faction relationships taking place in a hip city setting.
The Sims and all its expansion packs were ported to the Mac by Aspyr Media, Inc.. The Sims was ported to Linux using Transgaming's WineX technology and was bundled with Mandrake Linux Gaming Edition. The WineX engine is unable to run the Windows version of the game. It was released on March 12, 2003.
A separate version of the game was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo GameCube in 2003. Gameplay is similar to that of the PC versions and retains many of the core elements. Notable changes include a full 3D camera perspective (instead of the original 2D isometric viewpoint), more detailed appearances of Sims, and the introduction of a "Get A Life" goals-based story mode. The ports enjoyed a generally favorable reception, with Metacritic scores ranging from 83-85 as of August 2009.
The console versions were each followed by a sequel, The Sims Bustin' Out, and a spin-off game, The Urbz: Sims in the City. These versions incorporate some features of later PC expansion packs, and Bustin' Out adds a multiplayer mode supporting two simultaneous players.
A live action drama film based upon The Sims was announced in 2007. On May 25, 2007, it was announced that The Sims film rights had been purchased by 20th Century Fox. It was to be written by Brian Lynch and produced by John Davis.