The coolest thing about The Sims is how you can create any kind of world you want. The coolest thing about Azure Bowie is that she’s one of the people in charge of creating The Sims and allowing you to create that magical, mystical, ideal world of yours. She also spent nine months collaborating with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (yes, that Amy Poehler) on a video series called Smart Girls Build, giving Smart Girls the ability to create a Sim modeled after them and design a life they love. How awesome is that? What’s even more awesome is how we got to ask Azure a few questions about this partnership, creativity, women in tech, and so much more:
You and The Sims 4 just partnered up with Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls to create a video series. How did this partnership come about?
It was a really great fit. Our two teams were talking about what opportunities there are for young women in tech and we felt that there were a lot of similarities between The Sims and Smart Girls in terms of shared values. It took about nine months to turn this conversation into a video series, and it really was a true collaboration. It’s been a fun experience.
Do you feel a certain responsibility to support females in tech?
Absolutely. I think a lot of women in the industry do. I was fortunate enough to have some awesome women mentor me when I first came into the industry. I learned so much from them and I respect those women a lot. They inspire me to want to do the same thing and help bring more women into tech and creating games.
What makes Sims so special is that users have the freedom to do pretty much whatever they want. Do you find that in a roundabout way, trying to cater to everyone and everything Sims could be is actually more challenging than sticking to a niche?
I think that can be a daunting idea in the beginning, but after you’ve worked on a game like The Sims for a while you really get to know your players. If you stick to what’s really at the heart of what is important to our players – customization, creativity, humor – the day to day decisions no longer feel like you’re trying to cater to everyone and everything. Sometimes it’s as simple as a decision on whether to limit a feature to an outcome that we think is realistic, or to allow the player to push the outcome beyond real life and into something wackier and funnier. The answer becomes easier then: Do the thing that can let the players push the boundaries if that’s what they want to do. I think that keeping that in mind has helped us make games and features that satisfy and, sometimes, surprise our players.
When creating something new for the Sims community, what is your number one priority?
The number one priority is the player themselves and remembering that this is their game. Sims fans are super passionate which is great! At the end of the day we really want to make something that they will enjoy. Sometimes that means going towards ideas and themes that they know they want. Other times that means trying something new that still fits in really well with how our players like to play. Clubs from The Sims 4 Get Together is a really great example of that. Clubs was a new idea, we’d never done anything before where you could customize your Sims friend groups to that level. It was awesome when we got feedback from players that it was changing how they played in a way that they really liked. That’s a magic moment when you can present something new to the game that fits really well and satisfies a player need that they maybe didn’t know they needed. That’s super fun.
Obviously, you were a fan of the Sims long before you began working for Electronic Arts. How does being a producer for the product affect the way you play?
The surprise factor has changed a bit. When I played in high school and college I had a ton of fun exploring every object and situation that the team had created. The game surprised me all the time. Now being on the other side and working on the game, you know a lot of the surprises before you sit down to play. I’m a storyteller so it’s fun to craft stories with my Sims, but I notice that I also play with an eye for what I can change or add. I love running into situations in the game that spark an idea, “It would be so cool if I could do this right now!” I can go to the office and talk to designers about it. We’ve had some really fun things added to the game that way. So playing the game for fun has become a way that I can find inspiration for ideas on how to keep making the game better.
When you walk into the office every morning, what is the vibe like?
It’s usually quiet in the mornings. People trickle in slowly and the vibe is really nice. I really like my teammates so that makes it fun to come into work every day. Some days are really busy, other days it hits me that I get to hang out with friends and make games. It’s hard to have a harsh vibe when you remember that.
How do you give your creativity a boost when you feel it’s lacking?
I play piano! I have a little keyboard at work that I play with headphones at lunch sometimes. Writing a song can be like working out a puzzle, it gets your mind going. If I need to really focus I’ll listen to some jazz while I work. Music really kick starts and energizes my mind. I rely on it a lot for my thought process all throughout the day.
You changed your major a couple times at Mills College, eventually ending up as an economics major. Do you think your career path would have been different if you continued to study music or dance?
Absolutely. I liked economics, but I love music and dance. If I’d continued studying them I probably wouldn’t have entered the games industry. I was trying to find a way to marry economics with a subject that I was passionate about and that’s how I ended up in games. Even if I wasn’t going to pursue music or dance, it was really important to me that I still work on something that I really loved.
How do you see the Sims expanding in the next five years?
This is the exciting part of a Sims game to me. We can add really fun themed experiences for our players that completely change the game for them. The game evolves with everything we add and it’s a lot of fun to see what the community does with new content and see how they’re playing with it. In 5 years I hope that they’ve found some crazy new way to play that we totally weren’t anticipating. The Sims community is really good at that.
A lot of people have things that keep them up at night, but what wakes you up and gets you out of bed in the morning?
I make plans that I’m excited about. I like to learn new things and if there’s something that I’m interested in I look for classes that I can take that relate to it. Usually it has something to do with art, music, or writing. I put together creative projects outside of work which helps feed my desire to explore new things. When I do that it’s easy to jump out of bed really amped for the day because I can’t wait to get started and make progress. I like to work on projects a little bit in the morning before going to work. That usually gets me out of bed pretty quickly.