A short beginners' tutorial for your user files, which you will find in Documents>Electronic Arts>The Sims 3.
Latest update 12th March 2020.
When you first buy your game and install it, it only contains the bare bones. No expansion packs, no downloads, not much really. It's ready to play but somewhat empty. It looks like this.
After you've played the game for some time, added expansion packs, downloads, mods, and created Sims and Lots, it's going to look a lot more like this.
The game creates user folders and files it needs as you play. There is one folder you have to create yourself if you add mods. But even if you never add anything, your game will work so much better if you learn how to maintain it. Some of the data that collects in these files during gameplay will gradually slow your game down or even cause it to crash. Everything can be fixed, but it's much better to keep it clean by removing unwanted files regularly. If you get into the habit of doing this whenever you save and exit your game, you will have far less problems in the long run.
Anything with a solid red arrow should always be deleted after you've finished your session of playing. They will otherwise simply build up and cause your game to slow down. Eventually it will become unplayable.
The DCBackup folder - marked with a purple arrow - must not be deleted, but most of its contents can be. They are a repeat of the DCCache folder in a different format. Never delete the DCCache folder, or you will lose many of the items in your saved game.
Here's what's inside:
You can (and should) delete all of these files EXCEPT the last one. Leave the file named ccmerged.package
You can safely delete all the files and folders marked in blue if you want to, but they stay small and do not usually cause a problem. Not worth the bother on a regular basis, but good to know they can go if you are troubleshooting.
The green arrow points to folders and files that may well be empty, unless you have put something in there. If you delete these you will lose the contents, so unless you really know what you are doing (which I assume you don't or you wouldn't be reading this!) leave them be. You'll learn more about those in the advanced section, coming soon.
Unless you want to change (or damage!) your current game permanently, leave these ALONE!
But of course if you do want to change your game, you'll need to know how. Which brings us to.......
Sooner or later you'll want to add to your game from the incredible community of talented Sims 3 modders.
There are countless items out there, from hairstyles to complete overhauls of your game. These are known as "cc" and "mods" somewhat interchangeably, which is confusing and not always accurate. So let's have a look at them.
We are now mainly dealing with two folders, the Downloads folder, which is built into the game, and the Mods folder, which you add yourself.
Here's a peek inside a Downloads folder.
As you can see, most of these are marked with the official Sims plumbob logo on a blue background, and this tells you they are "Sims Packs" AKA "Official Custom Content", but not all come from EA games. Can you tell which do and which don't? No, neither can the game! Sometimes a custom content creator will include their own (abbreviated) identity in the file name. The [Sintiklia]Male hair Dark Prince file was created by a creator known in the community as Sintiklia. Google will take you to much more "cc" (custom content" by this creator, they want you to find them, so they have included this prefix to make it easy.
But not always. The file amTopLoftColorblock is from the official Sims 3 Store, but the file am Caveman Hair is from a community creator who has extracted a hairstyle that exists within the game (but not available usually) and shared it for others to use, effectively "unlocking it". Perhaps they don't need or want to be identified easily.
Avi Kaplan Facial hair is a new creation from the community, but also does not include any identification. In fact it was made by Serpentrogue and can be found at TSR (The Sims Resource).
Riverview is a world not included with the game in any expansion, but free to download at the official Sims 3 Store, and there are many other items available free there, both official and in The Exchange.
The other sets shown here are "venues" that can be purchased at the store.
Lastly you'll see two files named [spr]facialhair_N01 (also by Serpentrogue, my go-to for beards!) one of which has the suffix (1). This simply means it was put in the downloads folder twice. Why? Well I move cc in and out of my downloads folder all the time, and mistakes get made....... I left it here to show you it's really no big deal and you can simply delete the duplicate.
(Ignore FSIViewCountTracking and nav files. Just leave them be.)
All of these Sims Packs are installed via The Launcher, which you see when you start up your game.
If you open the Downloads window you'll see those same cc files listed, and you can install them into your game. Once installed you can uninstall them by going into the Installed Content window. Strictly speaking, once your cc is safely in the Installed Content file, you can delete all the Sims Packs in the Downloads folder (or window) but there are two things to consider.
Keep a back-up copy of the cc you collect. It can be as simple as one folder that you place in your Documents folder or perhaps on your desktop. As you collect more, you may find it better to organize it so you can find things easily. You can do this yourself with sub-folders, or you can download an organizer from various places, including THIS ONE. Because....
Sometimes things go wrong. As much as we love this game it must be remembered that it has more bugs than a hot day in August. Add to that we are putting extra files into it that aren't always quite right. Some conflict with each other, some are just borked, frankly. In fact everything on this page, I have learned from fixing my game after it glitched, or after I did something wrong. Sometimes I swear I spend more time fixing it than playing it (my family think so, anyway) but what else can you do? It is my favourite game, and it all feels worth it, to me.
So, where do you get this custom content from?
There are hundreds of sites offering free cc, some better than others. Be aware: some are not safe to download from. For now, as you are new to the scene, stick with the following
The official Sims 3 Store
TSR (The Sims Resource)
Mod the Sims
Around The Sims 3
Your files will arrive zipped. If you've never opened a zip file before, don't worry, you can use Winzip and Winrar for an evaluation without buying it, and it's as simple as double-clicking on the zip file, and you'll see this. Double-click on the Sim Pack and it will automatically go to your Downloads folder in Sims 3.
If you have a zip file containing multiple Sim Packs you'll have to manually extract them to the downloads folder, using the "Extract To" button. Make sure you put them in the downloads folder inside the game.
Then simply install the files using The Launcher.
You can do this while the game is already open. You'll see "Open Launcher" as an option in the bottom left of your screen, under the three dots button.
If you open the zip file and discover that the file inside is not a Sim Pack, but a PACKAGE file, don't panic. You'll be putting it in the Mods folder. So now we'll have a look in there.
Unless instructed otherwise, PACKAGE files go in the Packages folder. But first you need one. The Mods folder needs to be just right, so it's best to download it ready to go. You'll find the download you need at Sims Wiki - scroll down to find FrameworkSetup.zip (blue download icon). Extract it into your Sims 3 folder. And off you go!
So...what's a mod if it's not a download? You just downloaded it, right? Well, there are two answers to that really. It's called a mod to differentiate it because it's a different type of file, and it needs to go in a different place. It's still custom content. CC. Just saved differently. Doesn't need to be installed, it'll simply show up when your game opens. (For that reason it cannot be done while the game is already open).
But secondly, some mods are not necessarily items you can buy or build, they can be new actions within the game. Also known as mod scripts, which your game will alert you to.
Both Mod the Sims and NRAAS have a wide selection of these, some simply help your game run smoothly, while others create new game animations and activities.
I consider some of these essential when playing, for both reasons, and I would not be without the following
The eagle-eyed reader will notice that I keep these in a sub-folder named Critical. You can organize your packages folder with a few sub-folders in this way. When using a new mod, I always put it in separately to the folders, just to test it out. Once I know it works OK, it finds a permanent home.
A useful utility to see if Mods have issues before you put them in your game is Delphy's Dashboard.
Put this on your desktop, and open it up. Open Scan Folder, select your Documents>Sims 3>Mods>Packages folder, or anywhere else you may have stashed new mods, and save yourself time trying to figure out which new Mod has messed everything up.
So, that's a sort of preventative method, but sooner or later, you'll be troubleshooting, so let's delve into the crazy world of
To avoid a broken heart, save your game frequently, and use the Save As option, giving the title a new number. Next time you open the game up you can clear out the old versions.
What can go wrong? If you haven't experienced it yet, you will. The list includes, but is not limited to
Game crashes to desktop.
Game won't save.
Game won't open.
Sims get stuck.
Sims look WEIRD
Sims become invisible.
Sims can't go home from vacation.
Game just stops. But recovers eventually.
Game locks up totally.
Games crawls to snail speed.
Game stops at the same time every (Sim) day for a while.
Sims can't complete actions.
Pregnant Sims can't give birth.
and there are about 2000 more possibilities.
Some are more common than others. Some, even EA have no fix for. Some will require the help of real experts (you'll find them at the forums on the sites listed above, also at Reddit and Facebook groups). But some are actually not that hard to fix once you understand how it works. And you almost do, by now. I'm going to run you through a few easy fixes that should help you get used to trouble-shooting.
Let's begin at the end though. As crazy as this may seem, the FIRST thing I'm going to go through is what to do when nothing else works. Because this always does. But it's a bit drastic.
You remember those first two images at the top of the page? You'll need to refer to those.
Before you do anything else, create a folder somewhere else on your computer (e.g. Desktop) and call it Sims 3 Storage or something like that. You'll find it comes in very useful.
Now open your Documents>Electronic Arts folder...
...and cut that whole Sims 3 folder, and paste it into your new storage folder. And don't panic. It's going to be OK.
Start your game, but when The Launcher opens, STOP.
Go back into Documents>Electronic Arts folder, and you'll see the game has made a new Sims 3 folder. WOAH!
Now you are going to replace some of the new folders, using the old ones from your stored game.
COPY them, don't cut them.
Downloads (if you have installed any)
Installed Worlds (if you have installed any)
Now continue opening the game from The Launcher.
9 times out of 10, this will fix anything you couldn't fix any other way. It's a last resort before giving up on your current game and starting over.
If it's just the Sim and his home that matters to you there is another way, but you'll have to prepare for it.
Inside Library Folder
Inside the Library folder you'll find a bunch of files named is gobbledegook. There are the households and lots you've created, but it's impossible to tell what's what. So, you need to create a new file.
In your game, click on the three dots button in the bottom left corner, then select Edit Town. Find any household that is precious. and you want to save, and click on the house icon over it (red arrow, below).
Edit Town Image
Now click on Save Copy To Library (yellow arrow, below)
You can now decide whether to save only your Sim (s) ("Household") or their house (Lot) too.
If you now refer back to the Edit Town Image you can see the saved Sims (purple arrows) or the entire household and house (green arrow) at the bottom of the page in the section commonly known as the Sim Bin. Note: to get both options like this, you will need to do it twice,
Make a note of the time you did this, return to game (save as you do so) and carry on playing.
You can then go into your Library folder and rename the file created at the time noted, to a name that makes sense.
By doing this whenever you make major changes (new family member, house reno etc) and keeping a bac-up copy of the file (in that Sims Storage folder you made!) then even if you lose everything else, you won't lose that.
While you are doing this, also save a back-up copy of your current game. But oddly enough don't go looking for that in the Current Game folder. It'll be empty when the game is closed anyway.
You will need to save your game, and then look in your Saves folder. You'll see something like this.
But here's a more interesting example, which I'll explain carefully.
Strictly speaking these game saves should be in pairs as per Riverview Garden. Every time you save the game ALSO automatically makes a back-up in case things go wrong.
But if you "Save As', with numbering, or an entirely new name, you can delete the older game saves when you first open the game. This still leaves behind the back-up file. You can delete this if you have no use for it. So I shall remove Riverview.sims.3.backup and Riverview 2.sims3.backup during my next clean-up.
What happened with Riverview 5? There's no back-up copy. Quite simply it did not save properly. The back-up failed to generate. This can happen if the game locks up and you have to quit without saving, or it can happen randomly. This is exactly the reason why you have to save regularly, and why "Save As" is a good option, especially after you've done a lot of work.
When you have successfully saved a precious game, you can copy the back-up file and put it in your handy-dandy Sims Storage Folder. Not only is it safe there if things go horribly wrong, but you can start a clean copy of the game, and/or play it quite differently, and add this back in at some later point. You'll need your Library file too, or you may get some odd surprises.
It's also a good idea to save your Sim, once you have perfected him or her, into the other Sim Bin, the one in Create-A-Sim (aka Create-A-Household)
Click on the 3 dots (white arrow) that will bring up two options. Right now you need the lower one (green arrow) that saves her straight to your game. The other option will package her up into a Sims file so you can store her away or share her. You'll find her in Uploads in your Launcher and in the SavedSims folder.
So what's the difference between saving her this way, storing her as a Sim file, or keeping her Library file saved separately?
If you save her as just described, you can open up Create-A-Sim at any time and find her in the pre-made Sims (orange arrow). Click on the asterisk for custom Sims
However, all you'll get is her appearance and traits. She'll have no skills, no inventory, and worst of all, no money apart from her initial allowance. If that's what you want, go ahead and use her as is. It is often fun to just start over, but you may have spent hours getting her appearance just right and she's a favourite.
But if you want her skills, memories, relationships, family tree, cash and inventory, you need her Library file.
Due to known examples of glitches, I recommend doing both.
Then when something untoward happens (including your Sim dying), you haven't lost your them.
I should add at this point that there are several ways to resurrect a dead Sim within the game, you'll find these in my "If Only I'd Known" section, coming soon. But they don't always work, so don't take any chances.
One last thing to remember. If you used any custom content to make your Sim, you will need to keep that safe too. One way is to create a sub-folder in your Sims Storage Folder with the name of the Sim, a copy of their Sim file, a copy of their Library file (s) and copies of all the custom content used, perhaps with a text file reminding you of what you used and where you got it from, as extra security. This last bit may be especially important if you used custom sliders to create their facial features; a copy of the PACKAGE file for each slider Mod could be kept here too. Everything together, all neat and tidy and easy to find.
I will now introduce you to the "If Only I'd Known" gnome. He's a sad little guy, full of regrets.
He didn't save his game regularly, and ignored all my advice. But he also never read my tips on how to get the most out of your game.