Will Wright on Spore / Sims / SL

Spore_1 Popular Science has a fascinating and very long interview with uber-game designer Will Wright about all sorts of stuff readers here might find interesting.  E.g., cooperative gaming, educational gaming, game development finances, strategies for integrating user-generated content, what went wrong with The Sims Online, and what WW thinks about Second Life (he's a fan).  Here are a few snippets:

Q: Sims Online seemed like a slam dunk, got huge press, it was going to change the nature of gaming. And it still exists, but it wasn't the raging success people were expecting.

WW: I think that's actually the reason, because with The Sims, I think people love controlling this experience, and creating everything, and playing out these stories, and having the ultimate power to shape the experience and environment to whatever they want to. In an online game you can't even pause the game, or speed it up – you can't control time at all, because everybody has to be on the same time sync...<snip>

I find I don't subscribe to World of Warcraft – I appreciate what they did, but I have maybe a half hour to play, an hour to play, on my own schedule. I can't join a guild and make commitments...

Q: [T]o my eye at least, [feedback on player designs in Spore is] potentially the coolest part of the game.

WW: Looking at things like Pokemon and Neopets, and how much people kind of identify with these creatures, and they didn't even create them – they trained them or gave them some stats or whatever – but it was always Pikachu or whatever. In this case I want people to feel like they are Pokemon designers, Neopet designers, or Pixar designers, and the range of creatures is pretty astounding.

Q: But you're not looking at an economy where people sell what they've created, like in Second Life?

WW: Well, those economies that develop – there's no way for us to prevent them, first of all. If there's a reason for it to exist, as an external economy, they can always go do it on eBay, so I'm not saying we can prevent this from happening. There probably will be some sort of economy that we haven't quite figured out, where the most popular creature, or person, get some sort of reward, and we're not quite sure what form that reward will take yet.       

Those are just to get you interested -- read the full interview here.

Thanks to blogger/CatchBobber Nick Nova for spotting this!


Comments on Will Wright on Spore / Sims / SL:

Jeff Freeman says:

The Sims Online just needed to be The Sims, online.

It got too much MMO in it.

Posted Feb 22, 2007 2:32:17 PM | link

greglas says:

I'm not sure if it was (is) too much or too little of an MMOG. But based on what I've seen and what Wright says in the interview, he agrees. Spore definitely seems like more a child of the Sims (& Neopets) than a child of EverQuest.

Posted Feb 22, 2007 2:46:58 PM | link

Alvis Brigis says:

According to Wright (same article) it's both: "...this really is a hybrid, it's what we call a massively single-player game, where we try to get the benefits of an online game, which is all the people building the world collectively together, without the liabilities, which is that the 14-year-old can kill you or that you've invested all this time in your planet and somebody comes along and blows it up..."

He goes on to say that there will be big "sandboxes", but no persistent pervasive world, though they may scale it up to that. In that sense, it's more Sims, but I think that it will still feel much like EverQuest or a scaled down version of Eve. ... Whichever way it leans, it's going to be huge. Can't wait to see stuffed animals, cartoons, halloween costumes based on the coolest monsters, the best of which will rise to the top via the game's "metaverse report." --- Wright, "One of the things we're going to be doing continually is rating the most popular content, so when you make a creature you're going to be able to go to what we call the metaverse report and get a sense of what is your creature's popularity ranking relative to other people's creatures."

Posted Feb 22, 2007 8:07:04 PM | link

greglas says:

Thanks, Alvis -- In a way, I think all of that underlines what he was saying about the failure of the Sims being due to forced co-temporality (and his complaint about WoW fits as well).

How's this for an analogy? Contemporary VWs = IM : Spore = email? (I.e., synchronous vs. asynchronous game platforms for user-generated value?)

It's also spatially "asynchronous" too -- not sure what the right word is for that.

I agree it's going to be a big hit.

Posted Feb 22, 2007 8:52:51 PM | link

Alvis Brigis says:

Good points Greg. Will believes he has solved the underlying co-temporality connundrum. Intuitively, it sure seem like he's done exactly that. If so, that's a huge novel accomplishment and Spore will be big, big earner (because it also looks to be fun as all heck yo).

And great analogy. Overall, Spore doesn't force people into real-time accountability, doesn't pressure them like IM. It permits them more control over their own time. But there is a limited multiplayer mode that spoils the 100% pureness of the analogy. Perhaps that's like limited IM, or a bulletin board / blog limited to a small close-knit group. Maybe the IM in your analogy should be a wide-open chat room?

Spatial asynchrony is a splendid term. Makes me think, and I'm riffing: multi-dimensional, overlapping, populated by multiple developmental pockets, emergent bubbles, rife with cross-over, possibility / phase space multiplier :). This spatial asynchrony may be indicative of "higher-use" of game space, of possibility maximization. So elegant....

When it comes to Virtualizing the Physical and imagining where it's all headed, I think mixing this spatial asynchrony, or temporal asynchrony, or, hell, MEST asynchrony, with Jerry's scenario expands what's possible and potentially helps us avoid chewing through all of the world's content. MEST / Systems asynchrony can multiply possibilities and make more use of phase space. The centralized Earth/Info platform Jerry proposes need not be limited to one contiguous physical manifestation. It might manifest in radically different ways in different situations depending on the user, info, and other conditions. It would make sense that such a structure (to get really out there) would make the best use of all available dimensional phase spaces and create bazillions of overlapping bubbles of possibility, like a huge fizzy chemical reaction...

Spore, SL, WoW, Google Earth, etc are all incrementally revealing phase space and new behavioral possibilities. Spatially immersive stuff has the power to unlock a great deal of imagination, just as it inspired your new "spatial asynchrony" term. :)



Posted Feb 22, 2007 11:29:38 PM | link

Svgreaser says:

Hmm, thats the sort of idea that I've been throwing around for a while now. Its the sort of "pioneer" spirit that hasn't been possible (or at least fully-realized) in games previously, even now its just appearing and it is adding a whole new dimension onto the previously linear content of developers.

The whole idea of being able to find something which other people won't see, despite having the same game, is exciting at the least

The sort of thing Will Wright is doing in terms of gameplay and dynamic content is definitely the direction that most RPG and FPS games will go in the next 10 years.

Posted Feb 23, 2007 2:26:49 PM | link

csven says:

Excellent article. Although I've read plenty of earlier articles, I wasn't aware of the extent to which the content would be shared. As Alvis said,"it's going to be huge." And if they're still planning on offering a fabrication service, or linking up with one to provide models, this game could have a significant impact outside the game industry.

Posted Feb 23, 2007 5:52:37 PM | link

Baba says:

Spore seems to be just about everything you could want from a sim/strategy game. There's really only one more thing I could want from the game. AI training and design your own intelligence type gameplay.

More like terrainium 3D.
http://www.windowsforms.net/Terrarium/WhatIsTerrarium/?tabindex=10&tabid=42

Posted Feb 23, 2007 9:24:40 PM | link

Thomas says:

Spore is the most hyped up game ever.

Will be interesting to see it when it comes out, but I don't like how everybody has already decided it's a wonderful game.

From what I've seen and heard, it's a series of minigames wrapped in a tech demonstration.

Posted Feb 26, 2007 12:19:49 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

Well, call me an idealist or whatever, but I've already told the people in my office not to expect to see me the week that Spore launches.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of thoughts.

1. Looking at WW's games in the light of the (original) Bartle typology, they seem to be getting more and more oriented toward Explorers. And the Popular Science interview makes that goal explicit -- he's trying to create games that reward exploratory play.

Which I love personally, but that's a radical departure from the trend in conventional MMOGs today, each iteration of which seems more determined to provide Achiever-oriented gameplay and rewards. Spore is not quite a MMOG, but the online component is certainly one of its selling points.

So will Spore succeed brilliantly as a kind of online game by satisfying a desire for worldy, non-Achiever gameplay that's going unfulfilled by current (and imminent) MMOGs?

Or will it fail as an online game because it foolishly doesn't supply the very Achiever-focused features that we're told today's online gamers expect?

2. I thought the Q&A in the PopSci interview on whether WW's games were "educational" was especially interesting. From my point of view, the goal behind The Sims was to educate individuals that chasing after material goods was stupid. (Which would explain why the typical Achiever online gamer had approximately zero interest in playing The Sims Online.)

The Sims was computer-game-as-social-commentary. The anti-consumerism message didn't annoy the masses because the gameplay (including design, appearance, and sound) was so strong, but there was certainly an "educational" message there.

So what about Spore? Is Spore also a game wrapped around a sociopolitical theory -- in its case, the belief that too many people care only about themselves and need to be educated into caring about their species?

I'm not suggesting that's a bad message to send. I'm just curious to learn what folks here think about that possibility, both specific to Spore as well as generally.

--Bart

Posted Mar 1, 2007 7:17:15 PM | link

greglas says:

Bart> So what about Spore? Is Spore also a game wrapped around a sociopolitical theory -- in its case, the belief that too many people care only about themselves and need to be educated into caring about their species?

Do you think so? I don't know.

To the extent it is about strategic evolution and species competition, I don't think you can find anything there akin to the ironic anti-consumerist readings of the Sims (presuming those readings are justified).

To the extent Wright has an agenda with this, I think his references to Powers of Ten and "micro to macro" are what he wants to be the "message" take-away. You see "civilization" as just one zoom level and draw the parallels between community members in society and protozoa in a primordial soup. This is actually more consistent with his work before the Sims, I think. (Compare SimCity, SimEarth, SimAnt -- put them all together and note how they're all the same game = Spore).

Don't know for sure, though -- it'll be interesting to "read" it.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 8:08:37 PM | link

ErikC says:

it might be the same design idea that inspired them all but isn't it a bit unfair to say they are all the same game? Surely the gameplay experience differs substantially.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 8:20:11 PM | link

greglas says:

Oh right -- I didn't mean to imply that.

Bart was just talking about the message, and I'm just saying that Wright has already done "sandbox" games at ant scale, human scale, city scale, and Earth scale. To the extent he's talking about the Powers of Ten film, Spore seems to be revisiting his all prior themes as a kind of magnum opus.

From what I've seen, my guess is that this is going to be much more fun than SimEarth and SimAnt (which were great) because the gameplay experience will be much different. Just judging from the demo videos online, it feels more like a casual game/RTS mix, which is very much unlike his previous signature stuff.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 9:10:52 PM | link

Alvis Brigis says:

IMO, Spore is intended to diffuse system topsight. As Greg points out, Wright's previous works have been inexorably leading up to this opus -- smaller systems building into bigger systems and becoming subsets. During an interview with Wright about VW's and futurism at an Accelerating Change conference a few years back, I developed the impression that Will was the most balanced, systematic thinker I have ever spoken with. He was able to grasp the broadest Evo-Devo concepts and immediately relate them to his games. IMO, Wright understands the significance and sociopolitical impact of his games as well as anyone. And, being that he's a pure systems thinker with serious human empathy, he cannot help but deliberately create games that advance his concept of what's good to the masses. He's the JK Rowling of the gaming world (notice that Harry Potter is all about love) and has created Spore, perhaps the most-diffusable systems quantification statement to date.

I think Wright realizes the impact a highly addictive game that reveals systems linkages, multiple ecosystems, and basic evolution to its users can/will have on people at large. He's got to have imagined the impact this will have on myriad kids whose parents or systems deny to them that evolution is a real phenomenon. Girl, "Daddy, please let me play Spore tonight. I already did all my homework." Dad, "Why don't you play something fun and educational like Medal of Honor or that new Crusades game?" Girl, "But Daddy, Spore is educational, it help me learn about science and biology." Daddy, "I knew it, Spore is evil, blasphemous, and you're never playing it again!" IMO, Wright is hoping that his new game will shift broader social perception of what life is toward a more accurate view that also results in more moral behavior.

He's a genius because he can take complex evo-devo systems concepts and package them inside the funnest trojan pony ride. And he knows it -- just read the article again with Wright's topsight diffusion goal in mind to see how calculating and diplomatic he is about this stuff. And I applaud him for it.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 2:28:44 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

The idea of Spore being designed as an exploration of Powers of Ten seems reasonable, but that's still about gameplay (both in terms of natural-exploration-as-play and actual gameplay features). It's the social message around which the gameplay is wrapped that I'm curious about.

Obviously that starts with, "Is there any such message in Spore?" Bearing in mind that the thing hasn't even shipped yet, it does sound to me like there is a "think outside yourself" message in Spore. Actually, I just remembered something WW said on page 8 of the PopSci interview:

"... if you could just get everybody to be a little bit more aware of the world around them, and how it works, and have that feedback in to the course the world is taking, gaming could be an incredibly powerful mechanism for steering the system."

If that's the sociopolitical message-in-a-game I think it is, it's especially interesting to me given my belief that in addition to learned habits, people have innate temperaments. For example, I see being focused on acquiring material goods and stable relationships to satisfy a need for security (my working definition of the Guardian/Achiever temperament) as a natural, normal worldview. If so, then games like The Sims and Spore that say, "You're too materialistic and self-centered; you need to be educated out of that stuff" simply aren't going to play well with those folks.

And if those Guardian/Achiever folks constitute a majority of current online gamers (which looks like the case to me), then Spore could have trouble selling to them.

So I think I'm looking forward to the "adaptive" games WW mentions, where the gameplay adjusts to the player's preferred "gameplay worldview." (If there's not a nice long German word for "gameplay worldview," there should be!) An adaptive game played by an Achiever would slowly create more and more objects to possess and lots of hoops to jump though to obtain those things. But the same game played by an Explorer might adapt by generating complex and interlocking systems whose behavior and rules can be exposed through the scientific method.

An online game like that might be the One Game to Rule Them All.

Unless it got swamped by a "we know what's best for everyone" social message. Indoctrination != fun.

Re: the Powers of Ten thing and Maxis games, let's not forget about SimTower (somewhere between The Sims and SimCity?) and SimLife. Where would SimLife fit on the Maxis Game Powers of Ten chart?

As for SimEarth, I can't help but think of Spore as SimEarth II. It's a very similar idea in that you grow single-celled lifeforms into spacefaring civilizations. There are some differences:

  • Spore doesn't include an initial planet-formation stage (?)
  • Spore is less planetary/global and more focused on individual actors
  • Spore takes you off-planet into the galaxy

But those differences seem minor compared to the big similarity of playing with increasing levels of biological complexity. That doesn't mean SimEarth was a bad game or that Spore is derivative; it just suggests that Spore itself is more evolutionary (so to speak) than revolutionary.

Except for the procedural-content sharing part. That, I'm really looking forward to seeing in action.

--Bart

Posted Mar 2, 2007 2:49:43 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Alvis, yes, Will Wright is definitely the most empathatic and thoughtful game god there is out there, he's great. I was very happy to follow his work up close through the Sims early offline games and then the Sims Online where I spent two years.

I don't think he's Rawlings or Harry Potter necessarily, because Harry Potter isn't necessarily "all about love" as you imagine. That's an interpolation.

And just as Will Wright, the game-god, made Spore, and declared it to be about evolution -- but evolution that emanated from his mind -- so the RL God could have made evolution, too. See? There's no need to be doctrinaire and dogmatic on this issue, and impugn to people that don't think the world is entirely explained by evolution some putative repressive mission regarding Will Wright's game or your liberal free-thinking rights in general. Will Wright didn't declare there is no God or God is dead by making Spore; that's just your interpolation.

I think he does think a lot more about how these things play out with the social world of players than the Lindens do; he's just a different sort of person who is not the average tekkie, and he's very much a loner and an individualist, it seems to me, even while working with a team; he's not in a group-think cult. Therefore he is freer to think, it seems to me.

In TSO, I know he was upset about the effect on players of the Sim Shadow Government, even if he might admire "emergent game play" -- though he studied it clinically, so to speak, he didn't celebrate or justify or meta-discuss to death the griefing, the way so many do here on these pages. Instead, he tried to come to terms with it.

What he tried to do was to DEAL WITH griefing in as thoughtful a way possible. He encouraged alternative networks of sims to the Sim Shadow Government -- that kind of intervention into the world Deus ex machina might not have been good, however. Alternatives would try to get started, but always be infiltrated by evil once again that would turn all the light squares dark.

He then nerfed the tools. First, the got rid of build perms for all roomies given automatically. He did this in the face of mounting vandalism and crime and user protests, as the SSG and mafia groups would invade their way into people's homes and businesses, pretend to be their friends, then sabotage their builds while they were offline, erasing or changing the textures on their homes and spelling out obscenities with floor tiles. Then abuse-report them for an obscene build.

Despite protests from people like me who said that if he nerfed the build perms, it would turn each lot owner or founder into a little despot, surly and suspicious, issuing build perms on suffrance and destroying the cooperative ethic of the world, he or the company ultimately decided to create the little despot lot owners system. To understand the system, the lots weren't just "my child ad" but more often than not these cooperative work places where people worked together on collective job objects to boost efficiency and payout, like the pizza machine or the office machine.

And of course it just spawned a lot of security-consciousness and suspiciousness and made that owner be more powerful and more dog-in-the-manger than they needed to be.

They also made the decision to remove "gloving," which was something some people actually did deliberately to increase their 'redlinining" or red balloons indicating a negative rating for bad conduct.

Anyway, he wasn't above intervening in his world, for good, unlike the Lindens, who leave it out for people to languish and be griefed and harassed and blighted and just watch them and find it interesting and "emergent".

What resulted wasn't always the best move, but then he was meeting the demands of many people when he nerfed stuff.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 3:50:34 PM | link

William says:

won't spore be really big game in terms of space?
each stage is like a game of its own. won't there have to be about four discs? all the graphics would take up a massive amount, but the programming for the mini-interfaces such as creature creating and buildings and all the extra stuff would take up LOADS. it would be better to release it on several platforms. That is extremly important as it would limit the game if it was only for PC.

Posted Mar 8, 2007 11:53:52 AM | link

Alvis Brigis says:

Mark Wallace at 3pointd live blogged this awesome Will Wright presentation at SXSW. It supports the importance Wright places on teaching systems to peeps/playaz.

Here's an excerpt:

Wright: You can take any technology and understand it as an extension of the body — cars as an extension of legs, TV of eyes, houses of skin. With computers, the most important thing they can do is extend the imagination. They’re an amplifier for imagination. We’re already using them for education and other things. How will this impact world going forward? To me it’s a question I think about as I’m falling asleep. Every now and then the world goes through a major paradigm shift, we have to rebuild our basic model of the world. Sometimes this is driven by social changes, it happens maybe once or twice a lifetime. But with technology, it’s starting to happen more and more often, some of it comes from the grassroots, but the rates at which major paradigm shifts are happening is more and more frequent over time.

When you look at games specifically and entertainment in general heading into the future, games have a perception as being simple and meaningless, but really they can be much much more than that. They can allow us to develop systemic thinking, build much more elaborate, more accurate models of the world around us. Because of that, they potentially give us the ability to approach the future with just a little bit more interlligence than we had before. They can allow us to change the world just a little bit for the better over the rest of our lives.

Posted Mar 13, 2007 6:59:26 PM | link

Kidster says:

Hi. I like to play the sims and make characters. I have an idea for The Sims 3. See, instead of seeing your person you get to see the world from their view. You can run and walk and do anything else, but see the backside of your head, eyes, or anything else you can't see on you. Like, you make one person and that's your person for the Whole entire game. you can even socialize and swim and you can chose where you swim and stuff. And who you talk to and what you do! instead of just controling your person with a line with a circle and arrow attatched to it, you can control your self. Like your in the game. I own every game of the sims for gamecube or for PS2. I love playing it and is really hoping that you take my advice.

Kidster

Posted Apr 11, 2007 5:10:56 PM | link