Q&A: Will Wright on the rules of Stupid Fun Club

The celebrated designer explains the origins of his new studio's name, why he left EA, and what he thinks about Spore.

The first rule of Stupid Fun Club is apparently to talk about Stupid Fun Club. That's the name of the new company announced today by Electronic Arts and Will Wright, influential designer behind Sim City, the Sims, and Spore. This morning, EA revealed that Wright would be leaving the publisher to start up the aforementioned company. Formerly an employee of EA, Wright will now be a partner with it, given that the two are the principal shareholders of the new venture.

Will Wright

As news of his departure rippled through the gaming world, Wright took time out to answer a few questions for GameSpot. During the course of the interview, the AIAS Hall of Famer explained the origins of Stupid Fun Club, why he decided to split from EA and set up his new business in a historically difficult economy, and how he feels about his most recent major EA release, the heavily hyped Spore.

GameSpot: Why choose the name Stupid Fun Club?

Will Wright: [Laughs] Well, it confused our bank pretty nicely. When we tried to open our bank account, we told them the name and they laughed. It took us quite a while to convince them that was actually the name.

GS: Your games in the past have been pointed to specifically as examples of games that can be more than stupid fun, so I assume it's tongue-in-cheek and not a change in direction for your career.

WW: Well, it depends on how you look at it. I think there are going to be things coming out of the Stupid Fun Club that clearly reflect the lineage of games I made in the past, especially gaming experiences. But there are going to be some things that feel like they're out of the box, kind of neat ways of looking at entertainment. Stupid Fun Club is more meant to be just off the wall and odd.

Every company needs a logo.

This started many years ago actually, with friends I met doing Robot Wars together. That's when we originally coined the name, because it's kind of ridiculous to invest hundreds of hours building these things and then destroy them. But it's great fun, and it's really stupid.

GS: Is there another company you can point to as an example of what you want to be and how you want to handle Stupid Fun Club?

WW: Not exactly. There are some things that have aspects of the way we structure the Stupid Fun Club. In some sense, what I'm really looking at is the evolution of the entertainment industry.

I don't think the [audiences] are making huge distinctions between the formats that the producers of these things make. If I'm into Star Wars or Lost, I might go to the Web site or buy the toys. To me, it's the IP that really matters, that strand of consistency and quality through it.

Although Wright acknowledges it was overhyped, the designer still thinks Spore was a success.

But if you look at the way entertainment is produced, you have these companies that are very specialized in TV or toys or games, and later on they think, "How do we turn this into a movie or a TV show." We want to focus on it from the core outward.

It also takes a lot of the learning I've had in games about how you get people emotionally involved by making games very user-centric. We're trying to take some of those ideas into other fields.

There are aspects of other companies out there that I really respect. Companies like IDEO, the design company; Marvel, the way they've managed their brands; and Lucas as well, for the way they've approached merchandising and things like that.

GS: With the owning of original IP and expanding into multimedia, this sounds like Oddworld Inhabitants. They haven't exactly struck it rich. Is there a problem with this idea coming from the gaming sector?

WW: Well, we tend to think of brands as things that were born in linear entertainment. Typically when people think of brands they think of something with characters and storylines and environments, like a Star Wars or a Batman. Coming from the interactive side, I tend to think a little more fluidly about what a brand can be.

Look at a brand like Lego, for instance. It's a toy, but it's also a style. There have been games done with it, and in some sense it's inherently playful and involving. So when I talk about a brand, I'm thinking more in that sense than in the, "Let's develop a fictional world of characters that we can develop a movie about or do a TV show with" sense.

If the past tells us anything, it's that Wright's future projects will be decidedly different.

GS: You've garnered success in gaming as a creator. What's the impetus to expand into different media? Is it just good business?

WW: It's more about opportunities. When we were doing the Stupid Fun Club, we built all these robots and we started making them talk and interact with each other. We started noticing that certain technological things that are available now are opening up new design possibilities in entertainment. If you work from there and ask what technology is enabling now, what the core experience is that you enjoy doing with this thing, and how we expand on that.

Now, not every idea is going to want to go into every format. Certain ideas will go in a limited number of directions and that's fine. You don't want to dilute it by trying to monetize it in every possible field. But the opportunities that we have--the ideas we've sparked working at the Stupid Fun Club--are very real in my mind, and they cross these media very naturally. So it's kind of hard to say we're going to start with just one thing when really you want the synergy between the two.

I think there's a lot of synergy we're seeing between certain aspects here. The toy industry in particular has been slowly declining because kids are playing video games. On the other hand, you've got social networks like Club Penguin or Webkinz that kids are playing and getting into as a toy. But really it's a Web experience. In the player's minds, they're [grouping] together all these things. When they think of a brand, they don't think this is a toy brand and that's a television-show brand.

GS: What will you be able to do differently now that EA wouldn't have been on board with?

WW: I think EA recognizes their core competency is in the game space, and I would not expect them to do a really good job of producing a television show. With the Stupid Fun Club, we're open to working with different partners who are very competent in their areas. We're going to do most of the development outboard of the Stupid Fun Club, so the actual project development will be with these partners, like Electronic Arts for games. But we're going to be very involved with the ongoing development of those concepts.

That's the primary thing, that we can now think about these games from the center of entertainment outward into these different formats. Whereas within EA, it was always about how do we make this a big game, and then later we might think about other opportunities. But it wasn't a square-one part of the strategy.

GS: Why choose now to leave EA and strike out on your own venture?

WW: It's something that we've been in talks with EA for almost a year now, so for me it's kind of a long-term plan and I was just in no hurry to do it. We'd been developing a lot of these concepts within the Stupid Fun Club and people would come by over the years and say, "That's great, I would buy that." It got to the point where venture capitalists were offering us real money to fund these projects.

With Maxis, I'd already been down the whole "Take VC money, do the IPO, do the acquisition" thing. I saw a lot of dysfunction in that model that was interesting to experience once, but I didn't want to go through it again.

As I started talking to EA about this, we started realizing they were very interested in the game properties coming out of this. We started exploring the idea of them funding the Stupid Fun Club as a VC would, but because their interest is in the game properties coming out, they have no interest in us becoming liquid and doing the IPO and all that. So we basically got EA to come in as our VC without committing to a path to liquidity. So we can keep the group very small and very focused and not deal with that whole business path.

GS: How soon will we start hearing about the first projects from the Stupid Fun Club?

WW: I think it'll be a few months away. It's going to depend on how things develop from here, but we've got several projects in the works right now and it's just not clear when they'll be announced. That's my best guess yet.

GS: Should we expect to see the projects that are games released through the EA Partners program?

WW: Well, EA has the first right to release game ideas that come out of the Stupid Fun Club. Whether it's through the EA Partners program or not has yet to be determined.

GS: With your last big project for EA, Spore, there was discussion about whether or not it lived up to years and years of expectations. Did it live up to your expectations?

WW: My own expectations were always more on the toy side of Spore and getting fans involved. And we're still learning about Spore from what the fans are doing with it. In terms of the content, what the fans have done with it vastly exceeded our expectations.

It's kind of like The Sims 1.0. When it first came out, we learned a huge amount over the first few months about what players wanted and the directions they wanted it to go, and The Sims incrementally improved with each expansion pack. We were adding in features the fans were requesting the most, and we'll be doing the same with Spore as well. So in some sense, this is the point the fans get to come in and vote on the direction of the franchise.

Actually, Spore's done very well with EA internally, based on their forecasts within a very tight economy. They seem quite pleased with its performance.

GS: Do you think the years and years of people looking forward to it helped or hurt the game, ultimately?

WW: I think it was probably overhyped, like a lot of games end up being, primarily because the development time was so long. From every project you learn and apply those learnings to the next project. I think there were certain things from Spore that were great, like releasing the Creature Creator early was a big win. But the people who are playing Spore, it's a very different demographic than we were expecting right off the bat, almost like Sim Ant.

We have a lot of young kids playing Spore, as young as 3 years old sitting on their parent's lap describing the creature they want made. This is the type of stuff we learn when we release something. Certain levels weren't deep enough for the hardcore gamers, and we're going back with the expansion pack and addressing that. But then other markets we didn't expect at all to be picking it up. We never expected a 3-year-old to be playing with their parents.

For more on Stupid Fun Club, check out the company's Web site.

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58 comments
ufbam
ufbam

It's cute, fun, my girl friend played it for over 2 hours and she hates games; we laughed alot,..she cried when her beasty got eaten.....great game. I would love to see a more comprehensive 'evolution style' game; plenty of scope there, and Spore represents an excellent 'toe in the water'. That said; I wanted a chilled out 'easy' game, with some cute quirks so i bought Spore...the game delivered.

Scooter_6_7
Scooter_6_7

roundhay, *sigh it's a game, not a science experiment. meant to be fun and interesting, and stimulating creation not some science simulator where you watch and hope things turn out how you want them too!

Mikethechimp
Mikethechimp

I'm gonna let this quote speak for itself: "..We were very focused, if anything, on making a game for more casual players. Spore has more depth than, let's say, The Sims did. But we looked at the Metacritic scores for Sims 2, which was around 90, and something like Half-Life, which was 97, and we decided--quite a while back--that we would rather have the Metacritic and sales of Sims 2 than the Metacritic and sales of Half-Life. " By "quite a while back" he's referring to late 2005.

gameking5000
gameking5000

Mikethechimp, Will Wright is one of the most creative and intelligent Game Designers ever. He deserves to go into GAME DESIGNER HEAVEN not GAME DESIGNER HELL

Mikethechimp
Mikethechimp

Will Wright will be surprised when he dies and finds himself in GAME DESIGNER HELL

strayfies
strayfies

I like how relaxed he is about everything - he just likes making fun games and is willing to bank off the players for input and direction.

ScionofEntropy
ScionofEntropy

I still haven't played Spore, but it looks enjoyable. I'm just... too broke to get it.

roundhay
roundhay

Initially I was very keen on Spore, as a game concept, because it was aiming in a direction similar to a game I would like to see developed called 'The Universe' (click on my 'roundhay' icon for details). However, as time went on it became clear that Spore was focussing on ease of gameplay, which the developers obviously associate with making the game fun to play - which, for young kids it probably would, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but such an approach will inevitably turn off older and/or less casual gamers who thrive on and, indeed, demand sophistication in the games they play. What do I mean by 'sophistication'? Well, sophistication does not necessarily mean making a game difficult to play, but rather making it more challenging by requiring that each gameplay element have many ramifications that require the gamer to plan a successful strategy or at least think what consequences a certain action will have further on down the line. In this respect The Universe and Spore are like chalk and cheese. The Universe is heavy on evolutionary development of plants and animals based on biological, chemical and physical science factors - it's basically a physical science simulator. Spore is entirely creationist and, unlike The Universe, takes no or very little account of such factors as planetary gravitation, composition, stability, type of star the planet orbits, etc. How would plants and animals develop on a huge, dense planet with 2g gravity compared with a small planet with 0.8g? How would life develop on a planet with two moons, three moons or no moons? Would life be able to get started at all if a planet were orbiting a star with relatively few trace elements compared to Sol, and how would such a planet's atmosphere be affected? These are the sorts of questions that could be asked by anyone playing a game like The Universe. Spore clearly is not, and was evidently never intended to be, anything other than a toy. And even with the inevitable numerous expansions to Spore, it will always lack the sophistication I would want to even contemplate buying it.

ldonyo
ldonyo

The second rule is that you have to get a lobotomy.

SamiRDuran
SamiRDuran

only in the gaming world people would approve such name... thats why we gamers might never be respected and taken seriously.

chappy_man
chappy_man

spore is fun i cant wait to see more ideas like it.

Kuroi_Ryu
Kuroi_Ryu

CireKing, that doesn't make any sense... You just quoted him saying that the game wasn't designed with little kids in mind...

flawless_blade
flawless_blade

i STILL dont trust EA.... freakin' delaying dragon age on the pc to do a multiplatform release....

xNJN
xNJN

The DRM is a great tool. As of now, all it is restricting is the number of PC's a game can be installed on to, not the number of times a game can be installed. If you have more than 3 PC's you play games on, you should be considering going green, because you obviously aren't.

lolPawnt
lolPawnt

I can't believe people are STILL complaining about the DRM. Give it up

taylormadederek
taylormadederek

He has good technical designs but the creativity is not so great. Either way still one of the better American designers. I look forward to hearing more. I always want companies to make good games, too bad so few do.

cireking213
cireking213

"We have a lot of young kids playing Spore, as young as 3-years-old sitting on their parent's lap describing the creature they want made. This is the type of stuff we learn when we release something. Certain levels weren't deep enough for the hardcore gamers and we're going back with the expansion pack and addressing that. But then other markets we didn't expect at all to be picking it up. We never expected a 3-year-old to be playing with their parents." This why the game never caught fire for me. It just seemed too oriented towards little kids.

MrHatnClogs
MrHatnClogs

Sounds like something from Ren and Stimpy XD Happy Happy Joy Joy Happy Happy Joy Joy Happy Happy Joy Joy Happy Happy Joy Joy Happy Happy Joy Joy Happy Happy Joy Joy Happy Happy Joy Joy Joy! I don't think you're happy enough! That's right! I'll teach you to be happy! I'll teach your grandmother to suck eggs!

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

I am excited to see what comes out of this new venture.

Aizou
Aizou

As awesome as his games are, I can't buy any more so long as he's with EA. Not after what happened with Spore, and with how EA actually had the idiocy to fight the lawsuit in California. People paid for the game, not the spyware. People get software to take spyware off of their computers, and EA is so retarded as to honestly think that somehow means there should be more spyware on a computer. Will, you've made so many great games, and I used to be one of the people who would buy just about anything with your name on it because I knew and still know that means it's going to be a great game. But if you're going to stick with a company that defends its right to partake in unethical practices, I'm sorry but I can't buy any more of your games in good conscience.

afrosud12
afrosud12

anything coming from a studio called stupid fun games in going to be hilarious and awesome at the same time

atopp399
atopp399

I just hope he can control the DRM that is on the games he works on now. Spore was ridiculous.

DoomKid
DoomKid

hahahahahahahahahahahahahhahaha.... sorry, i can't resist

athenian29
athenian29

Maxis still has Sims, and EA still has Maxis. Thus, EA still has the Sims. However, considering what Maxis has planned for Sims3, I'm not too worried about its future, at least immediately.

insanitycheck3
insanitycheck3

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Megawizard
Megawizard

Question is, what happens to Spore updates now? Unless EA outsources it to them?

Foggel
Foggel

Spore was excactly how I expected it to be; not my kind of game. When people told me about it, I just kept thinking to myself that games can't be that good. I might sound like an idiot, but I don't like having high expectations for games. I like surprises.

nurse_tsunami
nurse_tsunami

It will be interesting to see what they come up with in the future if they expect to push the same IP to TV and movies as well as games. Most of Wright's games don't really seem to translate to video imho. I don't see how they could make a TV show or movie about Spore or the Sims or SimCity. I wonder if I can talk them into a SimTower sequel :)

lichking360
lichking360

This made me look at the old 2005 version of spore. Even though it was held together with duct tape and glue, with a little more work it could have been one of the top games of the year. And me personally would have preferred it 100x more than the current spore build.

Rhastafurion
Rhastafurion

Spore was definitely disappointing to those of us who were expecting something deeper. But it is still a great thing to mess around with and I'm sure I'll grab the expansions and what not.

MischiefmAker
MischiefmAker

"We have a lot of young kids playing Spore, as young as 3-years-old sitting on their parent's lap describing the creature they want made." Wow, just replace "parent's" with "uncle's" and you've got what's happened with me and my niece. Same age too.

slickr
slickr

I don't even understand what they are. A brand is not build as a brand, its transforms over time. Say you start with a comic, then someone does a movie on that comic, than someone makes a game, someone makes merchandise for it and so on; after several years have passed you have yourself a reckognisable brand. It think this is destined to fail big time.

technowiz999
technowiz999

haha Sim Ant I LOVE that game, one of the greatest sim games ever. Easy as pie but super fun. Maxis should put out another one! But broaden it into Sim Insects or something. Idk it could be epic.

desperado2503
desperado2503

Don't you see people it's a Stupid Fun Club lol.

The_Free-Man
The_Free-Man

he overhyped it by releasing videos making the game seem like it was a giant sandboc then added features at the last moment and got rid of alot including a stage and other small yet important thing, i for one was disappointed in the removal of these things we could of had a sea stage and could of been kids as a creature....... well, it is still a pretty good game i guess...... :(

Merl57
Merl57

omg i had sim ant

popki
popki

No one can really blame Wright for the hype his games get. He shows them off early, but he doesn't promise tons of features that don't make it the way other developers tend to. The media just loves covering his stuff, and are largely responsible for people expecting more out of Spore than what they got. Heck, just look at this interview, most of the questions are terrible as clearly Gamespot tries to appeal to Wright's intellectual side like a kid trying to impress his parents with a macaroni christmas card. In reality, there's really only two bits of news here: a respected designer is going to head a start up, and we'll know what that start up's plan is in a few months. The interview is just fluff pandering, which builds the exact hype that sets expectations too high in the first place.

DrHappy
DrHappy

"The Stupid Fun Club...uh...great choice on the name there, how about something more mature and normal?" Because it's gaming, and we like fun. XD Also, I agree with Vain_Apocalypse.

Vain_Apocalypse
Vain_Apocalypse

My faith and confidence in Will Wright had taken a nasty stumble after the immense disappointed of Spore, but seeing him own up to the fact that it was "probably over hyped," restores a lot of that confidence. I look forward to seeing what he has in the works for us next.

REA24409
REA24409

The Stupid Fun Club...uh...great choice on the name there, how about something more mature and normal?

endocrine
endocrine

I think spore is like civilization in a lot of ways. The end game content was much better than the beginning. The problem with both games is that you always rush the underdeveloped beginning parts to get to the end.

jmrwacko
jmrwacko

I really don't care about the 3-year-olds playing Spore. I care about myself, a 19 year old American male, playing Spore. And I was ultimately disappointed. I hope this news means Will Wright will reverse his slow regression into hype-master Peter Molyneux.

HOMIE_G64
HOMIE_G64

Awesome name... how the HELL did no one else think of this one before?

The_AI
The_AI

And by the way, Sim Ant is amazing. If you've never heard of it, go look it up. Now.

The_AI
The_AI

I love Will Wright. Spore was disappointing, but it most certainly wasn't bad. The Creature Creator is insanely fun. It's the greatest toy ever created. The other elements of the game, though they feel underdeveloped, were fun too.

Holyknight_CJ
Holyknight_CJ

@robfield I think the serious logo was intentional to make the name seem even more ridiculously. I'm not sure how effective it is, if that's the case. It still feels a touch sterile even with the fun name.

insanitycheck3
insanitycheck3

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Franko_3
Franko_3

I wish him good luck with his new studio. Let's hope he will make something less ambitious this time lol.