Spore infomercial spawns mad scientists

EA has heavily touted Will Wright's latest game, Spore, as a game about science and evolution, so much so that the game's limited edition included a 50-minute National Geographic documentary about it. However, as reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, some of those interviewed for the...


EA has heavily touted Will Wright's latest game, Spore, as a game about science and evolution, so much so that the game's limited edition included a 50-minute National Geographic documentary about it. However, as reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, some of those interviewed for the documentary say when they agreed to do the show, they weren't told about its strong ties to the commercial product.

No Caption Provided

"I literally never heard about Spore until I saw myself on television in this infomercial about the game," Harvard University geneticist Cliff Tabin told the journal. "It's an outrage."

University of Chicago paleontologist Neil Shubin told the journal he was only told partway through his interview, when Wright showed him the game. Shubin said he doesn't endorse games, "particularly one that claims to be evolution." An EA representative had not returned GameSpot's request for comment as of press time.

The "infomercial" slant of the show can be seen from the tagline on its official site, which invites viewers to "journey into the billion-year history of the human, led by a computer game visionary, who might be revealing the secret genetic machinery behind life."

As for the claim that Spore might be revealing the secret genetic machinery behind life, a companion story on the Science Web site suggests not. The journal's "Gonzo Scientist" correspondent John Bohannon played the game with a handful of prominent researchers to grade its depiction of actual science. According to Bohannon, the game doesn't just dumb down the science involved, but actually "gets most of biology badly, needlessly, and often bizarrely wrong."

"The problem is that the game features virtually none of the key ingredients of evolution as we understand it," T. Ryan Gregory of the University of Guelph told the journal. For starters, there's no splintering of species into multiple off-shoots, no mutations or diversity within species, and no natural selection. And while creatures do change over time, they can completely overhaul size shape, color, appendages, and other features all within a single generation, as if a hummingbird could give birth to a tiger.

However, it wasn't all bad. Just as many reviewers found the game more engaging in its later phases, Bohannon's panel found the science involved improved toward the end of the game as well. While they gave Spore an "F" for its depiction of genetics and evolutionary processes in the cell and creature stages, the game's final space stage garnered an overall B for astrophysics, with an A for its galactic structure.

"Spore is essentially a very impressive, entertaining, and elaborate Mr. Potato Head that uses the language of evolution but none of the major principles," Gregory told the journal.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Join the conversation
There are 117 comments about this story
117 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for gsat555

Hey, these scientists believe in survival of the fittest and then when they get taken their upset. Looks like EA is more evolved than they are. If you teach the garbage you can expect to be affected by it. Now if they believed in absolute morality then they would have the right to be upset. But they don't.

Avatar image for shyguy75

wow wow wow slow down there scientist i doe not think that spore is about science because killing strange morphed creepy creatures with made up weapons ships tanks and poison is very scientific because stairing at your screen saying haha you go boom is vary smart nothing against spore in fact it is one of my top games it is just not very scene ful so scientist man should back off!

Avatar image for Laserwulf

Talk about a misleading article title! Here I expected to read about someone who played Spore and was then inspired to genetically engineer abominations, hire an army of minions and try to destroy the Earth.

Avatar image for chwynn

jonyman said: "if anything spore should show people that evolution is false" They are already accused for misrepresenting evolution, so what good will it do to lie entirely?

Avatar image for tanjo

E.V.O. on the SNES is better than Spore's "evolution".

Avatar image for Raykuza

I kind of expected more actual evolution as well, but I wasn't disappointed. The game (keyword being game) was fun. jonyman how would a game with no basis on facts or reality prove or disprove a scientific theory?

Avatar image for Seto_Akari

Don't expect too much from it.It's just a kid game :)

Avatar image for jonyman

if anything spore should show people that evolution is false

Avatar image for IXIWhistIXI

laxhammer it is a game, but they made outrageous claims. It's not like scientists reviewed the game and said it was completely wrong, EA went to them and had them endorse the product with out knowing. Wright being the idiot he is was suggesting the game was vastly realistic in terms of evolutionary science when it indeed is not. this is why the game failed so bad...it was talked up like it was one of the most complicated games in history only to be released and proven to be one of the most shallow games past the creature creator.

Avatar image for laxhammer

Its a game...

Avatar image for marcthpro

The only part in spore which is probabely the most near of evolution theory is space stage vessel and other life form but why all with leg ? and wing tough there maybe in the world such aliens as you see in spore you never know cause if the sciences is right about the big bang that universe is in expansion meaning we are a little mini dot of the world evolution could work maybe different in another Galaxy Then milky way at last we can say it probabely not like that the evolution we know off and if there is A god behind that or not it rather sick to talk about this life is a paradox with the conception of time and space right now if i could see nice documentary that is 95% Sure that it how life evolution and compare it to spore id do spore is a game but a sciences game really ammazing and make you think about the life how it is in fact it good and it in complexity but if i was Creator of spore id make a version more realistic maybe in future expansion i played Several SCi-fi games and it was not gameplay that was alway amazing but the fact of evolution like Galactic Civilization II & master of orion 2 but this time in real-times for spore it should how ever as better Warfare & Diplomacy no doubt about that i did like star-trek saga / Stargate sg1 / And other Scifi thing so spore is mostly un-educational beside the space thing a little for diplomacy for beginner a real educational game are rather borring such as diplomacy II and Civilisaiton IV they aren't too much popular but they are in a way educational about culture & ideology when you think about it oneday we will find a way to make game educational & Fun at same time it just a matter of time when i was a kid i ad mathematic games with activity on a floppy disk then CD then it died and got no use after Grade 5 but did help me to understand math in a more accurate way since i did find it fun in group activity with some mate in 1996-1999 we just need to do same with sciences to keep young people interrest into it i read sci-fi novel all weekend with contradiction most of time to other thinking thousand of theory and fact that are true so some game are educational in way of to devlope ability of thinking such as strategy game but not that much try play spore at hard ;) and if ur still starving for thinking ability ? find harder game of thinking

Avatar image for craigape

Did these scientists ask? But who goes to the store and buys a game they think is educational now days? Besides if your like me you haven't even heard of this yet.

Avatar image for scyldschefing

These scientists have every right to be be upset. They were mislead. According to the article published in Science, each of the interviewed scientists was sent an email: The e-mail describes the documentary as an investigation of "recent discoveries in evolutionary science" with no mention of Spore or Wright. So they though they were being interviewed for a documentary on evolution. And it was by National Geographic, an otherwise legitimate maker of nature documentaries. Why would they have thought it would have been anything else but a documentary on evolution? Not only that, but the documentary is misleading to the viewer in that it makes it seem like Spore is scientifically correct, which it is not. So these scientists are mad since their appearance on this documentary might make people think that Spore is based on real science. That's perfectly understandable and completely legitimate. They're not complaining that Spore isn't real science; they're complaining that Spore is pretending to be real science.

Avatar image for OptimusMegatron

Mad scientist from spore game?? Who are mad enough to say that??! Spore is about fun building and customizing creatures!! Not mad scientist! Freak!

Avatar image for otanikun

Good god people, morons morons everywhere, but not a single sane person amongst them; it's a video game and wasn't designed to teach the theory of evolution versus creationism. It's about having fun and watching these little guys grow and build their own civilizations, think the sims but with little alien dudes. Besides I didn't hear anybody complaining about Civilization when it came back out long long ago, or about Black & White 1&2, you play a god in those games, OMG! These people need to learn to take things with a grain of salt and not take things like evolution in video games too seriously, case in point the grading of the evolutionary process; I'm pretty sure research was done quite extensively to make it look right but it's purely for fun, not actual scientific basis and pure concrete facts.

Avatar image for brian_13un

Oh spore is just a game for everybody relax and just play it right

Avatar image for grungehead1991

@king_of_da_sax i think they're mad because Wright touted it as being scientic

Avatar image for king_of_da_sax

last time i checked video games werent meant to be scientifically, physically or, heck, even politically correct... i've seen the creatures on Spore, of course its not gonna be scientifically acurate...

Avatar image for MattHopeKids

They agreed to do interviews and didn't even know what they were being interviewed about? I thought they were supposed to be smart.

Avatar image for ace62394

Seems like the scientists there have too much spare time on their hands.

Avatar image for XXMadManVII

So these scientists were so eager to show off how smart they are that they did not bother to find out who was interveiwing them and why they were being interveiwed... "I was doopped by my own ignorance.... Its your fault!!!" is basically what this artical conveys to me.

Avatar image for necronaux

I guess it's why they call it a game.

Avatar image for DiscGuru101

@sieg6529: Agreed 100%. The only outrage about Spore is the amount of naturalists, evolutionists, and paleontologists who have described it as "unscientific". Spore is game, move on to bigger fish please. -You are making yourselves look insecure.

Avatar image for AzureWind213

This wouldn't be an issue if the scientists had known ahead of time their comments were going to be used to endorse something to which they did not agree...

Avatar image for sieg6529

I graduated with a degree in life sciences, but who cares how accurately a game represents evolutionary theory? Anyone who takes seriously a video game claim to accurately depict the foundations of biology and evolution should enroll in Common Sense 101.

Avatar image for Pilch_R_eD

@dark_monk56 "Close shave, here I was thinking I was going to bone up on biology for my Finals just by playing Spore. Damn, i'll have to do real classwork instead of just playing a game. Doesn't that just figure?" I passed my Japanese history classes by just playing Shogun Total War! ^^

Avatar image for JOKEROFHEAVEN

who cares it a fun game!!!!

Avatar image for CureForLiving

Marketing, thats all this is. They got a couple of scientists to talk about evolution cut and pasted Will Wright somewhere in there and next thing you know Will Wright is a mastermind and visionary.

Avatar image for Mafia217

lol, perhaps the answer to life is inside a video game!

Avatar image for azadiscool

I guess it is EA's fault for claiming spore is some type of evolutionary simulator. Doesn't take a scientist to call out "BS" on that comment.

Avatar image for Raid3r

Seems close enough to evolution for me not to argue.

Avatar image for tudyniuz

I don't really like Spore so I don't really understand the hype around it:|

Avatar image for Fib25

@android_M Your comment has no implications on the subject at hand therefore is void. FAIL!! On another note, yeah don't mislead scientists into talking about evolution on camera for Spore. Basically using them, poor things.

Avatar image for blueliquidplus

Spore had such potential... and now its just a different version of the sims with 90 up coming expansions. Although I still play and enjoy Spore.. I mostly just play with the editors.. its alot easier than digging in my basement for legos.. although legos don't slap me in the face with a complexity meter.

Avatar image for crimped

spore sucks, can we let it die now already?

Avatar image for Lentol_Suup

god damned sellout. IT USED TO BE GOOD! how can you call yourself a visionary you sales whore.

Avatar image for vvtony

Yes, it is just a game. But these folks were interviewed in order to make Spore look like it was something more than that, and that's where the dishonesty lies. It's just a game, so why make an infomercial that seeks to claim that Spore depicts biological reality?

Avatar image for HOMIE_G64

It's a game. Its like those 16 year olds on CoD4 who picked that game over other games just because it was "real." Games are to entertain, not to depict reality (though it may in some way).

Avatar image for JakRules365

Although spore is very fun, I have to agree that I was very disappointed with the very bad biology. I wish they had put limits on how much one can change while evolving.

Avatar image for Axe_336

It demonstrates survival of the fittest if you play it properly. The way I play is I pick a general shape for the creature and then gradually change it as it progresses, so those creatures that I couldn't kill off last generation now I can. Obviously some people are going to kill the illusion by making too drastic a change, but really, who wants to watch a million generations of developement? Also, if the scientists were just doing it because they thought the game would accurately simulate evolution, they're doing it for the wrong reason. They should have wanted to do it because it was a way to get scietific information out there through a popular medium and making it fun/interesting. Why do they think Bill Nye was such a hit for years?

Avatar image for NoseWeed619

I don't care if Spore is right about everything that has to do with Biology. What I'm conserned about is whether is if this is a great game. And it is.

Avatar image for lucky711t

REALLY! i BET mostly ALL of the people that commmented on here did not see the limited documentary video! It was NOT a commercial you @#$%! It was one whole hour show that was about Evolution! And for 20 minutes Spore was shown at the end of each commercial! It explained how Spore was based on evolution!! It WAS a VERY educational movie, so all who have seen it yet and are saying bad things about it, F U! Don't say something about another thing until you have seen the truth!!!!

Avatar image for synnical77

The funniest thing is that Spore actually is more about intelligent design than evolution. The game is completely about YOU, the player, intentionally slapping parts on a creature to make it behave and look a certain way. If this isn't a endorsement for Intelligent Design I don't know what is.

Avatar image for Cloudium

From watching said DVD included in the Galactic Edition of Spore, I didn't come away from it thinking that those scientists endorsed Spore as an exact replica of evolution. I came away from it with an interesting outlook on evolution, which then adds to the experience of Spore that is based off a simple set of rules based around the science of evolution. Unfortunately, this scientist has made himself angry because he doesn't understand the concept of gaming.

Avatar image for wings-and-gills

I agree with Terebi-chan, these scientists were misled. They thought they were probably doing a documentary meant to inform and educate (and even reach out to apathetic gamer kids!) and then they found out they were just actors in a Spore commercial. How degrading!

Avatar image for ebber

This is good. Scientists have discovered gaming. Yes, Will Wright's attempt at true scientific gaming will be the same as his attempt at civil engineering. My guess is civil engineers rushed to his Civ-City games as much as scientists will be rushing to Spore. I can't wait! As long as Spore doesn't become the same Sims ad-ons we've seen. What am I saying,... of course it will!

Avatar image for Kaspii00

Dude, it's just a child's game. You never attacked The Sims for just hopping in a 360 and appearing in a bathrobe. Better leave it be, Gregory. Hey, how about you make a game this good as EA did? If you do it, then I take my words back.

Avatar image for crmags

the game is based on evolution dumbass...if it was an accurate depiction of evolution it'd take us millions of years to finish the game...

Avatar image for Terebi_chan

I'm more of a lurker around here, but this time, I need to say something. As others may or may not have said, whether or not this game is meant to be "realistic" isn't the point. The point is that these scientists were tricked and misled into endorsing a commercial product (in this case, a video game) without their consent, all so EA ("Electronic Arts" no longer exists, more later) could promote this game using it's evolution aspects. Heck, the scientists might even be able to sue, and it wouldn't be at all "frivolous" (sp?) Anyhow, this along with the DRM controversy makes it clear to me that EA isn't even a "real" video game company anymore; they don't even ACT like a video game company anymore. It's clear to me that they are now just EA; "Electronic Arts" no longer exists (as such, "EA" no longer stands for anything). They're just a corporate business who's only goal is to make money, and spare me the "but all companies are like that" line, because if that were the case, all video games would be the same, and things such as "quality", or "fun", etc, wouldn't exist, but most importantly other companies (who shall remain nameless) wouldn't care what the players (or anyone else, for that matter) think about video games; they would also be resorting to stunts such as this. In any event, I just hope other companies don't follow suit.

Avatar image for raiding_kvatch

Anyone that read Will Wright's interview in New Scientist would know that he has NEVER claimed that Spore is an accurate depiction of evolution, if anything the game is actually closer to creationism as the player chooses how his creatures evolve and adapt. Will Wright's intentions were only to make a fun game which might draw people into this sort of debate. Complete success