Will Wright: Game design a lot like dealing drugs

GDC 2010: Sim City, The Sims, and Spore creator offers thoughts on the rise of social media in games, the allure of Advance Wars, and how games fit into the overall entertainment picture.


Who was there: On the final day of the 2010 Game Developer Conference, GameSpot got wind that legendary game designer Will Wright would be delivering an impromptu lecture. The man behind Sim City, The Sims, and Spore left EA last year to set up Stupid Fun Club, working on three "play industry" projects.

Stupid Fun Club's Will Wright.
Stupid Fun Club's Will Wright.

What he talked about: Wright's 70-minute session touched on a range of topics, from past successes to the crossover of the games and movie industries and social gaming platforms. The one thing he wouldn't be drawn on, however, was his current work at Stupid Fun Club. He addressed this matter early on in his presentation, saying, "I can't talk about anything yet…but soon."

Talking about his inspirations, Wright specifically referenced Nintendo's Advance Wars on the DS as the game that he's played "probably more than any other." Every morning, he sits down with Advance Wars and a cup of coffee and spends 15 minutes spinning up his brain.

The relationship between players and game makers was perhaps the largest theme in Wright's session, and he fed back some of the findings from his previous games. "Players are inherently narcissistic--we'd see that players would spend hours creating themselves in The Sims," he said. He joked numerous times that he was essentially a drug dealer, as the end result of his work was to a stimulate player's "hormones, endorphins, and neurotransmitters."

Wright also gave his views on changing trends in gaming. Games such as Sim City were about creating a world for the player to invest in, but games have now evolved to improving the player, such as Wii Fit, or about the player, on networks such as Facebook. He also touched on the evolving nature of AI within games, with an emphasis on meta models as seen in Spore. These effectively involve communities, with players that have "a voracious appetite" but thankfully harness the power of collective effort.

He also touched upon the crossover between games and other media, such as movies. He pointed to the main science disciplines--geology, physics, biology, and chemistry and said, "the interesting stuff is in the intersections." Wright claims that a similar crossover is already happening in entertainment, pointing to augmented reality and its introduction into televised NFL football and the recent Winter Olympics.

Wright ended his presentation by touching on social games, looking at the rise of Facebook in particular over the past couple of years. Rather than displaying an exponential growth curve, though, Wright believes social games will display an S-curve over time. Investment is high at the current point of the curve, but Wright claims that growth will eventually even out. "I can see [social games] becoming a quarter of the market," he said.

Quote: "I think the highlight of my professional career was when Jack Thompson called me a child pornographer."--Will Wright on the nude patches for The Sims 2.

Takeaway: Facebook is going to be a prominent gaming platform, according to Wright, although he expects growth to slow in the long run. Wright also expects various entertainment platforms to merge, pointing at augmented reality as an example of how virtual worlds have mixed with real ones on TV. Wright also clearly plays a lot of Advance Wars.

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