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Wright: Virtual world designer built it, and they came
Britannia Awards 2012: Albert R. Broccoli Award - Will Wright
By: Dan Doperalski
Posted On: Nov. 7, 2012
Will Wright's genius was a shifting emphasis from destruction to construction.
Game designer Will Wright scored a hit with "SimCity" in 1989 and a decade later spun the property into the billion-dollar franchise "The Sims."
But the pixilated metropolises and clumsy avatars of those properties would still be drifting in the ether if Wright, the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia honoree for contributions to entertainment worldwide, hadn't realized early on that players have more fun if encouraged to create rather than destroy.
"SimCity," the first in the "Sim" series, was spawned from the overhead graphics of towns and fields in his war simulation game "Raid on Bungeling Bay." Wright overhauled the game to delete the armed helicopters and add a host of tools to help players build infrastructure. And though players were initially attracted to the destructive bulldozer tool, he says they quickly tired of plowing houses and starting fires.
"There was no challenge to it, almost like poking an ant colony with a stick," Wright says. "But then after doing that for a few minutes they started rebuilding the city, rebuilding the roads and fixing the power lines. I think players quickly realized that the challenge was really in creating this fragile complex thing and not destroying it."
His virtual reality game "The Sims" started similarly as a permutation on an idea. The socially oriented characters were an afterthought to the program, which began as a robust architecture simulation tool and became a hit for Electronic Arts.
"It turned out that it was so much fun managing the people that it became the focus of the game, even though the architecture stuff remained in it," says Wright.
The game developer and entrepreneur's next challenge is taking the gaming platform out of the virtual world and into reality with a suit of apps and products being developed and spun off from his thinktank, the Stupid Fun Club.
The purpose of his new venture, Wright says, will be to apply game theory to reality by making participants aware of the possibility spaces around them. Every game has a defined possibility space -- a set of possible outcomes to achieve the game's objective. Is there one way to save the princess or a thousand? Wright's ambition now is to clue players into the myriad possibilities of their reality.
"We have the ability now for these systems and games to come to a very deep understanding of our real lives and what we are doing and why we are doing it," Wright says. "I think that to put a framework around it we are giving people a deeper situational awareness of their everyday life."