User Generated Universe

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Will Wright is the genius behind The Sims, the most successful videogame franchise of all time. Over the past four years, while The Sims expanded to consoles and mobile games, Wright and his team at Electronic Arts have embarked on another creative endeavor. With Spore, which debuted on the PC and mobile phones September 7 (with console versions in the works for next year), Wright has created a game experience that allows gamers to literally play god.

Spore is essentially a series of editors, the first of which, Creature Creator, was released in June on the Spore website. With these editors, gamers can create organisms and direct their evolution from single cell to full-on creatures. But that's just the beginning. Once a species has been born, players can help them evolve from primitive beginnings, all the way to space explorers. If someone wants to dominate the universe, he can build a space armada and blow up planets. But peaceful exploration is also possible. Gamers can also just spend all of their time making creatures, which are then uploaded into the Spore universe. Players can use their creations, or ready-made designs that ship with the game, or browse the myriad community-created entities in an online database, Sporepedia.

"We released the Creature Creator and the amount of stuff we got blew away our expectations," says Wright. "We got two million creatures in the first two weeks. I was hoping for a million creatures by the end of the year, after the full game had shipped."
Wright emphasized that he was surprised by not just the amount of creatures gamers created, but the level of quality, polish and craftsmanship.

"The details in these creatures are astounding," says Wright. "We were thinking one percent of this content would be really good stuff, but it's more like 10 percent. Take 10 percent of two million and that's 200,000 amazing creations that would have taken our art team 50 years to make. And that's just one editor out of many editors in the game. They're even taking the creature editor and making planes and boats and chairs. They're making anything they can think of already. I can't wait to see what they do with the rest of the editors."

Wright ventured into Spore and focused on user-generated content and creativity because of what he learned from The Sims. He saw players using the tools in those games to create some very unique things. Wright said the more creative and the more unique these creations were, the more players were able to emotionally connect with them. But also, at some point they get really motivated to share these things with others and upload them. In fact, Wright says that dating back to his original game, SimCity, before the Web was around for sharing content, gamers uploaded their custom cities on message boards for others to view and comment on.

"With Spore and most of our games moving forward, we're making sure that players have a vast array of methods for sharing what they create in the game," says Wright. "In Spore, what you create goes right to our database and gets redistributed to our players. Other players can leave comments about your creations, which you can go back and read. Players can also make little videos in the Creature Creator and upload them straight to YouTube.

Also, in the game you can turn on the video recorder at any point and use the game as a movie-making machinima tool. We also have this comic book creator we're doing with a company called Planet Wide, which allows you to take the assets you've created in Spore—planets and creatures and such—and compose them into comic books and share and e-mail these to your friends."

When history looks back at Spore, it may well be seen as the beginning of a new trend in gaming—a trend that Sony's Little Big Planet on PlayStation 3 is also pushing this fall. Game creators are giving more power to create and share content to the gamers than ever before. What's happening in Spore goes far beyond the traditional "mods" (modifications) of PC games like Unreal Tournament 3.

"At the very basic level, games have always been about user-generated experience," says Wright. "The player decides where to drive or what to shoot at. Now it's at a deeper level. Players are being given the tools to create levels and environments in which to play. The core DNA of games has now opened up and as an industry we're focusing more on user-generated content. I think this is games finding their real trajectory and finally running with it."

Wright says with Spore, he wanted players to have the tools to make these weird and wacky creatures and play out their evolution and their lives. But at the same time, he wanted to have a much more intricate hardcore strategy behind that on the gaming side.

"Spore is an interesting attempt at capturing the creative side that garners the attention of casual gamers, while at the same time offering advanced strategy options for the hardcore and lightcore gamers," says Wright, who considers himself part of the former group. "I've been playing games for decades, but nowadays I enjoy light gameplay, where I can pick up a game for an hour or so and feel like I've made progress. I still want deep strategy, but I don't want a 60-hour experience from one game. Spore delivers that kind of experience."

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