Maxis (part of EA) has a great competition up right now – use the public APIs for the Spore creature / user account databases to make “an interesting widget or app”.
I had a quick look at the API’s – they’ve got the right idea technically (use REST, provide PHP versions, etc), although the set of queryable data is pretty mneh (they could easily have done a *lot* more interesting stuff too). I’m impressed that they’ve got that right, and they appear to have done a great job of presenting it nice and clearly. Most importantly, because the selection of data is lame, the challenge is there – in your face – to be very creative with how you’re going to use it. Go for it.
I had a look at some of the demo apps that had already been done, and they show great variety. If you’re trying to break into the games industry as an online designer, you should try your hand at using their content (and this is *legal*) to design something cool. You (probably; I haven’t checked the legals) won’t own exploitation rights – but it could make a great portfolio piece.
So I was rather saddened that it’s taken until now, and a random glance at a newsfeed item, for me to be aware of this. Which isn’t so bad, except … I was one of the first wave of purchasers of Spore, and I played it heavily, and checked out the Sporepedia for the few months after launch.
But they launched with most of the Sporepedia either “broken completely” or “not implemented yet”. Having paid $50+ for a full price game, to discover that even after several months the Sporepedia was “mostly not implemented yet, watch this space”, my reaction was : “I have better things to do with my life than wait for you to pull your finger out and do your job properly and give me what *I’ve already paid for*”.
And because of the mind-numbingly stupid DRM decisions by EA, I’ve point blank refused to install their viruses – without which, the system isn’t going to let me upload any of my own creatures / UGC. Which takes away a lot of the other cause of interest that would have rapidly lured me in.
Finally if it had been a “real” online game (why wasn’t it? No-one really seems to know. My theory is “fear and shame over The Sims Online catastrophe”) of course … my friends relationships in-game would have meant I’d have been pulled-in to this new cool stuff as soon as it went live.
So … it would seem that when it comes to boundary-pushing game design Maxis is managing to go 2 steps forwards and 3 steps back. That’s a real pity, because I suspect a lot of people who would love what Sporepedia was *described* as being (rather than the massive short-sell it actually was) have already given up, gone home, and don’t care any more. Only the people who don’t know about the good games out there (the non-gamers who happened to pick up a copy – of whic there are many many of course, thanks to the Sims juggernaut) are still around to enjoy it.
Am I being too pessimistic here? Certainly, not a single professional I know has shown any remaining awareness or interest in what Spore’s doing for the last 6 months. That’s pretty damning, in my eyes, for a game with such big sales and the Sims driving marketing and sales for it.
(PS: in case it’s not clear – as far as I’m aware, there’s still literally zero socialising in Spore. That’s the irony of the title here. The only socialising is 1995-era “the players are doing it anyway despite the developer+publisher going out of their way to stop them”)