GDC09: Taking Spore seriously

Margaret Robertson

[ADAM: I missed the first quarter of the talk because I was at a long meeting, and missed the Q&A because I had to rush to another. Sigh]

Common Elements

  • No-one is using the game, they’re all using the creature-creator
  • Nearly all working with under-12 year-olds (7-12 years)
  • Teaching collaboratively because they can only afford one shared copy/laptop, so the whole class has to share
  • Exporting data digitally was key to making use of it – e.g. http://mashon.org/spore

Why are they not using the game?

  • no educational discounts from EA
  • too slow to play the game through and see the final effects of early choices [ADAM: it’s very non-casual – the game doesn’t allow you to jump in, doesn’t allow you to choose to play the bits you want, doesn’t let you speed up / fast-forward etc]
  • too complicated, user-interface keeps changing from game to game
  • prejudice against using “games” in the classrom
  • TTP (time-to-cock) is short enough that teachers are afraid of letting kids have that freedom in the classroom

Spore API

  • competition is still running [ADAM: also see my previous post on the API here]
  • it’s a laboratory, but not for the consumers: for *EA/Maxis* to learn how they could/should have made / should modify the game going forward [ADAM: it’s like an in-game-engine version of MMO forums where you get to see many things that players want, don’t want, how they are metagaming the intended game, etc]

What can crossover games learn?

  • subject-specific advocates are necessary pre-launch to avoid PR problems and knee-jerk reactionaryism from communities
  • teaching materials: pre-made save-games for teachers, etc
  • “free” saved not just teacher budgets, but also spared teachers from filing lots of paperwork to get sign-off for it. Free was overwhelmingly popular in education, but not as a philosophical thing, just a practical thing
  • lots of teachers couldn’t install the game on school PC’s because they’re not allowed admin rights [ADAM: this is amusing – Runescape learnt in 2002 that this made an orders-of-magnitude difference in success in schools. Ironically, Runescape was just a clone of an EA game (Ultima Online), but maybe EA still hasn’t learnt the lesson?]
  • it takes a long time to evaluate the outcomes and effects of using this in teaching. It’s going to take several years, not several months

What’s the most-requested feature from schools/educators?

  • easy to use, cross-game, machinima tools

4 thoughts on “GDC09: Taking Spore seriously

  1. Pingback: T=Machine » GDC 2009: all transcripts / liveblogs

  2. Mark Baker

    Interesting… ages ago I pitched a machinima creation ‘game’ but people weren’t interested at the time.

    Perhaps the time has come to just ‘do it’ :-)

  3. Steven Davis

    I suspect that the only reason the game needs admin rights is its DRM software :) – Irony’s pretty Ironic.

    It is kind of amazing how rigid game developers are in constraining how their customers “play” with their product. I agree that most user-created content is dismal, but having a user able to freely configure & play a game (you know, so they are happy customers) is virtually heresy.

    @Mark – I’ve thought Activision “missed” this opportunity totally with “The Movies” and EA continues to miss this facet of “The Sims” – a machinima game could be totally amazing. There are huge upsell opportunities (special effects “packs”, scenery & costume tools, alternate editors, etc. etc.) and the potential for interesting user created content both in terms of assets and finished product.

  4. Andrew Crystall

    Steven – Well, I’d look at the real UGC success story, Neverwinter Nights (2 has….somewhat less success, for a variety of reasons). And it’s still considerably less than user-friendly in many aspects of it’s coding (I won’t call most of what you need do with it scripting, since it’s structured as coding, not scripting).

    Allowing authors to sell their UGC on a store, taking a share of that? Hmm…

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