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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

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