Will Wright is … lazy?

Let’s get this straight: if we judge him solely by output (games), then he is not a genius – he’s lazy. Everyone knows the 1% inspiration/99% perspiration quote, and – looking at the last shipped title – IMHO it’s inexcusable to ship crap and pretend it’s OK. You can’t just abrogate responsibility once you stick your name on Spore…

(disclaimer: when I say “lazy” I don’t mean universally; I mean that in at least one crucial aspect, he failed to apply simple due diligence to his own named project; arguably, it’s a kind of laziness in itself not to have checked this stuff, or a kind of cowardice not to have insisted it be done “correctly”; but this post is really about the overall impact of the game, and the way that an individual, if they were to stamp their persona on a project – and expect us to read their persona from interacting with the product – comes across. I have no idea what Will Wright is like as an individual; this is a post about Will Wright as the PR entity…)

If you’ve enough optimisim / hubris / cojones / arrogance to stick your own name on a game (yes, I’m also thinking of Richard Garriott‘s Tabula Rasa here. Oh dear…), then you have to accept that any basic, simplistic failings in that game are going to be your – personal – fault. You chose to attach your name to the brand, and you can’t just ignore the downside.

Spore doesn’t save while you play.

Let’s just repeat that, with emphasis:

Spore – which crashes to desktop relatively frequently for an EA game – NEVER saves, even after 4 hours of solid gameplay, no matter what. This was released in 2008. Even Flash games, written by 15-year-old kids who have NO IDEA WHAT THEY’RE DOING, will always – always * – save continuously BY DEFAULT because you would have to be INCREDIBLE STUPID or EXTREMELY ARROGANT as a game designer not to have this basic precaution enabled.

[*] – 4 in 5 Flash games autosave these days, including the “my first real flash game” attempts, even if they don’t do it properly (hint: Macromedia’s “local storage” isn’t used by professionals; only by inexperienced teenagers)

Incidentally, I’ve been blogging a lot less frequently for two reasons, and my fury at losing 4 hours of my life due to the Spore team’s stupidity here has caused me to make an exception of this post.

In general, I’ve decided:

  1. I don’t want to post any more negative posts unless/until I’ve posted several things at least as positive; I’m a positive person, but certain situations (conferences) and certain outlets (blogging) tend to bring out “what frustrates me”, rather than “what delights me”, and I’d like to kick that habit.
  2. There’s loads of things I’ve been doing recently that I cannot talk about for PR reasons. Not especially exciting, but it’s been stuff that I (or others) have wanted to keep quiet until / unless it actually works. All being done under “release early, release often”, but we haven’t hit first releases yet…

So, to Will Wright: please stop dicking about, making crap like Sim Earth (yes, I went there), and make decent games. Stop pretending that a “game” is beneath you (even though that attitude probably is the sole reason that The Sims came to life… ah, crap, that (best-selling game-franchise of all time) dilutes the argument somewhat): please either stop making games and go become the PhD student you seem to (secretly) want to become (and which I’m sure you’d be brilliant at), or … make games – but do it properly; do it professionally.

[Incidentally, apart from being an good-yet-flawed game, Spore is a great example of “desire to make a Social Game – but a complete lack of “ability” to actually do so…”. More on that later (although that is another “negative” post I’ve had sitting in my in-progress pile for a year now, featuring Sony as the lead protagonist…)]

PS: I really enjoyed playing some of Will Wright’s games over the years. Spore has some great elements. But I’m reminded of Demis “I don’t like games, I like puzzles” Hassabis who equally made at least one great game, but (with hindsight) seemingly misattributed the causes of its success, and IMHO never really grokked the whole “game” thing. Perhaps Will was wiser, or just luckier.

Worse … Spore wasn’t a huge succes. And yet, if Spore had been made by Blizzard, it would have been an AWESOME game, simply because they’d have polished it properly, instead of shipping it before it was more than half-finished.

In fact, if Spore had been made by any of the medium or large independent studios, it would have been a “better” game, because it would have had a “normal” level of polish, instead of being below-par. Blizzard is just a peculiarly easy example for me to pick; I have great faith that most indies would have made it substantially better (even without Will Wright), just because they’d have done a more professional job of the thing :(.

6 Replies to “Will Wright is … lazy?”

  1. most people admit the Spore we got in 2008 was, in no way, the Spore he showed in 2005 at GDC that made everybody swoon all 7 deadly ways.

    Everything was made “friendly”, for the average player.

    This is what appears to be “Development by Business Conference”… somewhere during the development, during meetings, somebody who does NOT play games feels that in order for the game to sell the “critter should have a smiley face”… “there should be happy music”… “it’s not accessible by the tweens”…
    and, my favorite: “it’s too hard”

    It’s not necessarily Wright’s fault, but it is most certainly his fault for not stepping in and saying “that’s not fun” or “it’s too shallow”.

  2. Regarding the Flash local storage remark – it’s not like Flash apps can just write files to the file system, they’re sandboxed. What would you suggest the average Flash dev do? Are you proposing that saved games be sent to a central server?

  3. @Jason

    Precisely – it is trivial (and, if you really need it to be, FREE!) to write a simple PHP or servlet to handle serialized game-state these days. Everyone from Google (AppEngine) through to the bajillion of free PHP hosting sites. Or even, you know, pay $5 a month for some hosting space on a virtual server, and a PHP install and MySQL DB all of your own ;)…

    PHP is so easy to learn that I’m confident anyone who’s managed ActionScript will breeze through it.

  4. @CaesarsGhost

    Yep, it’s always tricky picking out what’s there from the design team, and what’s there from the Publisher’s “wish-they-were-designers-but-aren’t-good-enough” stakeholders, many of whom aren’t even necessarily on the credits list, but rather were powerful people with an unofficial interest in the title.

    It’s surely even harder when you’re looking at EA, and their relationship with the designer / studio that created their biggest-ever hit series… I wouldn’t want to have been the Exec Producer with the responsibilty for “making sure Will’s next game is as profitable a hit as The Sims”.

    But, in the end … if you allow a game to be associated with YOU, as a named (famous) individual, you are adopting a responsibility that IMHO cannot then be ignored.

  5. I don’t think Will Wright is lazy. I met him once after The Sims launched and chatted for a while and he seemed like a really great guy. He actually said one of the problems he was facing was that he was getting no critical thought about his proposals after the huge success of The Sims; he didn’t want to just be rubber-stamped.

    The X-factor here is EA. I wonder if the problem is that he bought into EA’s PR about him. Or, perhaps they took an active hand in it at the end since they obviously know best. ;) When The Sims first came out he talked about wanting to continuously add free content to the game. However, EA preferred to sell expansions (and from a business point of view were smart on that count). How much of the paring down of content was EA thinking about how many expansions they could sell of the latest Will Wright game rather than Will being stupid?

    It could also be that he was out of his depth trying to create a networked game. One MMO developer I know said that Will Wright “got online” when they were developing The Sims Online. Kinda doubt that given how TSO turned out. But, was it his decision to add more networked/online/social aspects, or a mandate from the top?

    We’ll probably never know officially. But, as I said, I don’t think it’s him just being lazy or stupid or anything else.

  6. There’s (maybe, there WAS, EA seems to be changing, hopefully not too late for them) also a cultural problem.
    The focus when developing a product is (WAS, maybe) not on the fun, but rather on the appearance and the “sell-ability” of a shelf product. I can completely picture CaesarsGhost’s comments on how Spore has been transformed, having been working for EA for a while.
    Blaming Will Wright directly is certainly an oversimplification, but I suppose since “he’s go his name on it” he bears the ultimate responsibility for what Spore has become.

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