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 :(.

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