Will Wright Speaks

Thursday, June 21, 2001 - 23:10

"Maxis' founder tells IGN about his online empire in the midst of E3."

Go to Article

Will Wright Interview

Maxis' founder tells IGN about his online empire in the midst of E3.

June 18, 2001 - On the third day of the E3 trade show, when everyone's dog tired and beaten down by the heat and the noise, I made my way back upstairs to Maxis, where I had a chance to talk to Will Wright, the company's founder and the guiding light behind such games as SimCity and The Sims.

Actually Will had been doing demos of his new game, the Sims Online for hours, and was eager to get outside for a smoke break. I went with him, and we talked on one of the balconies looking out over a smoggy expanse of concrete gray, where he explained the concepts behind the Sims Online.

IGNPC: Would you say that Sims Online merges the social aspects of the Internet with a computer game?

Will Wright: It's a lot more elaborate in the game because we have this whole economy built up, too.

In an online community, there's this kind of social economy between the community members. Some people have status because they make cool skins or that's a good website that's visited a lot, but there's no real gameplay there. There is a lot of the same dynamics that we're trying to take from the website into the game, but in a little more structured format.

The big thing is that we have five percent or less of the hardcore players actively entertaining the other ninety-five percent. In fact it's more like two percent to ninety-eight.

That's the exact kind of thing we're trying to get in Sims Online, we're trying to get the two or three percent of the hardcore a strong incentive to entertain the other ninety-seven percent of the people who play the game, as opposed to just killing them very, very efficiently.

IGNPC: So your objective in the game is to get a lot of money, or become the most popular, or do you choose your own goals?

Will Wright: Right. In what we're calling 'the visitor game' ... people are really going to be competing on creativity. Just like web pages, what makes a cool web pages, the ones where everyone is sending the URL around. That's one of the biggest goals in the game, getting people to come to your place, for whatever reason. It might be because it's a cool place to be, because there's fun games there, or it's a trendy place where you meet all the popular people in the game, or because there's a funny stand-up comedian there that night.

Sure, while he's on stage people can boo, or applaud, or whatever. You can do all this stuff, and it's not that hard.

IGNPC: Do players have just one house, one character?

Will Wright: You have three characters per account and each character can have a totally separate life, a different house, things like that. One character always lives in one place, but you could have roommates, or get married, or whatever. So one character could be living in a house, another could be running a casino and so on. One character does not own multiple lots, though.

IGNPC: What's the incentive for characters in the game to acquire money.

Will Wright: To build up your lot, you need to buy objects. We're going to have rare objects which in the world, people will auction off and bid up. We'll have rare objects to give to people.

You can also form clubs and neighborhoods in the game, and those have leaders, you vote for the leader and those leaders get special rights in the game. Like your house -- if you're living alone, people can't come to your house if you're offline. Only if you're online are the lights going to be on. That's what a big advantage to having roommates -- your house will be online more often.

But if you're a club leader or a neighborhood leader, you have get option of keeping your house online twenty-four [hours a day], seven [days a week], even when you're not there. So I might be the leader of the science fiction club, and people pay their dues to me, and we use those funds to build up this really cool science fiction, starship clubhouse and anybody can go there that's a member of the club, even if I'm not online.

IGNPC: One of the most popular features in The Sims were skins, but a lot of them were breaking copyright or were adult in nature a little bit. How are you going to regulate that?

Will Wright: Users are going to be able to rate content, primarily skins and houses -- they'll be able to say I find this objectionable, or I don't.

There are several issues you're talking about there. There's copyright issues, there are things that are illegal like hate crime stuff or personal threats, and then there are obscenity issues.

We don't want to be the ones setting the standards in the community, we want to give the users the tools to set the standards. So if I go into a house and find it objectionable, I can rate it. Also there will be parental controls where if you're rating is below a certain level, you won't be able to go into a certain house -- we'll probably just use the movie ratings. My house might be Rated-R, for example, through voting, and your controls might not let you into that house.

IGNPC: So what about the copyrighted skins, Star Trek or what have you?

Will Wright: Copyright is a different issue. There's no way for us to scan the skins while they're uploading and being sent back and forth. Kind of like the same problem that Napster has, but if somebody comes to us and say we have illegal content and have to remove it from our server, we can. That's something we're still kind of investigating right now.

IGNPC: People get away with it in say Quake III, but there's no central server, subscribers there.

Will Wright: Well, we're kind of like a bulletin board system, or a website. We're not putting that content up on our servers, we're not even looking at it. We're just shuffling it back forth. It's the exact same issue we're having on our website right now, since people are uploading thousands of families -- with the skins -- and people when they download them, they get the skins.

So yeah, it's kind of a gray area. We'll try to be flexible, and so far it hasn't really been much of a problem.

IGNPC: A lot of time people can be rude or abusive online. What are you going to do with problem players?

Will Wright: One of the mechanisms -- and again they kind of operate on the house level and the personal level. On the house, you have a ban list. I can choose to ban certain players from my house. Or you can have a list and say, only admit these people, which sort of bans everybody else.

At the player side, anybody that's bothering me I can put on ignore and I can't see any more of their chat and they can't do anymore social interactions with me. I can also block any custom skins I find offensive, and if they're searching for me, I don't show up on their search results.

We are doing a lot of other things, but those are the two primary ones that are going to cut down on most of it. And of course, you can also complain about a player, and if there's a lot of complaints we start flagging, watching, a lot more elaborate than that.

That is a huge issue.

IGNPC: Are there any actual like public areas that are just sort of general spaces, not owned by a player?

Will Wright: We might have something like that. The primary reason, though, for having the community leaders [with houses that are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week] is that we're hoping people will take on that role. So maybe I'm the leader of a neighborhood and decide that we're going to have a town square in our neighborhood. I can't show you the map, but it's actually like a region, a county, with little cities in it, and the cores of those cities will be neighborhoods, and the leader of a neighborhood might choose to have a town square or a public park. So we're really hoping that players take on that role.

IGNPC: So if you're in your house and you want to go somewhere else, you just go out, zoom out to a map, and choose where you want to go? You don't -- your character -- doesn't actually walk all the way there on the screen?

Will Wright: No, we could do that but it just seems so pointless. We're probably going to have some cute little animation that when you're here and you want to go there, you'll see a little guy get in the car -- instead of a loading bar, you'll see a little animation of the guy. If the house happens to be right next to you, his car won't start.

IGNPC: It looks like it's using almost the exact same graphics sets as The Sims?

Will Wright: Yeah that's right, we're taking all the objects from The Sims and the expansion packs, as well as a whole bunch of new multiplayer objects. So the object set for this is going to be huge compared to The Sims, seven times more objects than were in the first game.

IGNPC: It's such a different concept in this space, I guess it's hard to visualize until I see a beta or whatever.

Will Wright: We're really trying to make the thing accessible, since all the online games I've seen are so hardcore that even I, as a hardcore gamer, don't feel compelled to play them. To step that far back and get a more casual audience, it's quite different.

IGNPC: Are you worried hardcore Sims players are going stay on there 24 hours a day?

Will Wright: Oh there are! [Laughs] There are hardcore, casual Sims players. But those are the people we are relying on! The two percent. What we have to structure the world in such a way that they're whole goal is to do something really cool that's going to blow some people away. And in fact they do that on our website, the uploads are just extraordinary, some of it, and most people don't see it, they're too busy playing the game, so they're not exposed to it. I want to give those people much more exposure, so when they do something really killer, fifty thousand people are going to see it each day. And then they're going to feel a little more 'incentivized' to keep on doing it.

IGNPC: So there's a little Sims newspaper to all the players telling them about this stuff?

Will Wright: Well yeah, there's a Most Visited House List, and for whoever's on that list, it's going to be really cool.

IGNPC: Can you take a guess when the beta will be, when the game might be final?

Will Wright: Well we're saying right now early 2002; in terms of when the beta is, that's a hard question.

IGNPC: Well presumably you'll have an internal beta, but will there be a public beta as well?

Will Wright: Yeah, we have a ramped development process so we have milestones about every month or month and a half or so, so every milestone -- and we've been doing it for about four or five months now -- so we're up to about a hundred players internally. In the next month it'll be three hundred, then the next month a thousand...At some point we're going to run out of people inside EA, and then we'll have to start going external. But EA's pretty big, so we might get to a thousand eight hundred across all the studios. And that's the point at which we'll external.

IGNPC: Is there a Sims 2?

Will Wright: Yeah, that's actually in development, though it's a different team entirely.

IGNPC: Is that before Sims Online?

Will Wright: No, after.

IGNPC: Late 2002, early 2003?

Will Wright: Yeah, somewhere around there, late-ish 2002.

-- Jason Bates

Facebook Comments


Visit my Etsy shop!

News Archive