It's been awhile since we've heard from Will Wright, the famed game designer responsible for the original SimCity franchise and The Sims. Since leaving Electronic Arts and the Maxis development studio he founded back in 2008, he's been involved with gaming startups--HiveMind and Syntertainment--but we haven't actually seen any games with his name in the credits for almost a decade.
That's because Wright's still busy developing his Next Big Thing. It won't be launching on PC and it doesn't even have a name yet, but Wright promises it will be something built for mobile devices that makes a "game" out of people's lives.
Wright, who spent much of his career pushing the boundaries of simulation on PC, still has a love for PC gaming. He talks about the stable platform PCs offer to developers and gives his thoughts on the evolution of second-screen gaming in this exclusive interview.
Game On: What are your thoughts on the current PC gaming space?
Will Wright: PC gaming has always been so much more steady to me. It evolved as a platform, but it doesn't go through generation cycles the way consoles do. I think that the fracturing of the games market over the last five or ten years has really had a much bigger impact on dedicated hardware, like handheld consoles and console games.
The PC has kind of been stable. It's always been a more adaptable platform, but it's also always been more ubiquitous. You see a lot of experimentation with the indie stuff happening on the PC. We're starting to see a lot of people developing either on the PC or mobile with smaller teams, smaller budgets and more experimentation.
We're getting a more diverse set of games as a result of all this, and a big part of that is also the diversification of the players. We're dealing with a much more diverse set of people playing games than we were 15 years ago, but I think the PC actually is still a great platform and in some sense is in a better place for the future than consoles are.
What impact has the rise of free-to-play games on PC like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth had on the gaming market?
It's great from the consumer's point of view because rather than taking a risk and dropping forty bucks on a game and not knowing if you like it or hate it, free-to-play games have the opportunity to demonstrate value from the very beginning. Then it's a matter of once you demonstrate value, how can you slowly ramp players' interest up based on that. If I'm really hooked on a game I don't mind paying for it, especially after the game has demonstrated to me that I can get enjoyment from it.
How does this impact game development?
It almost pushes us way back to the arcade days. When people were designing arcade games they basically had to hook the player in a few minutes after the first quarter--at least enough to get the next quarter in the machine. You're not going to expect the player to be patient and sit there for 20 or 30 minutes to decide about the game. They have to like it from the very beginning, so it does change the design process.
I think it's a good change because you have to make these games more accessible to a wide group of people and that requires better design from the very beginning of the game development process.
What impact do you see the second-screen gaming experience having on video games moving forward?
It comes back to the ubiquity of these gaming experiences. Depending on what kind of an experience we're talking about, I'm going to want to interact with it on my smartphone, on my tablet, maybe through my cable system or on my PC. Games are going to become like entertainment brands that I have a number of windows into. The bigger the brand, the more thoroughly you can deploy across all these formats.
We have tremendous opportunities right now because if you get a group of people together and it might be kids or adults or whatever, the probability that each one is going to have some screen available to them pretty easily--whether it be through a tablet or their phone or PC--is pretty high. That opens a lot of interesting design space for us to put a game out in the same room that we can share socially, where each of us having our own window into the experience and even potentially different roles and different resolutions.
How will this expanding gaming space impact your new game experience?
Mobile might be where you spend sixty percent of your time interacting with this experience, but as you go deeper into any experience, gameplay with a mouse and a bigger screen or on a tablet can allow you to have deeper, more high resolution interaction with it. It might just be a matter of what sorts of interactions am I having with the big experience.
Some of the interactions might be one- or two-minute interactions. The other ones might be ten- or twenty-minute interactions, while other ones might be sitdown experiences for three hours so you can design a cool level or something like that. Each one of those is unique. I'm not going to sit there for two to three hours doing some detailed design work on a five-inch screen. I'm going to want to do it with a mouse in front of my PC or probably on a nice tablet.