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Will Wright: Never overestimate players' narcissism

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Whether you know him or not, Will Wright probably designed a game you played – and loved!  

A founding developer at Maxis (now owned by EA), a company he has subsequently left, Wright is the designer behind Instant classics such as Sim City, Spore and The Sims.  He has since been working on projects through his small startup Stupid Fan Club.  

He recently gave a lecture at the University of California in Santa Cruz entitled ‘Gaming as a lens on the world’.  In it, he stated that the technological barriers are falling, leaving the more interesting problems to solve – the psychological ones.

“No game designer ever went wrong by overestimating the narcissism of their players,”

Wright is referring to the importance players place on being able to share or brag about their progress and achievements in a game.  Players need to feel that they have overcome great hurdles; in essence, game designers are selling sets of interesting problems.  I wonder what problems he will design through his new company, Syntertainment.

In an interview after the lecture, Wright agreed with Warren Spector that there is great progress to be made in the gaming industry.  He goes on to say that

“I think we have an extremely powerful medium here at our disposal, and I think we’ve only realized a small fraction of its potential,”

Relative to what we have as a medium, with what we could be doing with it, we’re falling way short.”

However, Wright also sees bright things in the future of gaming.  He seems particularly interested in smaller, independent studios – he describes it as a “much, much more healthy” situation than it was a decade ago with just a few large publishers.  New apps come out every day – while Wright is familiar with the next-gen consoles coming out this year, he believes the mobile market is the next frontier.  With that attitude, it’s no wonder that the jobs posted for Syntertainment include mobile apps developer.

When asked about EA, and specifically Sim City, Wright said that he felt bad for the team and understood the outrage of players.  He said it’s hard to look at the struggles at EA (layoffs, restructuring, etc) in a unified way; the different studios under EA are “more like a loose federation” making it difficult to discuss EA as a single entity.

Finally, Wright predicts that the game industry will continue with “non-linear” growth – some areas of the game industry are growing while others are shrinking.  Games, Wright believes, are increasing in importance to the younger generation.

“It’s just as important to them as movies, and probably more so than books.”

I’m very curious to see what Will Wright does.  He has designed such innovative games in the past – he actually created the genre of games where “winning” was not the point.  How does he envision the future of mobile gaming?  I suppose only time will tell, but I’m pretty sure he will surprise us all – even if we don’t like what he makes next, it will be different from what we are seeing at the moment.


Last Updated: May 7, 2013

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