Will Wright’s creations have helped expand the gaming audience over the last few decades, while also challenging core gamers to enlist their own creativity in games like The Sims, SimCity and Spore. Wright is busy working on his latest gaming project, a new cross-media suite called HiveMind. The man behind The Sims is now out to turn players’ lives into an interactive experience through data tracking and social interaction. While Wright is keeping mum on the details of the first game experiences he’s working on, he was more than happy to talk about the explosion of pro gaming, and what opportunities that may open up for HiveMind’s linear endeavors in this exclusive interview.
Game On: What are your thoughts on the success we’ve seen in the U.S. this year, with Major League Gaming and eSports attracting huge live crowds and streaming audiences?
Will Wright: Well, it’s something that’s actually been around for a while in countries like Korea, and we’re starting to get more gamer culture television programming on G4 and that kind of stuff. If you look at some of the game shows out there like Ninja Challenge. These things are looking more and more like games…even the pure television shows. We’ve obviously had this model for a long, long time in professional sports and we never really thought of gaming in that way. There’s always been a very big wall between gaming and sports. It’s taken a long time for people who started thinking of videogames as a spectator sport as opposed to something you often do personally. When you look at any of these major sports, it took decades for them to grow viewership and fans and formats and leagues and basically put the show biz in watching these things. I think videogames are recapitulating that in some sense.
Game On: Why do you think we’re now seeing more people interesting in eSports?
Will Wright:There are probably more kids spending time playing Counter-Strike or whatever game relative to playing football, in terms of where they actually spend their time when they’re 14 years old. It’s almost a given and it’s almost more generational as kids that have been playing these games a little bit longer get older, they’re actually interested in seeing other people play them very well. A lot of it really comes down to how you present the experience in such a way that it’s compelling to an audience.
You know the poker thing is interesting, where at some point they figured out how to make poker a spectator sport. When you see poker it doesn’t really sound like it’s a spectator sport at all with the guys sitting around playing cards. But they were able to give the audience just enough information to make it dramatic. I think we’re experimenting with that in the videogame space, as well. How can we present people playing whatever it is, StarCraft II, and make it compelling and interesting to the audience.
Game On: What are your thoughts on the explosion of streaming that is also allowing large audiences to watch pro gaming competitions from around the globe?
Will Wright: I think it really comes down to narrow casting. There is an audience for almost any experience. The key is can you economically deliver that to a small audience. When you have things like streaming channels, you can still have a small audience and then scale it up. At some point it might become so big that you want to put it on a cable network, but it’s almost a threshold issue. It’s becoming more and more the standard model that you start with a small group, whether it’s a Facebook game beta or whatever, and you kind of learn from that group. You find out what works, what doesn’t work. Hopefully that group grows as your experience gets better and then that game or experience potentially has the opportunity to move higher into more scalable formats.
Game On: Why do you think games like StarCraft II are so popular in eSports?
Will Wright: If you look at sports, basketball is a more understandable game than StarCraft, where you really have to understand the rules. It’s probably the difference between watching chess and watching basketball. Watching basketball you can very clearly explain to somebody that they have to throw that ball through the hoop and that’s enough understanding for you to at least appreciate the top level of what’s going on. If you’re watching two guys play chess, you have to really understand a much deeper level of strategies just to tell who is winning even.
Game On: Do you see the potential at any point down the road of having your HiveMind online platform incorporate something that would connect with a pro gaming audience?
Will Wright: Well, there’s a television show that we’re actually working on right now that in fact is kind of in that direction.
Game On: With HiveMind connecting people’s real world activities into a gaming experience, would real eSports become part of the equation at some point?
Will Wright: Yeah. I mean that’s definitely an opportunity. There are so many dimensions or directions you can go with it from the player point of view. It really I think has to do with the scale of your app. If you had tens of millions of people playing, you have huge opportunities and it’d probably be compelling, dramatic and interesting. If it’s a small user base, then you probably don’t. I think it’s just purely a matter of how big it gets in terms of participation and how dramatic you can present that.