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Interview: Will Wright
Subject Various
Interviewee Will Wright
Details Will Wright is the man who invented the Sims. Read what he had to tell us at the SIMposium event.
Interview Date Wednesday 30 March 2005

1. Hey Will, can you briefly introduce yourself to those who don't know who you are?
Okay, my name is Will Wright, and I'm a game designer, and I work for Maxis/EA.

2. The Sims 2 is out for a couple of months now. How do you think the community has been doing since the launch?
I think the Sims 2 got a really good launch with the community, because we had this type of community with the Sims 1. The Sims 1 was a much riskier thing because nobody knew what it was. We put all the effort in making the game expandable, and we didn't know if that was going to pay off. I think we had a lot of opportunity to learn from the fans after the Sims 1 and all the expansion packs. We had a good sense of what they would want to do with the game, and we also had a good sense of what worked in terms of building the community around the game. I think the Sims 2 was a much safer launch than the Sims 1, and it seems like it's doing very well. There are a few surprises, but they're all good surprises, not bad surprises.

3. There has been a lot of modding going on already. Are you surprised by the speed the community is hacking the files and finding out things of the game?
Yeah, that was surprising. Judging on how long it took the community to reverse engineer the Sims 1 file format, it seems like with the Sims 2 they were ready to pounce on the format. Hacking compared to the Sims 1 is going about 4 times faster, in terms of the community digging into inside the game, getting under the hood.

4. Do you still play the game yourself, or are you more occupied by robots, other hobbies or work?
Actually I've been playing the Sims 2 University a bit, and I still play the Sims 2 a lot. I spend about as much time observing the user community as I do playing the game. I download movies that they've made and log into websites. So for me, studying the community is about half the fun of the game. It's kind of studying how things are going, and what people are choosing to do with it.

5. Do you have a lot of custom content in your own Sims game yourself, and what is your favourite kind of content, like Objects, skins, etc?
So far I've mainly been downloading characters. I like playing with celebrities, and putting them in a house together. I made a house and had Michael Jackson, Saddam Hussein, and I think Britney Spears was in it. I like downloading funny characters, making a family and building a story around it.

6. What do you think of the University theme for the first expansion pack, and did you have much input into it?
I didn't have a lot of input into it. The expansion pack team has a lot of autonomy. We have them brainstorm ideas, come up with what they think is the best idea, and then they come up to the studio level and say "hey, this is want we want to do next." On that level it's entirely the expansion pack team coming up with the ideas. I play it a lot, and give people feedback on it, but for the most part I'm distracted by other projects.

7. Which features that were in TS1 and its expansion packs that are not in the Sims 2 yet would you like to see in the sequel?
Well I think there are some obvious things from expansion packs, that's just a matter of when we do them, like pets. People love having a pet. There are a lot of things I'd like to see The Sims 2 expanded with that were not in any of the other ones. The movie-making for instance, feels like a fun thing in the Sims 2, and I'd like to see an expansion pack built around making movies, providing better tools for controlling the Sims. We hit a lot of brick walls with the Sims 1 expansion packs as soon as we wanted to do something that we couldn't because of the engine. In the Sims 2 we tried to remove a lot of those restrictions so we have a much wider variety of things we can do with the Sims 2 that we couldn't have done with the Sims 1.

8. Last year Maxis released the Urbz, in which quite a few elements that were typical to the PC version of the Sims were left out. So what do you think of the Urbz?
Well the console versions of the game are a very different beast, which is kind of why we renamed it. Primarily that's because of different demographics, and different technology. So for instance, on the PC, most players are connected to the internet, but almost none of our console players are connected to the internet. The idea of modding, and downloading stuff for the console version doesn't work right now. We don't have the critical mass of people connected to the net, on console. That might change with the next-generation, or maybe not. This kind of forces you to do a different design than the PC version. And we're also missing out a high-resolution monitor and a few other things. Because of the technological constraints, the Urbz had to become a different thing. We're still kind of exploring and experimenting in the console space, and I think we'll continue to explore. The community is probably going to be completely different from the PC version, until the next generation consoles. Then there is coming up a question of how connected to the net the consoles are going to be. I think the network is such an intrensic part of the Sims 2 experience, that when you remove that part of it, it has to be a different thing.

9. There are already some rumours of the Urbz 2 coming out. Compared to the original Urbz version, what do you think should be improved the most to make it successful?
I think we want to move the Urbz more towards open-ended gameplay, like the Sims 2, a more emerging gameplay. I think that on both the consoles and the PC the player customisation of even your character is still a big win. People love designing their own characters. In terms of where it should go, a lot of it is going to have to do with how much we can squeeze out of the technology. There's a big difference between the current generation, like PlayStation 2, XBox and GameCube, and the next generation, in terms of what we can probably do with the platforms. I think that you will probably see a lot of doors open up when we get the next generation.

10. Another project of yours that didn't succeed as well as expected is the Sims Online. Recently BetaVille was opened, in which free will is enabled, so you can basically have a small family in the game. If this is promoted well, do you think TSO might still become a success?
When we released the expansion packs for the Sims 1, a lot of those expansion packs were kind of experiments and we learned a lot. While some of them worked very well, like the pets and Hot Date. Other ones didn't work quite as well. We actually learned a lot from those expansion packs and a lot of that knowledge got rolled up into the Sims 2. Right now in TSO it's still the same type of thing, where we're learning a lot about player behaviour and how they take their Sims into an online environment. We're looking into the benefits in that experience, and how we can take that and maybe put it in one of the next generations of the Sims, and roll up an online experience until some future product.

I think that The Sims Online, even as a failed experiment, has been very valuable to us. It was the first online we've ever done as Maxis, and it was also a very different online game than any other online game out there. Most other games take the Everquest template and reproduce it. Sims Online was actually a very different game design than Everquest. The future of the Sims Online as I picture it... I'm not sure exactly where it's going to go, but I'm sure that whatever we learn from that will be used in some future online version of the Sims.

11. What does Spore stand for? Is it an abbreviation of something?
I can't say anything about that, sorry.

12. Are you going to show something at E3 again this year, and can we expect something completely new, a sequel or both?
We haven't finalised any of our E3 plans yet, so there might be a stand on which we're showing the Sims, I'm not actually sure. Usually about a month before E3 we look at all the projects and decide what we're going to show on E3.

13. In the past, famous companies like Bullfrog and Westwood were taken over by EA and their names have now disappeared. Are you afraid the same thing might happen to Maxis someday?
Well there's Maxis as a brand, which is what you see stamped on the box. There's also Maxis as a group of people who make games. They're kind of different questions. There's been discussion about how valuable the Maxis brand is on the box. I personally think it has a lot of value, it kind of brings a certain identity to what we do and delineate the distinction between other games. But then there's Maxis, as the people, and now that EA and Maxis really are one company, that distinction I think is going to get more blurred over time. We're going to see people moving off of Maxis projects onto other EA projects, and we're going to see people within EA moving into Maxis and so at that level the two companies are very much mixing. In another time they will be so totally mixed up that it's going to be hard to distinguish a Maxis person from an EA person, except for what project they're working on.

14. Thank you for the interview, and be sure to check out thesimszone.co.uk.
Sure, I'll be happy to.

Will Wright was interviewed by ChEeTaH.

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