Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
July 11, 2008 Page 3 of 7
BS: I remember when I interviewed Bing Gordon, I was asking him how many copies of Spore would have to sell to recoup the cost. At first he said, "a lot," and then he said "in the millions". And so you're going to have to get a lot of those casual users. Are they definitely in mind? Who are you personally designing for, if you've thought about it?
SJ: Well, I'm personally designing for the gamers, but I'm not in charge of the project. I'm kind of there as an advocate for the gamers, but I'm not doing it dogmatically. I'm not saying, "It's got to be this way." I'm just reminding people, "Hey, here are a few things about group select that you might want to consider doing. Double-clicking on these items will select all units, or all of the same type on-screen," or whatever. I'm just reminding people these things that gamers may expect.
BS: Of traditional tropes and things like that.
SJ: Right. And trying to balance it for the gamer, including obvious things like difficulty level. But definitely the high-level decision-makers on the project are really casting a really wide net. I think they assembled a wide variety of people to try and hit on this. It's a big challenge. I definitely know what the break-even number is, but there are definitely long, long-term plans for Spore.
So I think that EA is giving this, not in terms initially of what this project is going to do, but as something that's going to become a long-term franchise for EA and be one of the big things that EA is known for. For the first product, I think it's important to just put our best foot forward. I don't think they're obsessed with the profit margins off the first one. We'd love to have a million people buy it, but we'll see.
CR: My guess is that Will Wright didn't necessarily have any particular audience in mind when he was first thinking about The Sims. My assumption would be that he wasn't saying, "We're going to get a lot of housewives."
This game does seem like a less concentrated thing, in that it doesn't have that really obvious human social connection that I think draws a lot of people to The Sims. One thing I do find really intriguing about it - and this is as a gamer, so I'm curious if you can speak to it at all - is that it seems almost like a survey course of PC genres I grew up on, like SimCity, Civ... like a bunch of games I remember playing in the late '80s and early '90s that defined what the PC could do, from a gaming perspective.
That, to me, I suspect will be really intriguing to a lot of gamers, not necessarily from a hardcore, "Let's play something really insane," but just from an appreciation standpoint. Did you have that in mind at all?
SJ: I think Will has said that. He said that the first level was Pac-Man, the second level was Diablo, the third level was Populous, the fourth level was Civilization...
CR: So that was a very conscious thing.
SJ: Yeah, I think there's a conscious choice. So yeah, I hope people can appreciate it like that. It's been interesting from an interface point of view, because you'll have these things where... you'll have your little creature, and in the creature level, it's essentially like World of Warcraft. You're driving around with the WASD keys. It's a third-person action game, or whatever. You're moving your creature around and you're doing stuff.
Then suddenly you jump to Tribe, and the player sees the same thing. They still see that creature, but you're no longer controlling it. It's no longer your avatar, right? You're playing what looks like the same game, but instead of having an avatar, you're now out like God. You'll see four of [those creatures].
For a lot of players, it's difficult for them to make that leap, like, "Okay, now I'm not that guy. I'm nobody. I'm just a thing that controls these multiple things." If you have knowledge of those games, it's not a problem. It's just built-in.
So I think for the gamer side of the audience, he made a smart choice in that sense, of, "Okay, we can have all these games in, but uses conventions from other games so that they're ready to go." But for the non-gamer audience, it's definitely a bit of a leap.
BS: What is being done to help them transition?
SJ: Well, we've become much more regimented and heavy-handed, even, at the beginning of each level. At the beginning of Tribe, we stop the game for a second and say, "Hey, remember that last level where you were controlling one guy? Now you're not controlling one guy! Now you're controlling a bunch of guys, and you're not tied in to any one creature."
It used to be much more open. You just started the level with the player doing whatever they wanted to. But now, when you have the tutorials on, it really emphasizes that things have changed and you're not playing the same type of game.
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