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GDC: Will Wright Peels Back Layers Of Entertainment, Games
GDC: Will Wright Peels Back Layers Of Entertainment, Games
March 13, 2010 | By Kris Graft

March 13, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, GDC

When Will Wright looks at the world, he sees it differently than most people. He observes systems, he analyzes layers and he notices patterns in the most seemingly normal, every day things.

"It's an affliction," he said at Game Developers Conference 2010 in a secret talk originally billed as by 'Phaedrus' on Saturday. "Every time I see something, I deconstruct it. ... But it's fun."

Wright began his career in games as an independent, a "renegade" whose first game was Raid on Bungeling Bay. He later founded the original Sims studio Maxis where he adopted a more office-like mindset, and when Electronic Arts acquired Maxis in 1997 he became further ingrained in corporate culture.

But now that he's founded Stupid Fun Club, he's getting back in touch with his roots. "I feel like in my career I'm swinging back towards the experimental." And he says he's happy about it.

During his talk, Wright essentially deconstructed not only the games industry, but the role of entertainment in general. When viewing the industry, he's not necessarily coming up with a definitive answer to problems, but acting more as an observer, and acting upon the observations that he makes. "Perspectives are more valuable than solutions," Wright said.

From Wright's perspective, games are already strengthening their ties with player's social habits and brains in general. "We're going to start moving deeper into the brain, into the perceptual realm," he said. "...I think that games will be able to absorb what we're doing, then evolve to fit us."

In this way, real and virtual worlds are becoming less distinct. Wright said he feels like as the two continue to blend together, in recent years, there is less of a tendency to draw a line between the two. "I think the value that we place in these worlds is changing," he said.

Overlap is also occurring in the entertainment industry, which is traditionally separated into a few primary silos like film, books and movies. "The interesting stuff is [happening] in the intersections of these established fields," Wright said.

Make It Seem Game-Like

People and corporations trying to make a buck are becoming increasingly aware of the power of play. Wright said somebody is constantly asking how to make _blank_ more "game-like," whether it's exercising, homework or tax preparation. It's a phenomenon that he called "MSG," or "Make it Seem Game-Like" -- make it like a game, and it'll be great is the perception that people now have.

Kids are especially adept at naturally using play as a way to learn about the world and establish perception. When playing with Thomas the Train for example, they learn about the mechanics of the toy like the wheel and axle, they learn about the linear narrative of a Thomas the Train book, and they even become aware that this toy train has real-world representations in myriad types of trains.

"Games and play have this very symbiotic relationship. ...When kids play, it's the scientific method," he said.

Cambrian Explosion

The games industry is in a period that has a very diverse array of platforms that service a wide range of demographics. Even the most specific genres, like PC horse-raising games for young girls in Germany, can be penetrated quite deeply, Wright said.

"We're in the Cambrian Explosion in the games industry," Wright said. "...All of the platforms are kind of exploding before our eyes." While this offers a lot of opportunities, it's as risky of a business as ever.

Part of that difficulty comes from the fact that the industry, and technological and social progression in general, is increasingly a guessing game. "In some sense the future is becoming less and less predictable every year," Wright noted. "It's kind of like having an Easter egg hunt in a mine field," he said.

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John Petersen
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Yep, i saw saw my Xbox 360 explode right in front of me a few years ago, and ain't never goin' back. Piece o junk.

Patrick Reding
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"When Will Wright looks at the world, he sees it differently than most people. He observes systems, he analyzes layers and he notices patterns in the most seemingly normal, every day things."

Wait, this is different from most people? Because it's possibly not different from most game developers.

Dave Endresak
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I wouldn't necessarily agree that deconstruction is different from most people, but it may be different from most people who do not have a higher education background, and specifically a background in social sciences and liberal arts. Deconstruction is covered in such fields extensively, and anyone taking college courses in any fields related to those areas of study should be trained to deconstruct everything they experience.

I would also say that the game industry (or any area of endeavor, actually) is and has always been and will always be unpredictable regardless of what people think and the naive idea that we can control and predict anything. We may have perceived that we had control in past eras, but we really did not, and subsequent events have tended to demonstrate our hubris. Chaos theory to the rescue! ^_^

Leo Gura
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Pretty obvious stuff. BTW, "horse", "young girls", and "penetrated deeply" should never be used in the same sentence.

Andy Lewis
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@Leo Gura Your second point is one of the most insightful posts I've seen here. I concur.

Babak Kaveh
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"In some sense the future is becoming less and less predictable every year," Makes a lot of sense, since the number of players is increasing. The global economic system, console manufacturers, big publishers, etc. are all tied up in an increasingly complex system. AS it goes with complex systems, they have "calm" periods, and sudden shifts that can have large knock-on effects.

"We're going to start moving deeper into the brain, into the perceptual realm,"...

Well,'s about time...why should all the good research on cognition and behavioural sciences only be used by corporate advertisers? Let use some of it to create some fun and deep emotional experiences. However, I do believe that developers today are to blame for the lack of cutting edge "soft" tech (I am talking about psychology, sociology, etc. applications) in the industry: as a group we aren't highly educated :P I have been discussing this and other issues on my blog at for some time now, but I hope someone like Will Wright will give the issue some real visibility.

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I'm sorry to be off topic, but can an Xbox Ambassador mess with your account or ban you?

Just got a random message saying that he would.

Roberto Alfonso
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He plays Advance Wars for 15 minutes per day. I love this dude :-)

Louis-Felix Cauchon
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Take a look at what Jesse Schell said about the same topic sooner... Very interesting! :

Dylan Woodbury
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Anybody go there? Did he give examples of systems and patterns he saw, or did gamasutra just introduce him a little bit in that first paragraph? Just curious...

Josh Green
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Wait, GDC goes to Saturday now? 5 days wasn't long enough?

Gustav Ziolkowski
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"...young girls in Germany, can be penetrated quite deeply..." please Gamasutra, watch the wording.

Kris Graft
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Please Gustav, put the wording in context. "Young girls" is not the subject of the whole sentence.