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Will Wright Leaves EA/Maxis For New 'Entertainment Think Tank'

Will Wright Leaves EA/Maxis For New 'Entertainment Think Tank' Exclusive

April 8, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

Legendary Sims and Spore creator Will Wright is ready to try something new. Electronic Arts announced today that its Maxis guru is leaving to head up what's described as a new "entertainment think tank" called Stupid Fun Club.

Wright has been self-funding Stupid Fun Club, which has operated out of a Berkeley warehouse, for nearly a decade. The club has focused mainly on designing and building robots, as well as creating video productions based on them.

Wright and EA will co-own Stupid Fun Club, which will focus on developing new cross-media IP for games, movies, TV and toys. EA has the right to develop game concepts that emerge from the think tank, and both the company and Wright have an equal stake.

Gamasutra spoke to Wright's 12-year colleague, EA Maxis VP and general manager Lucy Bradshaw, who says Wright's been incubating this course for Stupid Fun Club since 2001, "and it was something we agreed to and talked about within EA."

Wright's interested in pioneering new directions in IP, Bradshaw says, and has been "playing around with robots and these types of things... as we were doing Spore, this has been one of his dreams."

She sees Stupid Fun Club as more of an "evolution" on EA's relationship with Wright and less a departure. "It really is a partnership, where Will is going to be investing his time in Stupid Fun Club incubating new IP... [while] Maxis will continue to develop its own IP, and clearly we're very focused on Spore."

Bradshaw explains how EA's partnership with Wright works on a business level -- both parties have an equal stake in the new organization and seats on the Board. An unspecified third party has a "small" equity share and a Board spot, too.

"Will is going to be developing IP for many different forms of media," Bradshaw explains. "EA has a profit share in that, and has the right to do any game development [on Wright's concepts] should we decide."

So EA is entitled to first dibs on video game projects from Super Fun Club concepts. "Having worked with Will before, there's great potential for that kind of collaboration again," says Bradshaw.

But should EA pass, other companies are free to develop Wright's game concepts, including EA's competitors -- although the fact that EA gets a profit share of any project created might suffice to ward off competitors even without an exclusivity deal. Wright will also work with other media companies like TV, film and toys on extensions of his ideas.

"It's exciting -- I'd like to see where he's going to branch out to," says Bradshaw. "There are areas of IP that really don't fit within EA's portfolio that he does want to pursue."

Says Wright in a statement: "The entertainment industry is moving rapidly into an era of revolutionary change. Stupid Fun Club will explore new possibilities that are emerging from this sublime chaos, and create new forms of entertainment on a variety of platforms."

Wright also says he's looking forward to continuing to work with his EA colleagues, and CEO John Riccitiello pledges his support for the venture.

"We believe in Will's vision for Stupid Fun Club and we're looking forward to partnering with Will and his team long into the future," he says.

Maxis was founded by Wright and Jeff Braun in 1989, and its innovative world and life sims SimCity and The Sims broke PC sales records and attained widespread cultural permeation. The studio was acquired by EA in 1997.

Bradshaw will continue to run Maxis and the upcoming products in the Spore franchise, while Rod Humble and his EA Play label will launch The Sims 3 in June of this year.

"Will has been an inspiration to our teams, and it's been rewarding for us to bring his ideas to life," she says.

"In addition to legendary games, Will's legacy at EA will be the many talented people who worked with him and will now continue to contribute their own vision to the art of game development."

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