So how did you keep the project alive?
WW: I was trying to get resources within Maxis, and nobody wanted to spend the resources on developing it. On the other hand, we had this small group in San Mateo that was doing tools and technology for our company, but nobody was using their tools. It was kind of this programmer thing of "not invented here", and so they were trying to make these code frameworks and things and the department was like, "No, I'd rather bring my own."
So we were about to pull the plug on this little group, because nobody was using what they were making, but they were really brilliant guys. This was like four guys.
So I said, "Look, just give me those guys over there." They weren't even in the same office, and nobody saw them anyway, and so they became my little black ops group. I went over there and they really got it. They worked for the first year trying to bring it up and getting it running, and we were making great progress. That was right around the time that EA came in.
We were on the public market at that point, and EA was doing due diligence, deciding if they wanted to buy our company or not. They were originally thinking they wanted to buy Maxis because of SimCity, but some of the executives at EA saw The Sims and were like, "What's this?" We didn't even tell them; nobody mentioned we were working on this project.
They actually felt very excited about it, and it wasn't longer after that EA bought Maxis. EA's management that came to help broaden Maxis were so excited by it, at that point there was no problem. I got plenty of resources on the team and it was all downhill from there.
So EA saved it in a way?
WW: Yes. It was like a total Monday, and as soon as Luc Barthelet, the general manager EA brought in, came in he was like, "Yeah, what do you need? Let's go for it." He was very into it, and had a lot of contributions in terms of us launching the community around it and all that stuff, so probably Luc more than anybody else was responsible.
One of the fairly unique things about The Sims was that it allowed same-sex relationships, which I think caused the U.S. age rating to go up to 14+.
WW: I don't know if that was the case or not. I don't remember. We were really skirting it; we kind of wanted The Sims to be a PG-type thing. There was nothing you'd see on The Sims that you wouldn't see on prime time television at all. The gay thing was really interesting, because I thought we'd have a much bigger backlash from that than we did.
Was there pressure to remove the Sims' default bisexuality?
WW: We programmed it such that the only time a gay relationship would actually occur is if you had two men or two women starting to flirt with each other, so you literally had to drive it and initiate it. They were bisexual in that sense -- if you initiated it, it really was down to their chemistry. They might get along or they might not, but it had nothing to do with gender.
So if somebody called us up and said "My Sims are getting... I don't like it," we knew that they were the ones who started them kissing. Fundamentally I wanted people, no matter what their family was, to be able to try to recreate it in the game. That was why we chose to do it. There was no pressure internally at all to do it one way or the other.
I was expecting more pushback once we released it, from conservative groups but there was virtually none. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I was interviewed by this gay magazine about a year after it was released. They wanted to cover the story about how we had to fight all these conservatives and I really couldn't give them anything. They were all disappointed there wasn't more pushback.
How do you feel about that journey from a game about architecture to one about these little people? Is it hard to move away from your original vision?
WW: No. I mean my log-cutting game turned into a game about city planning. [Laughs] My whole career's been like that, I think -- serendipitous discovery. The whole approach is that you want to always be on the direction that you're headed but as you're heading there, you're going to see little things that make you think "maybe I want to go that way a little bit or that way." If you're singularly focused on a destination, you might end up passing five or six great places along the way that would have been better had you seen them from the start.
Is that an usual approach to game design?
WW: I think it is to some degree. I don't know if it is now as much as it used to be. It used to be people were very focused on "I'm going to build a first-person shooter set in Greek society and I'm going to have these types of swords and here's what's going to happen in the last battle." People tended to be very explicit and very constrained about what they were going to design.
I think nowadays with things like the web and social networks and this kind of emergence of these very elaborate ecosystems that people are involved with, maybe it's getting a little more common. It feels more like you're dealing with an ecology now rather than an engineering artifact.
People in general do seem to have a clear understanding of how a film is made or an album is put together, but how games go from initial idea to final product still seems shrouded in mystery. Is that because there's no set way of doing it, or that the industry isn't very good at explaining itself?
WW: I suspect the early days of film were very much like this. At some point enough people have been making films for their whole lives that they started trying to fundamentally think about the structures and rules that they're operating under, the formalisms that they brought to the subject, and then they started opening the very first film schools.
At some point George Lucas and Steven Spielberg went to film school and were taught filmmaking as a professional, this body of theory from people who had spent lifetimes making mistakes. With game design, we're still in this apprenticeship phase, whereby most people practicing game design were not formally taught game design. Just now they're starting to go into schools and start programs to teach games and interactive design. So we're just at that point where I think we're going from the apprenticeship model.
There are very few programs right now, but they exist, and universities are scrambling to build these programs, but there's not enough people to teach them. Almost all the people that were in the games industry are still in the industry, still working. Films have been around long enough to reappoint people who've been in and out of the film industry, and decided to go into teaching, so they have a pretty good reservoir of talent to use over on the academic side. The game industry doesn't right now.