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Master of The Sims Universe

Orinda’s Will Wright talks about the continuing appeal of the sims, and weighs in on the future of video games


Will Wright has become a video game king and multimillionaire by empowering you to play God on your computer. That’s right, he’s the man behind the top-selling franchise The Sims, which came roaring out of the East Bay in 1989. Since that first game, SimCity, hit the shelves, the Orinda resident has enabled players to cruise their alter egos through a fantasy world filled with everything from burning affairs to the burning of dinner.

Wright sold his Walnut Creek company, Maxis, in 1997 to Electronic Arts, but he still works for the company. When Sims 2 was released last September, it became the fastest selling PC game ever. Now he’s working on a new game, which is still top secret, but he paused long enough to talk about the popularity of his virtual worlds and the future of video gaming.

DIABLO: Did you have a master plan when you developed The Sims games?

WRIGHT: The Sims came from a couple of inspirations. One was a game I had designed
previously: Sim Ant, a simulation ant colony. I began wondering what would happen if we applied that same model to human behavior. The essence of The Sims simulator is that the environment informs how [the characters], "the Sims," behave in particular situations.

DIABLO: Do you think your games make people dumber or smarter?

WRIGHT:  It’s not so much that these games make you smarter, but after playing The Sims, a lot of people can’t help but step back and look at their real life and understand, "Wow, I am making these tactical decisions every minute of the day about how
I spend my time. And those add up to
my happiness."

DIABLO: Does playing The Sims help families in their real-life interaction?

WRIGHT:  Yeah, The Sims is one of the few games I’ve seen where there is a lot of intergenerational play. A lot of parents play it with their kids, even if the kid is in college and the parent is 40-something. A lot of people put themselves "into" the game, as well as their family members and neighbors. I think The Sims is unique because it’s about a subject that everybody can relate to and understand. That invites a pretty wide demographic.

DIABLO: Were you into computers at an early age?

WRIGHT:  No, not really. I got my first computer when I was, like, 20, when the Apple II came out. I was more into mechanical things. I was building robots when I got my first computer.

DAIBLO: And, today, you have quite a few robots around your house?

WRIGHT:  Yeah, too many. I think the thing that interests me the most about robots is that they are basically attempts to model various aspects of human ability. When you try to re-create human ability, you learn a lot more about that ability. You don’t understand how wonderful the human hand is until you try to re-create it.

DIABLO: The Sims’ success has been ridiculed by hard-core video game players. Does that bother you?

WRIGHT: Oh, no. What happened with The Sims is that we hit a totally untapped [female] market. Over half our players right now are females. The Sims also is very open-ended and focused on creativity. For a lot of our players, it’s the only game they have ever bought or played.

DIABLO: Have kids who began playing SimCity years ago become city planners or architects in real life?

WRIGHT: I have gotten a lot of letters from people who went into city planning. I think people [who have played SimCity] walk around a real city and realize that this was all planned at some level.

DIABLO: With your success, what motivates you to keep developing new games?

WRIGHT: I enjoy it. Video games as a medium have amazing potential. I have always had this compulsion to make things.

DIABLO: What do you see happening in the video game industry?

WRIGHT: Most games are stuck in thematic niches like sports, fantasy, and war. I wish they were more broadly applicable to real life. I think you are starting to see a shift there. Compared to movies, television, and books, [video games are] incredibly exciting. They’re still far more interesting than any other media I see out there.

DIABLO: In real life, do you ever wish you could just press a reset button?

WRIGHT:It’s more like I wish I had 50 hours in a day. There are so many things that I would love to do, and so many projects that I would love to make. 

Michael Liedtke writes for the Associated Press.

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