Sims Creator Will Wright on Video Games, the Rise of E-Sports, and His Latest Projects
There aren’t many video game developers who have the bonafides to compete with Will Wright. As the creator of SimCity, The Sims, Spore, and other titles, he is among the industry’s most respected personalities.
Now he’s adding a new line to his resume: teacher. Wright has partnered with MasterClass, the online education startup that offers other classes from super chef Gordon Ramsay and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin among others, to pass along what he knows about game design. The 21 lessons, each lasting 10 to 20 minutes, will be available on for either $90 or as part of the site’s $180 per year subscription.
A member of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame and the winner of multiple lifetime achievement awards (ranging from PC Magazine to the Game Developers Choice Awards), Wright left Electronic Arts and the grind of big title, big budget “AAA” development in 2009 to focus on smaller, more creative work. He’s constantly in demand at industry conferences, though, as younger game makers seek his advice on game design and the state of the industry.
We spoke with Wright about his latest venture as well as how he views the video game world today. The following was edited for length and clarity.
Fortune: What prompted you to make the move into online education?
Wright: It was interesting to me. I’ve given many talks over the years, but I’ve never done the whole cohesive thing. It was a big challenge to pull all of my material together. This is a much broader audience and the material is far more comprehensive. There’s a theory that in order to learn something, you need to teach it. So I’m representing that.
What is it you hope people will walk away having learned? What’s the most important lesson you’re trying to get across?
The most important thing is people who want to get into this need to learn how to think like a designer. To be a good game developer, you have to be a good designer. I approached it like industrial design: How do you make something cool and creative that no one has seen before?
It starts with player psychology. You’re developing a machine in the player’s brain and that’s trickier than programming the computer that’s sitting in front of you. Once you become a good designer, you think about things in a different way. You approach things with a more focused mindset and a different tool set. A lot of people learn how to program and go straight into game development, but never learn design skills.
Does this move into education mean you’re done with actively developing games?
Oh, no. I’ve still got a small team and we’re developing an app right now called Proxi (due out in 2019).
Is app development more exciting than making a big game these days?
It’s kind of nostalgic. It’s like 20 years ago when I was working with a team of 10 people and there wasn’t a lot of politics or management. A lot of the time, I think of a game I want to play—and if no one has made it, I have to. There will still be plenty of AAA titles out there, but those primarily are going to be big sequels. I would much rather go off and do something weird.
Can you see yourself going back to the world of big title games games?
I don’t know. That has very little attraction to me right now. It’s not something that appeals to me. Mobile and apps seem to be where the real opportunity and excitement are. AAA is becoming a more entrenched, more predictable industry.
What do you think about the state of the video game industry these days overall?
I’m really happy with where things are compared to what I thought they could have been 15 years ago. We were [at the time] in danger of being an industry that was nothing but huge development teams, spending millions of dollars with lots of gatekeepers saying, “We’re not going to fund this idea.”
Now we’ve got kids in garages developing apps, and I think that’s a much, much better place to be.
Do you think the player base has changed since the days of SimCity or The Sims?
Well, most parents out there now grew up with games. When I was starting out, kids played games and adults were threatened by them. Today, they can understand the value of what games can and can’t do, so we’re dealing with a much broader audience. Games are more and more becoming an accepted mainstream media.
One of the other big changes in the last few years has been the rise of e-sports. Do you follow those?
I don’t watch, but I have an eight and a 13-year-old at home. My 13-year-old is addicted to Kerbal Space Program and my eight-year-old is addicted to Minecraft. I’ve noticed my eight-year-old spends more time watching videos than he does playing the game. That is pure entertainment to him.