A Conversation with Will Wright

Keynote
Location: Ballroom - 3rd Level Level:
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Photo of Will Wright

Will Wright

Electronic Arts

Twenty years ago, a video game that you could neither win nor lose was inconceivable-unless you were Will Wright. With five years of college under his belt and no degree, twenty-something year old Will had the idea of creating a game based on designing and building cities. In achieving that goal, Will created a new genre in gaming and within it, one of the best-loved game franchises in history establishing Will Wright as a visionary within the world of video game design.

The idea for SimCity struck as will was designing his first game, Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984) a game in which helicopters attacked islands. Realizing he preferred building islands to piloting attack ‘copters, Will partnered with “idea guy” Jeff Braun to create a company known as Maxis and they released SimCity in 1989. With SimCity the mass market got its first real taste of a simulation game, and they were hooked! The word-of-mouth acclaim swirling around SimCity ultimately attracted the attention of Newsweek, and a full page story on the game cemented SimCity’s place in entertainment history. An entirely new kind of video game genre, focused around open-ended, non-violent gameplay was born!

Maxis followed up the surprising success of SimCity with a string of popular simulation games throughout the 1990s. Titles such as SimEarth: The Living Planet (1990), SimAnt: The Electronic Ant Colony (1991), SimCity 2000 (1993), SimCopter (1996), and SimCity 3000 (1999) introduced simulation games to hundreds of thousands of new fans, demonstrating the genre’s true potential.

Still nobody was prepared for the phenomenal success of The Sims. Will, who studied architecture in college, originally conceived of the game as an architectural design simulator. To “score” the quality of the design, he added tiny people who would inhabit the buildings. These simulated people quickly stole the spotlight, and Will realized that watching the lives of the Sims unfold was the real entertainment. Again, his instincts were right. Released in 2000, The Sims was the best-selling PC game of of 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, until it was dethroned by its own sequel The Sims 2, which quickly established itself as the best selling PC game of 2004. Popular console, handheld and mobile phone versions of the game have contributed to the huge success of the franchise, which has sold more than 58M games, life-to-date.

The Sims and its expansion packs and sequels have become a cultural phenomenon and solidified Will’s position as a gaming-industry legend. His honors and accolades include making Entertainment Weekly’s “It List” of “the 100 most creative people in entertainment” and Time Digital’s “Digital 50” in 1999, receiving a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2001, being named #35 on Entertainment Weekly’s Power List in 2002, becoming the fifth person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame that same year, and receiving the PC Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award.

Will is currently devoted to the creation of the Spore, which took home the Electronic Entertainment Expo’s most coveted prize, the Game Critics Award for Best of Show when the game debuted at E3 2005. The game has since been recognized as the Best Original Game, Best PC Game, and Best Simulation Game by E3 Awards Committee, and has also garnered significant recognition from prominent media outside the gaming space — specifically the Popular Mechanics “Breakthrough of the Year” Award and Popular Science “Best of 2008” Award.

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Chris Eben
04/02/2009 3:35am PDT

Far and away the most interesting of today’s keynotes.

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