Wright speaking at the 2010 Game Developers Conference
William Ralph Wright
January 20, 1960
|Alma mater||Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University|
|Spouse(s)||Joell Jones (divorced),|
William Ralph Wright (born January 20, 1960) is an American video game designer and co-founder of the former game development company Maxis, and then part of Electronic Arts (EA). In April 2009, he left EA to run Stupid Fun Club Camp, an entertainment think tank in which Wright and EA are principal shareholders.
The first computer game Wright designed was Raid on Bungeling Bay in 1984, but it was SimCity that brought him to prominence. The game was released by Maxis, a company Wright formed with Jeff Braun, and he built upon the game's theme of computer simulation with numerous other titles including SimEarth and SimAnt.
Wright's greatest success to date comes from being the original designer for The Sims. The game spawned multiple sequels, including The Sims 2, The Sims 3, and The Sims 4 and expansion packs, and Wright has earned many awards for his work. His latest work, Spore, was released in September 2008 and features gameplay based upon the model of evolution and scientific advancement. The game sold 406,000 copies within three weeks of its release.
After graduating at 16 from Episcopal High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he enrolled in Louisiana State University, transferring two years later to Louisiana Tech. Beginning with a start at an architecture degree, followed by mechanical engineering, he fell into computers and robotics. He excelled in subjects he was interested in—architecture, economics, mechanical engineering, military history, and language arts. His earlier dream of space colonization remained, and was joined by a love for robotics.
After another two years at Louisiana Tech, in the fall of 1980, Wright moved on to The New School in Manhattan. He lived in an apartment over Balducci's, in Greenwich Village, and spent much of his spare time searching for spare parts in local electronics surplus stores. After one year at the New School, Wright returned to Baton Rouge without his degree, concluding five years of collegiate study.
In Raid on Bungeling Bay, the player flies over islands while dropping bombs. Wright found that he had more fun creating the islands with his level editor for Raid on Bungeling Bay than he had actually playing the game. He created a new game that would later evolve into SimCity, but he had trouble finding a publisher. The structuralist dynamics of the game were in part inspired by the work of two architectural and urban theorists, Christopher Alexander and Jay Forrester.
In 1986, Wright met Jeff Braun, an investor interested in entering the computer game industry, at what Wright has called "the world's most important pizza party." Together they formed Maxis the next year in Orinda, California. SimCity (1989) was a hit and has been credited as one of the most influential computer games ever made. Wright himself has been widely featured in several computer magazines—particularly PC Gamer, which has listed Wright in its annual 'Game Gods' feature, alongside such notables as Roberta Williams and Peter Molyneux.
Following the success of SimCity, Wright designed SimEarth (1990) and SimAnt (1991). He co-designed SimCity 2000 (1993) with Fred Haslam and in the meantime Maxis produced other "Sim" games. Wright's next game was SimCopter (1996). Although none of these games were as successful as SimCity, they further cemented Wright's reputation as a designer of "software toys"—games that cannot be won or lost. In 1992, Wright moved to Orinda, California.
Wright has a great interest in complex adaptive systems and most of his games have been based around them or books that describe them (SimAnt: E.O. Wilson's The Ants, SimEarth: James Lovelock's Gaia Theory, SimCity: Jay Forrester's Urban Dynamics and World Dynamics, Spore: Drake's Equation and Powers of Ten (film)) Wright's role in the development of the concepts from simulations to games is to empower the players by creating what he dubs "possibility spaces", or simple rules and game elements that add up to a very complex design. All Maxis, and later games that Wright had a hand in designing, adhere to these design principles.
Maxis went public in 1995 with revenue of US$38 million. The stock reached $50 a share and then dropped as Maxis posted a loss. EA bought Maxis in June 1997. Wright had been thinking about making a virtual doll house ever since the early 1990s, similar to SimCity but focused on individual people; after losing his home during the Oakland firestorm of 1991, he was inspired to turn his experiences of rebuilding his life into a game. Sims would be based on Wright's focus on building homes, which came from inspiration he found first-hand. Wright, was even sure to include many fires in the game, which were extra difficult for the player to extinguish. Themes like carpentry, home construction, and bare ground in need of landscaping, are common throughout the game. Originally conceived of as an architectural design game called Home Tactics, Wright's idea changed when someone suggested the player should be rated on the quality of life experience by the homeowners. It was a difficult idea to sell to EA, because already 40% of Maxis's employees had been laid off.
When Wright took his idea to the Maxis board of directors, Jeff Braun said, "The board looked at The Sims and said, 'What is this? He wants to do an interactive doll house? The guy is out of his mind.'" Doll houses were for girls, and girls didn't play video games. Maxis gave little support or financing for the game. However, EA was more enthusiastic. Steven Levy wrote: "Wright's games were so different from EA's other releases that it was hard to imagine the two being united in the same enterprise." However, the success of SimCity had already established Sim as a strong brand, and EA, which by then, fifteen years after its founding, was becoming a Procter & Gamble-style brand-management company, foresaw the possibility of building a Sim franchise.
EA published The Sims in February 2000 and it became Wright's biggest success at the time. It eventually surpassed Myst as the best-selling computer game of all time and spawned numerous expansion packs and other games. He designed a massively multiplayer version of the game called The Sims Online, which was not as popular as the original. By November 2006, The Sims franchise had earned EA more than a billion dollars.
In a presentation at the Game Developers Conference on March 11, 2005, Wright announced his latest game Spore. He used the current work on this game to demonstrate methods that can be used to reduce the amount of content that needs to be created by the game developers. Wright hopes to inspire others to take risks in game creation.
As for his theories on interactive design, Wright has said the following:
Wright has said that he believes that simulations, as games, can be used to improve education by teaching children how to learn. In his own words:
After building his reputation as one of the most important game designers in the world, Wright left Maxis in 2009. His first post-EA venture was the Stupid Fun Club startup company and experimental entertainment development studio, with a focus on "video games, online environments, storytelling media, and fine home care products", as well as toys. In October 2010, Current TV announced that Will Wright and his team from Stupid Fun Club will produce a new show for the network. The program, entitled Bar Karma, began airing in February 2011, and featured scenes and twists pitched by an online community, using an online story creator tool designed by Wright. Stupid Fun Club ran for four years before closing down, with much of the team following Wright to found the social media app and graphic novel builder Thred.
Wright was given a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2001. In 2002, he became the fifth person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame. Until 2006, he was the only person to have been honored this way by both of these industry organizations. In 2007 the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded him a fellowship, the first given to a game designer.
He has been called one of the most important people in gaming, technology, and entertainment by publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Time, PC Gamer, Discover and GameSpy. Wright was also awarded the PC Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2005. Later that year, Will earned the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Progress and Service awarded by the Georgia Institute of Technology. He delivered a forward looking acceptance speech entitled Stealth Communities.
In 1980, along with co-driver and race organizer Rick Doherty, Wright participated in the U.S. Express, a cross-country race that was the successor to The Cannonball Run. Wright and Doherty drove a specially outfitted Mazda RX-7 from Brooklyn, New York to Santa Monica, California in 33:39, winning the illegal race. Wright only competed once in the race, which continued until 1983. Wright had a daughter, Cassidy, in 1986, which motivated him greatly over the next five years to hone his craft.
Since 2003, in his spare time, Wright has collected leftovers from the Soviet space program, "including a 100-pound hatch from a space shuttle, a seat from a Soyuz ... control panels from the Mir", and the control console of the Soyuz 23, as well as dolls, dice, and fossils.
He once built competitive robots for BattleBots with his daughter, but no longer does so. As of November 2006, Wright still had remnant bits of machined metal left over from his BattleBots days strewn about the garage of his home. Wright was a former Robot Wars champion in the Berkeley-based robotics workshop, the Stupid Fun Club. One of Wright's bots, designed with the help of Wright's daughter, Cassidy, "Kitty Puff Puff", fought against its opponents by sticking a roll of tape onto its armature and circling around them, encapsulating them and denying them movement. The technique, "cocooning", was eventually banned.
Following his work in BattleBots, he has taken steps into the field of human-robot interactions.
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