Will Wright: "Console guys are running scared"

The legendary designer shares some thoughts on game design and the industry

GamesIndustry International caught up with legendary game designer Will Wright to find out his reactions to some of the latest news in the gaming industry, and perhaps some hints of what he's working on. He also shared some thoughts on design with us.

Q: Sony's acquisition of Gaikai has brought cloud gaming into the headlines. What are your thoughts on cloud gaming?

Will Wright: I think that is going to be the future. People have so many devices they carry around. They have their tablets, their smartphones, their PC at home, their Xbox - I think that having a game that's accessible on all these devices at any time is going to be much more sticky than something you have to go home and play on your PC or only play on your iPhone. I think in that general sense, it's going to hit a much broader group of players than dedicated games.

Q: Do you think we'll see more games that reach across different platforms, where you play the game on different devices but with a unified player ID?

Will Wright: Yes. Each platform has a totally different set of features and advantages. You can do a game like Tetris that's the same on everything, but it's not going to be nearly as interesting if you can go deeper on the platforms, because then platforms will have a much deeper experience. Unfortunately that adds a lot of complexity to the game design. We'll probably see things that launch one platform at a time and expand the experience to other platforms.

"I think that [cloud gaming] is going to be the future"

Will Wright

Q: There are lots of new platforms and places to design for; is that just making life more complicated for game designers?

Will Wright: It adds more opportunities, too. You have a lot of people who are able to do a lot with small teams and low costs; of course there's a lot of noise in the market. I think in some sense it's kind of equalized. It used to be big companies doing triple-A titles on consoles is where all the money is. It's shaken things up quite a bit with all these platforms. In some sense all the little mammals - small developers, new companies - have an opportunity right now to fill new niches that are expanding rapidly. They might be small opportunities now, but they very well could be huge opportunities in the not-too-distant future.

Q: One of the changes is not just the platform, it's the business model. Some free-to-play games just seem to be slowed-down versions of the full game, and it can be annoying. Do you think that's an inherent problem with free-to-play, or is it something solvable with better design?

Will Wright: I think on the plus side there's very little risk in trying something new, as opposed to spending 40 bucks on a game and maybe you'll like it and maybe you won't. I think people were a lot more risk-averse under the old model, the shrink-wrap model. It has its pluses and minuses; it is bringing in a much wider group of players than we had before. The demographics are expanding, which long-term I think has to help.

Q:There were lots of sequels at E3, and very little new IP in the triple-A space. Is it still possible to have a grand gaming vision?

Will Wright: I think publishers are much more risk-averse to spending twenty or thirty million dollars on a title. The only people who could really play that game were giant publishers, and they'd be rolling the dice. They'd do 5 titles a year, and all they had to do was get one hit and it paid off all the failures. It is going to be more of a Zynga-type environment where people start small and try to grow it up. It encourages experimentation. I think before the only thing people were willing to bet on were sequels; that was really the only predictable genre. Now the fact that you can do a game for an extremely low cost, put it out there and see if it gets any traction is going to encourage more diversity.

Q:Is that even true for someone like you who has a name and a reputation? Can you get a big project made, or do you have to start small?

Will Wright: I think I can go for something that's more ambitious still, but I would do it more incrementally. You don't necessarily have to do two years of development and publish this giant thing when you can actually do little experiments. Maybe they come together and become part of a larger experience. That's the way I'm thinking about it. At this stage in my career I don't want to do some little app; I want to do something different and risk-taking. But it feels a little less risky because of the fact that I can approach it more incrementally.

Q: Peter Molyneux said that for 22 Cans he's trying some small experiments to test out design ideas.

"I think there's still a lot of room for someone with an artistic vision that's not going to survive focus groups"

Will Wright

Will Wright: I like that idea as well. I think that more and more we can learn from our audience almost while we're still in development. As a designer I find that to be kind of attractive, because so frequently you come out with something and maybe it's a hit and maybe it's not. But even if it's a hit, it turns out that all the things you thought were really cool and you spent all your time on aren't the things the players love and talk about. It would be good to get a sense of that before you release a title, which features to double down on.

Q:With Mass Effect 3 they made some artistic decisions which some vocal members of the community didn't like, so they changed the ending. Do you think that was the right thing for BioWare to do?

Will Wright: I think you should listen to the market. But a lot of times with a brand new experience, when you start describing it to people before they can experience it they'll say it sucks, or 'we've never seen anything like it so we can't really envision playing it in our head'. I think there's still a lot of room for someone with an artistic vision that's not going to survive focus groups, but if a person holds true to that vision you're going to end up with something that wouldn't exist otherwise. It's really like evolution - there are certain things that you can't easily evolve from this to that; you have to make a leap of faith. That's where I think there's still a lot of room for somebody with a strong artistic vision and the power to see it through.

Q: A lot of your titles would have been very hard to describe in terms of other games, at the time you did them originally.

Will Wright: I still approach those kind of things that, when you describe them to a person they don't make a lot of sense, but if I can get the experience up and running and they can experience it I'm reasonably confident they will understand what I was getting at.

Q: You just like making things difficult for marketing, don't you?

Will Wright: Yeah, pretty much. (laughs)

Q: Any thoughts on the Wii U or other E3 news?

Will Wright: No, I really didn't follow any of the news from E3; I've been too busy working on projects.

"I think all the console guys are running scared"

Will Wright

Q: I guess the console business is really not the center of the game universe any more for many people.

Will Wright: I think all the console guys are running scared. Not so much because of the hardware, but because of the business models, free-to-play and that kind of thing, have shifted underneath them.

Q: Anything you can tell me about what you're working on now?

Will Wright: Unfortunately not yet, we're still in stealth mode on it. But hopefully not too long before we can talk about it.

Q: What sort of platform are you aiming at initially?

Will Wright: It's a multi-platform strategy, definitely. I don't want to be committed to any one platform - I want to be accessible on a variety of platforms.

Q: Gamers are everywhere, so the games need to be everywhere, too.

Will Wright: Exactly.

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Latest comments (13)

I think this is quite a nice interview from Will. Not so sure about the sensationalist headline however. It skews the overall article in the wrong light, whereas Will discusses and confirms the changing paradigm of games development
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany9 years ago
Nice interviw, but that sentence in the tittle makes it sound like if I'm about to read another pro-pc fanboy rant.

It does not make the guy justice... was that really the best sentence to use? I think "there's still a lot of room for someone with an artistic vision" is a lot better.

Just an opinion, of course ;)
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Jeff Lindsey Senior Producer, Arkadium9 years ago
Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks the headline is irresponsible.
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Show all comments (13)
Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
I really hate the headline.
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As a small concession, thank you for bringing back some nice balanced interviews.

Now if we can just have headlines that really mean what they portray, instead of using the type of headlines seen in the Sun, Dailymail - it would be very much appreciated. is still the (de facto version of the daily politics ) place to go for industry news and discuss!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dr. Chee Ming Wong on 10th July 2012 1:28pm

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Andrzej Wroblewski Localization Generalist, Albion Localisations9 years ago
It's the marketing that needs to run around scared. They're becoming less and less useful due to increasing customer awareness. And instead of moving on, changing to quality-driven professional organizations, management guys cling to those marketing charlatanisms as if they were the only cure for making profits...

Guess what :) You're doing it wrong!

Quality is the future. And we, industry professionals, are the marketing's bane. That's why they fear us and hate us so much (mostly poking us around with deadlines nowadays...).
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And we know how deadly dead lines are....dammit, my landline and mobile have been cut off....
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Pete Thompson Editor 9 years ago
Since before the Onlive service was announced we keep hearing that the console is dead, yet sales figures of the console versions of games still outnumber those of the often cheaper PC version..

It's becoming increasingly annoying to keep reading what I as a gamer prefer to play games on.
As long as there's a console to play games on Ill buy it and the games, whether they are purchased via retail or digital download..

As a gamer whos preferred consoles for years now I've got no interest in playing free to play games, I don't play games on my iPhone, iPads or Android devices because the controls are naff & the screens are small, and I've not played games on a PC since the PS1 came out...

How about instead of herding gamers towards F2P and mobile we let them choose their future gaming hardware..
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Its blatant marketing from the outset, trying to somehow influence a global sea change of player preference with their game design/preference of course. But market forces are not like Libor so these naysayers can go fish elsewhere . hehe
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American McGee CEO, Spicy Horse9 years ago
Love this interview, hate the headline. In any case, very happy to see the continued growth in awareness and support for proper cross-platform/device gaming. This has been the goal of Spicy Horse for the past 18 months and we're finally ready to launch our first (and I think the world's first) truly cloud enabled game for web (PC/Mac), Facebook, iOS, Android, phones & tablets. Very interested to see whether or not the idea of combining all these "streams" with simultaneous multiplayer will have the sort of unifying impact we're hoping for.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by American McGee on 11th July 2012 2:45am

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Alex Byrom Studying Multiplayer Online games design, Staffordshire University9 years ago
I've been with Sony all my life and recently got an onlive system, the technology is truly amazing, anyone who can't see this as the future of gaming has his/her head in the sand. Digital distribution is coming, streaming games is here and hard copy will be binned (i'm sorry to say),
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
Well when it comes to cross platform, game content, i just hate what SONY does of selling you the same game for every different device. If I buy a game I want it to be available to all of SONY's devices. I usually just buy the best version which is usually the home console version. And if its avaliable on Disc i prefer that. I only buy mobile games if they offer an expirience that doesnt interfere with day to day erands or I can start up and put down quickly.
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 9 years ago
How does having a game available to you at any time, anywhere affect utility to the end user? Without scarcity, will any game have value? Fun is only fun due to contrast with the rest of your life.
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