Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Friday, 5 September 2008 13:31 UK

Spore - changing the game

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News Website, Silicon Valley

Spore Creature Creator screengrab
Gamers can customize almost any feature of the game

Spore is one of the most eagerly awaited games in years and has both players and pundits watching its every move.

The game takes evolution as its broad theme and is the creation of famed developer Will Wright. Many believe it will change gaming just like his previous effort The Sims did.

Earlier this year the 100 millionth copy of The Sims was sold and it has been widely credited with improving the appeal of games to people who had never considered themselves players.

Mr Wright told the BBC he believed Spore will set the bar higher.

"Spore will change the way people look at games forever and change hopefully the perception people have of their own creativity."

The tool set in Spore gives players an unprecedented amount of creative control over the elements of the game - the creatures that populate it, the places they live, the clothes they wear and vehicles they drive.

"Will Wright and Spore are doing some things that are very unique and have the potential to shake up the way video games are created and even viewed by the public," said Brian Crecente, managing editor of online games magazine Kotaku.

'Creativity to the masses'

Early hints that Spore could live up to Mr Wright's expectations have been demonstrated by the number of species created for it with the free Creature Creator tool released in June.

Mr Wright's original target of 100,000 creations was history just 22 hours after the tool was launched. To date more than 2.6 million creatures have been created. Other similar tools will include a players' ability to create their own transport, clothes and music among others

thomas vu spore producer
Spore opens up so many new avenues of what a game is said producer Thomas Vu

"Getting people to make content and having that content show up in the game is completely new for the industry, especially on this scale," said Spore producer Thomas Vu.

"Spore is bringing creativity to the masses where you as a consumer watch something on TV and say I can do something better than that, I can make a better space ship than that and you go on Spore and you can make something very compelling and even better in terms of design and scope," he said.

Spore sets players the task of using sophisticated tools to help their creations evolve from the cellular phase through a tribal stage into civilised beings and eventually a star-faring race.

Mr Wright said he saw Spore as changing the nature of gaming.

Spore Creature Creator screengrab
Artificial Intelligence automatically works out how creations move.

"We see the players make and share content and we see the player as a co-developer," he said. "People are still getting used to the fact that they are creators as well as consumers and we see this in how people pick their own TV shows or their own music."

This collaboration is what will ensure Spore's success said industry watcher Dean Takahashi of

"It's so easy to create a creature," he said. "You basically press a button and upload it to your YouTube account so everyone else can see your creature. No one else has made it that easy to do something in a game and show it off to your friends.

"That is really smart thinking on Electronic Arts' part and it shows they are really aware of all the changes that are happening around social networking and around games," he said. "This is a clever way to get games to take advantage of this big explosion in social networking."

Hit or miss

Electronic Arts and Maxis, the makers of Spore, will not say how much they spent developing the game although Mr Vu did admit that getting players to create much of the content could help balance the books, especially for future games.

shape chspip
At the heart of the game is the ability to design and share creations

"In the industry a lot of people are looking at this game because development costs are definitely going up.

"If you imagine making something like a really cool creature can take a developer two weeks to do from scratch, but this system means somebody can make something just as compelling in two hours," he said. "This will definitely cut costs."

Spore could also have a future beyond its gaming origins.

Said Mr Wright: "We think of Spore as a brand and not just a product." He added that EA and Maxis were considering launching it as a separate label or franchise.

Mr Takahashi from Venturebeat said the business brains had to really think through how they went about promoting such a franchise.

"EA has made it clear about making Spore a big franchise with a series of follow-ons. But they have to be careful they don't over saturate the market.

"They are going to have an iPhone version for example and a lot of this kind of diversion could make Spore into a much bigger hit or a flop."

tranposrt creator
Customizing options are to include transport, music, flora and clothing

Mr Crecente said if Spore lives up to the hype and sells as well as The Sims, it will be launched as its own platform.

"This means Spore will extend its reach and developers could buy the technology behind Spore and create their own games on that technology."

But before any of that can happen, Spore has to pass the ultimate test and prove itself as a game people want to pay for.

Mr Crecente said: "The problem for me is that no-one has had a chance to see the entire game. It's like four blind men describing a different part of an elephant.

"But with Will Wright you have to give him the benefit of the doubt and all indications are it will be big."

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