Will Wright, the designer behind successful video game simulations including SimCity, The Sims and Spore, is at it again. Only this time, rather than controlling virtual people or creating space creatures, the protagonist of HiveMind is the actual player.
HiveMind, a group of cross-platform, cross-media online applications, is designed to turn a gamer's everyday life into part of the interactive experience by building upon Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) and tapping into streams of personal information on phones, tablets, social networks and computers.
While the technology and data collection is in place, the game doesn't yet have a release date. Nevertheless, Wright is enthusiastic about his new project and eager to discuss the lifestyle implications HiveMind could have on casual gamers.
Q: What did you learn from past games like The Sims and Spore that you applied to HiveMind?
A: Those games were in some sense exploring the idea of becoming more personal and involving the player in a very creative role. In 'The Sims' people were crafting doppelgangers of their real life, their friends, their house, and then they experimented with things. 'Spore' was a more fantastical environment that offered higher-level creative tools. Both of those games showed me that when something is personal to a player, they're willing to invest in the experience. And the more emotionally attached they get, the more they want to share it with their friends and family.
Q: Where did the idea for HiveMind come from?
A: I've had a couple of experiences where I realized that I'm surrounded by opportunities in life that I'm not aware of. Every now and then I trip over one of these experiences -- like a classic car show I happened upon in a Burbank Shoney's parking lot. I realized that we could build a system -- if we had a situational awareness about you, about who you are, where you are, what time of day it is, how much money is in your pocket, what's the weather like, what your interests are, etc. -- that could make your life much more interesting.
Q: How would a game experience work?
A: If we had that much situational awareness about you and at the same time we were building this very high-level map of the world, and I don't just mean where Starbuck's is, but all sorts of things like historical footnotes and people you might want to meet. I started thinking about games that we can build that would allow us to triangulate you in that space and build that deep situational awareness. There will be all types of games, but the key will be focusing the experiences, including multiplayer, within the real world and away from the fictional world that games currently invest in.
Q: What are the personal privacy challenges that exist with creating a game around players' personal data?
A: That's something that obviously they would opt in for, so it's not like you'd be stealing the info. They would want to play the game. It's the same thing with the ARGs that are out there. We need to get the players on our side. Every time we gather some data about them, we need to reflect it back to an experience that got much better so they understand. Once we get them on board, hopefully they're very forthcoming and they get more involved in terms of how they're feeling and what they're doing. The system can actually be used by them and benefit them with the more accurate data it collects.
Q: Will HiveMind expand beyond gaming to include television?
A: We're finding television to be amazingly synergistic in some ways with this idea. We did do one television show, 'Bar Karma', that ran for a season on Current TV last year. It used crowd sourcing and the community we built came up with everything from the concept and storylines every week to helping cast the show with real actors.
Q: Will you be pushing this type of interactivity with your new TV projects?
A: 'Bar Karma' was an interesting hybrid between crowd sourcing and professional television, but we learned a lot about how you get communities involved in creative activities. That will definitely feed into 'HiveMind' because there is going to be a very strong community component to this. I think crowd sourcing is one of the most interesting tools in our arsenal now as a designer.
Q: The fact that new TVs offer Internet connectivity should help with this endeavor, right?
A: It's kind of remarkable. I've set up a couple of PCs and a few TVs over the last couple of years. Buying a new television and setting it up is far more complicated now than buying a computer and setting it up.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte