Will Wright is one of the few game creators that non-gamers know by name. The man behind hit franchises like SimCity, The Sims, and Spore is developing his first new game since leaving Electronic Arts. According to Wright, HiveMind is more than just a game. He’s designing this new online suite of applications as a cross-media entertainment venture that will include television, at the very least. The project is part of The Stupid Fun Club, which Wright founded back when he was still employed at EA. This company is exploring a wide range of projects, including toys, interactive television shows like Bar Karma, which aired on Current TV last year, and HiveMind.
HiveMind taps into a growing movement in interactive entertainment circles. With smartphones and tablets now offering consumers the ability to track very personal information well beyond the scope of their GPS, Wright sees an opportunity to bridge the real world with the gaming world. The game will be a cross-platform experience, allowing players to connect through mobile devices while on the go and through PCs and consoles when at home or work.
At the same time new devices are serving as personal digital diaries for data miners, gamification has swept through every facet of society. Wright sees HiveMind as the ultimate in gamification because it revolves around the player’s real life. That means gamers who opt into this experience will need to share a lot of information, but Wright promises that this data will only be used to build a personal gaming experience. Marketers and advertisers won’t have access to this information (for now). HiveMind will incorporate aspects like one’s changing emotional state and even track patterns that develop in one’s personal life into the experience.
“This all works toward the same goal of building up the situational awareness of the user and reflecting it back as entertainment value,” says Wright. “Some of these experiences will be a little more role playing, a little more fictitious. Other ones are going to feel more like lifestyle apps. Really, we’re getting to the point where calling these ‘games’ is really putting them in limited box. It can be thought of as kind of entertainment, but you might even think of it as utility or lifestyle. I’m not even sure there’s really a proper name for this. I’ve been playing around with the idea of calling this ‘personal gaming,’ which I think throws some people off because they think that means single-player or private. But what I mean is getting to the nerve–these games will become very deeply personal to you because they’re about you.”
Wright says HiveMind is not an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), although there is a shared intersection of features like playing within the real world. But he’s focusing on gamifying the player’s life, complete with social connectivity through sites like Facebook in the virtual world as well as real-world interaction.
“We have different play experiences at different levels,” says Wright. “Sometimes it’s structured games on Facebook, other times it’s me sitting in front of the PC or PS3 for a few hours. Other times it’s me playing something out of my pocket and just kind of fiddling with it. While the content has actually been around for a long time, technology is now allowing us to create much more structured personal play experiences that are breaking out of the living room or the den and following us around all over the world.”
Wright has experimented with television over the years, creating pilots for shows, including a stop-motion puppet project. His first series, Bar Karma, was a live-action science fiction show that allowed viewers to vote and actually steer the direction of the content. That experiment has paved the way to a new television project that will tap into the HiveMind concept.
“One of the things we’re working on, which I can’t really talk about, is very deeply in this direction,” said Wright. “We’re leveraging the learning that we got from Bar Karma, but at the same time we’re also exploring situational awareness, applying crowdsourcing, and social networks to focus on you. It’s a much more personal experience.”
Wright doesn’t have a launch frame yet for HiveMind or the TV series, but he has the infrastructure set up and the technology is ready to go. The only potential hurdle is getting consumers on board with the concept. In the wake of the PlayStation Network data breach earlier this year and the rise of identity theft, the mainstream consumer may be hesitant to reveal too much personal information. But Wright is starting with gamers. After all, data mining personal information is already popular with a subset of “geeks” without having any structured experience. And Wright also has another trick up his sleeve, his own track record in games and his connection with gamers.
“A lot of the games I’ve done are in some sense mirrors or reflections of reality,” said Wright. “They’re games about various levels of reality. At the end of the day, people really are fascinated with reality. It’s fun and nice to have games based on Dungeons & Dragons with magic and all that stuff, but I think reality is something that has a broader level of interest and a broader demographic of people than military history or sports or fantasy.”
HiveMind, if successful, could open up a whole new genre of gaming and entertainment. And although there is the issue of personal information and privacy, there are opportunities for advertisers and brands to connect with players in new ways through these real-world experiences. If anyone can succeed in forging a new path for games, it’s the man who turned what started as an architectural simulation into one of the biggest brands in gaming ever, The Sims.