The top game designer in the United States — maybe the world — has left one of the biggest publishers in the industry. And he’s already got a new job.
Will Wright, famous designer of “Sim City,” “The Sims,” and “Spore” is leaving Electronic Arts, his publisher announced today. Wright will be running the Stupid Fun Club, an organization he started in 2001 with EA and had used for robot experiments, TV pilots and other offbeat ideas for years.
Wright had been part of EA since the publisher bought Maxis, the studio where Wright made “Sim City” in 1997.
Wright’s effectively done at EA today, Lucy Bradshaw, vice president and general manager at Maxis told MTV Multiplayer in an interview about the news earlier today. No one’s taken Wright’s office yet, but she imagines someone will occupy it. For aspiring Maxis employees with eyes on that space, note that it has windows and –fittingly for Wright — a “smoker’s patio.”
Wright explained his departure in a press release: “The entertainment industry is moving rapidly into an era of revolutionary change,” he said in the release announcing his career change. “Stupid Fun Club will explore new possibilities that are emerging from this sublime chaos and create new forms of entertainment on a variety of platforms. In my twelve years at EA, I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside some of the brightest and most talented game developers in the industry and I look forward to working with them again in the near future.”
Bradshaw said Wright will be working on ideas for a range of media formats at Stupid Fun Club, which will be jointly owned by Wright, EA — both holding an equal stake — along with an unnamed third investor who holds a smaller stake. “EA has first right on options to any games in development [from the Stupid Fun Club],” Bradshaw said. She noted that the career change was Wright’s idea. “At no point was there resistance,” she said. “There was a lot of collaborative dialogue about how the partnership would move forward.”
Bradshaw said that the development of Wright-created franchises owned by EA such as “Sim City,” “The Sims” and “Spore” will continue without Wright, steered, as they have been in recent years, by top creators in the company. And beyond that, she emphasized, EA is stocked with top creators. “Yes, Will is one of our amazing creators,” she said, “But EA did spend time thinking and investing in its own [intellectual property] and we’ve got a number of creators within the umbrella of Electronic Arts — Greg and Ray at BioWare, Alex Ward at Criterion doing ’Burnout’ — that you’ll continue to see EA innovate and continue to take in new directions.”
Asked whether Wright could be hired by another game publisher like Activision, Bradshaw emphasized that EA gets first look at any game projects that could spin out of Wright’s Stupid Fun Club work. When asked for clarification about whether that meant Wright was contractually prevented from working at another game company, she said she didn’t have the specific details on that but didn’t think that was possible: “Essentially it is a partnership with Stupid Fun Club that would dissolve if he was not the primary owner there.”
No game projects are currently in development at the Stupid Fun Club.
The Stupid Fun Club is based in Berkley, not far from Maxis. “I think we’ll see him here from time to time,” Bradshaw said.
A 2002 Newsweek article described the Club as an incubator for wild idea:
The two-year-old stupid Fun Club is organized around the interest in robots, shared by Thorpe and filmmaker Mike Winter, Wright’s partners in the club. Their first TV pilot, called “M.Y. Robot,” features six-inch-high puppets, a roaming robot and a 16th-century Japanese village that has been altered by alien technology. In postproduction, anime-style graphics were overlaid onto the footage to communicate with viewers in a secret script. Wright explains that he was appropriating Japanese visual styles in the same way the Japanese shows reinterpret American cultural mores. “As far as we know, nobody has done this,” he says.
Regardless of how much non-gaming work will be happening at the Stupid Fun Club, don’t presume that Will Wright is retired as a video game creator. “I think Will will continue in the games space,” Bradshaw said. “It’s something that’s very natural to him… I think what gamers might see is other directions Will might take on as well”
Last year, Wright told MTV Multiplayer he already knew what he was working on next. It would be something “pretty grandiose.” Today, it seems, we can also count it being stupid. And fun.
(Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images for Spike TV)