April 8, 2009 - Electronic Arts announced today that, after twenty years, Will Wright is leaving Maxis to run Stupid Fun Club. The Club, originally founded in 2001 by robotics hobbists, has been transformed into "an entertainment think tank developing new intellectual properties to be deployed across multiple fronts including video games, movies, television, the Internet and toys." The company's web site also mentions "fine home care products" but whether this means we will soon be served by robot monkey butlers remains to be seen.
Electronic Arts and Will Wright are the two principal shareholders in the new venture, and are joined by an unnamed third-party on the board of directors. EA will have the right to develop any video game properties that arise out of Stupid Fun Club's efforts.
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This morning we had the opportunity to speak with Maxis VP and General Manager Lucy Bradshaw about the transition and its potential impact on Maxis, EA and The Sims and Spore franchises. She repeatedly stressed that this new arrangement is not a radical change but merely an "evolution" of the existing relationship between Will Wright and Electronic Arts. Still, with Will Wright being among the most innovative, and certainly the most recognized, designers associated with the brands he helped to create, it will be interesting to see where The Sims and Spore titles go from here.
IGN: We had a suspicion that Will might be leaving. What can you tell us about his new venture?
Lucy Bradshaw: Will actually started up Stupid Fun Club in 2001 within Electronic Arts' offices. It was his own little small group of friends with him developing IP [intellectual property] that was entirely outside of Electronic Arts' purview or interest -- you know, robots and this kind of thing. This feels like a very nice, natural evolution of the relationship that we've had with Will over these 12 years. In a partnership approach, EA invested in Stupid Fun Club. Will continues to use that as an IP think tank and will be developing IP that spans various media, games included. EA has full participation as a partner and equity stakeholder but also the right to develop in the game's arena some of the IPs.
IGN: How much latitude does that word "develop" give EA? How much help or direction is Will prepared to offer?
Lucy Bradshaw: Well, in a way, some of the relationship that we've had in developing games with Will. He has a vision of where he wants to go with IP. I partnered with him over these last twelve years both on The Sims franchise and where we were going to take that as well as with Spore. A lot of that is in figuring out how you take that vision and really build it into something that you think you might ship. This kind of collaboration is something we're very familiar with and it's very much Will's vision that we executed on Spore. I expect if we partner on a game, it's a collaboration that will be something like that.
If it's outside of games, he has a right to pursue media external to EA, with EA having that equity share as a partner. There are three board seats as well. Electronic Arts holds one, Will holds one and there's a third party as well.
IGN: Who is that?
Lucy Bradshaw: Sorry, we're not announcing that.
IGN: Will obviously has a strong track record of success in the video game field. What strengths or skills do you think he'll be able to apply in these new areas? Why does EA feel confident investing in his efforts outside of his proven area of success?
Lucy Bradshaw: Will has performed obviously with tremendous strength in terms of his creative vision and having watched how he approaches thinking about different IP and different directions that he might be able to take it. With Spore and The Sims and SimCity, each one of these has been a platform that allowed us to expend well beyond the initial shipped product. I think what Electronic Arts has done is respected that unbelievable creative ability, decided to partner as an equity stakeholder but in terms of overall investment is not material to EA and allow Will to explore different IP and different media with the rights to do those things that fit into our portfolio in terms of games.
For EA it's almost an evolution of the relationship we've had with Will. For Will it's giving him something that he's had a lifelong dream about, to think about IP in a very think tank and incubation fashion and figure out ways in which he might be able to leverage those design directions. It's a very friendly and very interesting evolution of the relationship that we've established these past twelve years.
IGN: You mentioned that he comes up with great original ideas that give you a foundation to extend into new areas. Do you feel that his departure might hurt The Sims or Spore franchises? Since he's been a driving force behind the big innovations are we now resigned to seeing smaller iterations of the themes he's already developed or are you willing to take the risk and move into new, untested directions?
Lucy Bradshaw: I think EA, first of all, has a wealth of IP development. At EA you've seen new properties and new IPs that go in different directions and beyond the products that Will has generated. Within each one of the IPs, yes, we definitely have an interest in expanding and evolving these. In Spore, for instance, we are taking new directions not only with expansion packs that really try to give players new ways to play with Spore. Galactic Adventures, which is due out in June, not only gives depth of gameplay in terms of beaming down out of spaceships, ranking up your captain and giving players a whole new way to create with the adventure creator and sharing those adventures between all players of Spore.
Lucy Bradshaw: We're also taking that to the Nintendo platform, figuring it out from a bottoms-up design approach that really hasn't involved Will to a great degree but really is, again, a natural extension of where Spore might potentially go on a different platform. Taking advantage of those controllers to give you a much more intimate experience with your creature, Spore Hero. We'll continue to evolve that.
But the other thing is, Will's vision and the ultimate execution of those games, both Sims and Spore, came from really strong creative collaboration with people here at Maxis and within the Play label. I'm really excited to see the direction that our own creative talent who have collaborated with Will in the past and have come from different game design disciplines and other companies take not only Spore as a property and Sims as a property, but also some of our own IP development.
I think Maxis is very strong. I think the unique take that Maxis has on things will definitely be part of the cultural legacy that Will obviously brought to Maxis. I think we have some really cool and creative talent here to continue to do some interesting and innovative things.
IGN: We definitely have a sense of the range of creativity and talent at Electronic Arts and Maxis, but it seems that Will has been promoted as the auteur of the series. Do you feel a particular challenge in communicating confidence in this transition to gamers and investors?
Lucy Bradshaw: I think we have a history of showing that we're able to take SimCity, The Sims and Spore and extend it out as a platform in a very successful manner. I ran The Sims franchise for a good couple of years. Rob Humble has now taken The Sims franchise under EA Play and has extended it even into sub-brand, MySims, for instance. I think EA has a history of having a lot of capability in this regard. With Spore we're pushing into directions that are new as well. New IP is one of the things that EA really took stock on and has a wealth of wholly owned IP that it shipped last year and will continue to evolve and ship this calendar year.
While we absolutely respect Will and what he's brought to the game's industry, this kind of partnership with EA as a partner and equity stakeholder in Stupid Fun Club is a very positive way to leverage the relationship and to allow Will to do some things that aren't necessarily within the portfolio of EA and allow him to explore that. It feels like a very natural evolution of that relationship.
IGN: What do you think attracted Will to move beyond the horizons of gaming?
Lucy Bradshaw: Having worked with Will as long as I have, he's a voracious reader and has a number of different ideas of where he might he take the visions that he has. When he first started Stupid Fun Club, it was about the robot space. He had been participating in robot wars and was kind of playing around in that environment. I think he has ideas that aren't necessarily a complete fit for the EA portfolio. However, EA sees that Will is such a strong design visionary, able to take things from vision to fruition. Allowing him to take that role and supporting him in this partnership works for both parties. I'm excited to see what comes of Will in the future. It will invariably be something surprising.
IGN: With him, you can only expect the unexpected. What exactly is the goal of Stupid Fun Club and how do you think he and EA will measure its success five years down the road?
Lucy Bradshaw: I can only speak for myself on this, so it's probably a question for Will to answer. I think where Will wants to go is to think about it as IP incubation, a think tank. I think he'll ultimately be excited to see some of these ideas unfold not just within the game's space, but within other media.
IGN: It's the "other media" part of this that really intrigues us. His games have always focused on a toy box experience and Spore, in particular, really pushed the idea of user-created content. Is that a fundamental idea that he's going to take with him and apply to other media?
Lucy Bradshaw: That's a great question. Given his history and talks that he's done that's obviously a continued investment and a lifelong goal to engage the user in an interesting fashion.
IGN: Any parting thoughts?
Lucy Bradshaw: I think it's a very positive and interesting way to take our relationship. It's a fun moment.
IGN: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.
Lucy Bradshaw: Thank you.