Getting Started with Spore
OK, this isn’t about TV in the most traditional sense, but I spent several hours over the weekend playing Spore – the new video game from the creator of The Sims – and I figured since video games are the new TV, they do have their place here at BYB.
In case you don’t follow gaming, let me give you some background. First of all, The Sims – kind of a precursor to Second Life in which you create digital characters and live their lives, including all the mundane features of life such as eating, sleeping and using the ladies’ room – has been a massive hit. In 2002, it had sold 6.3 million copies and was the best-selling video game in history. No wonder the next game from The Sims’ designer, Will Wright, was much anticipated.
Enter Spore, which has been eagerly awaited since at least 2006. Besides Wright, Electronic Arts recruited top game designer Soren Johnson of Civilization IV and musician Brian Eno to work on the game.
For the past few weeks, gamers – who are a pretty vocal online community – have been up in arms over the digital rights management that Spore planned to employ. Once you have bought a copy of Spore, you then have the rights to install it on three separate machines – let’s say your super-fast gaming PC, your laptop and your portable media player. This isn’t so different than what iTunes demands, although people don’t really dig that set up either.
While this may sound perfectly reasonable to the layman (why would you need copies of this game on more than one machine, you might ask) it’s absolute heresy to the many computer/fair use purists out there who believe that if you pay to own a piece of content, it is your right to use it when and where you want.
Somewhere in the middle come content creators who both want their games, shows, music, whatever to be distributed as widely as possible, but also want to make some money.
As far as Spore goes, the DRM fuss seems to be much ado about nothing. So far EA is being pretty accommodating to people who want to install the game – even allowing those who are just renting the game to install it on three-plus machines and happily handing them a key. I believe this is because Spore is intended to be a “massively single-player online game,” meaning that people are playing in their own virtual worlds, but they are playing online with lots of other people. While they are doing that, there are things to upload and download and that’s where the money is to be made. So while EA is instituting some copy-protection with this game, it actually makes more sense for it to hand it out to whomever wants it, get them all addicted and then start selling them upgrades and so forth. It’s not unlike what Microsoft did with Windows, and in my book, that’s a pretty good model to follow.
Whether EA’s tactic will work remains to be seen. So far people are pretty unimpressed with this game, even though it incorporates almost everything hot on the Internet right now: particularly user-generated creations and social networking. I thought much of the game was pretty cool – for example, you create your own creature, and every time you make a change, that change is represented in your world. So if you change your guy, all the creatures in your pack immediately change too. Later, you aren’t only creating your creature but also your houses and vehicles and movie theaters. That started to annoy me but I could see how many would really dig it.
Once you get all that created, you can take pictures and videos of everything you’ve done and post them online. YouTube has even created a Spore-dedicated channel where people can post and watch these videos. Spore definitely represents a sort of new generation that’s merging TV, gaming, interactivity and the Internet.
Maybe the issue for Spore is that expectations were far too high for it. If it just showed up in a vacuum, I think it would amaze and delight people. But because the bar’s already been set so high with games like Sims and Civ 4, it takes a lot to impress these days. That said, even a moderately reviewed video game gives TV a run for its money – very few TV shows have the ability to create an obsession like a hyper-interactive video game does. TV producers and network heads: take note!
You had no idea I was a secret game addict, did you?