Will Wright, the mastermind behind popular PC games like SimCity, The Sims and Spore, is currently working on something entirely new called HiveMind. It's being developed at a new Berkeley, California startup of the same name he helped form, and its taking a different route than previous titles developed by Wright in that the player doesn't play God, but rather the game shapes itself around the player. Wright calls this approach "personal gaming" without revealing too much of the details.
"Rather than craft a game like FarmVille for players to learn and play, we learn about you and your routines and incorporate that into a form of game play," Wright said. "It is about how we make reality more interesting to you."
He said the inspiration behind HiveMind came when he traveled to Burbank, California to give a speech. He showed up too early, so instead of sitting around and waiting for his time to take the stage, he wandered the streets until stopping at a 1950s-style diner. There he discovered a group of car enthusiasts who typically gather together on the last Friday of each month to show off their cars. Wright, who happens to be a car buff himself, said he had a great time. Somehow this experience sparked an idea for a game in his mind.
"If I knew about these events, my life would be a lot more interesting," he said. "How do we expose you to these events, these things? How can we make a system that understands enough about you and gives you situational awareness? It could take into account what time of day it is, where you are, how much money is in your pocket. Imagine if you could open Google Maps and it shows you things that are interesting to you on the map."
In an exclusive interview with VentureBeat, he explained that there may be 50 different dimensions to a person that could be learned through data collection, dimensions that include where the gamer is, where his/her friends are located, and how much cash is on hand. Wright believes players will gladly hand over this kind of information to a game. After all, look at applications like Twitter, Facebook and foursquare where users spout their locations and what they're doing without hesitation.
That said, the idea behind HiveMind is to collect data so that the game can discover opportunities for the player to have fun... like the car show at the 1950s diner, for instance. The game could direct the player to the right place where they can have a good time based on their interests. Had HiveMind known enough about Wright at the time, it would have already found the car show before he even stepped up to the diner's parking lot.
The thing to keep in mind is that the game won't just revolve around the player on hand, but all players in the vicinity. Think of the short story Maneki Neko written by Bruce Sterling: it's about an artificial intelligence that has each person contribute a gift to a stranger, a gift that only the stranger will understand. HiveMind will have a similar collection of data that will discover useful things about its players.
As with other games in Wright's portfolio, the designer is embarking into a new frontier... and for good reason. "This has to do with where gaming is going," Wright said. "We had our eras in console gaming and social gaming. A lot of this personal gaming will happen on mobile devices. The question here is how can we learn enough about the player to create games about his or her real life."
The full details regarding HiveMind can be read here.