Interlocking Sandboxes

Five days ago, a demo of EA's Spore Creature Creator was leaked, with the official release following shortly thereafter. Today, there exists in the Spore database over half a million unique creature creations, and that number grows by minute.

First off, the buzz of this release has been tremendous. The concept of Spore has attracted a lot of attention on its own -- as well as the significant credentials of Will Wright and EA in the sim space -- but this is the first introduction to the materialization of the imagined.

It's impressive.

Spore, Little Big Planet -- there are a handful of titles focusing on what I'm terming "interlocked sandbox" design. A few years back, especially with GTA III, sandbox design became a huge "new best thing" in game design. Create a space where the player can roam free and explore, creating their own experience with the tools and environment provided.

Now it seems some of the core philosophies of the Web 2.0 movement have trickled into game design, and we're seeing interlocked sandboxes. Create a sandbox for the player, then once they've branded that sandbox with their influence, connect that sandbox with other sandboxes. This model started popping up about one or two years back, but I think it's really starting to reach maturity. And it is terribly exciting. There are a few issues that need to be worked out, though.

To begin, the control over content vulgarity is an issue -- already there have been numerous suggestively shaped creatures created. Second Life became notorious for some of its more flavorful user generated content, and games that target younger audiences will need to tackle this issue. Seeing the massive response to the release of the Creature Creator, whatever methods decided upon will need to scale to the massive influx of content.

The second issue is also a content issue, faced by many user-generated media: copyright. I've seen numerous creatures that owe their designs to everything from Pokemon to the movie Cloverfield. There's even Chocobos from Final Fantasy. This is a much more delicate issue than explicit content. If a user uses provided tools to create replicas of the 300+ Pokemon and then provides those creatures to other players, it infringes, in a way, on Nintendo's ability to make a Pokemon sim. I think a balance will be struck, but I do anticipate at least one DMCA takedown notice.

On a final note, I want to thank responders to my last column "Who's Playing What?" It was really interesting to read over the different ways readers were playing games, especially within a demographic that strays from the usual depiction of the "gamer type."

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