The spore metaphor

A perfect illustration of the mix of positives and negatives – mostly positives – that is the user-driven Web: the debut of Spore. There's a whole lot to Spore – entertainment, education, strategy, creativity, savagery…. And everything's represented in its media story: a gamemaker's (Will Wright's) world-class creativity; old-style mass-media marketing; social Web viral marketing; and users' creative ways of playing with marketing features – creativity that producer Electronic Arts had in mind and creativity it definitely did not have in mind.

In Spore you start as a microbe but you also play God and create whole worlds. Part of its genius is creator Will Wright's collaboration with evolutionary biologists and other scientists in developing the game (don't miss this fascinating New York Times piece about that science/entertainment cross-pollination, including the video on that page). In Spore, Scientific American reports, "gamers must make crucial decisions that affect the entire world in which they operate, and must then deal with the consequences of their actions. Whereas the Sims series [designed by Wright too] focuses on what happens in societies created by gamers, Spore also gives control over the evolution of an entire universe."

In the "Give Them an Inch, They'll Take a Mile" Dept. of the user-driven Web, there were the unintended consequences of Spore's pre-debut marketing tool, Creature Creator. MSNBC games editor Kristin Kalning reported that in among all the creative little organisms spawned by users of this free activity were some that violated Spore's Terms of Service: "fantastical creations of a less imaginary, more [humanly] anatomical nature" created by "pervy 13-year-olds" (developmentally speaking), Kristin wrote, and falling into a new category dubbed "sporn" (EA says it takes these illicit creatures down upon notification but of course EA has to depend on the Terms of Use and customer-service departments of other sites such as YouTube for deletions in those sites). I suspect EA may wish at times that all creature creation were tied to the actual game, where its storyline has a role to play in creature development.

Meanwhile, "there were over 400,000 creatures on SPOREpedia," the creature showcase, Kristin reports, "coming in at a rate of 1,000 per minute."

MSNBC's Kristin had fun creating three creatures herself, "my favorite being Jinx, named after my cat. It’s blue and spotted, with wings (my creature, not my cat). It has 'palmwalker' feet, a fierce bark and horns to ward off enemies. I enjoyed making it do the hippety hop." A tech educator friend of mine is already using the Creature Creator in his classroom. He reported on Twitter this week that he just installed it "on my 26 lab PCs. Can't wait to see what the kids do with this thing!"

Related links

* In MTV's Multiplayer blog, Will Wright's reaction to Spore reviews
* "'Spore': The evolution of gaming" in USATODAY
* Mobile Spore … for iPod and phones
* Spore's own FAQ

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