The first computer game Wright designed was Raid on Bungeling Bay in 1984 but it was SimCity that brought him to prominence. The game was released by Maxis, a company Wright formed with Jeff Braun, and he built upon the game's theme of computer simulation with numerous other titles including SimEarth and SimAnt.
Wright's greatest success to date came as the original designer for The Sims games series which, as of 2008, is the best-selling PC game in history. The game spawned multiple sequels and expansions and Wright earned many awards for his work. His latest work, Spore, was released in September 2008 and features gameplay based upon the model of evolution. The game sold over 1,000,000 copies within three weeks of its release.
Montessori taught me the joy of discovery… It showed you can become interested in pretty complex theories, like Pythagorean theory, say, by playing with blocks. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori—if you give people this model for building cities, they will abstract from it principles of urban design.
Wright later described himself as "obsessive" in his pursuits. "I would usually get very obsessed with some subject or area of interest for six months or a year, and just totally learn everything I (could) about it." As a child, Wright was an avid builder of models, "ships, cars, planes—I loved to do that", he told the New Yorker in October 2006. At 10, he built a scale model in balsa wood of the USS Enterprise's flight deck. Wright later found these early experiences to be formative in his vision of game design. "Well, one thing I’ve always really enjoyed is making things. Out of whatever. It started with modeling as a kid, building models… I think when I started doing games I really wanted to carry that to the next step, to the player, so that you give the player a tool so that they can create things. And then you give them some context for that creation." Wright would discuss with his father the possibility of life on other worlds, NASA, and the stars. His ambition was to be an astronaut, and form colonies in space to relieve overpopulation. His father was sympathetic to his ambitions. He was also a fan of Avalon Hill's board games, which he enjoyed particularly for their propensity to descend into a form of rules lawyering.
When Will Jr. was 9, his father died of leukemia. His mother moved the family to her hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Wright was enrolled in the local Episcopal High School. He enjoyed it for the chance to debate the faculty. During his time at the school, he became an atheist. Overall, he found the methods of the school inferior to the Montessori, and came off with a bad impression of conventional schooling in general. In 1994, he declared that he had
always been somewhat disillusioned with the educational system. Some people have said it was originally based on the idea that we're training factory workers, so it was very important to teach them to do some repetitive task for eight hours a day. What's going to be really exciting is when this Nintendo generation gets a little bit older and starts becoming teachers in schools. I think that's going to make a bigger difference than any kind of educational reform ever will. In the future a lot more learning will happen in the home.
During a summer break from college, he met his first wife Joell Jones, an artist currently living in California, on vacation to her hometown of Baton Rouge. In an interview published in February 2003, Will claims that games were absorbing so much of his time, he decided that perhaps making games was the way to go. Wright's first game was the helicopter action game Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984) for the Commodore 64.
Wright found that he had more fun creating levels with his level editor for Raid on Bungeling Bay than he had while actually playing the game. He created a new game that would later evolve into SimCity, but he had trouble finding a publisher. The structuralist dynamics of the game were in part inspired by the work of two architectural and urban theorists, Christopher Alexander and Jay Forrester.
I'm interested in the process and strategies for design. The architect Christopher Alexander, in his book A Pattern Language formalized a lot of spatial relationships into a grammar for design. I'd really like to work toward a grammar for complex systems and present someone with tools for designing complex things.
"Any human institutional system that draws on the intelligence of all its members is a metabrain. Up to now, we have had high friction between the neurons of the metabrain; technology is lowering that friction tremendously. Computers are allowing us to aggregate our intelligence in ways that were never possible before. If you look at Spore, people are making this stuff, and computers collect it, then decide who to send it to. The computer is the broker. What they are really exploring is the collective creativity of millions of people. They are aggregating human intelligence into a system that is more powerful than we thought artificial intelligence was going to be.
Following on the success of SimCity, Wright designed SimEarth (1990) and SimAnt (1991). He co-designed SimCity 2000 (1993) with Fred Haslam and in the meantime Maxis produced other "Sim" games. Wright's next game was SimCopter (1996). Although none of these games were as successful as SimCity, they further cemented Wright's reputation as a designer of "software toys"—games that cannot be won or lost. In 1992, Wright and his family moved to Orinda, California near the San Pablo Reservoir, off Miner Road.
Maxis went public in 1995 with revenue of USD$38 million. The stock reached $50 a share and then dropped as Maxis posted a loss. Electronic Arts bought Maxis in June 1997. Wright had been thinking about making a virtual doll house ever since the early 90s, similar to SimCity but focused on individual people. Originally conceived of as an architectural design game called Home Tactics, Wright's idea changed when someone suggested the player should be rated on the quality of life experience by the homeowners. It was a difficult idea to sell to EA, because already 40% of Maxis's employees had been laid off.
EA published The Sims in February 2000 and it became Wright's biggest success yet. It eventually surpassed Myst as the best-selling computer game of all time and spawned numerous expansion packs and other games. He designed a massively multiplayer version of the game called The Sims Online, which was not as popular as the original.
Wright was given a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2001. In 2002, he became the fifth person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame. Until 2006, he was the only person to have been honored this way by both of these industry organizations. In 2007 the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awarded him a fellowship, the first given to a game designer.
He has been called one of the most important people in gaming, technology, and entertainment by publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Time, PC Gamer, Discover and GameSpy. Wright was also awarded the PC Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2005.
In a presentation at the Game Developers Conference on March 11 2005, he announced his latest game Spore. He used the current work on this game to demonstrate methods that can be used to reduce the amount of content that needs to be created by the game developers. Wright hopes to inspire others to take risks in game creation.
Since 2003, in his spare time, Wright has collected leftovers from the Soviet space program, "including a 100-pound hatch from a space shuttle, a seat from a Soyuz… control panels from the Mir", and the control console of the Soyuz 23, as well as dolls, dice, and fossils. During E3 2004 he passed off an old lapel pin commemorating the Soviet space program to a reporter.
I'm uncollecting. I buy collections on ebay, and I disperse them out to people again. I have to be like an entropic force to collectors, otherwise all of this stuff will get sorted.
He once built competitive robots for BattleBots with his daughter, but no longer does so. As of November 2006, Wright still had remnant bits of machined metal left over from his BattleBots days strewn about the garage of his Oakland home. Wright was a former Robot Wars champion in the Berkeley-based robotics workshop, the Stupid Fun Club. One of Wright's bots, designed with the help of Wright's daughter Cassidy, "Kitty Puff Puff", fought against its opponents by sticking a roll of gauze onto its armature and circling around them, encapsulating them and denying them movement. The technique, "cocooning", was eventually banned.
Following his work in BattleBots, he has taken steps into the field of human-robot interactions.
We build these robots and we take them down to Berkeley and study the interactions that people have with the robots," says Wright. "We built this newer one that has a rapid-fire pingpong cannon. It will fire about 10 per second. So we give people this plastic bat and we say, 'It's set up to play baseball. Do you want to play baseball? It's going to shoot a little ball and you try to hit it.' And all of a sudden it's like da-da-da-da, and it's pelting them with balls.
According to The Huffington Post search engine, Will Wright has donated to many Republican fundraising committees.