Spore Cost What!?

So, Will Wright’s hotly anticipated Spore is running a bit behind schedule. This week found it slipping out beyond the rim into “delayed indefinitely” territory. We’ve come a long way from the famous GDC demo and apparently there’s still a good ways to go.

Given that news, I asked a friend (who’s in a position to know) what the development cost looks like. The answer: “We need to sell 8 million copies to break even.” Ow. If Spore manages that, it’ll end up in some pretty elite company. But, then, if you’re going to pick someone to bet on, Will ain’t bad.

Assuming roughly $10 of every box sold goes to the publisher, that’s an $80 million production cost (8x Gears of War). While nobody said procedural content generation was a panacea, I think a lot of us hoped that it would at least lighten the load as games get bigger and more detailed. Same with end user content creation. And Spore is the poster child for both. In Edge 166, Spore animation lead Chris Hecker talked about their approach:

One of Will’s themes that we’re depending on heavily is ‘if you’re going to fail, fail funny.’ The hope is that if you start making some crazy-ass creature, like this guy has 11 legs. You have no idea how an 11-legged creature would walk, so if he stumbles over himself, it’s like: ‘Hey, that’s on purpose.’ If we can hit one animation that works for 80 per cent of the creatures, do a couple others that suck up the last 15 percent, and the remaining five per cent fail humorously, then we’re golden.

Brilliant thinking, but it seems building the tool that brings that level of whimsy to end user content creation might be more difficult than it initially seemed, even for those as talented as the Spore team. That’s what happens when you go ambitious, though. And, if nothing else, you have to give Spore that. Making procedurally and end user generated content work in one game is tough enough, but in eight games? Yeah, I think slipping a bit is probably mandatory.

We’ve heard that Spore is the game Will Wright always wanted to make. And, of course, following the towering success of The Sims, he’s been given every resource. With many of the typical constraints turned off, though, the question is will Spore turn out to be Will’s equivalent of Bary Levinson’s similarly off-the-leash dream project Toys? Sure hope not. Will’s too nice a guy. Either way, though, I can’t wait to read the postmortem on this puppy.

Eat more Spore at Wikipedia.

10 Responses to “Spore Cost What!?”

  1. 1 Gareth

    Woah. While I wouldn’t bet against it selling 8 million copies, Spore’s theme doesn’t seem to have quite the same mass-market appeal as The Sims. I suppose this could be considered a research project for EA – if they’re able to use these techniques in other games, this particular one may not need to break even (not sure expansion packs are an option either).

    This might be the only chance Will Wright gets to make the ‘game he always wanted to make’, so I’m happy they’re willing to continue investing in it. Spending big on a project like this should help to boost EA’s reputation with the gamers who are usually so critical of them and I won’t lose any sleep if they lose a few million in the process, money well spent from my point of view :-P

  2. 2 Jason

    Good point on the research angle. I’ve heard that they’ve got folks from a bunch of other teams working on Spore so maybe part of the payback is that they can take the technology with them.

    And, yeah, it is good to see EA taking a risk on this one. That’s not typically their thing. ;-) Then again, imagine if Spore does go huge. Would they become less risk averse as a company? I sure hope so.

    Even if Spore succeeds, there’s always the question of whether big budget games are sustainable more generally. My concern is more about ambition, though. I’d love to see more big budget titles that attempt to push the envelope like Spore. And I suppose that’s one great thing about the time we’re in with gaming — a good number of the big budget titles I can think of are indeed trying something new. Whereas the most recent mega-budget “blockbuster” out of Hollywood was Brian Singer’s largely inert Superman Returns.

  3. 3 Johny Zuper

    So all the poohah about generative content being the solution for the enormous cost of asset creation for next generation content was just part of the sales pitch? Interesting…

    I wish somebody would find a way to make games for less money rather than more… Now, that would be clever!

  4. 4 jew jew

    hell of a laugh

  5. 5 Javar

    Im reading now that its being pushed back to maybe 2008 according to
    spore demo but they are releasing the creature creator… very odd..


  6. 6 Demonic Sandwich Meat

    wen is it coming out????

  7. 7 Jason

    September 7 is the most recent news.

  8. 8 afcb_gayle

    Haha no chance of 8 million copies being sold and now with them being sued over the securom they added in which is known to severely damage computers not only will they lose money on the production of it but they will probably also end up having to pay out x amount to fix the computers their game has broken!! http://reclaimyourgame.com/

  9. 9 MaryH

    They’ve sold far less than 3 million and I don’t think they’re going to come close to 8 any time soon.
    They were betting that SecuRom would just slip by unnoticed, and the activations would be accepted.
    Wrong bet-they lost.

  10. 10 JenniferH

    I’ve been playing computer games a long time now…one thing I have noticed is for every one person that speaks up, goes to the website forum and complains, there’s anywhere from 5-10 of his friends who are just as pissed off but will never say anything to anyone official. On EA’s sims2 forum there were about 4 threads with thousands of angry consumers being vocal about securom and DRM, all of them locked. Do the math. Thats a big chunk not going to buy spore, not enough to get them to 8 million, but word travels… If they’d remove the securom/DRM on it, I’d go buy a copy tomorrow.

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