As the man behind SimCity, The Sims, and Spore, Will Wright is best known for gigantic projects that are years in the making. But as he revealed at E3 this week, his next title may not be nearly that far in the future. More surprising than that though, is what the game is going to be about. Wright is looking to explore the world of gift economies, drawing inspiration from legendary sci-fi author Bruce Sterling’s short story Maneki Neko.
In Sterling’s story, people who participate in the gift economy wander around the world with a small electronic device called a pokkecon. Their pokkecons will go off at random and issue strange commands like “go to the fourth floor,” or “buy a cup of coffee to go.” Blindly, people follow these directions that come in from the network knowing that somewhere down the line the favour would be repaid. It may come as an unexpected jar of pickles for a craving pregnant wife, or a tip on a perfect apartment to rent.
“They returned a favor for a favor, and since they were machines with excellent, enormous memories, they never forgot a good deed,” says Sterling’s tale. It’s like a cyberpunk Pay It Forward, or Gift of the Magi. Of course like all good cyberpunk stories, things get a little bit stickier than those popular feel good fables. If you want to see what I mean, you can read Bruce Sterling’s Maneki Neko in its entirety at lightspeedmagazine.com.
While Will hasn’t explained exactly how this inspiration is going to translate into gameplay, there are a few hints in the news that’s surfaced that lead me to believe this may end up being more than any mere game.
Wright has confirmed that this next release is likely to launch on tablets, smartphones, and social networks like Facebook. If this was simply a game inspired by the story, you could release it anywhere. But social networking? Mobile devices? It may sound like a stretch, but my money is on Will Wright trying to make the world of Maneki Neko a reality. He wants to turn Facebook into the “network,” and your iPhone in a pokkecon.
Crazy? Probably. But that doesn’t make our speculation any less valid. Whatever this turns out to be though, we won’t have too long to wait to find out – Wright says that in the new world of shorter development cycles, “any project I want to work on is going to be something I can at least get some version out there in about a year.”