Wright feted as leader creatively and in terms of business success

Long recognized as a pioneer among videogame creators, Will Wright is now a pioneer in Hollywood awards.

The creator of the bestselling, industry-changing game franchises “SimCity” and “The Sims,” Wright will be the first vidgame developer ever to win a kudo at an “old media” kudofest when he picks up the PGA’s Vanguard Award this year.

Previously given to those who used technology to push new ways of making movies, such as James Cameron and Pixar, and more recently used to recognize Internet execs like Yahoo topper Terry Semel and AOL’s Jon Miller, this year’s award is a recognition for the first time that a videogame developer can truly change the landscape for the entire media business.

“We really wanted to honor somebody from the videogame industry this year, and we knew that if we did it, it had to be Will, who’s a leader both creatively and in terms of business success,” says Mike Palmieri, chair of the PGA’s New Media Council.

Wright, who is currently at work on a game called “Spore” for Electronic Arts, in which players will simulate the evolution of life from its earliest stages to interplanetary travel, says he was surprised to find out he was being honored by the PGA, but not to see that Hollywood has started to honor work in the vidgame space.

“There has been this idea of convergence that is really happening, but not just in the ways everyone thought, like with interactive movies and videogames based on movies,” he notes. “There has been a lot of influence on techniques. CG animated movies were in some sense pioneered by the games industry way back. And now people are using the technology in games to make movies through machinima.”

Even in making “Spore,” he says, he’s very consciously being influenced by movies. As players acquire the ability to travel through space, he says he’s looking to integrate allusions to some of his favorite science-fiction films, such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

But Wright’s games, fundamentally, aren’t at all about the stories he envisions. He’s famous for pioneering the “God games” concept in which players have near-total control over the household, city or world in the game.

“Creators in movies and TV are storytellers, but I think of myself as a story enabler,” he says. “When players talk about what they do in games, they never mention a great cutscene or the plot. It’s the unique things that they did with their own free will.”

The trend of users taking control, of course, is one that’s sweeping through the entertainment industry. As consumers increasingly create their own videos and music to share online, the skills they learned in videogames like the ones made by Wright become more and more important.

“Now that savvy consumers are becoming producers in all types of media, the social dynamics of games and movies and TV are overlapping more and more,” the “Sims” creator observes.

It’s a trend the PGA is watching closely as it increasingly tries to draw vidgame professionals into its ranks. The ultimate goal for many in the new media council, Palmieri says, is to make videogames an established part of the PGA with an annual award for game designers.

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