Next week game publisher Electronic Arts will unleash a cleverly packaged marketing device upon masses of hungry gamers awaiting the release of one of this holiday's biggest titles--Spore. The software is a "creature creator" letting players put together 3D characters with an interface nearly as simple to use as Nintendo's Mii maker seen on the Wii. The 300MB download will be available next Tuesday, though some diehard fans and "influencers" got their hands on it last night.
The upcoming game focuses on creating a species and taking it from the microbial stage of life all the way to multi-universe exploration and colonization--a mix somewhere between a science experiment and a game of Risk. The creature creator is the first step in showing potential users what they'll be getting their hands on in just three months time.
What may be more interesting though is how publisher EA has begun to integrate the Web into its latest titles--Spore included. For instance, in this new piece of software you can take pictures of your creation and send them to buddies via e-mail. You can also record video that can be uploaded straight to YouTube--like the clip I created and have posted below. Last year's Skate (also by EA) had similar features, although all of the content was hosted on EA's servers.
Others seem to have taken notice of this trend. Last month Sony integrated YouTube into its developer tools to allow PS3 developers to code in the option to record and upload clips to the popular video host without requiring gamers to leave the couch. Microsoft has also had its own system for letting gamers grab in-game screenshots and have them post it to special mini game sites that are linked up to the user's Live.com ID.
That's not to say EA is letting other companies house all that content though. The creature creator and eventual game will go hand in hand with Spore's official site which launched with limited functionality this past Monday. The company is touting the site as a way to build out your profile and discover other people's creations, but it's essentially a photo gallery full of in-game screen shots and creations people saved.
These photos have an additional use too--you'll be able to drag and drop what you see from other members into your own software be able to play with that same creature. Users will also be able to send creations to third parties to put into things like online comic books, or to print out into a 3D mold. The company is expecting this to lead to people making small changes to their in-game characters, or browsing through other people's creations while away from their home machine. These changes will sync up with their in-game characters the next time they play.
Each user-created creature is also a piece of something larger called SporePedia. Not unlike Wikipedia it's completely sourced and managed by players. They'll be able to upload their creations to the SporePedia with descriptions and bits of game data which will completely searchable both in-game and from the Web. EA is hoping it will provide a way for novice gamers to very quickly discover new creatures created by others, or simply archive what they've made without having to worry about saving it to local storage.
Also thrown into the site are widgets people can put on their blog or social-networking profile that showcase their latest creature creations and an RSS-powered news feed of what your friends have created. The site is currently the only way to view in-game screenshots, which are hosted with ratings, comments, and a tracking system that assigns special badges to popular or featured content.
In the end the creature creator is a far cry from the experience gamers will be getting in September. It's a very svelte game demo that's been packed with Web elements and the start of one of the stronger first-party community sites I've seen.
I really would not be surprised to see more games take advantage of the Web in the coming years, not just for the marketing potential, but for the extra sticking power. March Madness and fantasy sports suck up absurd amounts of time from office workers because the Web has become a gateway to some of the things we do on our off-work hours. There's not much keeping future games from doing the same if they begin to build up what players are able to do while away from their fancy hardware.