Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spore... Bye...

Well, I tried the "Civilization" phase of Spore tonight. It was pretty much an impenetrable mess of unplayability. Impossible to tell friend from foe. Impossible to conduct useful diplomacy because you needed to remember made up city names in order to get an ally to assist you (without even the aid of team color as a mnemonic). Terrible feedback: I had no idea how to interact with the neutral villages. Hard to wield 3-d camera -- unconstrained freedom means that I can get myself lost and into disadvantageous angles.

The weirdest part of it all is that they had so clearly ripped elements from the greats: Civilization, Rise of Nations, Warcraft, Starcraft, Age of Empires... But all they could come up with is Impossible Creatures -- a great concept, but quite unplayable for all of the above listed reasons. I finally Alt-F4'd out of the game when I couldn't figure out why my apparent ally got pissed off at me and turned on me after we'd taken out a foe's city together. Burgle.

Of course, none of this was done deliberately. I think the biggest "enemy" of good usability in this case was the desire to allow the user unfettered freedom to create things and interact with the world as they saw fit. Unfortunately this means that players are going to be penalized for "bad" decisions (positioning the camera in a place where it's hard to control units; design units that are hard to read against the background; minimize team color to allow for custom looks; etc) when it comes to game play.

One of the coolest, but slightly hidden, features of Spore is the volume of community content. Once I figured out how to simply grab someone else's prefab building or vehicle and drop it into my world, I realized that something cool was there. This is where friends could share funny experiments and where the virtual community could surface awesome creations through voting and form cool alliances and clans who worked together on larger projects.

Unfortunately most of this potential is lost behind the few "tic tac toe" buttons that indicate you can go to the Spore community for content... It's conceivable that you could play the game for a long time without ever realizing that there is a ton of content being created behind the scenes by other creative individuals. 

Not only is finding the content hard to do, it is also hard to discover GOOD content because there is no way to filter it in terms of "coolness," however the community defines it. I can sort by date created, date downloaded, and type of content. But nowhere can I see any social stats like how many people gave it a thumbs up? How many worlds it already populated? How many had been built/harvested/destroyed... All these stats exist, why not expose them to users in interesting ways.

Of course, there may not be great community data yet because active sharing (thumbs up or marking as inappropriate) are buried deep in the UI. There should be frictionless ways for users to compliment other players' hard work. There should also be lots of passive measures (how many times inspected; how many times encountered; how many times befriended vs. killed) to let people know that their creations are getting their time in the lime light. These are the kinds of data being collected at community sites like and and in community game worlds like Everybody Votes for the Wii.

It would also be nice if there were some more social presence data. Why do players have to be so isolated from each other? Why can't I open up my borders and let observers and players into my world? 

When I think about all the hype and all the potential, I guess I'm left to wonder: When does the Lego MMO Beta start? In essence Spore provides us with lots of lego bricks but no meaningful and enjoyable way to share and play with others both asyncrhonously and syncrhonously.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice ;)