Maxis is the company behind some of the most successful games on the PC, and Will Wright was the most recognizable face behind Maxis. From the studio’s inception in 1987 to his departure from Maxis in 2009, he was the creative mind driving development of titles like The Sims, SimCity, and Spore. I spoke to Wright for an upcoming feature (appearing in our next issue) about the 25th anniversary of Maxis, but couldn’t fit the entire interview into the magazine. These questions cover a wide range of topics, including Maxis’ history, inspirations, and the need for a developer to be the public face of a game. Keep reading to learn more about the man responsible for the ideas that turned Maxis into the biggest name in simulation.

What was Maxis’ first project?

The very first product was this vector-based flight sim multiplayer called Sky Chase…Sky Chase was some game that some guy that I never even met wrote. [Maxis co-founder] Jeff [Braun] decided to publish it basically to iron out the wrinkles, and get it into the box, get it to shelves. We sold about ten or twenty-thousand copies of it. It didn’t cost us anything to produce because we were paying royalties and he did it all on his own time. It got us used to the idea of going from soup to nuts and getting something on the shelf.

Back then, where did you see yourself at this age?

I don’t even think I looked five years ahead back then. Back then, there wasn’t a games industry. It was more of a hobbyist type of thing. People with computers were hardcore nerds, and it was a “why would you even have a computer” type thing. So I don’t really think I envisioned the fact that what we were doing would become an industry. It felt more like something fun and creative, almost more artistic. The idea that we could make money on it was kind of cool, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that we could create these cool things on the computer. Back then, every game was sort of its own genre. All of the games coming out were sort of different from each other in some sense. So it felt like there was a lot of unexplored territory. That was kind of on the creative side. On the business side, just kind of the idea that we would be getting something on shelves across the country was kind of cool. “Wow, people would actually pay for this,” you know? 


Did you have any trouble adjusting to being under the EA umbrella when that transition happened?

Not really. In some sense, it gave me more creative freedom. Prior to that, we had gone public a few years earlier. I was on the board and being on the board of a public company is a whole different thing. You have these rules about what you can and can’t say, how you have to behave and all of that. It was an interesting learning experience, just understanding what it’s like to be public and deal with analysts’ expectations and all of that. But it also drives a lot of dysfunctional decision-making I think. A lot of short-term planning versus long-term planning. Every analyst call, every quarter is a big deal, etc. When EA came in, they were still a public company, but I was so removed from that aspect of it. I was over here in Maxis’ creative sandbox and not in the center of this small public company that was struggling to survive. So I felt like I was able to get my head out of the business side a lot more and get more invested in creative. 


There’s something thrilling about pursuing a new idea. When developing sequels, does the process lose its luster because the idea isn’t fresh anymore?

I think for me I have a 10-year lifespan on any franchise. I did the primary design and programming on SimCity, the original. It was me and another guy that did Sim City 2000. That was over about a 10-year period. After SimCity 2000 it was like, “Okay I’ve had enough of SimCity. I just can’t do anymore.” So I had very little to do with Sim City 3000, or anything beyond that. I would play them and give people input and my opinion and stuff, but I wasn’t really part of the teams. Same with The Sims, I spent about 10 years on the project. New people can come in, though, and they have great new creative ideas, which is great. That’s how you keep a franchise going.