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Counting down to 'Spore', Electronic Arts knows it has a winner

That's because this side of Steve Jobs, 'Spore' inventor Will Wright may be the most creative mind in the consumer technology business.

I'm not a gamer and I don't play one on TV. But the upcoming debut of the Electronic Arts' game, Spore, promises to liven up an otherwise uneventful news summer.

First, we're talking about the game's inventor, Will Wright, arguably the most creative mind in consumer technology this side of Steve Jobs. We can debate that claim, but you'd be hard-pressed to point to find another game developer with a more impressive record of achievement. (His CV also includes Sim City and The Sims, the latter of which went on to become the best-selling PC game of all time after its 2000 release.)

The game industry, anxious for a big hit, obviously hopes Spore lives up to the advance hype. Ditto for Electronic Arts, which stands to reap a huge payday barring an unforeseen debacle. After a couple of years of delays and the heightened expectations, there's more than the usual pressure on EA (and Wright) to wow everyone--again. With 92 full-time employees working on the game and millions invested in research and development--EA refuses to get more specific than that--the company is acting as if it has a mega-hit on its hands. During its quarterly earnings conference call, CEO John Riccitiello even suggested that EA eventually could spin Spore out to become its own label, a la what it did with The Sims.

Truth be told, EA is going to have to try really hard to screw this up. Though only a handful of outsiders have had a chance to sit down with Spore for extended tryouts, the fascination factor is going to work to EA's advantage. The company knows how to tease fan interest. Over the years we've watched what viral marketing has done for Apple, where the Mac faithful parse over every rumor for clues to Jobs' next product move. So if you have a superstar, milk the opportunity. To wit: here's a video of Wright talking about Spore at the 2005 Game Developers Conference.

My colleague Daniel Terdiman does a nice job explainingwhat Spore's supposed to be about. Briefly, Wright conceived an "evolution" game where participants start off as cell-like creatures, wandering around primordial ooze, and then advance through different phases, or stages of civilization.

Of course, Wright's public appearances have only further whetted appetites. And that's led to comments like this one, which I found on the CNET News Talkback forum:

"Feels like we have been waiting for this game for around 5 years. So in that time, a lot of expectation has built up. If this game isn't the best thing to ever be installed on my PC, I'm going to be more than a tad bit disappointed."

Not me. I'm going to cut Wright some well-deserved slack, sit back and appreciate his attempt at inventing a new gaming metaphor. Critics are in no short supply in techdom these days. Creative geniuses? Few and far between.