Fans of Will Wright can check out what he’s been working on the past year by downloading the free iOS app, Thred. Wright has moved away from video games and is instead focusing on creating and sharing one’s real-life adventures with friends socially through “threds” of photos, comics, and thoughts that can be customized in countless different ways. The app launched today and will be coming to Android later this year. Wright talks about his latest interactive project in this exclusive interview.
Why did you decide to go this non-gaming route?
The evolution of my game career was toward more and more player creativity and giving players tools and letting them share what they create. A lot of these players are just regular people who don’t think of themselves as creative. What interested me the most were the creative sharing communities that were building up around these games. I thought of the game as more of a tool to build communities because that was the stickiest part for a lot of people.
What types of gamification did you build into this app?
I never liked the term gamification. It’s kind of like storification. Story is so ubiquitous. You can tell your friends stories over a cup of coffee, or you might go see a 3D movie in IMAX, but they’re both stories. It just surrounds us. It’s the way that we understand the world. And I think games really are just as fundamental. You can’t wave your magic wand and make something a game. It’s more about being playful and exploring. With games you feel like the way to explore things in a light-hearted way a lot of times, and not even goal-directed. You’re going where one takes you, or trying to see what happens if you do this. Even when I’m surfing the Web, it feels playful to me. It’s not a game, but it definitely feels playful. A lot of things people make on the Web are more in the spirit of play, but in terms of the Thred app, it was very focused on the kinesthetic of it in the same way that we’re presenting a game. One of the first things you might want to dive into is the controls and how they feel. I wanted the browsing to feel utterly fluid and fun to window shop. There’s a game that a lot of people play when they’re making content and it’s about social currency. Facebook is a game where you put up a post you go back and look at how many comments you got and that’s your score. People experiment with different posts and the ones that get the most response from your audience is your highest score. So for a lot of people I think in their minds they’re gamifying it.
Where did the idea for Thred come from?
This phone that’s in my pocket has a lot of data about me, whether it’s my location or my Facebook posts or music I’m listening to or photos I take. I have all these different piles of data living in different places and they feel totally disconnected. In my mind I was trying to think of how can we take all these data statements in one place and allow the user to sift through and pick out the place that interests them and turn it into something that they can share or becomes a form of self-expression.
What is a Thred?
We call these things threds, which are basically just a series of sequence of panels of images you can browse very rapidly. You can dive into whenever one you want to. One of the things we have on the app at the bottom is tabs for your day, your camera roll, and your GPS. But we’ll be adding more very soon. And when you open that it will shows you data points that’s been collected about you. It might be where you were at 4:00 p.m. It might be a picture you took. You tap on whichever ones you want and it turns those into panels automatically. So if it was location it will actually go out and find an image. It will even add a narration to it. With the key tabs you can go through your vacation or some event and it will automatically create a backbone of a story for you. And you can go in and add as much as you want to it. We have cartoon tools where I can put in little avatars, or I can put in thought bubbles, or I can do photo filters.
Where does the gaming potential come with Threds?
The most important thing is the links that you can add into these scenes. These links can be places, people, other stories, or hashtags, so a user basically can build a branching story. It can be a travel guide. It can be a troubleshooting thing. You can build something through hyper links very much like the Web but in a mobile format, so that’s where you can now use this thing to create games or other things like that. The location, like Union Square (in San Francisco) becomes the container for stories of everyone who was at that place and created a thred. As you move around the environment, sometimes these stories will be spatially distributed. You can open your phone at anyÂ point and what things happened there at the 34th Street Subway Station. So that, plus the other types of links, would be the basis of creating a location-based game. But it can also just be hashtag-based or a person. You can put yourself in as a link and when they click on you there goes all the threds that you created.
How does the social element of Thred work?
It will look at your contacts and you can invite them in. When you make threds you can share them internally as a thread or publish them externally to Facebook or whatever other social networks you want.
How receptive are people to sharing all of this personal data?
It’s very much a generational thing. The 20-year-olds out there have a totally different definition of personal information then my generation or your generation. And when you have these data feeds you choose which ones to subscribe to, so you can opt out of any of them. We never send your photos up to our servers unless you choose to publish them from your data feed. For the most part, we keep all the stuff down on your phone.
When it comes to the location-based game you’re designing, what can you tell us about it?
I’m just digging into it right now. I’ve been using it and trying to figure out all the different things I can do with it. One of my things is Russian space history, so I’ve been writing stories in here. Or when I travel I try to do my travels very quickly. I’m just trying to use it in a lot of different use cases, and it just occurred to me a few days ago that I can do some kind of cool game in that. So I’m really not far enough along yet.