'The Sims' Creator Will Wright Adds Interactivity to 'Bar Karma' TV Series

Will Wright - Prrtrait - 2011
Twitter: @JohnGaudiosi

The show will debut Feb. 11 with episodes customized by online fans who have voted on everything from the project's music to the art direction.

Will Wright, the man behind the most successful video game franchise of all time, The Sims, has branched out into live action, scripted television. But Wright has added an interactive twist to his first linear television series, Bar Karma, which will debut February 11 on Current TV. The 12-episode, half-hour, sci-fi show's creation is following in Wright's video game roots.

"Video games were the first media to focus on growing online communities and establishing a creative outlet for fans to connect with their favorite games," said Wright. "With Bar Karma, we're meshing the game dynamic of not only allowing fans to get to know each other in an online community, but giving them the tools to take part in the creative process of the show, itself. The goal was to blend this interactive gaming dynamic with the established and challenging production process from Hollywood with regard to acquiring talent, building sets, and writing scripts."

Set in a time-traveling bar owned and operated by members of the mysterious organization Karma, Inc., each weekly episode follows a new bar patron as they enter at happy hour and must make a life-changing -- and possibly world-saving -- decision.

Fans can access Wright's Storymaker application through the show's website, Facebook, Twitter or a free iPhone App. The online community has been using the software to create stories since mid-November 2010, which producers pick from and then offer back to the community to vote onto the series. Fans have also played a role in picking everything from the show's music to the art direction and even voting on product placement deals.

To date, the voting public has selected the storylines for the second and third episodes. Episode two, submitted by user Jason Lee Holm, a Barberton, Ohio Interactive Developer, is about an author who goes into the future to discover the political fall-out from his children's book is going to cause a global meltdown. Episode three, submitted by Moses Silbiger, an Austin, Texas-based consultant who is a former architect and graphic designer, follows the story of Lucy, a famous actress in her 60s who enters the bar in a hospital gown and is forced to examine her relationship with her son.

The show, which stars Matthew Humphreys, William Sanderson and Cassie Howarth, is the first production to film at newly constructed Ironbound Film Studios in Newark, NJ. It's also the first live action scripted show for Current TV. Wright is working with producer Albie Hecht, CEO of Worldwide Biggies and founder of Spike TV, on the production.

"I think with any show you're in your own mind imagining the possibilities of where it might go and what might happen next in the series," said Wright. "Traditionally, that's where Hollywood has focused its attention with fan community sites for televisions shows."

Wright has spent the past five years thinking about ways to add interactivity and fan input directly into the creative process. He's had television on his mind even before then. Back in 2003, Wright signed a first-look deal with Fox Broadcasting to pitch ideas for TV shows. He believes interactive television shows are a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to Hollywood.

"I shopped Bar Karma at a few other television networks and I think they kind of understood what I was getting at, but the real issue with them was they didn't even know where their Web group was," said Wright. "To them the web group -- if they knew where it was at all -- was their enemy. The idea that people on the Web, or even their own Web group, could somehow intersect their programming with the creative decision making was not only alien to them, but almost distasteful."

Wright believes the future of entertainment will blend more interactivity with traditional programming.

"I think you could say reality television was probably way outside the box for most networks' comfort zone until Survivor came out, but then as soon as one show has success then all of a sudden everybody's on board," said Wright.

Wright, who left Electronic Arts in April 2009 after releasing Spore, has enjoyed his Hollywood transition. He currently runs the Stupid Fun Club, where he is working on new video game concepts as well as other entertainment ideas.

"Hollywood's a different language than video games, which in some ways is very refreshing," said Wright. "When you go into Hollywood, television especially, any pitch I give you basically have to sit alone for twenty minutes and describe your crazy idea. Maybe you have a few sheets of paper and at that point people either want to try it or not. Whereas in a game company you spend many, many months and lots of money building a prototype and you then shop around to somebody and hope that they buy your game So I love the pitching process of Hollywood."

He also likes the "plug-and-play" nature of Hollywood projects, where talent can be brought in on a project by project basis. In the game industry, he said an entire company needs to be built today to create a game.

Wright has been a pioneer in gaming. The Sims franchise that he created in 2000 has sold over 125 million copies and has been translated into 22 languages and released in 60 countries. The Sims 3 has sold over 5 million copies since it launched in 2009 and still has new iterations coming out, including a Nintendo 3DS version launching in March in autostereoscopic 3D.