Kristen Salvatore
Image: The "Boobalicious" character created by PC Gamer editor Kristen Salvatore earned her a warning letter from Electronic Arts, publisher of "Spore." Offending bits have been blacked out to protect the children.
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 6/20/2008 9:02:31 AM ET 2008-06-20T13:02:31

It’s a simple equation that marketers can’t seem to grasp: The Internet plus free modeling tools equals giant dancing penises.

So it goes for Creature Creator, the free trial tool Electronic Arts released on Tuesday to herald the marketing blitz for the September shipment of its long-awaited “Spore” game. It’s the latest creation from legendary game designer Will Wright. You know, the guy behind the iconic “Sims” series. Gamers couldn’t wait to get their mitts on the free software which they downloaded by the thousands.

It’s no wonder. This tiny piece of “Spore” is really cool. The Creature Creator is super easy to use and you can lose hours making creatures, getting them to dance around and sharing them with the world on YouTube and the Spore Web site. The free Creator Creator became a catalyst for cute pink dragons and googly-eyed monsters. Oh, and “sporn.”

That is, “Spore” porn — fantastical creations of a less imaginary, more anatomical nature.

It’s a double-edged sword, this user-generated content. On the one hand, it’s laudable to create a community around a thing, whether it’s a game or a news site (ahem). Both businesses and consumers benefit from the creative outlet and instant word-of-mouth advertising. On the other hand, not everyone’s well-behaved on the Internet. And if EA didn’t know that, they found that out right quick with the Creature Creator.

“Whether its modeling clay, dolls or crayons, a small number of people can be counted on to use it for something vulgar,” said executive producer Lucy Bradshaw in a statement. “‘Spore’ is a great creative tool with parental controls that allow users to flag objectionable content and keep it out of their game.” Video: Spore sneak peak

In “Spore,” which has been in development for what seems like forever, the player shepherds an organism from its nascent, single-celled stages to its apex as galactic god. It looks like nothing else out there, and it has the promise to shake up the game industry — which could use some shaking up.

But what did Netizens do with their glimpse at gaming nirvana? They made “The Humpasaur.” Oh, and someone took a disk containing the Creature Creator from a Czech magazine and posted it on the Internet three days before the official launch. So not only were pervy 13 year-olds (mentally, if not chronologically) making pervy creatures, they were making them earlier than they were supposed to.

Along with EA, there are plenty of fans who aren’t laughing about the “sporn” spreading on the Internet.

“Well, I guess we know what every half-wit will be posting pictures of from now on,” lamented one commenter on game site Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

EA worked with YouTube, which created a special channel just for “Spore” uploads, to yank down the naughty bits. They also told Megauploads.com, which had the trial up days earlier than the official launch, to cut it out, too.

EA remains on the prowl, sending nasty grams to folks who violate their terms of service by posting such “objectionable” content. Kristen Salvatore, editor-in-chief of PC Gamer magazine, received one such e-mail after contributing a character named “Boobalicious.”

To be fair, the aforementioned terms of service states very clearly, in paragraph 54, that “strong vulgar language, crude or explicit sexual references” are not allowed on any online spots governed by EA. Parents are going to think twice about buying “Spore” for their kids if they think their little darlings might encounter predatory phalluses in game.

Still, it’s kind of funny, right? I tried several times to get EA to admit that they got a good chuckle out of some of the ribald stuff out in the universe, but they were tight-lipped and on message. Or maybe they were just tired of talking to reporters about the silly things people do when you give them an inch. They were insistent that the real point of the Creator was creativity and giving people what they wanted — an early run at “Spore.”

Seriously, the Creator is a pretty fun tool — even the stripped-down trial version. I really liked how easy it was to get the thing going and how simple it was to figure out what to do. I also liked checking out what other people have created on the “Spore” Web site, Sporepedia. At last count, there were over 400,000 creatures on Sporepedia, and Bradshaw told me Wednesday that they were coming in at a rate of 1,000 per minute.

Kristin Kalning
This handsome creature is Jinx, one of three that I've made using the free Creature Creator from Electronic Arts.
I’ve created three creatures so far, with my favorite being Jinx, named after my cat. It’s blue and spotted, with wings (my creature, not my cat). It has “palmwalker” feet, a fierce bark and horns to ward off enemies. I enjoyed making it do the hippety hop.

(Note: All my creations are strictly G-rated.)

If I were so inclined, I could buy a more beefed-up version of the Creator, the one that will ship with “Spore” in September. EA is selling it online for $9.95, as are retailers such as Target and Amazon.com. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why you’d do that when you can buy the whole game, which includes the Creator, in two measly months. I suspect this is EA’s idea, born out of a marketing pow-wow where people throw around terms like “leverage” and “monetize.”

At any rate, the free trial had the desired effect in that it got people talking, and whetted gamers’ appetite for the full game. Judging by the chatter on game blogs, “Spore” has the hardcore gamers revved up for the full game. “Spore” could be that elusive online game that bridges the gap between casual users and hardcore gamers. Or, it could be a mess.

Salvatore, of “Boobalicious” fame, is undaunted by her EA slap on the wrist. She intends to keep playing with the Creator, and she pledges to keep it clean.

“The truth is that I'm not especially wedded to creating ‘sporn,’” she wrote in an e-mail. “It was more of a test."

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