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Peter Molyneux: Everything's Changing

September 28, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Peter Molyneux is notorious for overpromising -- for enthusiasm and bluster. Even knowing that, seeing him speak last month at Unity's Unite conference in Amsterdam was an experience. He was even more excited than he usually is to talk about Curiosity: What's in the Cube?, his first game -- or as he terms it, "experiment" -- with his new startup mobile developer, 22Cans. This interview was conducted soon after that whirlwind presentation concluded.

You can see why he doesn't call it a game. Curiosity presents all of its users with a single large cube made of small squares. Each square will disappear with the single tap of a finger. There are layers upon layers of these squares -- so many that Molyneux predicts it will take months for players to get to the middle. The person who taps the final square -- and only that person -- will get to see what's inside the cube.

The game is a prelude to whatever 22Cans is planning for its "big game", which Molyneux is closemouthed about. In this interview, however, he spills the beans on the inspirations and technology that he's looking at, as well as discusses what's going on with the evolution of the triple-A console industry he abandoned when he left his post as Microsoft's European creative director.

I guess what struck me the most about your presentation was that you were even more enthusiastic than usual -- which is kind of over the top.

Peter Molyneux: This is not me enthusiastic. I just tried to tone it down because it's so exciting, what I'm doing. It's amazing. It's amazing. To go back to those grass roots again, and to go and get your hands so incredibly dirty from fiddling around, and then be playful with all these crazy technology, and bring together a team, and try to persuade people to invest in you, is amazing. It's incredible -- an incredible sensation.

Do you feel like you were too far away from that creative place?

PM: No, no, not at all. Microsoft was an incredibly supportive place, and they really supported my creative idea. But the freshness of the approach -- you can be unbridled about what you approach, whether it be the Ouya -- "Oh, maybe I'll develop for that!" or whether it be "Let's use analytics in a different way." That is the incredible potency of being a startup.

There's also this incredible fear, because you can, of course, jump on any bandwagon, which may end up crashing and burning by the time you've jumped on it. But I'm incredibly passionate, and incredibly passionate about the team. Brilliant team.

You mentioned that you're recruiting from outside the game industry. I'm sure everyone's asked you about this, but what does that bring?

PM: Fresh perspectives. So often, in life, when you get used to do something one way, it's very hard to persuade your brain to do it in another way. Whether it be brushing your teeth from left to right, or whether it be "I write this sort of game," or "I design in this sort of way."

And if you're just trying to think in a different way, then having people around you who have never thought in a way that you've thought just means you're far, far more likely to discover something you didn't know existed.

Part of my belief is, at the moment, there's a lot to discover. There's a lot to discover about cloud, and persistence, and multi-device, and linking people together, and analytics, and a lot to discover about bringing them together.

And when you've got people that you're sitting next to who have never designed a game before in their life saying, "Oh, you know, I don't understand what 'leveling up' means." You'd never question that as a designer if you were working in an old place. It's that fresh perspective which is so fascinating.

Do you find yourself questioning everything because you're being exposed to questions?

PM: I think I find myself learning from everything that I see on devices like this. [indicates iPad] I'm realizing that learning causes me to question an awful lot. I mean, so much is happening in such a short amount of time! Free-to-play was going -- well, I don't know who invented it, but it was certainly used by Zynga. And then everyone said, well, free-to-play wouldn't happen, and then now it's happened completely, and now everyone is panicking that free-to-play is the only way that people will pay.

Analytics came along, and people like Zynga said oh we just hire people, you know analysts from the City [the financial industry], and we thought, "Oh, well that's that solved. You have to go and hire bankers." And then somebody realized, "Hang on a second, why don't we use analytics to balance the game after it's out?"

All this stuff is happening incredibly fast, and all these experiences are being pulled together, and all these audiences are coming up. And it's an incredible time -- an incredible time to work with people who have done everything from children's books, to scripts on TV programs, and bring them in, and get them to think -- and make you think in a different way about a game.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Christer Kaitila
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The games industry is lucky to have people like PM. With all the vitriol, cloning, monetization-obsessed bandwagoneers and doom-and-gloom out there, it is so wonderful to see examples of enthusiastic imagination and positivity.

Muir Freeland
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I love this quote: "But I think that these things now [taps iPad] are great pieces of hardware. There just aren't great pieces of software to match those pieces of hardware, and history proves that a vacuum is always filled. Something will fill that which really amazes us."

This is exactly how I feel about the mobile space. Just because we're accustomed to shoddy experiences doesn't mean it has to be that way.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Scott Sheppard
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Unmitigated enthusiasm should permeate more of this industry. Enthusiasm for new untested things. I really like Peter.

Michael Joseph
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The future of games is in the past.

I view the AAA shooter era born with Wolfenstein & Doom and solidified with Half Life and Counter-Strike as a divergent path that is dead ending. We need to go back to before that divergence occurred. That doesn't mean we can't borrow concepts from that path, but that path on it's own is too narrow.

The future is the return to the old school focus on mechanics and focus on simulation that is itself mindful of mechanics. (as opposed to graphical & physical simulation that is mindful of eye candy).

I'm wary of folks like Peter Molyneux who can't clearly articulate his vision of a future. He's been in PR too long me thinks.

Louis-Felix Cauchon
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Totally agree. My current game has been designed in this optic. Focused more on the mechanics than eye-candy cloned gameplay.

Michael Pianta
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There's something about Molyneux that I find off putting... I respect him for trying different, creative ideas, but something about the way he talks about his games bothers me. Much like David Cage, he makes sweeping proclamations about things - for instance, he says that the days of presenting a finished product, charging a certain amount for it and leaving it be are "over". On the one hand, I doubt that, but on the other hand, even if he's right, it comes across as arrogant the way he says it. Like he has seen The Way, and The Way is to use analytics to constantly change and update the product forever, and anyone who doesn't start doing that is not on The Path to The Future. He could say, "I think we could do something new and interesting with this" and to be fair to him he does say that but he ties it to this sweeping condemnation of the rest of the industry for not being as forward thinking as he is (or thinks he is). I don't think he intends to sound that way, but that is how it comes across to me, nor is this the first interview of his where I've felt that way.

Jonathan Jennings
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i agree but I will say the man never lets anything break his stride . i will never forget the whole " project ego" pre-release stuff there's excitement and then there is over promising on a massive scale . still i am happy to see someone who constantly seems like he desires to push the boundaries of what we do , definitely a good figurehead to have if you want someone to be the driving force behind something exploratory

Ramin Shokrizade
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I don't have a problem with bravado when it is earned. Peter, as an elder in the gaming industry, is coming up against these external forces: one is tempting him to use his clout to get experimental and push the boundaries of art, the other is tempting him to play it safe and milk his existing franchises in a way that is guaranteed to generate profit. I see all the great masters come up against this dynamic. Some win, and most lose. I hope he wins, and he has the clout to get funding for risky projects no one else would get funding for.

He does not have to be very forward thinking to come across as more forward thinking than his peers or apprentices. Despite the astonishing rate of hardware development, software really is in a creative slump right now for a variety of reasons, one of them being the introduction of analytics.

Mike Griffin
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I enjoyed how Peter said Free-to-Play games are finally becoming "less greedy" now.
I feel the same way.

There's still an astounding quantity of in-app greed and garbage in software one can barely call a "game" in the free-to-play space, but we also have a lot of smart people and quality developers producing entertaining -- and intelligently valued -- F2P games now.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Mike, I think F2P can actually *improve* gameplay instead of destroy it, if done well. The problem is that right now it is not done well. It is such a new business model, and those that have experience with it are mostly from Asia where the culture of gameplay is very different. Blindly translating that experience to the West without understanding why the model works or does not work can have catastrophic effects.

Robert Swift
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Actually, Mods on the PC are a great way to prolong the life of games and improve steadily upon the original. A good example are the Total War or Elder Scrolls games.

And maybe there will be new ways of making money with Mods. Personally, I wouldn't mind to spend some money for constant improvements and new ways to play my favorite games.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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Finn Haverkamp
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Could anybody please clarify this quotation?

"And the number of taps required on the last surface will be the number of active users, so everyone will get one tap, and that's going to be frantic."

If I'm reading this correctly, I believe it means that at the center of the cube is one final, tiny cube. And the mystery item is inside that cube. To break that final cube, players must tap it as many times as there are players (e.g. 1,234,567 times). If a player has a diamond chisel, though, a single tap on that final cube is in fact 1,000 taps, or whatever. And, that player, and every other player, may tap the final cube as many times as he or she pleases. Whichever tap meets or exceeds the requisite number breaks the cube. The quotation does NOT mean that each player is limited to a single tap on the final cube, and a single tap is equivalent to exactly one tap, regardless of the chisel used or bonus accrued? This would mean every player who has every played curious would need to log on to give the cube their tap. So I think this second interpretation is unlikely. Correct?