Close
Report Comment to a Moderator Our Moderators review all comments for abusive and offensive language, and ensure comments are from Verified Users only.
Please report a comment only if you feel it requires our urgent attention.
I understand, report it. Cancel

Peter Molyneux: Big Ideas, Bigger Problems

Peter Molyneux: Big Ideas, Bigger Problems

Mon 24 Sep 2012 6:54am GMT / 2:54am EDT / 11:54pm PDT
HardwareDevelopment

The veteran designer on the difficulties of virtual cubes, social games, and the industry's increasingly out-dated approach to hardware

Peter Molyneux is in a reflective mood. After several months of talking to the press about 22Cans' debut project, he finally unveiled the first real-time demo of Curiosity to the enthusiastic attendees of Unity Technologies' Unite conference in Amsterdam.

Predictably, Molyneux fears his hyperbolic tendencies got the better of him, elevating his first "experiment" to a level of expectation he can't hope to satisfy. The cube's mysterious and potentially life-changing centre notwithstanding, the reality is very different: Curiosity is all about aesthetic simplicity, certainly, but the user experience, which shifts and changes as each of the cube's layers is peeled away, suggests a far richer experience than that described in his initial pitch. For the Peter Molyneux of Black & White and Fable, that could be a first.

"It's incredibly terrifying," he admits. "Why didn't I just do a game? Why didn't I do Texas Hold 'Em? Texas Hold 'Em, Red Dead Redemption-style. I would have made a shit load of money and been perfectly happy. Everything I do has to be this service to this big vision, this big idea."

"The trouble with a great idea is that you've got to come up with another one. And another one. You've got to be keep going."

In a sense, Curiosity is Molyneux's smallest Big Idea to date: a virtual cube composed of billions of smaller virtual cubes that can be destroyed, one-at-a-time or in clusters, by players. There are numerous ways of destroying the cubes, including chisels of varying prices and strengths, and firecrackers that can be laid in patterns and then detonated. The destruction of a cube sounds a musical note, encouraging players to build chains of sound. 22 Cans will put pictures and messages on the surface of the cube, and attach new mechanics and motivators to destruction as the layers fall away. Molyneux has made no secret of Curiosity's premise, but he assures me there is more to the experience than is evident at first glance.

"There's not going to be a tutorial," he says of Curiosity's hidden chaining and multiplier mechanics. "I want people to discover that, because for me it's all about motivation. If I just discover one little thing that I don't think other people know, that is a huge motivator. It would motivate me to go on and experiment and try other things. I'd love to put a tutorial in, I'd love to put structure, but the experiment would not be the same if you did that."

1

This organic approach to motivation speaks to one of the driving ideas behind Curiosity. Molyneux has no idea how many people will take part - "It could be me, you and my mum, or it could literally be millions" - but in some sense he's thumbing his nose at what we normally associate with the term "social game." In handy sound-bite form, Molyneux wants to take the verb out of virality.

"Social networks, for me... I mean, me sending you a post just doesn't work any more, because I just filter those out, I ignore them, I see them as insults," he says. "The most powerful force in my life are friends saying 'you've got to watch', 'you've got to listen to', 'you've got to taste.' That's the most powerful recommendation system in my life. If you turn round to me and say, 'This is the best fucking salad in the world,' I 'd have to try it. We're trying to feed off that."

Molyneux's probing of the boundaries of social and free-to-play gaming is well timed. With Zynga's share price at a little over $3 and many Facebook focused developers struggling to put a confident foot forward, the future of the social space is under question. Indeed, some have suggested that the similarity of so many social games will lead to a market crash, the well of current players steadily dwindling as they are passed from identical game to identical game.

"I remember the Commodore 64, where 64 was the number of bits, and then there was the 128. That's when I last worried about hardware"

Molyneux doesn't necessarily disagree with the notion, but he's quick to offer a defence of Zynga. Whatever can be said about the company's ongoing approach to creativity, in Molyneux's view Zynga created and defined an entirely new market for gaming, and for that it deserves "a huge amount of credit."

"How many times have you heard that in the games industry? How many times have you heard, 'It's all getting stale, were running out of experience, we're worried about this'? And that seems to happen just at the point when something new and wonderful and sparkly comes along that redefines the market.

"Just like any idea or any publisher or any franchise, you cannot just sit on your arse and say, 'We've solved it, we don't need to do any more, it's a done deal.'

"I mean, 300 million people [play Zynga's games]. If we had 300 million people playing Call Of Duty we'd hear the gun sounds on every street corner in every part of the world. The trouble with a great idea is that you soon realise that you need another great idea. And another one. And another one. You have to keep going.

"Nintendo are brilliant at coming up with ideas: sometimes they do the Virtual Boy and it's rubbish, sometimes they do the Wii and it's fantastic. But they never say, 'right, that's done'. And that makes a brilliant company. So it's not the end of the social gaming revolution. It's not the end of people spending small amounts of money and getting a lot of entertainment. It's just the start."

2

And the launch of Curiosity, which is scheduled for this month, is the start of a new day for Peter Molyneux. This enigmatic virtual cube is Molyneux's first project outside of the console business in more than a decade. If he was still at Microsoft, his team at Lionhead would no doubt be at work on some bold new IP for whatever box of tricks is coming next or, failing that, another Fable game. This late period in the console cycle is a reminder of the degree to which the commercial industry is beholden to technology. Now that Molyneux is free from that process he sees the relationship differently.

"It matters as much as it matters to consumers," he says. "I remember the Commodore 64, where 64 was the number of bits, and then there was the 128. That's when I last worried about hardware."

Molyneux puts down his cigarette and picks up the iPad on the table - the very device on which he gave a real-time demonstration of Curiosity only an hour before.

"And now I have no idea. I don't give a shit about what processor is in this, I don't care what memory is in it; it's just that it's fantastic. I care more about how much it weighs. That's the hardware platform, and I think consumers more and more will see these things as just portals into their experience. I bet in five years time the thought that you played different games on this or this or that device is inconceivable - you'll just play games everywhere."

"If we're not careful, by the time that this generation finally comes out the iPad might well be more powerful than the new consoles"

This scratches the surface of a larger problem. Historically, a significant part of the games industry was predicated on periodic leaps in console technology, with most areas of the business affected by that cycle to some degree. This is especially true of games publishing and development: the length of the current console cycle has caught a number of publishers flat-footed, so they push their existing franchises further beyond their potential while sitting on original IP in anticipation of new hardware.

"This is one of the huge problems," Molyneux says. "In this industry we have become so used to the console cycle, and in a way we've become lazy. It's not finishing an IP, it's starting it. Two years ago, developers were going to publishers and saying we'd like to do this, and the publishers were saying, 'It's too late in the generation now.' The first time I heard that was about four years ago - it's ridiculous."

Molyneux describes it as a "double problem." The issue of when to start work on a new IP, when to launch it, and on what platform is entirely legitimate; logic can be applied to that process, even if publishers' strong aversion to launching new IP late in the cycle serves as its own justification. But while it's entirely reasonable for publishers to wring their hands over which console will ultimately win the day, in doing so they have allowed the second aspect of this double problem to rapidly gain ground. Molyneux holds up his iPad again.

"I mean, who would have bet that Sony would be third in the race for consoles? The PlayStation 2 was massive, man - 100 million consoles. Nobody is willing to bet unless they are the hardware manufacturers themselves, and here's the thing: that's got to stop.

"The hardware iteration of [the iPad] is every six months: not every six years, every six months. If we're not careful - and in fact this is highly probable - by the time that this generation finally comes out, which will probably be in about 14 months time, this little puppy might well be more powerful than the new consoles.

"That's just mad. And then 6 months after that it'll be even more powerful."

32 Comments

Franck Sauer Creative / Tech Art Director, Fresh3d

63 9 0.1
Popular Comment
That's mad indeed. Never will portable devices be more powerful than plugged devices of the same generation, that's just down to how much watts you can drain from your battery. Ask to your own programmers if they don't care about bits, memory and processing power. And for the record, the C64 was called that way because it had 64 kilo bytes of memory, and it was an 8 bit machine. I like you Peter and I admire your creativity, but sometimes what you're saying just doesn't make sense.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,590 1,446 0.9
For someone who made his name - and his fortune - on home computers (first the Amiga 500, then the PC), he sure likes to ignore how much more technically advanced they are. And the fact that developing for the PC doesn't mean developing for what will be (in X amount of months/years) an outdated platform that will probably see the inside of a box in the attic after awhile, due to the lack of backwards compatibility.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 24th September 2012 9:34am

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd

196 164 0.8
Peter Molyneaux has jeans older than many of his critics. He deserves a lot of credit.

BTW, I wouldn't let a technically dubious statement pour scorn on his overall perspective. I'm glad he is bold enough to embark on these high concept ideas.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Jma Programmer, Crytek

24 17 0.7
I kind of agree with what he says. In the end what matters is the idea not the processing power. There might be some ideas that need that extra power, but more often than not you're probably covering a bad design with pretty graphics.

Posted:2 years ago

#4
Popular Comment
Credit is earned, and you are only as good as your last company and last product. Peter has over extended his credit in this sector - and with the whole MS debacle he has to prove to us, rather than pontificate. As I have said before I am interested why the media gives his voice so much credence after they were burned on the Kinect scam!

Please can we have some other new voices from the consumer games trade rather than mates rates for Peter and free promotion for his 'interesting' game app.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

280 810 2.9
I agree with Tameem. The overriding point Peter is making is no less valid due to its current state of technical illegitimacy. In the many years which now define a console cycle, tablets are all but certain to overtake, though I agree doing so within the first three or four years is, short of some as-yet-unforseen scientific breakthrough, extraordinarily unlikely.

Kevin, Peter has earned his 'credit in this sector' as you put it. He doesn't need to keep re-earning it in order to endue currency to the things he has to say.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 24th September 2012 2:36pm

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,590 1,446 0.9
@ Dan

I'll agree Peter Molyneux has a fair amount of credit within the industry, but nonetheless, he is known for outlandish statements, and occasional promises that aren't kept. Which is not to say that what he says should be ignored, but I think it does mean that people should take what he says with a grain of salt sometimes.

Posted:2 years ago

#7
@Dan, I understand that the media feels that Peter is a great source to call upon for a great headline (sorry if you feel you need to defend this). But beyond Peter's past (considerable) record in the sector, there is also the issue of his 'stumbles' including that at MS over the Milo fiasco - which sadly the media swallowed hock-line and-sinker. So I suggest that rather than depending only on one talking head, some other equally successful past 80's executives need to be sort, (he was not alone in his successes)!

In broadening your pool of commentators you avoid the accusation of improper associations and allowing self promotion / and pure publicity to try and over hype a project. In such a diverse industry (UK game development) I find it incredible that there seems to be only two voices we ever get to hear from, from the 80's, and so selective of the accredited reputation (just saw one magazine remove all mention of Milo from Peter's past credits!) No "re-earning", just more diversity!

Posted:2 years ago

#8
I really applaud peter for going it on his own with 22 Cans.
I only fear that there might not be enough curious enough to chisel away at Molyneux's cube

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Anthony Gowland Lead Designer, Outplay Entertainment

202 675 3.3
Credit is earned, and you are only as good as your last company and last product.
Great idea, gi.biz profiles should have last product listed to make it easier to filter out the types who just sit heckling from the cheap seats rather than delivering anything awesome themselves.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Henrique Olifiers Gamer-In-Chief, Co-Founder, Bossa Studios

12 7 0.6
Taking statements as literal always land people on the wrong side of a debate. Peter is right, by the time the next gen hits, it might have turned obsolete not only by hardware, but by usability, purpose, portability. With the current generation of tablets one can already deliver entertainment that can rival that of consoles.

And if you expect a kid who's growing up with touch devices to ever take a gamepad seriously, well, good luck with that.

Peter is a game designer, and as such, a visionary. If some of his dreams and concepts never make into reality is a mere detail, what matters is how he inspires those willing to listen. So, Milo didn't happen? At least he gave people a vision to strive for -- so go and make it happen yourself, why not?

And by the way, @Anthony Gowland: EPIC post. =D

Posted:2 years ago

#11
@Kevin - ok so it didn't end well but why was Milo a 'fiasco'? Man makes ambitious game on new tech; publisher cans game. Sounds pretty typical for our industry.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,270 2,439 1.1
Barry, all the "demos" were faked. Everything we saw was fraudulent. That's why it was a fiasco.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
What bothers me is that the industry gives peter so much voice. Past accomplishments are only valid at the time they were done. Right now he hasnt done much. Many more people have innovated and done big things in the industry way after him. I mean fable was a good game, but plenty of other games that are great too. I just dont think Peter is as relevant as he used to be. I guess Its just a matter of seeing what new projects he has, frankly I wasnt interested in the cube thing demo he showed. Sometimes I wonder if video games should be considered art, since I consider much of what happens in the art world ludicrouse and a bunch of nonesense, to an elitist intellectual snobbish group of people who think they are a big deal, when they really are not. Anyway, kind of got off topic... but anyway... YEAH!

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Laurens Bruins Jaywalker, Jaywalkers Interactive

135 158 1.2
Off-topic:

@Anthony

Your post inspired me to google. When I clicked on your site I got this:
Warning - visiting this web site may harm your computer! see: http://www.google.nl/interstitial?url=http://www.mainlyaboutgames.co.uk/

Just a heads up! :)

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Laurens Bruins Jaywalker, Jaywalkers Interactive

135 158 1.2
@Henrique

Peter is right, by the time the next gen hits, it might have turned obsolete not only by hardware, but by usability, purpose, portability.
Not everything needs to be portable.

With the current generation of tablets one can already deliver entertainment that can rival that of consoles.
Not really. Do you enjoy FPS games without a controller or mouse and keyboard? A brawler with on screen buttons? Holding and looking at a relatively tiny screen all the time that gives you neckaches after 30 minutes?

And if you expect a kid who's growing up with touch devices to ever take a gamepad seriously, well, good luck with that.
Conclusively, that makes no sense. Tablets are not consoles with proper input devices and do not fill the same needs. They are both great in their own right, but the one can not replace the other.

These arguments are getting really tiresome. :)

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Laurens Bruins on 24th September 2012 6:38pm

Posted:2 years ago

#16
I know that I am tilting at some established windmills - but as I have bigger fish to fry than some uncomfortable console journos, so I think that I can take one for the team.

@Anthony; "...cheap seats..."! I don't think you looked up my profile at the appropriate site :) - I am in totally different field, and do not need to be concerned, like you, about my credibility! That said I have had the pleasure to speak alongside Peter in the past.

@Barry, the story on what was real and what was fake with Milo, and the original Kinect demos, is one for a documentary on spin rather than a brief comment - but let's just say that some were aware of what was being spun.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,020 1,467 1.4
@ Barry Milo was not real. It was very, very fake, and Molyneux was well-ingrained in that deception. He knew exactly how badly he was lying to people when he presented Milo, and that cost him TONS of respect from me.

Personally, I agree with the comments above that respect is obviously more than "your last project." On the other hand, you don't get to KEEP respect forever just because you did some great things 30 years ago. Molyneux has had some good ideas and some very poor ones and some even poorer execution. In the last decade he has made nothing that I would consider meaningful, and I took it as a personal affront when he lied to my face about Milo (as one of the many members of the press who saw the demo and were forced to play along with his silly facade).

For me, his "respect ratio" is pretty much zero. I don't hate him, but he's given me plenty of reasons not to love him. Good lucky Molyneux. I believe you'll need it.

Posted:2 years ago

#18
I was hoping that this discussion would not descend into evaluating credibility - more that we looked at why the media seemed to be picking only on one voice to give promotion? I have listed privately twelve 'legends' from the birth of the consumer game scene, who are still in circulation - working on major projects, but who are never reported or comments charted in the media. And the reason is... you tell me?

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,270 2,439 1.1
Kevin, I think notoriety, rather than credibility, is the answer to your question.

Of those names you list, which would generate the same number of web site hits that a Peter Molyneux quote will?

It is the fact that he has made statements in the past that generated traffic that grants him continued press coverage. Content provider hope he says something awkward. He's a walking headline generator. Sadly, that tends to warrant priority over objective, multi-faceted commentary.

Posted:2 years ago

#20
I just want to point out where he says:
"I remember the Commodore 64, where 64 was the number of bits, and then there was the 128. That's when I last worried about hardware."
the 64 and 128 were 64KB and 128KB or kilobytes, not bits, 64 bits would be 10% of the title screen. Much love to the the interviewer and interviewee, those details always bother me..

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Gareth O'Neill Environment Artist (Contract), Ubisoft Reflections

30 23 0.8
Reading these comments just solidifies my belief that the games industry has become so corporate and concerned about success and the bottom line that, experimentation and making games for fun has all but died out. I joined the games industry to help make games to entertain people, and to entertain myself. Un-fortunately money and greed seems to be what drives everyone.

Peter has lied, he has over exaggerated and created massive hype for mediocre games, but at the end of the day that could be nothing more than the child like spirit we all used to have. e.g. " dad, DAD!! look what I drew!!" Despite it being a Finger painting, Dad offers you praise.

You didn't care that your drawing was the second coming of Leonardo DA Vince, you just were happy with what you did and wanted to shout it to the world, as you were excited.

If your Dad turned around and did nothing but critique you, Harshly like many critics do, you'd probably start crying and vow never to bother drawing again. Potentially loosing a Future Da Vinci, who now works at Tescos.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,270 2,439 1.1
Gareth, but we all happen to be grown ups (hopefully) that don't like being lied to by other grown ups.

His vision, enthusiasm and creativity are resilient qualities which we all admire. But when you intentionally deceive (see, that little boy isn't trying to deceive his dad) others in a venture that costs us money and gains you profit (the boy never charges his dad $60 for his finger painting), then we have a problem.

Peter's vision is fantastic. I wish we had many more people like him in the industry. I just wish he'd do a little better at toning down some of the hype (you pay PR for that) and do away with full blown fraudulent presentations.

Posted:2 years ago

#23
@Jim, regarding your comment:

>"...I think notoriety, rather than credibility, is the answer to your question....Of those names you list, which would generate the same number of web site hits that a Peter Molyneux quote will?"

I would agree if I was seeing a wide spectrum of other voices receiving 'coverage' - but as it has been admitted earlier in this sites previous PM commentary; he is a "usual suspect" for consumer media feeling the pain of collapsing subscription and reader criticism of poor reporting style - make big claims raise the site hits. Let's be honest so we can move forward rather than dwell in bankrupt thinking.

The consumer game media likes PM for what you call "generated traffic" statements - but the reality is that many in the consumer game media are not trained journos, and like to be spoon fed their commentary and views, in some cases even having inappropriate links to some that they report the most. I can point to an ex-Sony executive who favored certain sites, and now as a independent those 'favors' are being re-paid allowing over inflated coverage of plans. It was that "favor-paying" that saw a number of usually skeptical media services report 'as fact' the whole Milo guff, only to get burnt! Funny those lessons (credibility) were lost when the very writers that got burnt recently lost their jobs - and the new fresh writers only remember 'notoriety' than his credibility.

I expect the same vicious circle to continue as the next load of blood letting (media job losses) removes the collective memory on the 'credibility' of a number of executives (clean bill in the internet age). While us old fogies with long memories (and good databases) remember exactly what was what... funny, still no news from Atari yet?... and we were promised by the media to have a full report on their proposed projects - those same projects that were given so much 'notoriety'!!

Posted:2 years ago

#24
@Jim:

>"Peter's vision is fantastic. I wish we had many more people like him in the industry."

We do!, its that most of them are so frustrated with the poor reporting and hype led coverage - that they shun the traditional consumer media! The games media is its own wost enemy, and now you see they have been fixated in one direction (at the exclusion of the Indie or PC scene). Now the consumer media losses all credibility trying to scramble back and pretend they always had interesting covering this sector! May explain why E3, and DEVELOP was such a wash out... but not reported as such (while QuakeCom and the indie events rocked!)

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Martin Klima Executive Producer, Warhorse Studios

26 50 1.9
@Gareth: The way you tell it, PM is Harold Skimpole of the videogames. Is that what you had in mind?

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Stephen Richards Game Deisgner

68 28 0.4
On a lighter note, did anyone else think the last Doctor Who episode was uncannily fitting to Curiosity?

Posted:2 years ago

#27
I thought it was a very interesting script with extremely low budget for entertainment :)

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
PM is the owner of a big handle, which is firmly planted into the middle of the collective back of the gaming press. He turns this handle exactly the right amount to keep them perpetually wound up. It is perhaps his greatest skill.

Here he is exactly right that iteration and short platform cycles will see handheld devices more powerful than static devices with long cycle times. Moore's law makes this inevitable. It would be interesting to compare the gigaflops of my HTC One X with those of an Xbox 360. And the successor for my phone will probably be out before the successor to the MS console. Yet the MS console is already 7 years old, which in electronics terms makes it geriatric technology.

PMs gaming skill set is perfect for the current and upcoming generation of social gaming on mobile devices. Creating a micromanaged structure with an in game currency is the way to go. As Zynga have proven. No wonder he admires them.

I am amazed that such an obviously smart guy still smokes. It is counter intuitive.

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,270 2,439 1.1
Bruce, the PowerVR SGX543MP4 can pump out 25.6 GFLOPS. The Tegra 3 around 12. The X360 pushes bout 240 GFLOPS. Phones and tablets still have a long way to go to catch up to that power.

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Gareth O'Neill Environment Artist (Contract), Ubisoft Reflections

30 23 0.8
His vision, enthusiasm and creativity are resilient qualities which we all admire. But when you intentionally deceive (see, that little boy isn't trying to deceive his dad) others in a venture that costs us money and gains you profit (the boy never charges his dad $60 for his finger painting), then we have a problem.

Yeh ok I grant you that.

When I wrote what I did, to be honest I think I was feeling really Jaded with this industry that day, Maybe I've been in it too long but the fun feels like it's being sucked out of it. I meant no offense to anyone with what I wrote and perhaps I did over defend Mr Molyneux (I Wouldn't normally lol) I just wish things were more like they used to be, though maybe i'm romanticising things as I was younger and more optimistic and Idealistic a few years back.

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,270 2,439 1.1
Times were different back then, Gareth. Smaller teams, smaller budgets but bigger freedoms. While it's always been a business in the end, individual developers have less and less direct input as a percentage to the overall game. Which can make you feel more like a worker bee than in years past when a single person had more overall influence on the game they were making.

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Login or register to post

Take part in the GamesIndustry community

Register now