Molyneux: The industry must expand or die
In part 2 of our talk, the 22Cans boss discusses the lack of growth in consoles, how Nintendo's hardware "gets in the way" and more
Last week during E3, we caught up with 22Cans' Peter Molyneux to get his unbridled opinion on the show and the next-gen console war between Microsoft and Sony. Today, in part two of our interview, we're happy to bring you the rest of Molyneux's comments about the industry's need to expand, the impact of cloud gaming, Nintendo's stance on hardware, and of course, his own ambitions for Project Godus.
Since founding 22Cans, Molyneux has found himself gravitating more and more towards mobile and tablets. He's a big fan of Supercell's Clash of Clans, and he has serious questions about the validity of the console business if it doesn't change its ways.
"In terms of audience and engagement, I'd argue [consoles] already have [been overtaken by mobile and tablets]. What this show's all about is making products for a core audience," he told GamesIndustry International at E3. "This audience is kind of fixed, we know who it is, we know how many people are going to buy Call of Duty, whether out of habit or excitement. Is it really cutting edge? Do consumers out there think, 'Wow there's another console generation coming' or is there an irrelevance to it?"
"In 10 years time, are we still going to be making games for 10 million people? I'm not sure we can afford that luxury"
"It's interesting how while the Microsoft conference was going on, so was the Apple conference. And they announced that they would start supporting wireless controllers [for iOS]. All they have to do is flick a switch and your Apple TV becomes a console. You don't have to invest 400 quid. It's already there, it's already plugged in. And this industry seems to be oblivious to it. This show's completely oblivious to it. That's fine if we're happy making games for this core audience. In 10 years time, are we still going to be making games for 10 million people? I'm not sure we can afford that luxury."
One of the problems with the console industry, he continued, is that it's not supportive enough of indies. While Sony's making a bigger push, Microsoft just doesn't seem to care. If anything, though, Microsoft should be able to leverage its PC and Xbox ecosystem to the benefit of independent developers, but it's just not happening.
"This drives me crazy. You think of Microsoft. They've got two amazing platforms. They've got Windows and Xbox, and you would think there would be an ecosystem that encompasses both of those platforms in a truly encouraging way. And I think it's a wasted opportunity. That being said, I think when you're doing something like manufacturing a console there are so many things you've got to be careful of in terms of security and secrecy, which is very scary coming into a conference like this. It's all about pulling back the curtain, and if you tell indie developers [in advance] there are risks of leaks. So I kind of understand it, but it doesn't seem right, that they have an ecosystem that doesn't really encourage small development. They've had their try at it, but it doesn't seem like it's part of their DNA," Molyneux, a former Microsoft Game Studios executive himself, lamented.
Regarding Nintendo, Molyneux reiterated what many have said in recent months: the company could fare a lot better if it got out of the hardware business. Molyneux doesn't necessarily buy into the idea put forth by Shigeru Miyamoto that Nintendo must create hardware to cater to the needs of its own development talent.
"Nintendo are brilliant about bringing people into the industry, and I think their hardware is starting to get in the way of that"
"What Miyamoto says defines things in this industry. What I say just upsets people," he cautioned, before continuing. "When Nintendo is making truly world-changing hardware, I totally see his point. But I do wonder about the Wii U - it seemed to be a kind of reaction to SmartGlass. And it's very chunky, doesn't really feel like it's cutting edge. That's when we start saying, 'Why not spend some of your unbelievable talent on these devices?' Because there's a billion people out there," Molyneux said, pointing to his iPad.
"You know what Nintendo did - this is a fascinating thing - Nintendo created gamers by the software they made. They created millions of gamers with Donkey Kong and Mario - they were the birth of gamers. That exact same thing is happening on this platform today. Millions of new gamers are being created almost every month, and they're being created with titles not from Nintendo, not from Microsoft, not from Sony, not even necessarily from Activision or EA. They're being created by companies like Supercell and Rovio. They're the ones that are bringing and creating new gamers. And now there are millions of people interacting with franchises, which Nintendo won't even touch, which seems a shame to me because Nintendo are brilliant about bringing people into the industry, and I think their hardware is starting to get in the way of that," he said. "But I caveat all of this by saying that they are a factor more intelligent than I am, and they've probably got a plan, and you should never underestimate Nintendo. We'll probably be sitting here in a couple years saying, 'Oh that's what they were doing'."
The console technologies out there may not be very exciting for Molyneux, but the former Lionhead boss does see a lot of potential in the cloud, just not for the reason you might think, and not for the reason Microsoft would have you believe.
"To me, the cloud is more than just more computing power," he said. "That's typically something you can do. You can say, all those distance shots I can render off in the cloud. If it's interrupted or something then it just doesn't render that distance stuff. Ok, I get that, but to me - and this is what Curiosity experimented with - what Curiosity tried to do is say, 'How can we use this cloud stuff in a couple of interesting ways?' and the first thing was making an experience where tens of thousands of people could concurrently come together and do something simultaneously. You could see other people tapping, and at the end there were hundreds of thousands of people on that experience simultaneously. That to me is something that couldn't exist without the cloud. That's what I want to see from the cloud: games or parts of games and new genres that couldn't exist without the cloud. So I think the cloud is an important thing and it may lead to some very influential changes in gaming."
That idea of leveraging the cloud for simultaneous interactions with gamers across the world is something that will continue with the launch of Molyneux's Godus.
"We cannot just sit around and think we'll use the cloud just to do more rendering. We cannot sit around and define this industry by making first-person shooters!"
"It's amazing... every single game of Godus is connected to every other single game of Godus. What you do on Godus is you sculpt your own living world - it's the most delightful, simple thing - but because they're connected, we can do some really interesting stuff," Molyneux noted. "This 18-year-old kid [Bryan Henderson] who got to the center of the cube [in Curiosity] - he won that prize - he can now be the moral compass for everybody's game. That is unbelievable. Then what we can do with that power, every week he can make some decisions about the game, we can say after six months, you or your clan that you formed in Godus can challenge Bryan. If you win, you or someone in your clan can become god of gods. That means you are the moral compass, and you also get royalties from 22Cans as god of gods. And if this game is successful that could be a substantial amount of money."
"When you challenge Bryan, that will be on Twitch TV. That moment where you dared to challenge the god of gods, we're going to look at social media to see who's following which faction. That's like a reality TV show. This is how we use stuff. It's a bit insane, I have no idea if it's going to work, but that's what we should be doing in the gaming industry. We cannot just sit around and think we'll use the cloud just to do more rendering. We cannot sit around and define this industry by making first-person shooters! We have not got that luxury. We will lose our consumers. This core audience we have will get smaller," he continued.
The passion that Molyneux exhibits is fun to observe. What's he going to be working on next? That's not clear. He believes that Godus will require his attention for quite some time as games become more like services.
"It takes a long time to get over the addictive nature of making console games. That's all about, 'you've got two years, make this' and you move on to something else. That's not how it works anymore. I think of the launch of Godus as being another day of development, and our passion and fanatical focus should be on Godus for at least a year after launch," he said.
"Being able to put all the hooks in there and being able to continue to innovate and charm people is what it's all about. That's like making a TV series; you don't say when you're making Breaking Bad, 'what are you going to do next?' You say, 'What's going to happen next in Breaking Bad?' That's the way I'm thinking at the moment. I've got one focus, one passion, one fanatical objective and that's to make a great game of Godus and to continue making it a great game, to continue to evolve it, because people are playing games on this format and this format not for 20 hours as they do on console games but they're playing it for days, weeks, months and sometimes years," he continued, pointing to his phone and tablet. "That's what I want as a designer... that's incredibly exciting."