Peter Molyneux - Part One
The Lionhead boss on the development of the Asian region, his hopes for Fable 2 in Japan, and the progress of Media Molecule
One of this year's biggest Xbox 360 platform releases is Fable 2, and with Peter Molyneux presenting a keynote speech at this year's Games Convention Asia Conference, it seemed like the ideal time for GamesIndustry.biz to catch up with him.
In part one of this exclusive interview, he talks about his views on the development of the Asian market, his hopes for Fable 2 sales in the region, whether or not the game can stimulate Xbox 360 sales in Japan, and his thoughts on the great progress made by his former team-members now at Media Molecule.
Q: What attracts you to Games Convention Asia?
Peter Molyneux: Well, obviously it's fantastic to see the amount of development that's happening over in Asia, and it's absolutely fascinating that it's a global industry that they're dealing with now. You're seeing more and more talent from all over the world come together - there's the US, there's Europe and there's Asia, and it will be fascinating to see what products the developers are developing.
But also it's to fly the flag for European development as well.
Q: What do you hope people will hope from what you have to say at the conference?
Peter Molyneux: Well what I'm going to say is two big messages. The first thing is that we as an industry have a duty to invent and create, and to take the industry to its full potential. Because I still believe, even now - twenty years on from the first game I ever made - that really this industry is fantastic at creating titles for its core audience, but it really has to invent titles that bring more and more people in.
My fascination at the moment is with asking "Why should just core gamers enjoy our top titles? Why should we make them accessible for a much more casual audience?"
The second big message is that we mustn't, just because this industry is bringing in USD 49 billion in revenue - which is an incredible figure and much larger than any other forms of entertainment - it does mean that we're successful.
I know that sounds strange, but if you look at our audience that generates that revenue, it's still pretty small - even the most successful title will sell 10 million units, which is a tiny fraction of the people that are touched by television and film.
So I think we've got a real duty to push ourselves, to bring our products to a much wider audience. That doesn't mean dumbing down products, it doesn't mean creating specific products, it actually means inventing stuff that we haven't seen before.
Q: People talk about some games being "mainstream", but I guess your point is that currently that's only a relative term?
Peter Molyneux: Yes, there seems to be almost this brick wall between mainstream games and core games, and I don't think that brick wall should be there. I think what we should be thinking about is how we can bring people in, and entertain everybody - whatever their background and experience. I think that's the really exciting thing.
Q: What's your view on how Singapore and South-East Asia is developing?
Peter Molyneux: Well this is going to be the fascinating thing, to actually see what development talent is out there. A lot of it is down to seeing what the regional market is - I hope that people like Ubisoft are the seeds for creativity. That's what I'm really looking for, the creativity, the approach that any country seems to uniquely have.
English games are very English, American games are American, Japanese games are very Japanese, and it'll be fascinating to see about the rest of Asia - China, Singapore - what games they're developing.
Q: We're coming up to the release of Fable 2 - what are your expectations for sales in South-East Asia? Part of your reason for going to GC Asia must partly be from a PR perspective?
Peter Molyneux: Well, it is - there's no point in denying it - it's my baby, after all. But what I've tried to do is create a game that can be played by anybody, and I'm hoping that culturally... it's a very difficult thing for the West to approach Asia culturally with games. There are a lot of games over in the West that just aren't successful in Asia at all.
I've been lucky to have a couple of successes, and it'll be interesting to see what people's feelings are on Fable. I have no idea whether or not the Asian community is going to fall in love with Fable. Obviously I hope they are - there are lots of things in there, lots of hooks in there like the co-op play and the customisation, which seem to be things that Asians enjoy. But we'll have to see.
Q: People seem to talk about Asia now in the same way that they talked about Europe maybe 5-6 years ago. It's hard not to generalise, but there's South-East Asia, China... and Japan is a tough nut to crack, particularly for the Xbox 360 - what are your hopes for sales in Japan?
Peter Molyneux: Microsoft Japan is saying that Fable is one of the big games over there. I agree with you that I think the Xbox 360 has struggled over there, and maybe it's a spectrum of games which is needed for the Asian market.
It all comes down to one or two great products, and obviously I hope that Fable is one of those, but I think we've just got to understand what the people want - both the casual and core gamers - and how we can create unique products for them.
Because it's no good just hitting your head against a brick wall - if the products aren't enjoyed by Japan or China or Asia, then we're obviously doing something wrong. For me, going over there and looking at what they enjoy - I think that will educate me an awful lot.
I remember back when I first started with Populous, which was hugely successful in Japan - I was fascinated back then as to why that was successful and other games weren't. Nobody could really tell me the reason why. Some people told me it was the graphics, or the sound, but it was an intangible thing to put your finger on.
Certainly the Chinese market - and the Japanese market as well - is this Utopian market for publishers, where people are trying to make inroads. But there are very few games that have made a significant impact.
Q: Ultimately Microsoft has tried pretty hard to crack Japan - do you think the current mix of JRPGs and games like Fable could be the combination that takes a leap forward?
Peter Molyneux: My guess, and this is a pure guess as a designer, is that if you try and give people something which they like and haven't seen before - and something which they're fascinated with - you're more likely to crack it than perhaps doing games which they have seen before.
That's my hope, I guess, in that Fable is unique enough that when people see it there's maybe reason enough for them to think again, and go and buy a 360. But so many people have tried this, and there seems to be this magic formula which Western publishers are trying to crack. I don't know the titles that have really blown the Asian market away.
Q: Do you think that Fable 2 can stimulate Xbox 360 hardware sales in Japan?
Peter Molyneux: Well, I think it ticks some of the boxes which should fascinate people. When we sat down and thought about Fable 2 we didn't just think about doing a sequel to Fable - the first thing is that we didn't try and make it something that it's not.
So it's a very English game - it's got English humour in it, and I don't think Fable could have been created anywhere else. That is unique.
Secondly it's got some technology in there that I think the Asian market will find fascinating. It sounds a trivial thing, but it is a positive thing - this dog, which is AI-driven and is very attentive to you. I think that's something which people will find fascinating.
And thirdly it's got some fantastic co-op technology - the ability to have your own world, which says something about you, and bring people into your world and show it off. Again, that seems to appeal to the Japanese market, and that's all wrapped up in a great story.
So if I were to ask myself if Fable had a chance, I'd tick those boxes and say that it has. Whether it's got enough of that special sauce which the Asian people really love, that remains to be seen.
But I'm going to go over there and explain that these are the things which I find fascinating, and I think that revolution is a strong word, but there are innovations which make people approach games in a slightly different way. If they take that up, it'll be fantastic.
It is always one or two games which define a platform - it's the same for the Wii, and the PlayStation 2. I think the PlayStation 3 is still waiting for that definition title that represents the platform - and I think that's what hardware manufacturers need to do, find that defining title.
Nintendo did a brilliant job of doing that at launch with games like Wii Sports and Wii Play - maybe Fable 2 is a defining title. But you are talking to the proud father of this game, so you can't ask me to be tremendously objective.
Q: It must be nice for you to see the amazing progress that the guys from Media Molecule have made - do you hope that LittleBigPlanet could be that defining game for the PS3?
Peter Molyneux: I'm incredibly proud of what they've done, and it's just an amazing experience to see how their game has progressed. It's coming out, by pure coincidence, on the same day as Fable 2. It's a weird coincidence, but the two aren't connected.
I think everything I've said about uniqueness, and invention, and bringing people together that haven't played games before - that really applies to LBP. You've never seen anything like it before, and everybody that touches it says it's a unique experience.
If we want to bring people in who haven't played games before, wherever they are in the world and whatever their cultural background, whatever their sex or age, then we've got to think out of the box and start creating stuff which fascinates those people.
I think LBP could be one of those.
Q: Had you not been working hard of Fable 2 is it the sort of game you wish you'd worked on?
Peter Molyneux: There are some fascinations in there for me, and perhaps I would have done things slightly differently, but I think they're an incredibly creative talent and in a way it's better for them not to have been influenced by me at all, for that uniqueness to come through.
Although I have to say that I've worked with Mark [Healey] and Alex [Evans] for over ten years, and they are as good as it gets.
Peter Molyneux is head of Lionhead Studios. Interview by Phil Elliott.