Saturday, 14 February 2015

Peter Molyneux and the Godus Mistakes

The name Peter Molyneux for as long as I can remember has been synonymous with both broken promises and unrealistic goals, at least in the gaming world. When I was reading gaming magazines in the early 2000s, Molyneux was busy hyping up Fable as the next big thing in gaming. With promised features like "knocking an acorn off a tree that later grows into another tree" that never made it into Fable, his operating procedure has always seemed to be promise big, and apologise when you can't deliver.

But this time, Peter's promises appear to have bitten him back, hard. On Wednesday, Eurogamer released an article titled "The God who Peter Molyneux Forgot". In the article was an in depth interview with Bryan Henderson, the young man who won the Curiosity Cube competition that Molyneux's company 22Cans had set up. The prize for the competition? For six months, Bryan was to be the "God of Gods" in the latest game by Molyneux, Godus. Part of this position entitled Bryan to 1% of all the revenue that Godus made during his "reign". Cool right? Unfortunately for Bryan, he still hasn't received a cent, and has no idea when his reign will start. And no one seems to be able to tell him when it will.

There's a lot to this story, but I think it's important to mention a few things about 22Cans, and some of the things Molyneux had already said that didn't end up happening. To begin, back in 2012, Molyneux made a statement that "22Cans is only going to make one game", referring to Godus. Predictably however, in December last year, Molyneux announced another game, called The Trail. 

Along with that, Molyneux and the Godus team put out the following community update video. It's a little long, but I'd recommend taking the time to watch it.

What speaks volumes to me is not Peter's longwinded and almost dismissive replies, but the unspoken attitude of Konrad Naszynski. A number of times it seems like he has had enough of Peter and his promises. Konrad openly says that the game is not in a position he wants it to be in, and at a couple of points seems to want to contradict what Peter is saying. In fact, Konrad had made a forum post that said he didn't think they would be able to meet some of the Kickstarter goals. Molyneux it seems, isn't ready to say that Godus hasn't met its goals.

The final aspect of this story involves a couple of interviews that Molyneux gave. The first was an extremely hard hitting interview by John Walker for Rock Paper Shotgun. With an opening question of "do you think you're a pathological liar?", it becomes instantly clear that John isn't going to pull any punches on Peter. While some have criticized Walker for his hard ball questions and direct style, I actually appreciate it. It almost forced Molyneux to listen and answer some questions he previously dodged. Finally, Molyneux gave an interview to the Guardian, one he says will be his final interview, despite also having given the same impression to John Walker the previous day, something the author comments on as being "another trail of broken assurances". 

I find it interesting that Molyneux reminds me so much of CCP in the past, before they stopped trying to over promise. Unlike Molyneux, CCP learnt that by promising too much, you only invite disappointment when you inevitably fail to deliver. Maybe Molyneux will actually stop talking. Or maybe he'll stick to his previous form and say it, then get excited about his next big project and start talking again.

Actually that link to the 2004 post by Peter on the Lionhead studios forums sheds some light onto why he gets into so much trouble. He says: 
If I have mentioned any feature in the past which, for whatever reason, didn't make it as I described into Fable, I apologise. Every feature I have ever talked about WAS in development, but not all made it. Often the reason is that the feature did not make sense. For example, three years ago I talked about trees growing as time past. The team did code this but it took so much processor time (15%) that the feature was not worth leaving in. That 15 % was much better spent on effects and combat. So nothing I said was groundless hype, but people expecting specific features which couldn't be included were of course disappointed. If that's you, I apologise. All I can say is that Fable is the best game we could possibly make, and that people really seem to love it.
Everything I've ever seen of Peter Molyneux makes him seem like the ideas guy that everyone who can write code knows. The guy who comes up to you and pitches his amazing, and completely unfeasible, idea that he wants you to build, and that he'll split the profits with you when you do. On top of that, he then gets surprised when you tell him that what he wants is not possible. But then again, he also says he won't talk about games too early again in the same post. It took 10 years, but here is again making the same mistake.

And yet I still can't shake the feeling that Peter isn't going to learn from this. I don't think he deliberately makes these promises that they can't achieve. What I do think is that he has a vision of what his game should be, but fails to check that what he wants is actually possible at any given time. But when he says thinks like "I'm not going to talk about my games to early", I cannot believe him. He'll get excited again about some idea he has and start making outrageous promises about features that simply can't exist. Peter, I think, is forever doomed to be the "in hindsight" guy. He'll always see how silly some of his promises were in hindsight, but never learn from them.

The one I truly feel for in all of this is Bryan. What should have actually been "life changing" is now just something in the past, and something he doesn't remember. "The fact I've won this and I'm going to be the 'God of Gods' and be in this game, it never enters my mind at all," he says in the Eurogamer article, "I've forgotten all about it, I don't think about it ever." Hopefully all the exposure from this actually does speed the process along for Bryan. I got the impression he is a nice guy who was unfortunate enough to win something promised by the guy who has broken more promises than anyone else in gaming. Perhaps one day Godus will be finished, and Bryan will finally claim his reward and become the God of Gods.

As always,


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