Public image: limited
Molyneux’s delicate dance with the media was probably his downfall. Looking back, does he think this relationship created a disconnect between the public image of Peter Molyneux, and the real person beneath it? “Yeah I do,” he says, after a moment’s pause. “I mean, you know, you’ve got to remember that [I was] at Microsoft, under the warm and safe cloak of Microsoft PR, and that somehow a lot of the time it suppressed what I really wanted to say in the press. For very good reasons, by the way – I’m not saying that these aren’t super-smart, sensible people – but, you know, they’ve got to have a cadence to the announcements and stuff like that, so it suppressed the way that I wanted to talk.”
There was also the issue of remaining on-message. “What I was able to talk about was Fable, and the time when people really started talking about me and saying, ‘Well, who is this Peter Molyneux bloke, anyway?’ was probably around the Milo project – where it seemed so fantastical that people said, ‘You know what? This guy just talks a load of horseshit’.”
Milo & Kate was Kinect’s ill-fated poster child, which – so the demos suggested – allowed players to interact with AI characters just as they would with real people: by talking, gesturing, smiling and frowning. But it never came to be, and the answer to what happened to the project came many years too late – back only in July this year, in fact, when Lionhead’s Gary Carr explained that the studio ran out of money.
With 22Cans, Molyneux says he has been careful not to over-promise – a statement that raises eyebrows considering the terminology bandied around for Curiosity. It’s a game, let’s not forget, that sees hundreds of thousands of people doing nothing but clearing individual tiny squares that make up layer after layer of an enormous cube. There’s a prize in the middle for the person who reaches it first. Molyneux says it took his whole career to think up, and it’s supposed to change someone’s life.
“All I’ve said is two phrases: it’s amazing, and it’s going to be life-changing,” Molyneux argues. “That’s all I’ve said. I haven’t promised mountains of cash, or the meaning of life, the universe and everything. The way I’ve defined it, the way I’ve scored it in my mind, is that it’s amazing and life-changing. That means that the one person who gets to the centre of the cube, their life will be changed from that point onwards.”
He insists he’s been careful to manage expectations this time around. “Lewis,” he says earnestly, “if I’m honest with you, I’m not trying to hype this up at all, because I don’t need to. At the moment, I need to slow people down, rather than speed them up.”
And yet still the internet comments pour in. It’s over-hyped, people say. It’s barely even a game. More promises that weren’t kept.
Molyneux seems genuinely confused by these assertions. “I wanted to go out there when I founded 22Cans and say, ‘Right, I’m not going to hype it up’,” he says. “I haven’t said that you’ll tap, and orgasm as you tap. I haven’t said anything like that. I’ve said, ‘It’s just tapping. All you do is tap. All you do is chip away with everyone else’.”
Curiosity is primarily an experiment, too. It’s a way for 22Cans to gather data from hundreds of thousands of players, and an opportunity to explore an emerging design space. It’s Molyneux’s first direct foray into mobile development, for example, and his first go at a large-scale co-op experience. (Incidentally, the team’s next experiment, Cooperation, is due a big reveal today – but it’s still under wraps at the time of going to press.)
I ask Molyneux if he misses the focus of the Fable series. There’s a pause long enough that I wonder if the line has gone dead. “I mean… no,” he eventually says, chuckling. “No, I don’t.” He says he loved his time working on Fable, but the space he’s working in now is what really excites him.
“There are no platforms any more for me, you know?” he says. “It’s all just windows into the gaming universe. At the moment we’re just focusing on smartphone, but if you include browsers and consoles, it just is a manner for invention, and creativity, and originality, and… God, I love that world.”