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The God who Peter Molyneux forgot

For Curiosity winner Bryan Henderson, the prize inside the cube has been anything but life-changing.

During the early afternoon of 26th May 2013, 18-year-old Scot Bryan Henderson tapped on Peter Molyneux's Curiosity cube for the last time. He had won the game.

A tiny message appeared on the screen of his smartphone. It contained an email address for someone at 22Cans, the Guildford studio Molyneux had founded after leaving Microsoft and traditional game development behind.

Bryan, confused but intrigued, followed the instructions. Have I really won, he asked? An email appeared with a link to a video. In it Molyneux, dressed all in black and set against a virtual cube, delivers a message of congratulations.

The prize? In the months before Curiosity's release, Molyneux had hyped it up, promising it would be "life-changing" for whoever discovered it. "Life-changing." Quite the claim, and Molyneux's video message repeats the words. But how? You will become a digital god, Molyneux proclaims in the video, of 22Cans' next game, Godus. And, you will receive a cut of the money made by Godus from the start of your reign to its end.

"That, by any definition of the word, is life-changing," Molyneux says.

18 months later, as Bryan approaches his 21st birthday, he has yet to become God of Gods, he has yet to receive the "riches" Molyneux promised him, and it's looking increasingly likely he never will.

1

Bryan Henderson was 18 when he won Curiosity. He turns 21 this year.

I have lunch with Bryan Henderson in The Southern pub on Edinburgh's South Clerk Street. He cuts a thin, gangly figure, dressed in unremarkable smart casual garb. There's nothing outlandish or particularly noticeable here. The January air is cutting, and Bryan should have wrapped up warmer, I think. He travelled by bus from his home on the other side of the city, near the airport. I suspect it took a while.

Bryan speaks slowly and in a soft Edinburgh accent. At first he lacks confidence, but as we get to know each other he soon warms up. Bryan reminds me of a young Andy Murray, if Andy Murray had studied computer art and design instead of tennis; so laid back I wonder what, if anything, might jolt him into excitement.

Bryan's Godus story begins in December 2012 with Yogscast, the phenomenally successful Minecraft-focused YouTube channel so many young people tune into each and every day. It was on a Yogscast video that Bryan saw Peter Molyneux demo Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube?, his new and controversial app about thousands of people tapping.

Bryan had never heard of Peter Molyneux before. This takes me by surprise at first, but it makes sense. For Bryan, who was born the year the first PlayStation console was released, retro is Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot, not Populous and Dungeon Keeper. And while he's into games, he's not a video game fanatic. He'd heard of Fable, he tells me, but never played it.

Still, Bryan's curiosity was piqued, and so he followed Molyneux on Twitter. Months passed, and memory of Molyneux and his experimental cube faded into the back of Bryan's mind. Then, half a year after his star turn on YouTube, Molyneux tweeted to say the Curiosity cube was nearing its end. Bryan, his memory rekindled, immediately downloaded Curiosity to his smartphone, picked a patch on the cube no-one seemed interested in, and started tapping.

An hour later, he won.

Bryan emailed the address that popped up on his screen, asking, "Did I win?" A reply came back: "Yes." But 22Cans wanted more information: what's your name? Where are you from? Here's a number. Call it.

"I felt, did everyone get this? Or was it just me? I had no idea if I won. Then I did, and it still didn't sink in at least for three days. It was nuts," Bryan remembers.

22Cans gave Bryan a choice: share the video he had seen or keep it to himself. He chose to share it. After all, the only reason he had downloaded Curiosity was to see what happened at its end. He wasn't in it for the prize. He didn't even know there was a prize.

"Even when he reveals a big reveal, it's still pretty ambiguous," Bryan says of Molyneux's video message. "I was still quite confused and delighted really that I won. I didn't know what to make of it, but was like, yeah, good for me."

It wasn't long before interview requests - via 22Cans - came flooding in, a phone interview with tech magazine Wired chief among them. "I was aware of Wired, but I wasn't too aware of how big it was," Bryan says. "But I was still really, what the f*** is going on? How is this happening?" Then more: Game Informer, the Edinburgh Evening News, BBC Radio. Bryan's Twitter blew up as thousands of new followers arrived for a chat.

At the time Bryan was just 18 and working through a graphic design internship for a student newspaper. You'd imagine your average 18-year-old would get quite excited at the prospect of ruling a video game and making a chunk of cash off the back of it. But Bryan tells me he was too bewildered by what was happening to him to even dare to imagine how it would affect his life.

"Everyone seemed to be more excited than me," he says, slowly. "I was just so confused and taken back by it. But everyone was stoked for me.

"You could imagine my mum. She overreacts and exaggerates how amazing something is. She was so excited for me, more than anyone. My dad was like, yeah it was alright, pretty cool. Such a crazy day."

Bryan shows me a text from Peter Molyneux, sent just after he'd won the Curiosity competition. Molyneux offered his congratulations and asked Bryan to tell him a bit about himself. Bryan mentioned Yogscast. Peter suggested maybe there was a chance he could appear on the show. Peter then told Bryan that sharing the video would probably be a good idea.

Bryan shows me another text from Peter: "If Godus is successful you are going to have an amazing year."

A week or so after winning Curiosity, 22Cans arranged a conference call, during which the developer invited Bryan to visit the studio. They paid for flights and taxis to and from Heathrow for Bryan and a friend (he picked a mate from high school), and off they went.

Bryan recalls the day, Friday, 2nd June 2013, he met Peter Molyneux at the offices of 22Cans.

"I was pretty nervous when I arrived," he says. "I shook hands with Peter Molyneux. He just said, 'Hi Bryan, nice to meet you. How are you feeling?' It was that quick. He said, 'If you sit down we'll get things started in five minutes.

"I knew nothing about his status. I just knew he had been designing games for a long time, and he was old-school. That was pretty much all I knew. And I knew of Fable. I'd never played any of his games other than Curiosity - if you can call that a game.

"It was surreal being thrust into all this. I was floating in space a little bit. Yeah, I'll just shake your hand and wait over here. It wasn't like, oh my god, it's Peter Molyneux.

"I was trying to act casual. They were being really casual about it. I don't know what I was expecting. I was just waiting there for five minutes staring at people, having small talk with my friend. We chatted to each other for five minutes wondering what the hell was going to happen.

"That's when they made us play Godus for three hours straight. It was our choice when to get up and stop playing, but I didn't want to seem rude."

A source close to 22Cans tells Eurogamer Bryan played an early and rough version of Godus on PC that included basic functionality. "He was very shy, very quiet, a very young kid," the person, who asked not to be named, tells me.

"It wasn't my normal kind of game, I must admit," Bryan says. "It was good. It was interesting. I'm a console gamer originally, and I still am. It was a bit strange. I didn't know what to make of it. It was the kind of game I've never played, like a God game. I'm not going to say boring, but just because it was so different, some things were tedious. You have to do everyday rituals, you have to do your things.

"But in terms of my first experience of a God game, it was interesting. And it was pretty fun. I did get bored of it, like after an hour-and-a half, two hours."

But Bryan and his friend soldiered on, out of politeness more than anything else. "I didn't think they had anything else organised," he says.

2

Bryan playing an early version of Godus at 22Cans in June 2013.

As the afternoon bled into evening, Bryan was taken into a separate room to discuss a contract and its accompanying non-disclosure agreement. While Bryan is unable to discuss the terms of the deal, Eurogamer understands he was promised a royalty of one per cent of revenue from Godus for the period of his role as God of Gods. (This God of Gods feature hadn't been developed yet, but there was an expectation it would be at some point.) However, there is wriggle room in the language that means 22Cans is under no time pressure to fulfil its obligation - unfortunately for Bryan.

"I wasn't so excited about all of it," Bryan says. "I was this introverted 18-year-old, kind of shy person. Nothing seemed to faze me. It was all surreal.

"I think it's because it's not happened yet, and I'm a 'not going to believe something until it happens' kind of person. That's it, really. So I wasn't too fazed by getting told I'd be getting money."

As the working day came to an end, 22Cans took Bryan and his friend for a drink at the nearby White House pub. Bryan had a pint of lager, his friend a double whiskey and coke. The group went outside to the patio for a chat.

Bryan remembers the evening:

"They were talking amongst themselves and didn't pay attention to me. For some reason they had their backs to me and my friend for the start of the evening. Then more people came and that's when we started having a conversation with someone. That was a bit strange. You're here because of me, and they weren't really paying attention. Maybe they were caught up in some interesting conversation.

"This guy called Tony, he comes with shots for me and my friend. It was Jägermeister. We talked to him for the most part of the evening. What games we like, what music we like, a normal conversation. We were talking to this young guy. He was just doing an internship. He got us Jägerbombs, and we just had to do them because they had already been paid for."

Peter Molyneux didn't get to the pub in the end. He had to shoot off for a flight, Bryan remembers, to some far-flung place for a games convention. Around 7pm, the slightly drunk pair left for Heathrow buoyed by the day. But what, exactly, had it meant? What would the God of Gods role involve? How much money were 22Cans talking about? Would Bryan's life really change?

A signed poster and T-shirt followed him up to Edinburgh soon afterwards.

For Bryan, it was downhill from there.

Bryan tells me it wasn't long after his visit to 22Cans that communication with the studio dried up. "I would have to email them first," he says.

"After a month or two of winning, I would email them every month, purely because I expected more communication from them, but it wasn't happening.

"I would ask, so, what's happening? When am I going to find out more stuff? What's going to happen, specifically? They were taking their time to answer. They would say, we need to do this first and tell you afterwards.

"Since I won and a year after, I would email them as a ritual thing, every month, just to get some kind of update. Eventually I was like, they're not being professional at all. Communication is non-existent, so I'm not even going to try any more."

Godus launched on Steam as an Early Access title in September 2013, four months after Bryan won Curiosity. The game launched on the App Store in May 2014, around the same time 22Cans published a development roadmap that promised the "Hubworld" feature of the game, which enables multiplayer, was still in the works.

Hubworld, Eurogamer has been told by sources close to the development team, is in limbo, held up by a technical and financial hurdle 22Cans has so far struggled to overcome. Without Hubworld, Godus has no multiplayer and no capacity for the God of Gods role. Bryan has been left out in the cold with no revenue generated in his name.

"All I wanted to know was, when will it happen?" he says. "They couldn't really tell me. They said it would happen when the game was finished."

4

Hubworld is the key: without it, Godus cannot have multiplayer, and Bryan cannot become God of Gods.

Bryan seems resigned to his fate, and is remarkably philosophical about how he's been treated by 22Cans.

"After six months to a year, they should be more professional," he says. "It's not even about being professional. They're not even interested in their own project. What the f***'s that about?

"So I was like f*** it, I'm not going to try if you're not going to try. You're the one who's supposed to be professional. I'm just this kid who won this thing. And you're this game company. You're supposed to do everything and be the professional one out of me and you. It was a shoddy operation in terms of communication. I was like, fair enough. I suppose I'll speak to you when you speak to me."

In January 2014 Bryan received an email from 22Cans financial chief Peter Murphy. In it Bryan is told someone else would soon get in touch. They never did.

"The strangest thing is, the fact I won this and I'm going to be the God of Gods and be in this game, it never enters my mind at all. I've forgotten about it. I don't think about it ever."

And yet, Bryan believes more in hope than in expectation that he will one day be a digital God, that he will one day rule Godus.

"I believe it will happen. If it doesn't, my mum will go off. She will be really pissed off. She would probably have something to say to them.

"Don't feel bad for me. It is what it is. They would be complete and utter assholes. They would destroy their reputation. I don't believe they would do that. Lots of people would be pissed off."

Does Bryan feel duped, I wonder?

"I should do. You would think. I'd probably feel it more for someone else if it happened to someone else," Bryan replies.

"I think it's because it's such a weird experience and it was two years ago. My general thinking of it was, it will happen, but right now I'm waiting. I don't doubt it's going to happen. It must happen because of all of these big reveals and promises.

"It doesn't make me concerned about being God of Gods or anything. He does deliver on something happening, but just not as good as he says. He does that thing a lot."

But what if 22Cans shuts down before Bryan can become God of Gods?

"Whatever. I'd feel bad for them. I wouldn't be bothered if I'm missing out on something. Really, I wouldn't.

"For a moment I was excited. My general feeling was, depending on how well the game does, I was thinking in terms of worst to the best, I could get £10,000 to £500,000. At the very best. Still, that would be awesome. But so far not a penny.

"I don't really know how to explain how I feel. It's already forgotten about. Everyone's forgot about it, including me, and I won it. I know a lot of people will find it strange that I'm not pissed off. Maybe I should be. I don't know."

Bryan has stopped emailing and stopped texting because the replies dried up long ago. Nearly two years after Peter Molyneux revealed the "life-changing" prize at the centre of the Curiosity cube, Bryan is yet to see a penny - and he has yet to receive an apology.

"I totally and absolutely and categorically apologise. That isn't good enough and I'll take it on my own shoulders that I should have made sure he was communicated with. We will from today onwards do that."

Peter Molyneux has had a rough day, I can tell. Our phone interview comes soon after questions are raised about the future of Godus and 22Cans' ability to meet its Kickstarter goals for the crowdfunded game.

Molyneux insists 22Cans is in rude health, with the mobile version of Godus pulling in enough money to keep the company going. But what of the future of the game? He confirms the Godus development team has shrunk considerably to just a few people as resources are diverted to a new game, called The Trail.

Still, Molynuex insists he has not abandoned Godus, and hopes to expand its development team with new hires so promised features, such as Hubworld, will eventually arrive.

3

22Cans founder and Godus designer Peter Molyneux.

But why has it taken so long? Molyneux says Godus' publisher forced a server switch back in November 2014, which then forced 22Cans to build new tech in order for people to keep playing the game. This set the development roadmap back months, Molyneux said.

"But, we are - and this is going to sound ridiculously excusey but it's the actual truth - we are now working on combat, which is the piece of the puzzle we need in the game before we start working on the Hubworld and the multiplayer," Molyneux says.

"When that happens we've got the mechanics for Bryan to be a useful participant in his God of Gods role. We are accruing the revenues ready for that to happen, and when that does happen his clock will start ticking.

"But we can't have the God of Gods role without the ability for people to challenge the God of Gods role, and the God of Gods role can't be challenged without combat, and we can't implement the combat without sorting out the server issues, which are being sorted out as of last week. It's just a maelstrom."

Crucially, Molyneux cannot guarantee multiplayer will ever see the light of day in Godus.

"Guaranteeing is a very strong word," he replies when I press him on the matter. "There are so many new technologies we are trying to implement. If all goes well, absolutely it should happen. I want it to happen. I think we need it to happen. With all the press that went on with Bryan, why wouldn't we make that happen?

"We've still got a team dedicated to Godus and taking the gameplay forward. They're doing combat next, and that will be the enabler for the God of Gods role and the multiplayer. But we need to get through combat."

I try again: can you guarantee multiplayer, and hence God of Gods, will come to Godus?

"Guaranteeing sounds like I have to put my life on the line, but we will make every effort to make this happen, yes. We've got the skilled people here to make that happen. Our finance director has been accruing the revenues ready for when it starts happening, and then we'll switch on and then he'll get the revenues, and then the God of Gods role should happen the way we want it to happen."

So what happens if 22Cans fails to get multiplayer working?

"We haven't entertained that. We haven't thought about that because it's always been in the plan. When you're doing multiplatform stuff, it's such a complicated world and there are so many moving parts.

"My producer says by the first week of April we should have the combat completely finished. He's doing some investigative work at the moment. We'll be able to be in a position to look at that multiplayer slice.

"I haven't thought it through because it's never been a feature that has been on the kill list."

Eurogamer has heard from a number of sources close to 22Cans that there is scepticism internally about multiplayer ever coming to Godus, given most of the 24 or so staff at the studio have been moved onto The Trail. For those who are working on Godus, the focus is on the mobile version, we've been told.

Konrad "FuriousMoo" Naszynski, who backed Godus on Kickstarter before joining 22Cans as an intern, has been thrust into the limelight as the new lead designer of Godus, and it's down to him to steer the ship towards meeting the expectations of an already estranged community.

He himself expressed concern that 22Cans would fail to meet its Kickstarter pledges in a post on the Godus forum. Molyneux told me these posts were published amid the game's server transition, which he described as a "development nightmare".

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Molyneux says much, as he always has. We'll see what happens.

As for the lack of communication with Bryan, Peter offers an unreserved apology - the first Bryan has received since 22Cans went dark on him last year.

"That's pretty poor, isn't it?" Molyneux admits. "He should have a contact here. That's pretty shoddy for us to not keep him posted.

"I totally and absolutely and categorically apologise. That isn't good enough and I'll take it on my own shoulders that I should have made sure he was communicated with. We will from today onwards do that.

"It's just on a list. The trouble is, it's very easy to forget about things that are further down the list when you're so busy with things at the top of the list. I think it's unfair on him. We should keep him posted. I will speak to him myself."

Bryan downloaded Godus after the Android version came out last year. "I played it and I was actually quite enjoying it," he says.

"As far as mobile games go, there's so much going on. It's quite impressive, comparatively. I was playing it for maybe a week or two, but I got to the stage where I ran out of the free gems, which you use to buy powers to use for just one turn. You need this to progress. Otherwise your civilisation's going to be unhappy and you're going to lose followers."

Bryan is a normal 20-year-old making his way in the world. He has a passion for music (he singles out Radiohead and Alt-J as two of his favourite bands) and computer animation. He's studying computer art and design at Edinburgh College and doing what most do at that age: finding himself. He hopes one day to make music for a video game. He'd love that.

But there is one thing different about Bryan, and that is a couple of years ago he was promised the world by one of our most legendary video game developers. He was thrust into the spotlight, interviewed by the likes of Wired, and then... nothing. But nearly two years later, Bryan Henderson's life is yet to change.

"The only difference is I've got more Twitter followers," he says. "And even then it's still gradually declined since it started, and none of them talk to me or retweet me. So honestly, there's no difference.

"If I'm with my Canadian friend, he'll introduce me as this God of Gods, and maybe they'll think I'm cool at a party or something. It hasn't worked. My Canadian friend tried to get me in with a girl with this. She thought I was a game designer, but she knew how young I was, so she didn't go for it."

Bryan still has the Curiosity app on his phone, even though it doesn't work. As he shows it to me he tells me he keeps it on there as a medal of honour, a reminder of something cool that happened to him at some point in the past.

He needs it, I suspect, because that memory is fading.

"Obviously I know what's happened, but it's like, did that really happen, or was it like a dream?" Bryan says as we wrap up our burgers.

"I don't care. Really. Like, whatever."

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