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Peter Molyneux: The Future Belongs to the Curious

On the inside of the cube, Cooperation and missing his Microsoft PA.

During Peter Molyneux's presentation at Rezzed, the PC and indie game show, he appears to well up. The beginnings of tears make their presence felt in the corner of his eyes as he looks down at his MacBook. He predicted as much: the video he's about to show the entranced audience is cheesy, but he still gets emotional when he thinks about it.

The video, called The Future Belongs to the Curious, is below (via Vimeo). The game developer legend singles it out as one of the chief factors behind his decision to leave Microsoft and Lionhead to go indie again with his new company 22 Cans. There he was, sitting at his desk in Guildford, watching a video. After it finished, he had been changed forever.

I last spoke to Molyneux in April, not long after his decision to go it alone shocked the gaming world. Then, he told me why, but failed to mention the video (or the influence of the Molyjam parody Twitter account, which appears to have also played a part).

A lot can happen in three months. Molyneux, who is never far from the headlines, has once again courted controversy with his new game, Curiosity, an app set for release next month that features a $50,000 DLC. It's all part of a series of experiments (22 of course) designed to fuel Molyneux's major new game, due out at some point within the next two years.

After his star turn at Rezzed, during which he addressed the accusation that selling an expensive virtual chisel was "sinister" by saying it was "nothing to be ashamed of", and hyped the inside of the virtual cube that forms the basis of Curiosity as "life changing", I sat down with Molyneux to try (and fail) to find out what the hell he's talking about.

Is Curiosity coming out on the 22nd August because of the name 22 Cans? Does 22 have to be in everything you do?

There is a slight mystery about the number 22. As I said on stage I like mysteries. If we had a choice of releasing it on the 21st or the 23rd, why not release it on the 22nd.

You talked about what is to be found in the middle of the cube, and you bigged it up.

I didn't. I didn't big it up.

"And I would love to give you some clues, but that would ruin the experiment. It's just a question mark. That's all it is. It's a question mark. Curiosity is the thing that drove human beings to be where they are now."

I thought you did.

Bigging it up would be me telling you what it was. I did the very thing Curiosity is all about. I said it is life changing, and it is.

You don't think that's bigging it up?

That's all I said. I didn't give you a clue. I didn't say it was pink or blue. I just said that it's life changing. And it is. And you will report on it.

It really is life changing?

Yeah, absolutely it is. It's meaningful.

I'm trying to imagine what this might be to be life changing and meaningful.

That's exactly what I want you to do.

Will you give whoever gets to the centre that $50,000 you'll get for that chisel?

Do you think $50,000 is life changing? I don't.

It would change my life, at least for a short period of time. Maybe not for you.

I don't think many lottery tickets would be sold if it was just for $50,000. What I mean is, life changing. I mean life changing. Why don't you say, we are going to give what is in the centre of the cube a score of how life changing it is, between 0 and 100. I bet you now it will be... well, you never give 100s...

Didn't we give one of your games 10 once?

You did. Well then, if it's not 100, it'll be above 95.

And I would love to give you some clues, but that would ruin the experiment. It's just a question mark. That's all it is. It's a question mark. Curiosity is the thing that drove human beings to be where they are now. And that's all this is. It's something you don't know. And how much are you willing to give or sacrifice, and how much of your time are you willing to devote to find out this mystery?

Maybe you'll be the one. Maybe you don't have to tell anyone else in the world what it is. Or maybe you just shout it from the highest peak of the social media world.

Molyneux playing the showman.

If I obtain this, will I be able to quit my job at Eurogamer?

See you're asking for clues.

For some reason I'm attaching monetary value to the idea of a life changing object. I suppose that's not necessarily the case.

I'm neither confirming or denying it.

You briefly mentioned the second experiment, Cooperation. When exactly will this launch?

The release of an experiment is dependent upon our need to experiment with a piece of technology we need to make our final game, plus the dynamic of the team and how long it takes people to do this stuff.

This first Curiosity experiment took us longer to do than we thought. We thought we'd be finished on 3rd July. But bringing a team together, getting used to all the tools and getting used to doing apps rather than triple-A games takes an awful long time. So our ambition after is probably to have an experiment every six to eight weeks.

I'd be lying if I said there weren't things at Microsoft that were brilliant. If your computer went wrong you had a whole army of IT people to fix it for you. My computer goes wrong now I have to face the horrors of PC World, which is something I'd rather not do.

You'll always have the 22 Cans experiments icon on your app on your phone, and it just feeds into that app. And some of them will be a total refresh of that app, and some will be experiments within an experiment. Sometimes it'll take us six weeks to do an experiment. Sometimes it'll take us six hours to do an experiment. An experiment may be just a question, and we'll see if the world can answer it. Maybe an experiment will be a little tiny piece of the final game we're going to make eventually.

But the next one is called Cooperation. We've got a particular problem and piece of technology that Paul [Knight] and Dmitri [Mavrikakis] are working on, and it needs to be tested and experimented with, and we're going to do that in the Cooperation experiment.

When will that be available?

I would like to get that experiment ready before the cube is completed. So the clock is ticking from 22nd August.

And you don't know how long that will take.

No idea. That is very scary. Because so many people are tapping on the cube simultaneously, we've had to work on a scalable solution. It could be everybody in this room could download the app and tap once and that's it, end of story. Or it could be a million people.

Part of me hopes it will be a million people because I love touching a million people. But part of me is worried about it being a million people because this cube could just literally dissolve.

You mentioned in your presentation you don't think someone will buy the $50,000 chisel, but I think someone will, perhaps a company to get some kind of marketing exposure.

Maybe. I don't know. It wasn't designed ever to be bought. It was designed to be a statement. Part of the experiment is the curiosity of, what do you mean? That's the interesting thing. When I first spoke about Curiosity and the $50,000 chisel, a lot of people said you can't possibly do that! That in itself is an interesting psychological thing about free-to-play. You don't have to buy a chisel.

The idea for the $50,000 one came from this fact that someone who plays World of Tanks has spent $500,000 on his tanks. How amazing would it be if someone did buy that chisel? By any measure of someone's wealth, $50,000 is a lot of money. To spend $50,000 on a chisel that allows you to do just that [taps] is just insane.

But, as I said, I don't expect it to go. I'm not betting my company's future on somebody buying a $50,000 chisel. It would be an almost irresistible urge to release another one! For $60,000!

It's been a while since you returned to indie development. Is your life significantly different?

But, as I said, I don't expect it to go. I'm not betting my company's future on somebody buying a $50,000 chisel. It would be an almost irresistible urge to release another one! For $60,000!

It's completely different. It took me a while to get used to being back in that world. When you're in a world where all your worries are worried by other people, whether it be booking flights for you or going to events - well, I would never go to an event like this if I was at Microsoft - and having an entourage of people around you, it's just getting back to those roots. It takes a bit of time to get used to that.

The funniest thing is there's no one saying no. I don't have to send an email to a whole series of people saying, I'm thinking of doing this, and wait for their response. I can just do it. And in that sense that's very exciting and really engaging. In another sense, if you make a mistake, it is your complete 100 per cent mistake. Running a small company is terrifying.

So far, have there been any occasions where you thought have I done the right thing?

Yeah. There has. You look back at any time in your past and you tend to look back with rose-tinted spectacles. When you've got a frustration, whether you can't find someone to do your website, there are times when I've gone, oh it was so much easier then. But I've absolutely no regrets.

I'd be lying if I said there weren't things at Microsoft that were brilliant. If your computer went wrong you had a whole army of IT people to fix it for you. My computer goes wrong now I have to face the horrors of PC World, which is something I'd rather not do.

But I adore it. It's amazing. The most amazing thing is the office is a room. There are 16 people in that office, and everybody is screaming about moving to a bigger office. I don't want to move to a bigger office because I love it so much. I love just seeing the energy and enthusiasm, and knowing these people are working together because I lit the touch paper. Being part of that feels like a second or third chance in life.

You told me earlier this year you're looking for a partner for the big game you plan to launch within the next two years. Has there been any progress on that front?

The plan is to get a team together, and I'm getting close to getting there on that team. I've just this moment given a job to this amazing junior designer who has never designed a game but is incredible. I'm just filling up that team now.

The big game design has now been done. With any game design it's only done for a moment. As soon as you start implementing it, it changes. But it's done enough that I can explain it in enough detail to people that people can understand it. The first experiment is about ready to go out. So we're almost ready now to start thinking about going out to partners.

That is going to mean giving up some degree of freedom. But everyone's going to need a partner at some time. If you're planning on doing something significant you've got to face it, whether that partner be your own bank account and it dwindling away, or a publisher, you always have a master at some time or another.

Molyneux's packed Rezzed session.

What do you miss the most about your life at Microsoft?

It's pretty easy that, actually. The honest answer, and it's absolutely true, is all my friends. But that's not the answer you want.

The thing I miss the most is my PA. I'm so disastrously disorientated it's a miracle I'm actually here today.

Did you not consider retaining the services of your PA?

There's just not enough space in the office. And I can't justify a PA just for myself. I just can't do it. I'd rather have another junior game designer and suffer all the nightmares of running my own diary and booking my own flights. I actually booked a flight on completely the wrong week the other day.

The money went out and everything?

Yeah. I'm just completely shit at doing all that stuff. My one disaster is, I'll read an email, I'll reply to an email, and I think, well, I must remember to put that in my calendar, and I forget. And then these disastrous things happen.

Well I'm glad you made it to Rezzed.

It's a miracle I'm here. I'll tell you why: I just said yes to Rezzed, but I hadn't checked my home diary. Today is my son's speech day. So I had to race down here from that.

What do you miss the least about your life at Microsoft?

That's easy. It's the endless round of meetings. Just going in and clearing down that calendar and getting two thirds of my life back. They were important and valuable meetings. When you're running a studio of 200 people, as I was, and doing all the press stuff, and designing games and guiding six studios, that's a hell of a lot of your life eaten up before you do any of your actual job. I don't miss that at all.

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About the Author
Wesley Yin-Poole avatar

Wesley Yin-Poole


Wesley likes news, interviews, and more news. He also likes Street Fighter more than anyone can get him to shut up about it.

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