Peter Molyneux Interview: Part Two
In the second part of our exclusive interview with 22cans’ Peter Molyneux, the Curiosity developer talks in-depth about Project Godus and the key to creating a successful indie studio.
Well, we probably could have got a publisher excited about it but this genre of game is something that has gone through a rocky time recently. The god game genre hasn’t made the transition to console particularly well. I can’t think, off the top of my head, something that was god-gamish on console, so that was a blow to it. And then a lot of very popular Facebook games took that genre in a particular direction and for me it just became a way of exploiting money out of people in a very harsh and crude way.
I see this amazing original genre which is all about having this simulated world and giving people the power to inteact witrh them. That’s the core of the god-game experience and look – the god game genre as we know is going to disappear, it’s going to wither away. But we could reinvent it, reinvigorate it and make it what it was supposed to but – another genre, rather than a type of game that us gamers don’t particularly like. That’s taking that brave step – and it is a brave step because it could have been so much simpler if I had Kickstarted a role-playing game or something I’m sure we would have got tons and tons and tons of pledges. When you start talking about reinventing something… you know, some people don’t get it. Also, younger people have probably never even played a god game. So I’d love to do that. There’s so much stuff that a god game would be brilliant to do in today’s world with all the technology we’ve got, with these multi-devices, touch and with the Kinect people together.
Populous, Dungeon Keeper and Black & White are some of the names used in the Kickstarter pitch, how have they informed Project Godus?
Every day there’s a video we release where we talk about Godus and we react to what people have asked online. In the first one what we did was to go through three of the games that I’ve worked on before: Populus, Dungeon Keeper and Black & White. I said ‘these are the features that are great from these games and these are the features that I think are shit from these games. Why don’t we take this feature and this feature and this feature and combine them together, introduce some new stuff and recreate the go genre.’ That’s the whole principle of what we’re doing. We’re not doing another version of it. Fair enough, if you’re going to do another Kickstarter to do another version of, fine. But we’re not, this is a reinvention and it’s going to have as much innovation as the original genre had. The reason that we’re using Kickstarter, the secret sauce of making a great game is playing it. If you look at our pledges, even the lower pledges are early-access betas, so people can play it and we can learn from it.
Can you tell us a little more about the multiplayer aspect of Project Godus?
Multiplayer is very, very exciting. Personally, I think games that force you into multiplayer are games I soon get tired of, because I find the adrenaline rush of multiplayer wearing and I need the calmness and zenness of single player. So there’s a full single-player arm to Godus, it’s an essential part to the game: no multiplayer. What you have in Godus is something called your homeworld and your homeworld is where you’ll spread the light of your civilization. It’s where you get your people out and spend your time sculpting the land and spreading them out and get more of them, so you get more belief. But at any time you can take some these people, some of your followers, and then go into multiplayer.
Think them as a sort of an investment in multiplayer. So we’ve got two strands to multiplayer, one is to play against your friends: you can play my people versus your people on a number of landscapes, you can also play me and you as friends against two other friends, in any combination up to eight people against each other. Think of any permutation of co-op or multiplayer in that landscape with your friends. You can do exactly that with strangers, done in the name of your clan.
What are your thoughts on monetisation in games? Will that feature in Godus at all?
In Curiosity at the moment there’s nothing you can buy and there’s a big story there for Curiosity update 2… but in Godus, the way computer games are developed has changed forever now. As you’ll see with Curiosity and Godus, you don’t just finish it: the day of release is when you start refining it and that’s why we want to do the alphas and betas so that we can get ahead of that start. It’s not that we’re going to release it and move onto Godus 2. Godus needs to make money so we’re going to charge for the app initially and we’re probably going to have some in-app purchases, but it’s going to be refined so that it’s not overly exploitive.
You know, for me a lot of the in-app purchases in F2P – and I’m a great fan of F2P – a lot of it is just so greedy. It really plays on people with addictive personalities and there’s probably going to be some scandal that’s going to come out of this that’s going to make us rethink it. The idea is that with a simulation-based game you could get people to pop back into it very frequently rather than just compressing their playtime. That’s why we’ve got this home world and multiplayer so that you can always go off and have that adrenaline rush of multiplayer but there’s the calmness single player.
What’s the secret to creating a successful indie studio?
It’s probably bravery. Being brave and foolhardy in a way. If you want to take the safest course and make just another game, if you believe that the industry is totally defined, then it’s not for you. To even think about an experience that connects millions together is juat an insane thought. For someone like me to do a Kickstarter, it’s just an insane thing to do. It’s like me standing… naked. I’m just naked because everybody that has an issuie with me, they can just take a pot-shot now. Here’s the thing, it’s a simple thing – we have to have money from somewhere. If we don’t, then we’re going to have to go to a publisher or we’re going to have to get some outside investment, because we just can’t fund out of our own pocket. It’s an expensive thing to run a studio of 20 people. A lot of people think that my Kickstarter’s safe because of who I am, but it’s not. It’s not safe. I define myself as being an indie, I define myself as taking those risks and Kickstarter is a huge risk for us, maybe we won’t get funded. Maybe people don’t want originality, maybe people don’t want games from indie developers, they want, you know, tried and tested experiences. I’d rather suffer the slings and arrows of testing that than sitting back and going to some existing publisher relationship.
The indie scene this year has almost been defined by Kickstarter. Do you view it as an important step in the industry?
I think it’s enormously important and especially if it is used not just for the funding of projects. Because for me it’s not just about funding the projects, it’s about engaging and having a relationship with people that care about the experience you’re making. It’s a fundamental thing: the more you play a game in development, the better the game is. That’s the secret sauce that everyone talks about. In today’s world where you can make games that connect millions of people together how do you test that? This is where Kickstarter comes in.
The great thing is that if someone has paid money to have pledged, they care enough that they’ve used their most precious resource – money – to prove how much they care. That makes them a great person to refine the experience with. Then, providing you don’t go crazy with a deluge of suggestions and feedback and comments – as long as you curate that well enough, that should be a really great way of refining the experience. So Kickstarter is more than just a way of getting money. It shouldn’t be just for people who are… starving? If you know what I mean, it should be for people who embrace what Kickstarter is. For me Kickstarter is about innovation that is hard to get through the existing structure of the industry. It was almost impossible for me to sign the original Poplous up because there was no Kickstarter, we had to go around 12 publishers and most of them said no.
You might think that with Godus you could just sign it in a dot, but most publishers said ‘Could you possibly consider a role-playing game?’. They see the god-game genre as a genre that doesn’t have as many followers as an RPG. They’ve got their pie chart, look at it and say “if you did an RPG you’d do better”. I think Kickstarter is about embracing innovation and things that perhaps are hard for existing corporations to see and be motivated by. It’s a fascinating time for the industry. It’s not only publishers who are worried about it, if you like, because publishers have traditionally been the bankers of the industry and of course, whoever controls the money controls the industry.
Kickstarter comes along and now the bankers are the community. It’s also for VC (Venture Capital) companies: a lot of them have seed-funded a lot of developers and venture capitalists have turned around and said ‘well this kinda redefines us. Why would developers come to us when they can go to Kickstarter’.
It’s all about discovery as well! Getting the money for your project also solves the issue of discovery – how do people know about your game? Especially for PC and on Steam – there’s millions of apps, how do you get yours to be discovered? I do think that we are starting to question Kickstarter because there hasn’t been the throughput of projects that have been Kickstarted, funded, developed and released. And proven. People are going to say soon, ‘Hang on a second. I want to see one of these Kickstarter games come out before I donate any further’. We’re starting to walk into that territory now, which is terrifying for us of course.
That’s why you have to think of development differently. Because – and if you look at our Kickstarter page – we’re doing these daily video updates in which we’re giving feedback to people in video form and we’re talking about the game every day. We’ll do one of those every day, through to the end of the Kickstarter and then we’ll continue doing that on a weekly basis. Because feedback and people understanding that there’s something happening with the game moving on is absolutely essential. With a publisher, if you’ve got milestone-led development and they only give you that milestone if you give them a version and you do what you said you’d do when you signed up. Why should we think about Kickstarter any differently?
If you’d like to back Project GODUS then head to the Kickstarter funding page here. To read more about Peter Molyneux’s past year, a look into 2013 and our review of the year, read games™ issue 130 on sale 20 December in both print and half-price digital formats.