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Molyneux to indies: Don't be afraid to experiment

Molyneux to indies: Don't be afraid to experiment

November 14, 2012 | By Mathew Kumar

November 14, 2012 | By Mathew Kumar
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design

In a MIGS keynote that had to be delivered via Skype, 22Cans' Peter Molyneux made no apologies about Curiosity, stating that while it was maybe a "mistake" to launch the project when they did, game developers "owe it to the billion consumers out there with phones to be brave with our experiments."

Forever the optimist, Molyneux opened by saying there has "never been a more exciting time" to be a designer in the games industry.

"We are now at a point where there are a billion people with gaming devices in their hands," he claimed. "There are millions of people playing a game at this very second. It should be the golden age of invention."

"For me, and this is purely for me, a lot of experiences that are currently on smartphones are a bit rubbish. They remind me of games that were around in the early 80s and 90s and they're not really using technology in a surprising or interesting ways. So when we founded 22cans we founded it with this one single thought. If you are an indie developer I think this is how you should think: that you have a destiny."

22cans' destiny? In Molyneux's words, "one great experience."

"To do our one great experience, we had to experiment," he explained. "And why not involve the world in that experiment? And so our first experiment had to be very, very simple, very delightful - I love the idea of the word delightful - it should surprise people, it should be engaging in ways that maybe things haven't been before, and that's when we started to have an idea, Curiosity."

The seed of the idea came from a JJ Abrams TED talk.

"[Abrams] came out on stage and he presented this box. He said, I'm not going to tell you what's in the box, I'm just going to let you wonder. And that sense of wonder is a powerful thing. And it got me thinking: could we make the world curious?"

Molyneux's decision was to 'boil down' the attempt to make the intended audience curious about something that simple: "no story, no characters, the simplest thing: what's in the box?"

And it seems that he didn't expect it to make the audience that curious:

"My assumption was that when we started there would be a few thousand people tapping on the cube. What actually happened was completely and utterly different. We released the app on Tuesday last week and within three hours we had 50,000, by now we've had almost 2 million registrations. My original assumption people would maybe only tap 1,000 to 2,000 cubes without taking a break, but half a billion cubes are already gone."

"Today alone 300,000 people will be tap on this cube, the speed at which this cube is reducing itself is astronomical. The last layer went in 14 hours. The next layer is set to go in a record breaking ten hours."

So what's motivating people to do this?

"I think people are first of all curious to what's in the box," Molyneux unsurprisingly responded. "I can reveal now exclusively It is not a dead cat. It's not a pile of money. It's not a trip, sadly, a trip on Richard Branson's virgin galactic. Most sad of all, it's not Half Life 3."

At this point, it seemed even Molyneux was surprised by Curosity's audience, crying,"It's insane! It's just tapping!" before discussing another motivation they've found users have to keep tapping: showing off by creating art and leaving messages - even though they are currently quickly wiped off the cube by other taps.

Showing some particularly artistic drawings of the cube, he also took time to show a particularly realistic and artistically drawn image which he stated is "the single image that has the most number of appearances on the cube"

"The artworks that have repeated themselves many many times over are penises. And people are going around, turning these penises into works of art. It's an incredible experience."

And he admitted that the team were "totally unprepared" for this level of interest.

"What we have done is brave, it's crazy, and maybe we should have been a bit more prepared. We've been beset with problems just maintaining the 2 million users and the cube; developing Curiosity is not like developing any other game we've done, because as soon as you launch it it's alive. It's alive the way anything is, you can push it and prod it but you don't know how it's going to react."

However, Molyneux is adamant that Curosity's original intention - as an experiment and learning tool for him and the team at 22Cans in preparation for their next big project (which, from concept art glimpsed during a studio walkthrough video shown during the session, may well be a isometric Populous-a-like potentially called "Godus") - has been well served by Curiosity already.

"We've already learned a huge amount: we've learned a single pure motivation like Curiosity does work, and we've learned that releasing something on android and iOS is a very tricky and sticky situation."

Molyneux closed with a rousing call to the indie developers in the audience.

"All I say to anyone in the audience who is an indie developer, there is a lot to learn out there. There is a massive amount to learn and experiment with. We owe it to the billion consumers out there with phones to be brave with our experiments.

"I look back and I remember the very early ... with devices like the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Commodore 64. Back in the 80s the dream was that we would be truly another form of entertainment. To a certain extent we have failed in that dream. We have failed because we have made fantastic experiences for a very small number of people.

Now we can make fantastic amazing experiences for millions of people, to have as big an impact on the world as television and music. I truly believe that. Maybe it was a mistake to launch Curiosity when we did it, but at least we did it!"

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