Is Curiosity a calamity? The PocketGamer.biz Mobile Gaming Mavens reveal all
Merkin' on Molyneux?
The PocketGamer.biz Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.
Peter Molyneux's Curiosity – what's in the cube started life with grand ambition, but arguably due to its own popularity, it has been hit by a number of server issues since launch.
Its aim is to be one of a total of 22 experiments designed to strip back play and deliver meaningful analytics from big audiences to help mobile developers both understand and better serve mobile gamers.
Nonetheless, 22Cans' latest move to appeal for donations to support the game has drawn a large amount of criticism, while news that the team behind it had engaged in 36 hour crunch sessions also went down like a lead balloon.
So, we asked the Mavens:
What do you make of Curiosity and 22Cans' wider aims? Is the game a genuine attempt to get to grips with this fast moving industry for the good of all who work within it, or is it simply a publicity stunt?
Dave Castelnuovo, Bolt Creative
I logged into Curiosity a couple times in order to draw some naughty bits here and there. I was pretty disappointed by the lag. Every time I was just about to finish my masterpiece I would get an update from other players that would obliterate it.
Other than trolling the game and drawing inappropriate things all over the place, Curiosity doesn't really hold my interest as a player.
That said, I think 22 Cans' strategy is interesting. Molyneux is trying to create a game company organically. This was the spirit of independent development when the iPhone SDK was first launched. Developers just tried things, they experimented, they did things that they expected to fail.
Then they learned from these projects and in many cases were surprised when projects that were supposed to be failures ended up making a huge impact.
That's how Pocket God started, it was only meant to be an experiment that would be leveraged on future projects. That's also how Flight Control was started and that spawned a whole genre of games.
Nowadays that spirit is sadly lost. If you are an indie worth their salt you are supposed to build a freemium game.
I have a theory that there is a great deal of luck that is needed to find huge success in any entertainment industry.In order to manage this luck aspect, I think it's useful to picture every game as a lottery ticket.
Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win a free soda, sometimes you win another lottery ticket and in rare circumstances you strike it big.
I would argue that 22 Cans is basically 22 lottery tickets and that Molyneux is setting up his company with the idea that over 22 small experimental projects, he will find the next Flight Control. He will find a new genre that everyone has been overlooking but yet resonates with people and spawns a new type of game.
From looking at Curiosity it seems like he is more interested in social mechanics rather than a new control mechanic but I think the principle still applies. He wants to reinvent social. He wants to create a game where thousands of people can interact in new and interesting ways.
Whether he can be successful remain to be seen. That brings up to monetisation. It seems like 22 cans has realised it needs money to keep things going and I actually don’t have a problem with the studio asking for donations.
Obviously Molyneux has done well for himself and has the ability to generate a lot of money in this industry. He is just choosing to take a different path. A high risk path that could turn out to be good for the game industry.
Scott Foe, GameFace.me
Sometimes it's more important to be inspiring than it is to be correct, and any game developer who tells you that he or she has not been inspired by Peter Molyneux is lying to you.
Also, that developer is probably the unknowing owner of a fungal infection of the brain.
You can't expect to beat the world in the first-shot-way-outside-the-box - remember, it took Rovio over fifty tries - and you can't eat inspiration, so I am hoping that, via whatever means, 22Cans finds the runway to keep doing what they're doing and inspiring us all.
Jussi Laakkonen, Applifier
Curiosity is brilliant, crazy, failure and success all in one.
Brilliant, because it's minimalistic, and has huge emotional drivers like curiosity, competition, self-expression. Crazy becaude it's a box and you tap on pixels. It's digital bubblewrap popping as MMO.
It's a failure because, well...enough said about the technical issues that effectively make it unplayable. A free-to-play experiment without a way to buy in-app purchases?
Success, because we are all talking about it and it's on the right end of the bell curve in terms of downloads.
Molyneux is the Dali of gaming. "The only difference between a madman and me, is that I'm not mad". Next can, please.
Oscar Clark, Applifier
Hmm. I can't decide if this is art, an experiment or something else.
The creations of Peter Molyneux, like Ian Livingston and Steve Jackson were key to what motivated me to want to work in games so its hard to be critical. I also think that there are a lot of cheap shots being cast about this and I don't want to be seen to be one of those.
However, launching a game which has so many underlying technical issues is a problem - if this had been a Microsoft or Sony launch that would be unforgivable.
I had to try three times to get into the game which crashed and also lagged horribly. I then had to work out that I had to hit to non-red tiles - that wasn't instinctive. Then I realised that all I was doing was getting points for hitting a button.
That's not an experiment in game design - that, I'm afraid to say, is just tedious and as a mass market user I would immediately churn.
But of course the idea is that we get to reveal each layer until one person sees the final thing which is inside the box. That's playing with an underlying psychological desire of course, but is it interesting? Personally, I think its a reductionist view. The ultimate highscore table which is won only by the person who knocks out the last box.
We have heard the comparisons to a lottery ticket, but I think its more like a slot machine, where we want to be there at the right time to take all the winnings from the poor schmuck who has been spending all their cash all night long.
That's not something I find compelling - I'm not fulfilling any pattern matching exercise and I'm not even getting any gambling pay-out as I go along.
Plus of course the odds are worse than a Euro-millions lottery ticket, although by the time we get close to then end I suspect there will be so few people playing that the odds per person will rise hugely.
I'm beginning to wonder if this is actually a joke - a statement about a particularly negative view of freemium games. The trouble is I don't think its very funny.
I totally agree that experimenting is important, and the joy of science is that failure is also valid data, so if that's the case then great.
Lets knock this on the head and instead hope the next experiment that taps into Molyneux's brilliant mind and does something which embraces a wider, less niche audience and provides delight rather than frustration.
(Oh, and Jussi is right. As a PR exercise its been brilliant. However, if the game had been more interesting, could it have been world-changing?)
Keith Andrew, PocketGamer.biz
If I can just drop in here for a second, however - and I'll try not to do Peter's promo work for him here - but I think the idea is that this isn't a "game".
If he delivered a more complex idea, then you have more factors that could impact on the analytics.
I think the idea with this first experiment is that you strip back 'play' to it's simplest, menial form, and then analyse that. The more features you add, then arguably the more difficult it becomes to work out what works and what doesn't from the data.
No doubt, further releases down the line will be more complex, but my take is the whole point of Curiosity is that it's as simple as possible, to make the results as clear as possible.
Oscar Clark, Applifier
Sure. But it's not simple in an interesting way or one which reflects a useful data point, in my opinion.
Jon Hare, Tower Studios
Peter is just having a bit of fun.
It must be a huge relief for him to work on a small game after so many years of big games with a lot of weight on his shoulders. As an artist he is probably still recovering from the ultimate failure of Milo and the Kinect fiasco which he took on as part of his deal with Microsoft.
Good for him that he is now free of that - he has always felt that he wanted to experiment more in making different sorts of games and now at last he has the freedom to make this happen.
Expect something different from every game.
Will Luton, Doctor Monolith
Molyneux is in a unique position to be able to do what he's doing - had almost any other designer attempted this there would be no way it could have drummed up the interest and user numbers for it to work.
The nature of the game is intended to build discussion around it and the man.
This leads to the question: Who's playing - or using, Keith - Curiosity? It's probably not your mum or the average guy on the bus. It's people who know who Molyneux is. It's lead by seeing what the next outrageous, unsustainable claim he'll make is. Many are predisposed to see the game either succeed or fail.
Curosity is intertwined with Molyneux's personality, history and status - intentional or not he's creating a press story. But that's not inherently a bad thing.
What is a bad thing is the game design around the concept - the way the game ramps, the combos, the sense of progression, the monetisation, the UI, long term goals, determined reward schedule etc. Once you strip Molyneux from it, it's actually all a bit shit. Lots of small mistakes and missed opportunities make it a reasonably disappointing experience.
22Cans are learning on the job with it, clearly. It's not making enough cash to pay their server charges even. Curiosity is going to be pretty data intensive, but the cost should be no more than a couple of cents per user per day. If they can't hit that ARPDAU, that's a bad position to be in.
There will be lots to learn from this project. I've been there - servers falling over, low ARPDAU, confusing design. Making F2P is really fucking hard.
I applaud innovation and this is clearly that. Being Molyneux and being able to drum up the excitement that this has is part of it. When people talk about Curiosity it's hard to understand where the game ends and the man begins. And I think that was the plan.
Dave Castelnuovo, Bolt Creative
One of the reasons Molyneux is in the position he is to get this much attention over a box is due to his outstanding ego.
I mean, the person who hits that last box will see something life changing. Something that will garner world news coverage.
If I were to guess what that could be, they would either win a fortune, see a sequel to the Innocence of Muslims (that would really change the world but in a bad way), or see Molyneux in his underwear with a wizard cap on claiming he has magic powers.
That pretty much sums up what's holding my interest.
Jon Hare, Tower Studios
Peter Molyneux has earned his position after years of mostly brilliant work.
I do understand resentment of the success of others - I used to be highly resentful myself before we found success and what you have just expressed is resentment.
I am sure that if you manage to achieve similar adulation to Peter you will find that your resentment evaporates and is replaced with a bit oh human understanding.
Oscar Clark, Applifier
Jon, I get what you are saying, but is this specific experiment hitting any useful buttons?
That being said, who wouldn't love to be a position to be able try anything that took their fancy? Hell yes!
Dave Castelnuovo, Bolt Creative
I'm sorry, was that directed at me, Jon?
If it is I have to laugh. I am not resentful of success. I love when people reach success but I am amused when people have a staggering sense of self-importance.
Shigeru Miyamoto and John Carmack are among my heroes. They are both amazing developers and great sense of humility. They strive to change the world through their projects rather than tell people they are about to change the world.
There are things about Molyneux's work that I like. In my previous email I stated that I actually think what he is trying to do is great. I appreciate that he is trying to do something new, and respect his body of work, but I can't be the only one that thinks he has an oversized ego.
Maybe the only one that has the guts to say it. In my opinion, saying that watching the video at the centre of Curiosity will change someone's life and generate worldwide news is a pretty bold claim to make regardless of his storied past.
It's the type of claim I would expect a peer of L Ron Hubbard to make.
That said, my responses in this group are meant to take the piss out of these serious discussions. I apologise if Curiosity is near and dear to your heart and you took offence.
Jon Hare, Tower Studios
Dave, no offence taken. - it is Peter's work you are questioning here.
The guy does have a way of projecting himself that does piss some people off, but from his perspective I am sure he is just a frustrated artist and Curiosity for him has just been a gulp of creative oxygen.
It doesn't really matter how good it is. In my opinion we have only really explored about 15 percent of what we can do with games and entertainment software so far... I like the fact that someone is trying to innovate.
Of course, other people are innovating as well but they are just being swallowed up in the app ocean and sinking without trace. At least Peter can attract attention in the sea before he drowns.
Brian Baglow, consultant
I'm a huge proponent of developers being more visible and talking more about what they do. However, from a professional point of view, I think Peter Molyneux needs to be very careful with Curiosity and the rest of 22 Cans output.
It comes down to credibility. If you constantly over-promise and under deliver then you'll be taken less seriously next time. Journalists won't swallow the hype after a while and they'll be actively suspicious of any statements you make.
You need to ensure anything you say publicly is rooted in fact and is actually deliverable. Of course a bit of polish and enthusiasm is a very good thing, but fundamentally if you're stating things which are unlikely to become true, then you leave yourself very exposed to criticism.
I like much of the hype which was appeared in relation to Curiosity - the $10,000 chisel, the single individual winner, it's all good media fodder and has, arguably, led to this very debate.
However, outside the games industry and the games media, has it made any difference whatsoever? Are downloads huge? Are in-app purchases far in excess of other 'regular' games?
I'd be interested to know.
Having said all of that, I think that what Peter is doing is incredibly important. He's pushing the definitions and boundaries of gaming with this title and has created a project which is far closer to a work of art than anything else I've seen this year.
If he'd done this in partnership with The Tate Modern, or a partner which could extend the reach of the title into a far larger market, which is normally dismissive or entirely ignorant of gaming, then it could have achieved something incredibly important for the whole games market.
As it is, I'm yet to be convinced that it's working on a commercial, technical or artistic level. But I'd like to be convinced. I really would. It would help all of us move beyond the runny/jumpy/shooty blowing-stuff-up perception of 'gaming'.
We just need to be careful about the hyperbole.
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jon jordan | 21:34 - 19 November 2012
I agree. This data is fatally flawed because behaviour is totally different if you're using a free virtual currency or one connected to a real world currency - which is the only user data any business cares about...
Mitch (Dave Mitchell) | 13:57 - 19 November 2012
Peter Molyneux isn't one of my inspirations but I have loved a lot of his games and I respect him.
I think Curiosity is an interesting experiment but I really think asking for donations is stupid. While they can claim Curiosity is a generous experiment, 22 cans is a commercial venture - why is anyone going to donate money to that as opposed to a Cancer or Disability charity? Let's get some grounding here.
And before anyone mentions it - Crowdfunding is not Charity.
I genuinely think they should of thought about the monitisation of the app to begin with and made sure it was in at launch. I can fully appreciate that they didn't plan for how things turned out - they made mistakes on measuring server costs and their network techniques, that side of things can be very difficult - don't underestimate it. But for something that is so crucial to the experience - I would have thought it could have been tested more thoroughly. Perhaps a soft launch?
The whole thing just feels a little rushed to me and like others have said - could it be a missed opportunity? Will the next experiment have the same impact?
Obviously it's important to make mistakes and learn from them. As Jon says, Peter has probably been waiting a long time to flex his muscles and let his creativity free again. I can't relate to where he's been but it must be nice to get back into smaller games and try something completely out there and utterly different. It's just a good thing that 22 Cans can afford to make these mistakes.
Sadly I think the results of the experiment might not be very true in terms of data. As others have pointed out - who is going to download this app? Possibly mainly those who have heard of Peter Molyneux and I would hazard-a-guess that a fairly high percentage are in or involved in the games industry.
Look at the stats on AppAnnie:
The app unfortunately hasn't had that much impact in the wider market on the App Stores (particularly in the US), and I think this makes the results of the experiment bias and it misses out key demographics that exist on the App Store.
I think that's a key challenge in this experiment, aside from making money - at what point do they know they have a good spread of players?
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