Peter Molyneux’s 22cans studio has attracted plenty of attention and column inches over the last few months with Curiosity, but it’s his decision to do a Kickstarter for Godus that has created perhaps an ever bigger stir across the internet.
Godus is a return to the classic Populous style of game, and miles away from the experimental block tapper that 22cans released last but still part of a grander arc of titles that attempt to subvert standard gaming perception. But should such a seasoned industry vet be using Kickstarter to fund a project that might easily have garnered an eager publisher without much fuss?
I chatted to Peter about Godus, Kickstarter and how he’s managing expectations this time around, starting with the obvious: Kickstarter, and the almost immediate backlash.
TheSixthAxis: It seems like there was a certain amount of negativity about your use of Kickstarter with Godus, when it first emerged. Do you think this is something that’s becoming more common with Kickstarter? The backlash, I mean?
Peter Molyneux: Well, yes. Kickstarter is so new, but now things are settling down it’s inevitable that there will be a backlash. For me it’s a wonderful way to engage with the people we are making games for, without the burden of the middlemen of publishers.
PM: Yes, if you look at our Kickstarter page we are responding to people’s feedback daily and incorporating that into the design, something that would be impossible with the old ways of developing.
TSA: Do you think that’s more direct?
PM: I feel it’s the most honest way to make something, yes. It’s very scary but very, very engaging. Our promises can be delivered daily, our ambitions can be seen hourly.[drop]TSA: You’re very much up front and personal with this though.
PM: With this there is, of course, no escape. It’s just us as an indie and the fans. However, we have to work harder and longer and be more decisive because of this.
TSA: How’s that working out with Godus?
PM: This feedback has a chance of truly making a game which exceeds peoples expectations. We have to do this if we are going to reinvent the god game genre, which has been all but destroyed by greedy, over simplified implementation of Facebook and free to play.
Peter’s passionate about the genre, for obvious reasons – Populous is still seen as the standard bearer for god games, and although it’s obviously visually dated, it’s still used as something of a template for the staggering number of similar titles out now – mostly on mobile phones – even if they’re drilled down to a lower level. There are a lot of farming games, for example, that are something of an evolution of the genre.
TSA: I was going to talk about that, next. Godus seems like a direct reference (if only spiritually) to Populous, which had a very singular focus. A lot of what’s out there now that’s similar is free to play, with constant purchases required otherwise you need to wait hours and days.
PM: It makes me so mad to see a genre of game I helped create being exploited by over-greedy mechanics. I am all for making money but some of them feel like exploitation in the most crude way.
TSA: Godus will be different, then?
PM: Yes. For me this genre is all about delightful mechanics around a charming world, games which can be played over a long time, based on simulations that surprise. That’s what I need people’s support for – to show there are meaningful mechanics there.
TSA: It’s about getting the message across?
PM: All this is true innovation and there’s the problem. Getting people to understand how innovative we are going to be.
TSA: Isn’t it about managing expectations, too?
Curiosity was the victim of massive amounts of hype, ridiculously so, and that wasn’t helped by Molyneux’s overly enthusiastic manner – promising a “life changing” treasure in the centre of a huge block that’s going to take ages to drill through. It seems like he’s got the message, though, and hopefully Godus’ PR will be slightly lower on the volume level.
TSA: The regular feedback you’re getting on Kickstarter allows you to directly interact with pledgers and those interested, and thus to ensure the situation doesn’t spiral out of control with people expecting the Second Coming.
PM: I am answering people’s questions and managing expectations daily. If you look at the updates on the page I do a daily video addressing points, and on the one due today you will actually see me say “no” to a lot of things.
TSA: I think that’s probably wise, although you could do that without Kickstarter, of course.
PM: You could, but how?
TSA: The interactions?[drop2]PM: The real secret to making games is simple: you get get as many people you can play the game for as long as possible as you develop, this is how the early Bullfrog games were developed.
If you look at our pledges, all but the lowest include early beta and alpha play which we will use to refine the experience. The great thing I know people care because they have already put their money down.
Kickstarter is not just about getting money it’s about truly involving people in a structured way to make the best experience.
TSA: You could run regular news posts elsewhere, but I guess you’re finding it important to keep everything together, where people can see the pledges and so on next to the videos.
PM: Yes, and we will keep [the videos] up until the end of the campaign, then continue on a weekly basis after that.
That’s quite a commitment, but it seems to be paying off. From a scan over the comments of the latest video it’s clear that those invested in the game (and not just financially) really want to see a return to form, something more down to earth and practical.
There are suggestions flowing both ways, and it’s encouraging to see this from a developer at such an early stage of the project, something that would likely be impossible with a major publisher on board with their own focus groups and internal testing.
But Peter’s still not confident in how he’s perceived, and whether people simply aren’t taking to him like they used to. Call it the Mylo effect, but 22cans have an uphill struggle in some areas – and Peter’s well aware of all the negativity.
PM: I do have a big worry, though, I think some people are not supporting our Kickstarter because of me!
TSA: That’s not news to me, I’ve read similar over the last few days.
PM: You may not believe this but it took a lot of courage to do a Kickstarter for Godus, I was so tempted to hide away in my ivory tower, to take the lazy publishing deal.
TSA: It’s not about funding?
PM: Some people undoubtedly think I’m rich and don’t need Kickstarter funding: that is definitely not true – I have used a lot of my money to found 22cans. It’s like the recent X Factor show where Ella the favourite didn’t get enough votes, some people think I will definitely get funded, so don’t bother.
TSA: So how’s the Kickstarter going?
PM: To be honest it’s going okay, but not great, I could say it’s because of the time of year, because it’s a genre that people have forgotten to love. So I do have my worries, and some people just don’t like me and what I stand for.
TSA: Do you think you’re paranoid? A little?
PM: Well maybe, but it’s a scary existence not knowing how many pledges you’re going to get. Remember if we don’t reach our goal we get nothing, and this breeds paranoia.
TSA: But you still think Kickstarter is the right tool for Godus?
PM: Yes, if people really want innovation, if they really want indie development, if they really value passion over profit then Kickstarter is a great force. This is why we laid ourself bare and did the campaign.
As Peter rushes off to get involved with another daily video update, I thank him for his time. He seems more confident than he has in other recent interviews, and yet realises that he needs to stay humble and grounded for this to really work.
Godus, should it reach the required Kickstarter level, is expected next year.