Game developer Peter Molyneux recently said something interesting, as Peter Molyneux is wont to do. At the Montreal International Game Summit earlier this week, he talked about the enormous success of 22Cans’ new app, Curiosity, but more intriguingly, he suggested that games have failed to become ‘another true entertainment form.’
Molyneux had to speak at MIGS via Skype, as the unexpected success of Curiosity currently has 22Cans working overtime to fix the game’s overloaded servers. ‘My assumption was that a few thousand people would start tapping away at the cube,’ he said. As it turns out, 50,000 players started tapping at the mysterious cube within a few hours of launch, and about 300,000 are chipping at it every day.
Molyneux is obviously surprised and delighted at the success of Curiosity, and during his keynote he urged independent developers to use mobile and other new platforms to expand gaming’s potential and appeal.
Curiosity: chipping is addictive.
‘Back in the ’80s, the dream that we all had in this industry was that we would be truly another form of entertainment,’ he said. ‘You know what? To a certain extent we failed on that dream. We failed in it because we’ve made some fantastic experiences for a very small number of people. Now is the opportunity to make fantastic, amazing, unique experiences, to use all this technology to make amazing, delightful, incredible worlds for millions of people.’
Molyneux was probably swept up in the heat of Curiosity’s success when he blurted all that out, but it’s a bit of a careless statement nonetheless. While video games have consistently remained in the mainstream public’s eye over the past six years or so, ‘casual gaming’ as we know it today isn’t a new trend: it simply faded in and out until the Wii, Facebook, and mobile platforms gave the pastime a permanent home.
Women didn’t typically frequent arcades in the ‘˜70s and early ‘˜80s, but Pac-Man and Centipede garnered large female audiences. If you look at old Atari 2600 ads, you might notice the games are pitched by entire families; mom, dad, kids, and even Sesame Street’s Mr Hooper as ‘grandpa.’ Fast forward a few years to 1989 and the phenomenal release of the Game Boy. What drove those sales? The Tetris pack-in game. Everybody loves Tetris. Your husband, your wife, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother. Your dog.
Yes, there have been long stretches in video game history wherein developers were making games exclusively for the ‘very small number of people’ that Molyneux talks about, but that was when the pastime was finding its legs as home-based, single-player entertainment and developers weren’t ready to develop games for millions of people. Developing for cartridge-based systems like the SNES was also very expensive compared to developing for digital platforms like iOS, so people tended to cubbyhole themselves.
Molyneux’s Curiosity has also proven to be a popular artistic platform.
But those days have been over for ages thanks to online multiplayer on the PC (Minecraft, anyone?), family living-room gaming on the Wii, and even online console games like Journey, a PlayStation Network exclusive that changes how we communicate and cooperate with strangers online.
Gaming’s widespread appeal has come and gone over the decades, but is that a reason to declare that the medium has ‘failed’ as a means of entertainment? Besides, Molyneux is not telling developers anything they don’t already know. Of course they want to make amazing, unique experiences, and of course they want to reach a wide audience —
Or maybe they want to cater to a niche instead, because games are as varied as the tastes of the people that play them.