The lights are on
Peter Molyneux created a number of well-known gaming franchises, such as Populous, Dungeon Keeper, and Fable, before leaving the big studios behind and starting his own indie developer, 22 Cans. Earlier this month, the studio launched Godus on iOS, which is currently working its way through early access on Steam as well. Moving from the AAA space to a small team is a risky move, but the legendary developer thinks gamers would be a lot happier if more big-name designers took the same risk.
Molyneux’s Godus recently launched at number one on the iOS store in over 19 countries, and while reception had been mixed, the studio is still working to update the game before officially releasing on PC.
Since Molyneux just released his first mobile game (is Curiosity Cube a game?), we asked him about EA’s mobile interpretation of Dungeon Keeper. Molyneux helped create the Dungeon Keeper franchise, but when the franchise owner resurrected the series last year for iOS and Android, it turned the PC strategy game into a free-to-play experience – a move that spawned a lot of negative reactions. Molyneux understood fan’s sentiments, but didn’t think the move was necessarily bad.
“I thought that visually it was Dungeon Keeper,” said Molyneux. “You had Horny there and you had the dungeon, and it really did look like Dungeon Keeper. But they had chosen to change the heart of Dungeon Keeper, which was the multiplayer. They kind of replaced that with free-to-play.”
When we asked if he thought that free-to-play was inherently bad, Molyneux said, “I think that if more and more designers get into free-to-play then free-to-play will just get better and better. But at the moment, there aren’t many true game designers getting into free-to-play, so free-to-play is getting crafted by match three games and slots and casino games, and those types of games have held free-to-play to ransom. I’d love more designers from all walks of life to try free-to-play games, so we could make free-to-play brilliant.”
Free-to-play developers have historically had a tricky time balancing their titles. On one hand, as a company, developers need to make money to continue to operate, so their titles need to bring in a profit. If a game is marketed as free then they will have to engineer situations to entice players to spend money for other reasons while playing their games. Unfortunately, some of the biggest money makers in the business have exploited human psychology and our desire to accomplish a task or have a reward by driving us to spend money in ways that some gamers feel is ‘unfair.’ Some players opt into these small payments without realizing how big the bill grows near the end of the month.
Molyneux believes that practices like these have given free-to-play a bad name. But does free-to-play need to seem so unethical?
“Free-to-play should be the most amazing thing for the gaming community, because the idea that some PR person persuades me to pre-order a game and then spend fifty bucks on that game without every playing the game should be the most toxic way of spending money on game – the most risky for sure. The game industry should love free-to-play. What gamers need to do is persuade designers to go make free-to-play games. But a lot of gamers say that if you’re doing that then you’re not really making games.”
“I’ve had people say, ‘I’m going to burn all the games you own now.’ I’ve had people say, ‘you’re a hypocrite.’ I’ve actually had death threats over this. That doesn’t make sense. Gamers should want fair free-to-play, and the only way to get fair free-to-play is to get more designers to love free-to-play. As a gamer we should say, ‘if Call of Duty were free-to-play, it would be a better game.’”
Death threats are an extreme reaction to a developers move to free-to-play, but it shows that gamers are passionate about this art form. The world has a lot of free entertainment at its disposal these days. At the same time, there are a variety of different ways for people to pay to watch movies, so there should be plenty of space for different pay models in the gaming industry. If more developers explore the free-to-play model, then it’s bound to produce more refined work.
Watch our video of Peter Molyneux and The Walking Dead’s Sean Vanaman discussing game development during E3 2013.
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