Ah, the story of Peter Molyneux. At this stage, the apt rendition of Aesop’s fable of the boy who cried wolf seems somewhat relevant. Regardless of what he may have created in the past, it’s a given that the number of promises he’s reneged on has seen his position in the gaming industry take monumental strides backwards as of late. Not that it made much of a difference to the way Molyneux saw himself in the business of course. He was there, and is still there, to make games that he deems creatively motivating to his team and an audience of gamers around the world. However, with the exception of Black and White, and maybe Fable 2, ever since the inaugurate, fledgling stages of Lionhead Studios he has undoubtedly claimed a lot as to the potential of his games only to see the eventual empirical evidence suggest otherwise.
Much like the boy who cried wolf there comes a point when you’re so convinced of your invincibility that you often take a step too far. Understandably people are upset about the status of Godus and the fallout of Curiosity winner, Bryan Henderson, but don’t let that make you think that this man deserves to be left to the wolves. There is a lot to be said about the games industry and our propensity for singling out and then eating alive certain individuals. It’s not professional, it’s too aggressive and it’s unbalanced. Peter Molyneux has made monumental mistakes but he is still a human-being.
It takes a certain character to carve a mythical, almost transcendent persona out for themselves in any given industry. The fact that Peter Molyneux has done so without consistently making supreme videogames says a lot about both him and us. Obviously a snake-tongued conjurer of hype tactics, Molyneux has, unlike his work, been able to constantly market his wares in such a manner that we have in the past appropriated undue expectation to them. Was Fable 2 really so incredibly distinctive and outstanding that it made us truly believe a third title would impress even more so? Probably not. So then why does everything that Molyneux touches turn to gold before it’s even been smelted? Like mentioned it’s certainly much to do with his business and marketing acumen as accompanied by his ever-circulating metaphysical aura. It also has a lot to do with us, the expectant audience, however. We’ve succumbed to his charms and wiles far too easily and simply put, have placed him on a pedestal so high up that Magic Johnson would struggle to touch his polished, leather brogues. Nevertheless, when he makes a monumental mistake we approach him as the proverbial devil. The sudden reaction says a lot.
Failings don’t often attach themselves singularly to one target. Normally, when one fails there are other attributions that we have to take into consideration. Whilst I still wholly believe that what Peter Molyneux has done has to be considered wrong there is no denying that if we hadn’t heralded him as the second coming and if Kickstarter had more stringent processes then this situation might not have manifested in the troubling manner that it has. The process of making Godus has been mismanaged and miscalculated from the beginning. However, Molyneux is perfectly entitled to use Kickstarter, and to promise the world to the consumer. The idea of potential with a conceptual idea is a risky but undeniable draw that the developer can make when trying to raise money for a project. We shouldn’t belittle him for shooting for the stars and abysmally falling short.
What we can scream and shout about is perhaps the fact that Kickstarter as a third party process does not allow for people to get their money back when a project horrifically crumbles to the ground. There really should be measures implemented returning the investment of anyone who’s put money in when the product comes out either incomplete or not at all. If a product comes out of the process being worse than expected but complete, then that’s a different matter and I would argue is something that you risk when investing. But you shouldn’t have to risk investing in a product that’s incomplete. There should be a refund. As a business, Kickstarter may want to distance themselves and claim they have the right to not intervene but realistically it’s something that should have been included as part of an investment system from the get-go. Molyneux should return what he has had invested in him, but equally Kickstarter should have had an online border-fence that prevents people from losing money completely. This isn’t the stock exchange. We’re not playing around with something that is too behemothic to handle. They should change this approach else let consumers down equally as much as the developer. At least they always have control unlike the creator of a product.
Peter Molyneux failed. I don’t think however that he was ever necessarily dishonest with what he wanted to achieve. Anyone who even remotely knows the machinations of the man knows that he is overly ambitious, and in the case of Godus, to a fault. He was so far ahead of himself in the process of making a game that he forgot how much time, money and effort it would take. That’s negligence but not dishonesty. It’s stupidity but not dishonesty. We are perfectly entitled to ask questions of him and be annoyed at the direction his videogame has taken but never in the manner we seem to have taken recently. People are people. Even the boy who cried sheep didn’t deserve to be eaten by the wolf he thought so figurative.
In a now infamous interview, a journalist asked Molyneux whether he was a perpetual liar? Not the greatest start to an interview. Ask any long-standing, experienced journalist and they’d be flabbergasted at the rudeness of that opening line. Interviewing, admittedly, is an art that needs to be learnt extensively but common-sense dictates that regardless of whether he is a chaotic developer, you have to maintain professionalism. It’s a trend that unfortunately has aligned itself with gaming lately. The intrusiveness and self-entitled berating of journalists and developers demonstrates an overall industry that is plagued with many demons. Not least the seemingly inexplicable tendency to clamour on the bandwagon and cast heady vitriol at people who’ve done wrong.
There is a discernible difference between casting blame on someone and absolutely reducing an individual to a non-entity. The entire purpose of the human-race is to make mistakes, learn and adapt. Instead of looking at the Molyneux-Godus relationship with a critical eye, we’ve reduced the man to less than a human-being. This is about as embarrassing as it could become for our industry. We cannot afford to be vindictive. We have to be analytical in the face of adversity. Here, we have an opportunity to raise the question needing to be raised and react accordingly, but instead we’re dismissing all that in place of sheer finger-pointing and strangely aggressive screaming. Never under-estimate the importance of being able to detach yourself and cast an objective eye over proceedings. It’s something that the gaming community in particular has struggled with adopting, but in order to progress as an industry you have to be primarily a mix of criticism and professionalism. Resorting to obviously provocative, childish exploits even when interviewing someone like Peter Molyneux, who has rather stumbled at this latest hurdle, does yourself and the industry that you represent a disservice.
I get the sense that this article will go down two ways. Unfortunately, the Peter Molyneux saga has reached a boiling point. What we all need to understand though is that a developer or games personality might make a fool out of themselves and make horrifically bad decisions, but they never deserve to be ridiculed and made a lesser entity entirely. We are all in this together for better or worse.
Molyneux probably wishes he hadn’t have called wolf so many times. He’s probably depressed and agonised over the saga. Let’s not allow him to be eaten whole by the figurative beast though. No-one deserves that fate. Let’s make this the Fable where the little boy doesn’t get swallowed whole.