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COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

Jonathan Lester
22Cans, App, Curiosity - What's Inside The Cube, iOS games, Peter Molyneux, Project GODUS

COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

The cube has finally revealed its secrets after seven long months of tapping, picking and microtransaction sales. Bryan Henderson from Edinburgh made his way to the centre of Curiosity to discover that he's set to become a God: the overlord of 22 Cans' Project GODUS who has some creative sway over the Kickstarted God Game and gets a cut of the profits.

It's an odd, though not entirely unexpected (Carl amazingly called it in one of our Game Buzz podcasts a few weeks back - burn the witch!) end to a brave experiment into... well... what exactly? The dust hasn't yet settled, and we're still working out whether Curiosity can be described as a success. Personally, I find myself caught between genuine excitement, inevitable disappointment, a little kneejerk anger and undeniable admiration for one of the most effective hype merchants this industry has ever seen.

So over the next few hundred words, let's explore what Curiosity means for Mister Henderson, Mister Molyneux, the faithful players and for the industry at large.

Life Changing?

COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

Peter Molyneux famously described Curiosity's prize as "life changing" several months ago, and we're already starting to see people disagree. Discovering that you've spent months tapping away for a chance to influence a game that you might not have any interest in whatsoever will be tremendously galling for some people, if not bordering on false advertising. After all, this whole shebang was effectively viral marketing with an optional price tag, but didn't display any branding until the very end.

But let's be realistic about this. Curiosity was never going to solve world peace or contain the cure for cancer, and could have so easily ended with some philosophical mumbo jumbo. Perhaps the iPhone's inner camera could have activated, displaying the surprised winner's face while stating that "the prize was inside you all along." Instead, our winner is getting the change to directly influence a videogame's development and receive a kickback from profits and microtransactions - which could well be a "life changing" amount if Project GODUS becomes a major hit. This is a real, tangible thing rather than some disappointing video - and when you boil it all down, getting some money is definitely going to change Bryan's life in some way.

Of course, one could argue that Bryan's life could well change for the worse. Us gamers are a vocal bunch, so if Godus contains some controversial design decisions - or worse, fails to deliver - much of any subsequent ire and fallout will doubtlessly be directed at Mr. Henderson personally. Newfound fame can quite easily become infamy, perhaps even a buffer for Molyneux to hide behind should things not go to plan. The newfound celebrity will likely need to develop a thick skin (and maybe set up some alternate email/twitter accounts just in case...).

The Experiment

COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

Curiosity has frequently been referred to as a grand experiment, but that being so, we're left with one major question. What, Peter, was your hypothesis in the first place?

If the aim was to discover whether players would inadvertently contribute to a game's development by being presented a piece of viral marketing disguised as a social experiment, then we can definitely call Curiosity a success. If Peter Molyneux was attempting to discover whether he could make money by taking advantage of 'whales' willing to spend money on the most basic gaming experience possible, then again, mission accomplished. And hey, all the netcode tweaks required to make Curiosity work was doubtlessly useful research for 22 Cans' software engineers. Seeing as the end goal is directly linked to another videogame, I don't feel that Curiosity's remit as an experiment has been justified in the least.

That being said, if 22 Cans releases some metrics that help other free to play developers improve their games, I suppose that this could well benefit the next generation of social-powered titles. And hey, it's always nice to see developers experimenting with alternative pricing models like this, as opposed to violating us with DLC or insane pre-orders at every opportunity.

The Kickstarter

COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

It's worth remembering that Project GODUS only came to fruition because 22 Cans launched a Kickstarter campaign, which succeeded in raising its target after an incredibly shaky first fortnight. Personally, I'm both shocked and amazed by the sheer chutzpah required to base Curiosity on the promise of a reward that, in and of itself, was not guaranteed to secure its funding. This is a moot point since Project GODUS development is now in full swing, but I wonder how those who chose to Kickstart the project feel about this turn of events.

We still don't know how much leeway Bryan Henderson will actually have in terms of stamping his "morals" onto the game (or whether his input boils down to a producer credit and little else), but some backers will probably rankle at not being the Big God On Their Own Campus. We're already seeing a bit of a backlash in the comments, but I'd urge everyone to wait and see what happens before making any rash judgements.

It's also worth noting that many Curiosity players (especially those who discovered the app on the App Store rather than followed it on gaming sites), had no interest in Project GODUS whatsoever and never will. They assumed that the enigmatic images were leading up to something more profound than an advert. That's got to be a mite disappointing, no matter how you slice it.

The Journey, And Beyond

COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

Ultimately, whether you feel satisfied or disappointed by Curiosity will depends on how much you invested in it over the last seven months. I'm not talking about money here (though I daresay a few hardcore whales are looking back at their App Store statements and wondering if they mightn't been better off just putting it towards a holiday instead), rather, I'm talking about the journey.

For most players, Curiosity was never really about the prize or the destination. The mysterious images were a cool talking point around office water coolers, or on forums, bringing people together to debate something they all have in common. Numerous App Store comments suggest that families all collaborated on a joint venture, letting them work on creating short-lived masterpieces that blossomed, vanished or were altered by other players. Though real-time gameplay was always going to be beyond 22 Cans' reach, thus meaning that the artistic aspect was nerfed for most players (often you'd spend several minutes creating a picture only to discover that someone else was destroying blocks in the same place), there's no denying that Curiosity was a free phenomenon that was fun to be a part of, if only during the first few months.

COMMENT | Curiosity: Treasure Or Travesty?

Screenshot courtesy of regular reader/commenter 'Late'

For others, Curiosity was never more than a blip on their radar - meaning that the prize doesn't leave them out of pocket or disappointed in the least. However, for the middle ground who expected more, who wanted to be a part of something worthwhile, a grand experiment that might just change something for the better, I daresay that you're absolutely sick to the stomach. And what of the whales? Won't somebody think of the whales?! We want to hear from all of you.

Looking forward, though, I think that Curiosity's big experiment has only just begun. Will it herald a new age of exciting funding models and social tie-ins? Or has its grand prize hardened our hearts at a critical point when F2P games are becoming legitimate for even hardcore gamers, meaning that we'll view all similar projects with suspicion and a cynical eye for the underlying advert? We'll have to wait and see.

I think we can all agree that our time would have been better spent on another series of [email protected]. At least that viral free-to-play project is already leading to medical advances in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

So, dear reader, it's high time you had your say. Did you enjoy the ride? Did the destination even matter? Or has your relationship with Peter Molyneux and Free To Play games in general been soured? Your opinion is ultimately more important than mine, and we want to hear from you in the comments.

Add a comment14 comments
Quietus  May. 27, 2013 at 17:38

To be honest, I always felt like the chances of it just being cash, which is what the large majority of people would assume the 'life changing prize' to be, was slim. It just wouldn't be his style. Having said that, the problems that have already been mentioned stand tall. What if the guy has no interest in the genre? He may be a CoD fanboy, and play nothing else. Also, if the game bombs, his percentage could amount to nothing.

Breadster  May. 27, 2013 at 18:20

I think it's an interesting idea, but I also think it's pretty dumb. As Quietus has pointed out - what if the winner has absolutely no interest in doing something like this anyway?

I didn't play curiosity and I feel sorry for those who invested a lot of time and/or money into it. It's just more people falling victim to the BS machine that is Peter Molyneux. Seriously, I respect that he's passionate about making interesting games that try and break the mould, but if I was the "god" of his next project, my first commandment would be "shut the **** up".

ODB_69  May. 27, 2013 at 18:33

Every time I went on all I found was crude pictures of penises made out if the blocks and other such things. Had to delete it off kids iPad.

imdurc  May. 27, 2013 at 20:00

I'm really disappointed by the negativity from both the article and the comments below it.

First and foremost, anyone could participate in this app for free. I loaded it onto an iPad and had a little go every now and again. I spent the in-game points I made, but never spent any money. However, even if I had, it would've been on me, NOT Molyneux, that I'd spent money. If you gamble at a casino and lose, you can't blame the casino for your loss!

If anyone spent money and felt cheated/disappointed, too bad. We all choose to buy into certain things for our own reasons. But it's pretty clear that this was always a gamble when spending real money to help you reach the end first. At least, I'm guessing that was the goal when spending money, in-app.

As to the article criticising the kickstarter for "creating a playground for a man from Edinburgh' wasn't part of the plan." So, I guess we should know about every single person connected to a game on kickstarter because, we're funding it, so we should know. Right? Apparently when you help fund a kickstarter project, this gives you some level of say about how people work on their product/ideas! Talk about egocentric... Unless that's how they advertise it, you have no say. Generally, with Kickstarter, you're pledging to help see a product come to fruition. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, some guy (Molyneux) put forth this app that people could get for free and they used it for all it was worth. How anyone can complain about that is beyond me.

Late  May. 27, 2013 at 20:33

I quite liked "Curiosity". Played it a bit in the first month, and popped back for a few minutes once a month thereafter. Enjoyed making pictures (though they rarely lasted long and were often spoiled long before they were finished) and writing messages - wrote greetings a few times, and others reciprocated. And I spoiled a few pictures and messages others had done (generally genitalia, swasticas, and messages of racial hatred), but the "communal moderation" of the cube's art and messages was all part of the fun/experience.

Had no idea what the prize would be, and still don't have much idea. (Yeah, we know what it is, but not how much money its worth, how much influence the lad will have, or how much he'll like it). But was anyone really in it for the prize? Surely it was about the ride, and finding out what was in the centre more than being the 'winner'.

As for those who spent money - I don't see a problem. It was always free to play, with optional paid content - as is the case with a million and one other games out there. If people want to pay real money to give them temporary fun, but be left with nothing tangible at the end of the day then that's their call. Not tempted, personally, but reach to their own.

If I were to have one criticism of the "experiment" it'd be that it dragged on way too long. I lost interest a long time ago - I imagine most folk did. And I'd imagine dwindling numbers prompted the countdown to the end of the game.

Hope something useful comes of the whole thing. As you say, some of the data gathered could prove very useful to game makers and publishers if made available.

Last edited by Late, May. 27, 2013 at 20:35
Rubisco  May. 27, 2013 at 20:47

I love that "just some guy" won.

I'm glad the sad **** who spent longer than a few hours on this dull game mechanic didn't win. I'm glad the kind of idiots who were pumping money into it didn't win.

Most of us who gave it a shot realised quickly that there was very little pay-off and it was going nowhere fast, so gave up. I bet Bryan Henderson would have done the same. That's why it's a brilliant result.

It was called "Curiosity", not "Obsession".

Late  May. 27, 2013 at 20:58

Do we know the winner didn't pump loads into it?
Not that it makes any difference IMO.

JonLester  May. 27, 2013 at 21:05

@imdurc: I hope the article didn't come across as overly negative - at least, that wasn't my intention. Rather, I wanted to try and present a balanced exploration of Curiosity that takes in multiple points of view.

Quietus  May. 27, 2013 at 22:21

Apparently when you help fund a kickstarter project, this gives you some level of say about how people work on their product/ideas! Talk about egocentric...
Actually, this is EXACTLY how a number of Kickstarter projects are operated, with the developers receiving constant feedback from players, and the developers then moulding their game so that it provides the fans with exactly the game they want to play.

Anarchist  May. 28, 2013 at 08:17

Ay ideas how the 'winner' was chosen?

Was it the first to get to a million? Most points as it finished? Random?

Late  May. 28, 2013 at 10:22

I think it was supposed to be the person who made the final click to remove the final "cubelet" from the final layer.

How the ascertained that, though, when loads of people are clicking away simultaneously is anyone's guess.

Quietus  May. 28, 2013 at 10:57

From what I understand, they didn't need to remove all cubes, but needed to be the one to break through the final layer. I guess if everybody had clicked on the same spot from the outset, it would have been much quicker to drill through.:)

Anarchist  May. 28, 2013 at 19:25

I was going to suggest that as one of the options, but thought that would never be viable as its not strictly real time, and could potentially have hundreds of people clicking at the exact same time.

I bet it was just random because they couldnt figure it out themselves. Or one of peters mates - perhaps even Peter molydeux.

imdurc  May. 29, 2013 at 00:31

Hey Jon, your article was generally a fair one. Sorry if I made it sound otherwise. I guess the negative slant I got from the comments and the question asked by your article erked me a little. No worries! :P

@Quietus - if you expect something from them that is never explicitly said to be a part of their kickstarter, then you have no real say. It's at the kickstarters' discretion as to whether they take on advice/comments. In the end, they must decide whether such comments will help or hinder their project's outcome.

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