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.
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...).
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.
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
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.
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.