The Crucifixion of Peter Molyneux Shows How Far We’ve Fallen

“Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?”

This is how John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun opens his interview with famed game designer Peter Molyneux, creator of games like Populous, Black & White, Fable, and the very recent and controversial Godus.

“I know it’s a harsh question, but it seems an important question to ask because there do seem to be lots and lots of lies piling up,” Walker clarifies as Molyneux begins to protest.

Godus, Molyneux’s latest god game, has been the subject of a fair amount of controversy recently. Its development has been rocky and difficult, failing to meet its projected deadlines by a wide margin despite raising about £100k more on Kickstarter than Molyneux and his indie development studio, 22 Cans, asked for. Through a promotion via 22 Cans’ first project, Curiosity, that had players tapping a cube in hopes of being the one to crack through to the center to win a prize that would be, in Molyneux’s words, “life-changing,” a young 18-year-old named Bryan Henderson became Godus “God of Gods,” a role that promised to let Henderson shape Godus and take a small cut of the profits to boot; two years later and 22 Cans has still not delivered its promise to Henderson.

Molyneux is a well-documented dreamer of a game designer, a true Icarus in the development world who consistently aims for the Sun only to have his wings melt away in spectacular fashion. Almost every game Molyneux has helmed in recent years has promised big and delivered small, a fact that Molyneux himself has never shied from. His penchant for over-promising and under-delivering has even spawned a parody Twitter account with over 80 thousand followers.

But while Molyneux’s ambitious ideas and underwhelming execution was the butt of a joke before, the games media has turned on him in a vicious — and uncalled for — way.

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“You’ve been working in the industry for over thirty years,” Walker says as he continues to press Molyneux. “You know how much money it costs to make a game and you put a specific amount–”

“No, I don’t,” Molyneux says. He has been attacked immediately, and now he is on the defensive. “I disagree, [Walker]. I have no idea how much money it costs to make a game and anyone that tells you how much it’s going to cost to make a game which is completely a new experience is a fool or a genius.”

“But you have to have enough experience to know the basics of budgeting a video game,” Walker says, getting heated. “You’ve been doing it for thirty years!”

During the interview, Walker comes across as a man who does not understand the challenges of game design, the realities of development, and like Molyneux has personally wronged him in some way. He is emotional and he is angry, and Molyneux eventually has to ask him to take a step back.

“It’s three years later!” Walker exclaims. “People gave you half a million pounds and you’ve taken their money–”

“One is, [Walker], you’re becoming very emotional,” Molyneux responds. “I think firstly you need to take a breath, because if I had walked away from Godus I’d agree with your points, but I haven’t walked away from Godus. We are committed to Godus, we are recruiting people to go on to Godus, I have never moved that percentage beyond 52% where it is now.”

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The world has turned against Molyneux in a rough way, though no one spits at Molyneux with more vitriol than Walker. Eurogamer recently met with Henderson and found that not only has he not been made the promised role of God of Gods yet, but he has yet to receive a single cent and 22 Cans has essentially ceased all communication with him. Molyneux’s response was an extremely humble and regret-filled apology. But that apology wasn’t enough for Walker, and he pressed him further on the issue.

“It’s terrible, it’s wrong, it’s bad of me,” Molyneux begins apologizing again to appease Walker. “I shouldn’t have, I should have checked on these things, but there is a million things to check on, [Walker], and that one slipped through. There wasn’t any intention not to use [Henderson], or not to incorporate him, but we needed the technology before doing and I am truly sorry and we are writing a letter of apology to him today.”

The entire interview reads like a parent chiding a troublesome child, or a dog owner rubbing his pet’s nose in its waste to housebreak it. Walker keeps asserting that he’s simply trying to get to the “truth” of what happened with Godus and Molyneux keeps telling him, over and over again, that he failed, that he should have done better, and that he wishes he could have done better. And now Molyneux has told The Guardian that he will no longer speak with the press anymore.

“The only answer is for me to retreat. I love my games and I love sharing them with people. It’s this amazing incredible thing I get to do with my life, creating ideas and sharing them with people. The problem is, it just hasn’t worked.”

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Every issue in the video game industry, to the press and the enthusiast crowd, feels like the most important issue in the world. From the failed launch of a game like Assassin’s Creed Unity or Halo: Master Chief Collection, to the failed ambitions of a game like Destiny, to the questionable DLC practices of a game like Evolve, we wrap ourselves up in these issues so tightly that we cannot step back and see them for what they are: insignificant.

If a person were to interview former Vice President Dick Cheney about his authorization of illegal and inhumane practices of torture and mutilation and about all the lies told to the American public to fuel a war fought on false pretenses, an opening question in the tone of “do you think that you’re a pathological liar?” is more appropriate and earned (although even still in poor taste). But when a person interviews a man who just gets too excited about the grand ideas he has for video games meant to delight his fans, it’s simply not appropriate to start off asking if he has a mental disorder.

Molyneux, for all his failures, has always come across as a man who means well and takes his creative failures in stride. He is willing to admit his mistakes, even if he has trouble not repeating them. He sees potential in the interactive medium and strives to push forward; failure is a simple reality of that process. Even that parody Twitter account has in itself spawned a game jam that inspires developers to produce games outside their comfort zones and explore what more can be done with the medium.

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Image credit: 2 Player Productions

Simply put, the games media’s response to Molyneux’s failed ambitions with Godus is disheartening and frustrating. We ask our game creators to take risks and chances and we tell them it’s OK to fail — that we’d prefer them to try something new and bold and fail in the process rather than succeed at the same old song and dance — but when they do, we crucify them for it. Walker acknowledges in the interview that people are flawed, that no one is infallible, yet nailed Molyneux to the cross again and again over the course of the hour-and-fifteen-minutes interview.

Fez creator Phil Fish, while certainly a polarizing figure in his own right, similarly grew so fed up with the toxic attitude that seeps through the games industry like a cancer that he canceled Fez II and cashed out completely.

There’s an undercurrent of a perceived sense of justice in the gaming world that is undeserved and unhealthy for creators and fans. We are not dealing with criminals or crooked politicians here; these are artists. Sometimes there will be mistakes, there will be unethical business practices, and there will even be games that failed to meet their creator’s lofty promises, but we are still talking about video games — about entertainment — and that cannot be emphasized enough.