Gamers ignite social firestorm as developer fails to deliver—again

The video game community has turned its fury onto a new target.


Dennis Scimeca

Internet Culture

Published Feb 13, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 1:15 pm CDT

We know hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned. Now imagine what happens when a game developer literally promises to bestow virtual Godhood on a gamer and comes up empty-handed.

Peter Molyneux, creator of the successful fantasy RPG franchise Fable, is one of very few game developers historically open to unguarded interaction with the video game press. Molyneux also has a reputation for failing to deliver on grandiose promises. Both aspects of his career sparked a social media fire this week that has Molyneux reeling. 

“So I’m going to stop doing press and I’m going to stop talking about games completely,” Molyneux said in an interview with the Guardian published today. “And actually I’m only giving you this interview now in answer to this terrible and awful, emotional time over the last three days. I think honestly the only answer to this is for me to completely stop talking to the press.”

Molyneux has failed to deliver on a string of promises over his two-decade-long career in video games development. What may be the final straw for Molyneux’s fans, that is currently unfolding this week revolves around a game called Godus that was funded on Kickstarter on Dec. 21, 2012 to the tune of £526,563, or around $810,000 by today’s exchange rate. Godus was a spiritual successor to Populus, the game that made Molyneux famous and kicked off the “God game” genre.

In a game like Civilization, the player acts as a de facto monarch or president or dictator guiding the development of a civilization by building infrastructure, tending to diplomacy, and building an economy. In a God game the player also builds a society, but not through policy and government. In a game like Populous or Godus the player literally shapes the world however the player sees fit with all the virtual powers of a God, and is enabled to be as capricious as they like.

Tied to the development of Godus was an online game/marketing campaign called Curiosity that began in November 2012 and had Web users around the world tapping on a floating cube and wondering what was inside. On May 26, 2013, a teenager named Bryan Henderson “won” the Curiosity game by being the last person to tap on the cube, and revealed a video message from Peter Molyneux.

Molyneux promised that whoever discovered the center of the cube would become a “digital God,” the God of all people who would be playing Godus. “You will intrinsically decide on the rules that the game is played by,” said Molyneux, and added that whoever discovered the video would share in the profits from Godus, during their reign over the game.

Eurogamer on Wednesday ran an interview with Bryan Henderson, who 18 months later has not been delivered his digital Godhood, and also hasn’t seen a British penny from Godus profits. It turns out that Godus developer 22 Cans effectively forgot about Henderson. “We had someone here who was looking after Bryan, he left and nobody took the reigns of keeping Bryan informed and in the loop,” Molyneux told the Guardian.

Failure to deliver on a promise to a single gamer, however is nothing compared to failing to deliver to gamers writ large the promise contained within the Kickstarter for Godus, to deliver the game seven to nine months after the end of the fundraising campaign. 

Godus was released as an Early Access game on Steam—meaning players are essentially paying to become beta testers—on Sep. 13, 2013. A free version of Godus was released on iOS and Android on Aug. 7 and Nov. 27 2014 specifically, but the fate of the PC version is in dire straits. After raising around $810,000 for Godus, 22 Cans announced not only that Molyneux was passing development of the game off to someone else in his studio, but that the size of the Godus development team was being cut.

This is where the “hell hath no fury” part comes in.

Members of the video game commentariat are laying it on pretty thick.

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Moderate opinion waxes between sympathy and virtual rolling of the eyes.

And one interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun that begins with a reporter asking Peter Molyneux if he is a pathological liar is not going over well in some corners of the video game criticism world.

“I think people are just sick of hearing from me,” Molyneux tells the Guardian. “They’ve been sick of hearing from me for so many years now. You know, we’re done.” Judging by the current fracas on Twitter, we doubt it. Molyneux provides more fuel for the social media fires than most figures in video game development.

In fact, given his history of being so verbose with the press over the course of his career, Molyneux’s comments about going cold turkey on press interaction may turn out to be yet another, spectacular public claim that proves untrue in the long term. Critics will be very happy to point that out if and when Molyneux grants his next interview.

In the interim, taking a break from the press at the very least seems like a wise decision.

H/T The Guardian | Photo by Jean-Frédéric (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Feb 13, 2015, 4:31 pm CST