Legendary game designer Peter Molyneux, creator of classics like Black & White and Fable, has taken his first foray into mobile today with Curiosity, an app for iOS and Android devices that asks the world as a collective whole to come together and work on solving a central problem – not a complicated one, mind you: users need only chip away at layers of a cube by tapping their devices. But Curiosity isn’t really a game, it’s a first step for Molyneux towards exploring the possibilities of what mobile devices can really change about game mechanics and experiences.
I spoke with Molyneux about Curiosity and he chose it as the first product to come out of 22Cans, his new independent mobile development studio.
“The concept is, ‘Is the power of Curiosity enough to drive the world?,’” Molyneux explained, describing Curiosity’s conceptual origins. “Because now, mobile connects people together in a way we’ve never been able to before to solve a mystery and the mystery is what is hidden inside this big, black cube. Initially it’s black, but as it gets chipped away, there are going to be many images that are going to be coming across the cube, but what you do essentially is just chip away. Is just the power of mystery enough to drive people to find out what’s in the center?”
And in early testing, in fact, Molyneux and his team discovered that curiosity alone actually wasn’t strong enough incentive for a large number of players, who were content to watch and wait, but not participate. There was a strong tendency for players to act as observers, letting others do the labor required to unveil the mystery at the center of the cube.
“Some people, maybe a majority of people will just look at the cube and say, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I’ll let everyone else do the hard work and then I’ll just jump back in at the end and I’ll be the one to claim the price. I’ll just sit back and watch,’” Molyneux said. ” That was a fundamental flaw because obviously, it’s empirically unfair to the people that work hard.”
To defend against this tendency, Curiosity now offers some additional complexity to motivate players who contribute, in the form of coins. The coins are earned through tapping, and operate as in-game currency, allowing players to unlock additional items that make the process of deconstructing the cube easier or faster. Molyneux says the coins opened up a lot of experimental potential in terms of game mechanics, too, since 22Cans could eventually offer them as in-app purchases in exchange for real money, or change up the rewards you can unlock with them at any time to see how game dynamics are affected.
“The other thing that’s incredible about this experience is that we have the power,” Molyneux said, detailing the dynamic mechanics of the game world. “It is kind of like a power and we could remember that this is what games and experiences are like on those. We have the power to change any aspects of the cube. We can speed it up. We can slow it down. We can add features and we can do that dynamically. So if you were tapping on the cube now, I could say, ‘Okay. I’m going to choose you and give you a bonus or change some of the rules there.’”
Estimates from the 22Cans team about how long it would take users to reach the center range from two days to a year, but personally Molyneux is hoping it’s more around the three month mark, so that users get a decent amount of play experience out of the Curiosity world, and the pay-off feels well-earned. As to what that pay-off is, Molyneux is keeping mum, and in fact says even his wife doesn’t know.
“It has to be something that you and me and journalists and consumers and the biggest tappers in the world judge as being amazing,” Molyneux said about the secret locked in the cube’s center. “It’s taken me many years to think what that could be. What is in the center of the cube is truly amazing. It’s truly unique and I believe life changing for anybody, for the one person who discovers what’s in the center of that cube.”
The reason Curiosity and 22Cans are focused on mobile are its unique benefits. They’re portable, they support persistent environments, and they’re connected to the world in a way that any other gaming platform in the past has not been. Molyneux thinks the combination is perfect for creating unique experiences, that truly change gaming paradigms.
“I think Google have done a fantastic job. Apple have done a fantastic job,” he said. ” I think games can do a fantastic job as well, and that means thinking about entertainment experiences [as opposed to traditional games], which is empirically impossible to do on consoles. I’m not saying it’s utterly impossible, but it’s incredibly hard.”
Ultimately, Curiosity is a playground of experimentation, and one that will help Molyneux and 22Cans develop more complete and rich mobile gaming experiences in the future. He said to expect announcements about future developments from the studio in the very near future, but in the meantime, there are 64 billion cubes that need chipping away (so long as you can get through to the game’s servers, which are apparently not faring well under launch window demand), and a mystery lying at their heart.