Home > Life > In defense of Peter Molyneux and the so-called Godus scandal

In defense of Peter Molyneux and the so-called Godus scandal

February 15, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

If you don’t know about Peter Molyneux, his background or what has happened lately, this post might seem odd. He most certainly doesn’t use Delphi or Smart Mobile Studio (as far as I know), so what exactly does Peter Molyneux have to do with my blog? Well, as an old Amiga developer the name Peter Molyneux is practically a household name where I come from.

To make a long story short, Peter Molyneux is a game developer. He started back in the 90’s with Bullfrog Software, knocking out games like Populous for the 16 bit Amiga and Atari computers. In fact, he is probably one of the most successful software developers in Europe, and his story is one that every developer, no matter what language you prefer, can learn from. Both the good parts and the negative bits (which for the past 18 months has been blown utterly out of proportions).

The past 20 years so so has been full of change for Peter. Bullfrog software was sold, and he went on to become a game publisher or architect of sorts rather than “just another recognized coder”. His latest company is called “22 cans”, and for some reason it’s become the target of scandal, slander and near suicidal mongering, demanding Peter’s head on a platter.

Godus, the re-implementation of populous of the 90's

Godus, the re-implementation of populous of the 90’s

To make a long story short:

Peter and his team went on kickstarter to raise money for a game called Godus. It’s really just a re-creation and expansion of the old Populous game – a game where you play a deity for a tribe of people, helping them and controlling their evolution. Or you can just be a complete ass-hat of a god and make their lives a living hell. The novelty of Godus over the now ancient Populous is naturally the wonderful graphics modern computers can muster up, and also the inter-connectivity we expect and enjoy on a daily basis. So the Godus game represents a huge universe where all the tribes and lands, represented by every player, is also connected.

Populous was a smash hit, side by side with Sid Meyer's products

Populous was a smash hit, side by side with Sid Meyer’s products in the 90’s

Sounds like fun? It sure does. You can expect battles, co-operation between tribes and all the mythical mayhem of becoming “the god of gods”. A blasphemy of epic proportions to all religions of the world, but peter has never bothered to much about that.

Read: Rock, Paper Shotgun interview with Monyneux here.
Read: The guardian on Peter and his “failure” here.

The great scandal

But sadly, things havent gone to well for Peter and his crew. It would seem that most of the pledgers are PC and Mac users, so they were quite disappointed when 22 cans released the mobile version first (iPad, iPhone and Android versions).

Peter Molyneux talking about his games at the Develop conference in 2010. Photograph: Develop

Peter Molyneux talking about his games at the Develop conference in 2010. Photograph: Develop

Peter then went ahead and cut down on staff, which in his own words were made up of a lot of young programmers – programmers that wanted to do something else. I can fully understand Peter on this, because it’s no use having programmers that dislike what they do. Sitting month after month coding stuff you ultimately find boring is a recipe for failure.

And what can you do? When someone sends written notification of resignation, you cant kidnap the programmers and force them to work. People come and leave all the time, that’s the truth for all software companies.

Sadly, pledgers regarded this move as a sort of “bailing out” of his promise to deliver the goods (or gods) on Kickstarter. The game is also 12 months over-due, so people immediately believe this has to do with Peter letting the younger programmers out of the project.

To make matters worse, some bloke which won a godus competition, earning the title “god of gods” wrote a heart breaking story of how he was invited to 22-cans offices, got invited out for a pub-crawl, and how Peter didnt really talk that much to him during the evening. I personally dont know what’s wrong with this player — what exactly did you expect? That Peter should have carried you on his shoulders all night? Why would you want to go to a pub with a bunch of coders you dont know anyhow. Why not just pick up the price (the name), get that in writing and go home? I sure as hell wouldnt bother going to their HQ just for a pub round to begin with.

And just when you think it cant get more complex, Peter has come up with another game project which he has allocated resources for. Once again I can completely understand why he did this, because that’s how creative people work. I am usually 2-3 titles behind my current project. So while i’m coding one project, my mind is busy designing the next release or some other piece of software I want to build.

This is no different than say, a painter allocating a day of the week to work on a second painting, even though he is hired to work 5 days on some official piece. There are 7 days a week after all, and what people do with their time is ultimately up to them. But I agree that it looks bad from the consumer point of view, where you are 1 year overdue and you start working on something else.

This last move has infuriated the hundreds of backers, who regard this as utter nonsense. The consensus now seem to be that Peter is a crook who has wasted both their time, trust and money.

Personally I feel that completely cutting Peter’s head off just because he is hyper-creative is a silly way of going about things. At worst it demonstrates the utter lack of understanding regarding software production, creativity and motivation by the raging mass of pledgers. The world of software design and publishing is much more complex than people like to imagine.

Yes, peter should have made a bigger effort to dazzle and impress the public, keeping some key deadlines and stop the silly silent treatment. But we must remember that there are human beings behind all this.

Real life, real code

Peter has been extremely unlucky with this project. And it all has to do with time, rather than cash. Making a good game is something that takes at least 2 years of hard work — and that is the very least amount of time you need to build a polished game. Most games take between 2 – 4 years to produce, and you can expect all manner of problems along the way.

What is unfortunate is that Peter has promised a miracle. Namely to deliver the PC version in six months (!). I can fully understand his thinking, because you should imagine that with a mobile edition already out – that most of the grunt work is done and can be simply imported, adjusted and re-compiled for PC or Mac. But that has turned out to be flawed thinking. A full on PC game (and Mac game) is a completely different ballgame.

Peter should have known this because he has produced and published a wide range of titles over the past 20 years.

Another factor that has turned bad for Peter and his team, is the new environment in which a game is produced. With kickstarter you are in effect nude and open to scrutiny by everyone backing the project. Every little detail or administrative decision is noticed, spread and picked up by people who have absolutely no context to judge weither it was right or wrong. This is not the case when producing a closed title. Peter is used to producing closed titles, which means the only scrutiny he faces are internal and hidden from sight of gamers and partners.

In Peter’s defense, just think about all the social and administrative challenges a 2-4 year programming marathon represents. Think of all those collisions that can occur within a small team during 4 years of working together. Arguments, disagreements, counter-productive slander, people quitting, people giving up on the project, illness ranging from the common cold  to on-set depression. And that’s just human side of things! Now add to this administrative challenges, shareholder meetings, advertising, press released and more. it’s a pretty daunting list of work. And this is before we throw in technical challenges and the actual coding process.


What I feel is lacking from this debate is a fair dose of trust. Peter has delivered so much software over the years that, I find it hard to believe that he would suddenly fail in doing something he has been doing for 20 years.

Trust should also be boosted by the fact that the mobile version is already out and can be bought right now, and you can even check out the pre-release on Steam.

I think that Peter made a huge mistake in his time-to-market analysis, no doubt there — but cutting his head off and turning this into a “scandal” of epic proportion is utter rubbish. It’s a game company who over-shot their release by 12 months, it’s not the end of the world. Heck, some popular titles have been 5 years in the making (2 years overdue), so this is not something new.

I for one believe in Peter. I think he will deliver — and to be frank I don’t care how he delivers, as long as he keeps his promise. Had we been talking 2-3 years overdue, then I would be disappointed, but he is only human.

Final words

Peter Molyneux is a creative human being. He is a dreamer, and like all good dreamers he spends most of the day inside his own head. Like the great thinkers of our time and the past, he is in love with the reality of thoughts and ideas.

What can appear as jumping from one idea to another, changing focus rapidly, is actually how some people navigate the creative world. This is a challenge for all programmers. You start out with one idea, this idea suddenly attract better ideas along the same lines — and before you know it, you have arrived at “a much better idea”.

This is how great things are made, by people who travel around the inner-inner reality of creativity. If you are not creative yourself, then you probably wont understand what i’m talking about.

The real scandal here is that this creative process has been exposed to the public, and trying to explain these creative discussions in financial terms can be.. well, it seems whimsical where it’s really rock solid.

I feel sad for the people who orchestrates these public witch-hunts. It’s always the same – watching a “public trial” where the verdict is decided upon long before the trial starts.

Sure, Peter should have been more professional in this matter, but he has apologized for this (ad nauseum) so why people feel they must continue to grind the bones for months on-end — well it’s just fucking stupid.

So cheer up Peter, I know you’ll get the job done. And done properly.

  1. February 16, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    I would agree for the most part. Anybody that knows PM, knows that he is notorious for his over-hype and unbelievable timelines. He was over 15 months late with Black & White, but it was still a huge seller and then his company got purchased by MS and he over-hyped Fable every release and was late every release. He was supposed to be a launch title a few times and missed the deadline so anybody who invested I would believe they would know who he was (that is why they invested) and would know his history. He does deliver, usually just not as fast as what he states and his games never truly hit the hyped featured set. Again, great games, but he does tend to over promise and under deliver from his own words and schedules.

    • Jon Lennart Aasenden
      February 17, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Exactly. And even then they should also take height for the fact that Peter is a visionary. His job is 60% vision and 40% leadership. I would like to see perhaps 60% leadership — but Peter is first and foremost an artist.

      I myself have 3 years art school, but took up programming as a means to make some money — I ended up being a full time developer instead. So I recognize how he things because thats largely how I think myself (without the hype factor, I dont have to work that hard for sales).

      But, I also agree that he should have had his eyes on the ball a lot more this time, because of the open-ness of the project and the fact that this time – it was private home owners that invested, not some big company or publisher.
      Large companies can survive a 6-12 month delay, but the guy next door will experience it as a personal betrayal rather than business.

      Either way, a full on assault and character assasination is utterly uncalled for in this case. Peter does not deserve this storm of critique.

  2. February 17, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    The main problem is that he keeps talking without an actual list of final feature. Yes, we know he is enthusiastic but he should learn control and not to promise features that he is not even sure if it will make it into the game. Thanks to this debacle the public’s trust in him has been compromised. My suggestion? Start talking about the games and its features once its in Beta (feature locked).

    • Jon Lennart Aasenden
      February 19, 2015 at 10:50 am

      He is talking ideas. That is what he do, he comes up with ideas.
      It’s the product manager’s role to concretize those ideas, put them within a time-frame and ultimately calculate a price for each feature and place that within a budget.

      Talking about possible features does not mean he is defining the outcome, it means he is simply talking about potential features and what can be achieved.
      It’s easy to think he is avoiding the question, but to be frank — i think he is so used to talking ideas that he forgets that 90% of the world are obsessed with facts rather than potentialities. I get that all the time myself, people take things i say for 100% fact, when i was actually outlining one possible outcome out of 100.

      The idea of “god game genre” is a fairly abstract field. Separating what is going on in the players mind (our translation of an activity) vs. what should go on in code can be a challenge.
      I remember I was so upset when I saw the code for CIV. Turned out the “working, please wait” message I had seen a million times, which resulted in me waiting a few seconds for each turn (very annoying in a turn based game) was a hoax (!) It was just a “sleep(2000);” call. So all those years I had imagined that the game was calculating something, turned out it was all in my head. It was a subjective trick.
      All these possible factors in a game, what should be real, what should appear to be real (or be an activity) means you have to brainstorm through a myriad of possible code-sections a day.

      Peter made the huge mistake of sharing this process. He meant only well, to include the public in his excitement, but it has somehow backfired because people have little understanding of the process. They listen to his words and think he is talking fact (!).

      In short: This is the typical “left brain verbatim vs. right brain abstract” problem we see all over the industry. I have two in my team that are verbatim thinkers, who obsess over details and expect everything people say to be “facts” rather than indicators — sometimes they waste so much time arguing over pointless details – that they themselves are the primary factor for ruining our time-sheet 🙂

      For instance, I once said “I’ll be there around 12”. To me that doesnt mean 12’oclock sharp. It means an offset from 12. It can be 15 minutes before 12, 15 minutes after, or even 20 for that matter.
      This is because as a coder I have become so used to thinking abstract and in terms of “offset” that i regard a timeline as a living line. When i shoot for a time on that line, i know that there will be factors which can affect the aim. Traffic, bad weather — and all of this can offset my aim.
      Yet what do you think happened when I got there 15 minutes passed 12? “You said you would be here 12’oclock”.. “we have been waiting here for over 15 minutes!”..

      I take for granted that people are able to factor in that life is not absolute, and that we cannot (although verbatim thinkers will try) be 100% on time every single time. Your car can break down. Snow can delay you, perhaps your kid is having a tantrum in the morning — voila, the aim is offset to the right.

      Im pretty sure that had I talked to peter, I would quickly be able to find out if he is right-brain oriented or left-brained. I dont even need to meet him, because I have seen enough of him to know that he is an uber-creative person, and as such he will regard time, space and other factors very differently from the rest of the population.

  1. February 14, 2016 at 5:28 am

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