Peter Molyneux isn’t afraid to be seen as an industry iconoclast – going against the grain with his “god game” genre fixtures Populous (1989) and Black & White (2001), and famously promising revolutionary, life-changing RPG experiences with every release of Fable during his tenure at Lionhead Studios.
Successful or not in each of his many pursuits, Molyneux’s unorthodox methods and candid criticism of industry norms have never failed in stirring up debate, forcing us to discuss the way we play games. Curiosity, his next production, will be no different.
The first title from his newly-formed studio, 22 Cans, Curiosity isn’t really a game in the sense of competition, scoring, and progressing through a story or levels. According to Molyneux’s announcement of the project in New Scientist, it’s part MMO, part psychological social experiment – one of 22 that the developer plans to release before conceiving a final title in two years.
Curiosity pits players in a small room with black cube. Everyone online in the game sees the same black cube, and it’s broken apart by chisels until the community’s compounded effort reveals the mysterious secret inside. Sound’s simple, right? Most psychology experiments do. But within the chiseling lies the chance for Molyneux to peer behind the mental process of one of gaming’s hottest issues: monetization.
Despite what Molyneux hopes to be a legion of players blindly hacking away at the cube, only one – the player who deals the final blow – will find out what’s inside. As the cube begins to shrink, microtransactions will become available allowing players to buy more powerful chisels, including one made of diamond. The diamond chisel is essentially a golden ticket. Its power virtually assures the owner of breaking open the cube, and 22 Cans will monitor how the secret spills out to the rest of the public.
It also costs $77,450 (that’s £50,000 in the British pound sterling).
Parents with credit cards on junior’s browser autofill, you’ve been warned. But Molyneux isn’t devising a petty cash-grab in exchange for a meaningless download; he seems to be making a mockery of those who do – all while learning a little about what makes us, the consumer, bite:
“It’s an insane amount of money.
“This is not a money-making exercise; it is a test about the psychology of monetization.”
A release date or platform for Curiosity hasn’t been announced, but its divulging comes just months after Peter Molyneux’s March departure of Fable developer Lionhead Studios. His 22 Cans outfit has new symbolism behind its name – the 22 micro-experiments don’t seem like a coincidence – though whether or not gamers subscribe to their unique process remains to be seen. Would someone of the means to buy the diamond chisel reflect the average gamer’s purchasing habits? What would it say if no one bought it at all?
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