Game Masters: Peter Molyneux

What's the fabled game designer up to now that he's left Microsoft?

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This interview is part of GameSpot's Game Masters: Behind the Talent feature, which explores some of the biggest names in game development. The feature coincides with a new exhibition celebrating video game culture taking place at the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne, Victoria.

The exhibition showcases the work of celebrated game designers from Australia and overseas through a combination of concept art, interviews, and more than 125 playable games from the arcade era through to new releases.

"There is no end to development."--Peter Molyneux.

British game designer Peter Molyneux's projects have spanned PCs and consoles over the last 20 years, from Populous (1989), his first commercial release, to the Fable franchise (launched 2003).

Released by Molneux’s Bullfrog Studios, Populous sold four million copies and introduced players to the god game. Following Bullfrog's acquisition by Electronic Arts, during which Molyneux became vice-president for the publisher, the designer left to spearhead a new studio, Lionhead, using $6 million of his own funds to create the studio's first tile, Black & White (2001).

After shifting focus to Microsoft's Xbox console, Molyneux developed the action role-playing game Fable (2003), combining fantasy, moral choice, and plenty of humour. The same year Fable was released, Molyneux received an OBE in the British New Year’s Honours list.

Earlier this year, Molyneux quit Microsoft to start a new studio, 22 Cans. His latest project, Curiosity, deals with psychology and social media.

Check out our interview with Peter Molyneux after a few words from the man himself:

What three things does the game industry need right now that it doesn't already have?

That's a big question. The number one thing we need is a sense of unity. At the moment we don't feel like one industry: we feel like two or three. On one side you've got all the core game developers making games for consoles; on the other side you've got social games; and on the third side you have mobile games. It doesn't feel like we are coercively one industry anymore. It just worries me slightly that we're not able to join together.

Secondly, we need to recognize that we as an industry have an incredible future. If you look at how much the game industry is worth worldwide, there's a huge future there. If we have that sense of a future it will means publishers will invest more and when they invest more, it will mean innovation. The industry could always do with more innovation.

Thirdly, we need more knowledge of what the hardware manufacturers are thinking about in the next three to five years. Normally, console manufacturers tend to be really closed shop, but a lot of the innovation in games development tends to happen within the smaller developers. So we need [the console manufacturers] to include the more independent groups in some of their decisions.

The idea of the auteur has been discussed recently in the games industry. Can the gaming industry be defined by individual personalities, rather than entire companies?

Now that we are a substantial industry and there are lots of different avenues for people's creative ventures, you can start seeing that there is room for auteurs, whether they're individuals or tiny groups of people.

The huge 400-strong development teams who sit on the other end of the spectrum are of course very different to this, but essentially they're both doing the same thing: creating something that is going to entertain people. That's a fantastic sign of the future.

How are new business models like digital distribution impacting on how people get their games out there?

Existing publishers that have models which are based upon investing a lot of money in product development and then launching at retail, that world is changing very fast and its causing publishers to redefine who they are, what their role is, and what their specialty is. Along comes digital and it redefines everything. When anything changes that much, it causes a lot of opportunities and I think it's fantastic that there's this very short route between a developer and a gamer. Only goodness can come out of that.

As a game developer who has been in the industry for a very long time, what things have become easier, and what things have become harder in the last twenty or so years?

The one incredible thing that's become much, much easier is reaching people. It's much easier to reach consumers because of social networks, and digital communication as a whole. You can build teams and literally ask the gamers who like your games: "Hey, what do you think of this?"

That was impossible when I started. The only way to do that--and I tried this once--was to take an ad in the paper and ask people to write in. Now you can Tweet and ask people what they think and you can get thousands of responses. Just being able to pull people's experience is priceless. That is an incredible shortcut. That's also allowed us to find talented people--that's also become a lot easier nowadays.

But that global communication is also a double-edged sword because it leads you to a sense of confusion. There's something to be said for locking yourself away and closing all the doors and create something amazing. At the moment, you can almost ask too many questions and get too much feedback. There's no idea which you can put out there which someone won't try to shoot down. With so many games coming out every single day on a variety of formats, it doesn't feel like you can as easily go out there and find an idea that hasn't been explored before.

Back to that idea about consumer feedback, what are your thoughts on how far that can go? Should consumers be able to demand changes from game creators, if they don't like how something has been done?

There has been many times where I've watched films or read books and felt cheated at an ending. It's just today that you can say that about a computer game and then give feedback and that feedback can create a controversy.

I think that we as authors of stories and entertainment, we have to stand by our decisions and justify them and take the rough with the smooth. If people don't like it you can't just go and change it because if you have any sense of authorship, you're playing through a plan. That being said, nowadays there is no end of development anymore. You used to release a game and that was it, you were done. It was in the box. Now, you release a game, and there is this possibility and technology that allows you to change it. [In regards to the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy], BioWare are the authors, they are the creators of this world. They entertain millions of people and we have to put our trust in them. If they believe in what they did, they should stand by that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to leave Lionhead and Microsoft, all the things you achieved there, and the new direction you're taking with 22 Cans?

I love the people at Lionhead, but for me, I think the way my creative mind works best is when I'm in a small team of people just trying out insanely ambitious ideas. That's where I work best. It's not as the captain of a huge ship, but rather a nimble little sailing boat. I left because I felt Lionhead had the Fable franchise worked out, and I had all these mad crazy ideas that I wanted to experiment with and that meant finding completely new people to work with.

Not being bound by any platform or any larger corporate direction gave me the freedom to explore avenues I wouldn't have been able to explore at Microsoft. Yes, it was a hard decision to make--it's very scary out here, and I cried when I left. But as soon as I walked into my new office it felt unbelievably refreshing. I've been more creative in these last eight weeks since leaving than I have in a very long time.

Due to personal reasons, Peter Molyneux will no longer be coming to Australia to attend ACMI's Game Masters exhibition. Check ACMI for more details.

To find out more about GameSpot's Game Masters feature, visit the home page.

Read our Game Masters interview with Tim Schafer and Warren Spector.

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Discussion

62 comments
AuronAXE
AuronAXE

Peter Molyneux is not a liar. He is a visionary and unfortunately at times a underachiever. He has FANTASTIC ideas but what he wants usually just falls short. Despite that, he is a fantastic game designer and I enjoyed this interview. He'd be useful in a day where we could easily create any game idea we wanted.

Hakkology
Hakkology

Peter Molyneux has a great part to play in my childhood. I have always enjoyed his past games like Populous or Black and White. However, i never could never enjoy Fable.  It's sad to see him leave Microsoft, lets just hope its for better.

DAMSOG
DAMSOG

it will revolutionize the gaming industry......"new hats".....heard it all before Pete and no-one buys your drivel anymore.

 

awwitz
awwitz

Mr. Molyneux is a visionary. His imagination reaches high grounds and it is evident in every single game released under his supervision.

The_Gaming_Baby
The_Gaming_Baby

Peter Molyneux lied to the gaming community far too much to be considered a Gaming Master

4love10
4love10

we need a fable like the ELDERSCROLLS,

Granpire
Granpire

He's usually deluded, often misguided, and almost totally oblivious to modern game design, but you've got to hand it to him - he does make some truly unique stuff...

cybrcatter
cybrcatter

>Game Masters>Peter MolyneuxBWAHAHAA!In his own mind, perhaps.  

fanaticsm
fanaticsm

so he has made only 2 games (that i can remember), Fable and Black & White and he is considered a game master????? .......the husband and wife behind Temple Run have created more games, which have been played by waaaaaaaaaaaay more people.....they should be featured here.....and not this guy.....

Pffrbt
Pffrbt

Pretty sure Molyneux isn't celebrated so much as he's considered a big fat liar with a big mouth, big ideas, and terrible design choices.

huerito323
huerito323

I enjoyed Fable 3 a lot. Loved the choices you got to make. Don't know why people hate on it so much. I play Fable games when I just want to relax, have some laughs, and kill people who love me >:)

manicwagon
manicwagon

Oh great, Molyneux is of Microsofts leash. No one listen to a word this man says, do not give him money, do not let him into your home, he should be considered disarmed and extremely impotent.

damnstraight003
damnstraight003

Molyneux is one of those ambiguous developers whose work has really excited me at times, and really disappointed me at others. The truth is you can't please everyone, and I know that poor Molyneux's ideas are no doubt constrained in a lot of ways by what the publisher wants and demands. I'm interested to see what his next title is like, and I still look up to him for game design ideas.

Tsuchikage
Tsuchikage

I'm a big fan of Mr. Molyneux.  Look, his games don't always come out the way he initially expects them to; heck, they never do.  But, actually paying attention to the guy and listening to what he has to say, it's clear that he's a very innovative, intelligent, and passionate man.  He loves video games and always has strong opinions and thoughts on where the medium has been and where it is going.

BuBsay
BuBsay

Peter Molyneux WAS a game master, The original Black and White is still to this day completely brilliant. However, he went off the deep end after signing on with Microsoft and though he still had wonderful ideas he had terrible follow through. Even with the original Fable he promised us thousands of thing, and actually delivered on about ten.

ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

I am so sick of hearing about this has been. He's old, out of touch with gamers of this generation, and hasn't done a damn thing but make crap Fable games the last decade. We're also suck of his constant lies.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

Peter Molyneux is well-known to overpromise and underdeliver, but I challenge anyone that says he's not one of the great designers of the past twenty-five years. Dungeon Keeper, Black and White, and Fable were all ambitious games that were great in their own right, even if they failed to live up to the high bar he set for himself. Populous was, as is my understanding, the result of gameplay adapted to a programming accident rather than the realization of a preconceived vision, so I hesitate to include it among his accomplishments as a designer.

 

Still, he is one of the few developers that did and continues to take risks with novel IPs (intellectual property), concepts, and game mechanics. He's had as many if not more failures than successes, and so I applaud his ambition even if the end result fails to meet earlier promises.

 

And yes, I'm aware of the $77,000 in-game item in Curiosity (http://e3.gamespot.com/story/6381426/molyneux-unveils-curiosity-report), but if you read the logic behind it, his argument is pretty compelling, and I'm curious myself to see the results.

 

Not sure why so many comments paint him as a greedy designer, nothing he has ever done has indicated he's in this business for the money. You don't leave multiple successful businesses to start your own at great expense and risk if you're greedy. It's not like he could have known in advance that Bullfrog and Lionhead were going to be successful and sold at a profit.

 

Everything I've ever read about him indicates that he loves what he does and is genuinely interested in creating new things.

Iamshmee
Iamshmee

The thing I don't like about Peter Molyneux is they guy is totally a compulsive liar about creations he has worked on. Almost every game since Black and White has had some big lie behind it that makes it sound amazing and then you play it and it's a dumbed down version of his fib missing about 75% of what made it sound amazing. 

ArcherRO
ArcherRO

"On one side you've got all the core game developers making games for consoles."

Is the PC included in this?

Tazzman1000
Tazzman1000

Even though i think molyneux has some rediculous ideas he has made some brillient games. I spent hours playing fable and a hell of a lot more on theme park (PS1 version). But i can't help but feel that he wants gaming be like facebook or twitter, just one hugh social mess.

DarthSithari
DarthSithari

He WAS a gamemaster, until he thought for some reason that it was a good idea to milk Fable for more then it was worth.

DavidJF
DavidJF

Very inspirational! It's the same story of reaching the top too; innovation and creativity even when it doesn't feel worth it, going with your own ideas and against others pays off for many.

nate1222
nate1222

While I do feel that Molyneux gets too much hype, I also acknowledge that his most groundbreaking years weren't very hyped at all when they were happening. I also acknowledge that the "hype" started with his move to Micro$oft because M$ hypes EVERYTHING attached to THEIR brand.

 

As a creative person, I agree with two (2) of Molyneux's remarks.

 

(1) Authorship is authorship. There are stories and games and books and songs that I have felt let down by. But, I wouldn't go and tell the creators "You better make YOUR creations MY!" At that point, it stops being "their" art and becomes "my" product. At that point, it stops being ART.

 

And, as an American, I'm fully aware that the bulk of complaints [ME3], come from these very whiny, spoiled, entitled, "consumer cultured" Americans. People who treat EVERYTHING like a product that THEY should dictate. We want games to be taken seriously as art, yet we play right into the idea that they are merely consumer product. Roger Ebert probably rolled his little fat ass on the floor laughing in victory when he read about the ME3 situation. And victorious you all made the arrogant little twit. THOUSANDS of you validated into his snobbery.

 

(2) I don't feel comfortable in a highly controlled, corporatized environment. Everything becomes about "absolutes" and nothing is left to chance. And I do mean NOTHING is left to chance. If M$ cranks out Halo -you're expected to do something equally as financially ambitious. In that environment, the creative risks needed to break ground or experiment become nullified. Even if they don't pressure you...you're still gonna feel excessive amounts of pressure and you're gonna end up bending your work in the direction of your peers. At that point. it stops feeling like art and begins to feel like a very expensive assembly line.

KingofCabal
KingofCabal

Peter Molyneux is just like Steve Jobs (was) over hyped. The only difference is Jobs actually did some important things where as Molyneux has not done anything.........well accept for selfless promotion of himself.

KingofCabal
KingofCabal

Peter Molyneux?? Game Master?? Wtf?? How much did he bribe you to do this Gamespot? or mabye he offered you sexual favours?

Deadly_Nemesis
Deadly_Nemesis

Game master? what game has he created this decade that has been anything other than passable. And that was just one game.

ilantis
ilantis

Give us Cliffy B already, he's the man

adam1808
adam1808

Gaming will continue to flourish while Molyneux finds new ways to include farting and chicken dancing in his games. I love listening to Molyneux talk, that childish glee about making some damn videogames. Hope 22 Cans puts out something interesting, I can see Molyneux adapting more readily to the indie scene than someone like Jaffe whose made a similar move. Again, tis some fine content going up this week.

rabbitcancer
rabbitcancer

lol - and here I thought he was off creating his own religion: Fableology

FuriousHamst3r
FuriousHamst3r

 @manicwagon Sorry dude but that's plain mean. Peter Molyneux is one of the greates game creators of all time in my humble opinion. Loved Black & White (1 and 2) and even The Movies game. When it comes to Fable, he did promise alot of things when he started working on Fable 2 and even more for Fable 3. The original Fable (on Xbox or PC) is  still my favorite with the Lost Chapters expansion. Fable is a very original game and the story for the first and second games really were memorable. I can't wait to see what Peter MOlyneux comes up with next.

c0kemusheen
c0kemusheen

 @nate1222 You don't speak for this American when you call us spoiled, entitled or insult me with some xenophobic generalization...pathetic

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

 @nate1222 I really like your comment about entitlement, which is a new first world problem, but it's funny you say that nothing is left to chance and that creative risks are becoming nullified due to big corporations, especially this year. Big, successful corporate developers are taking bigger risks than ever with many, many new IPs and mechanics.

 

-Watch Dogs

-Dishonored

-The Secret Word

-Journey

-Beyond: Two Souls

-Tokyo Jungle

-The Last of Us

 

So while I get that many companies will milk a franchise to death, I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're not taking creative risks or breaking new ground. If anything the competition among the biggest companies for the attention of gamers is fierce, requiring that creative risks be taken.

FuriousHamst3r
FuriousHamst3r

 @KingofCabal You're full of it. Have you got any idea of what comes out of your mouth. I don't mean to be disrespectful but I can't imagine you knowing anything about the Peter Molyneux carrer, this article simply gives a breef resume of what Molyneux has brought to the game industry as a creator. He's a visionary that promises alot of features for his games, simply because he wants them in, but unfortunately not publisher can give him an infinite amount of time or money, or acces to new technology in order to implement all he wants in a game. It's a shame.

nate1222
nate1222

 @KingofCabal

 Steve Jobs was actually a lot worse: he made his millions of dollars off of the backs of Chinese sweat-shop laborers. Dude was practically the modern equivelant of a cotton plantation owner.

 

Molyneaux may seem over-hyped. But I think that has more to do with him being at Micro$oft and their desire to hype EVERYTHING associated with their company. Prior to Fable, we didn't hear that much about him.

 

I agree with that last bit about going back to smaller teams. Less stress, no big corporate masters to please, more creative control...much more human exchanges.

rilpas
rilpas

 @KingofCabal Actually Molyneux did extremely important things for gaming in the 80's and early 90's

 

namely: he's considered the father of the God genre

Minasodrom
Minasodrom

 @Bozanimal tokyo jugle is more of an arcade game, cant compare it to AAA projects like fable.

Beyond: Two Souls is not really taking any risks. game mechanics are propably the same as heavy rain (yaaaayy :)

Dishonored is GTA with turning phones off remotely (also not meant as negative as it sounds), since when is creating a sandbox game a risk.

Journey was created with a lot of creative freedom, they said they didnt have that pressure that other companies feel.

 

i admit secret world, dishonored and the last of us did take risks and sucsessfully i hope!

 

ToughCritic28
ToughCritic28

 @nate1222 Modern equivalent of a plantation owner... that's interesting.  So by that logic any company who manufactures their products outside the United States is equivalent to a slave owner as well (virtually every company in the United States does this).  Steve Jobs is a visionary who's reshaped the way we view technology and the way we interact with it.  By the way most of Apple's employees are stationed in the U.S.

 

 

nate1222
nate1222

 @rilpas

 Yeah. I think alotta gamers forget that. Ironically, Peter became "hyped" when I got with Micro$oft. Mainly because M$ hypes anything attached to their brand.

Banefire76
Banefire76

 @krishnanmc3

 Im afraid Peter's accomplishments stopped long ago and frankly he needed to step out of the industry a long time ago. All his comments now make everyone thing that he has no ideas himself but rather attaches himself to creative people yet gets the praise for thier work. No offence intended.

Iamshmee
Iamshmee

 @waffles89 He's started fresh several times over, pretty sure he's just Peter Molyneux and will do what makes him money as long as it includes lying and deception.

Minasodrom
Minasodrom

 @buccomatic a AAA game is just an expression for a big budget, mainstream commercial game

FuriousHamst3r
FuriousHamst3r

 @buccomatic Sorry mate but i dissagree  with you. Ask any serious gamer and he'll probably  cllassify Fable (if not the series, at least the original) as a AAA game.