Peter Molyneux: Life During And After Curiosity
Curiosity has been really popular, did you see the server problems coming?
Peter Molyneux: [Curiosity] is totally different to anything that has happened before because it’s such a live service. You can visibly see how live it is. It’s not like developing a patch for a game or a title update or something. You’ve got to fix it and you’ve got to fix it now.
Every second that you don’t fix it more people are getting frustrated and annoyed and they’re flaming you and getting angry and usually, with these sorts of things in the game’s industry you say, ‘oh, don’t worry, we’ll get a title update out to you in a couple of weeks’.
We have to do that in a couple of minutes.
That’s one thing and the other thing is, you are literally coding the beast while it’s still alive and all the changes that you make go out live and instantly people can see if it’s better or worse and it’s been an insane time it really has. It’s been the most amazing week of my life.
So here’s the thing; the whole problem was my fault really because when we were planning Curiosity I said “I can’t imagine more than 10,000 people, or maybe 50,000 people, downloading and tapping and most people will probably tap a couple of hundred times and then be done”. A lot of the architecture of our server solution was based on that and then [the team] doubled and tripled the number from my estimations to 100,000 and 150,000.
What actually happened was two terrible (and wonderful) things happened. The first terrible thing that happened was that 150,000 was achieved within 12 hours of the app being launched and the second terrible thing was that it wasn’t that people were tapping a few hundred times, but some people were tapping a few hundred thousand times.
Those two things put together and we had far, far more users than we thought plus the users were tapping for hours. Some people had marathon sprints of tapping 1.5 million taps, that’s 1.5 million presses of your finger on the pad and that’s just insane. It’s just incredible and if you can imagine, our server was there – we had one server – and we’re just a tiny little company, we’re not a mega corporation and we just had one server running.
We thought it’d be fine because with Amazon you can make the server more and more powerful and we’d do that and be fine. Well, we ran out of server power within a couple of days and that’s when the coders said ‘what we have to do is, we have to write a whole suite of code that balances the load across lots and lots of servers’. That code would normally take you weeks or even months for someone to write and they had to write it as quickly as possible because the world was realising Curiosity was slowing down.
Some people couldn’t see their taps, or they weren’t registering so every second that passed the problem was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. The number of people waiting at the door to get in and register was getting more and more, the number of taps that hadn’t been registered by the server was getting bigger and it was just insane.
At four thirty this morning we finished our solution and launched it and so the service is a lot better. Now we’ve got this scary thing were we can scale up the number of servers we’ve got and each one of these servers costs hundred and hundreds of pounds, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, and we’re climbing towards well over 2 million people on the cube now, which is amazing and it hasn’t even been featured in any Apple promotion. We’ve not paid for customers, these are people who have just discovered it.
If it goes up to 10 million – God knows – it could be a fortune! It’s just insane; this is an insane world we live in.
Yes, some people have been quite rude on Curiosity.
Were you surpised by the number of people signing on to Curiosity?
This isn’t me hyping it, but I haven’t done anything. The only way I’ve communicated – and this is only the second interview I’ve done since launch – is just by tweeting. It’s being discovered virally and it was just supposed to be an experiment! We were just supposed to experiment with our tech and we thought a few industry people would find it fascinating. The theory that I had was would the power of curiosity be enough to drive people on and the power of realising that it’s you and a lot of people doing something together.
I always thought we would start off really simply and with the tools in the shop I could control the price and the power of the tools and I could then dictate the speed. What I was most scared about was that this huge task would take a very, very long time and for 10,000 people it would take an insanely long time. It’s only since 4.30 [am] we’ve had almost 30%-40% of the cube removed in six hours.
Is that in total?
That’s one single surface, so I predict that this surface will go in about 12 hours. We’re going to start chewing through the surfaces now. The most exciting thing for me is when people start getting to the centre. The whole point of this is that you are working towards something and what is inside is amazing and I can’t wait for the reaction of the world.
What do you think the reaction will be to what’s inside the cube?
I think it’s going to cause a lot of debate and like everything we do, or that I do, there will be some people that think it is everything that I said it was, which I’ve only said two things: it’s amazing and it’s life changing. I think empirically, and you can measure the life-changing capacity of it and it is life changing, but whenever I say anything in the press, whether it’s something from Fable or something from my past it always promotes a lot of positive and negative reactions.
But, I don’t think anyone could argue that it’s not amazing and unique and life changing.
What lessons are you learning from Curiosity and how are you going to apply them in your next game?
We’ve got this big problem. We’ve got this big, big announcement of what happens next, which was supposed to happen last week, but it would be insane for us to announce that until we’ve fixed the problems with Curiosity. I think people would turn around and say ‘for f***s sake! Stop pissing around with something else, just get that crap working’. So we’re waiting to announce the next thing that we’re doing and I’ve said when we have 24 hours without any serious problems, then we’ll make that announcement – it could be tomorrow.
A couple of days ago we were on the cube and we were tweeting and someone came back on one of the tweets and said that they really wanted to donate to the cube. So we put a donate button on there and suddenly it’s a huge issue and the press are writing articles about it and we were just saying if you want to donate here’s the button.
I’ve been terrified to go onto the internet and talk to anyone but it’s just an amazing thing.
Did you anticipate people using Curiosity to post messages and create rude drawings?
It is something that we knew that we would have and the full joy and dream of that is that you can tap with other people and that’s what we’re trying to get and patch. So that when you tap, you can see someone else tap with you – that’s where we’re trying to aim for. That’s really what I wanted to experiment with. Given people’s really limited way of communicating, and they can only communicate through their taps, what would happen if everyone came together and did things together.
Already we can see some really interesting psychological behaviour. You see that there’re a lot of willies that appear on the cube. Every time a surface gets cleared then willy drawers come in and their willies are getting bigger and they’re getting more realistic and they’re starting to spurt DNA all over the cube and stuff like that.
You can find all sorts of amazing creations on Curiosity’s surface.
It’s funny, but what’s amazing then is how everyone else either comes and changes the willy, make it bigger or turn it into something else like the face of a dog or they’ll blot it out. And it’s such a temporal art form; it’s like a big white wall in a city that allows people to put their own stamp on it. It is incredible to see all that happen.
What I thought would happen is people would start to respect people’s hard work. So, someone today, within the last hour, drew a charming little football pitch and then other people started adding little players, someone added in a stadium, one put a little Wembley sign up. It was incredibly co-operative art and there’s nothing that’s been like this.
Could you have ever made anything like Curiosity at Microsoft?
No, it’d be out of the question. I can’t imagine what people would say and not just Microsoft, any publisher. Me saying ‘hey, can you give us the money to make a big black cube in a white room?’ Actually, I’ve got this parody character called PeterMolydeux and he did this brilliant video of what the cube would be like if it had been published by Microsoft and it was just fantastic and exactly what it would be.
What we want to do now is fix some of the bugs and we’ve got some new features in our pockets that we want to start adding in and some of these are really exciting in the way that they change the feel of the experiment.
Is this really going to be your last game?
Well, that was kind of slightly misinterpreted. In that, I retire when I die and I just can’t imagine me living much longer given the amount of abuse I give my body. But, the reason I said it was the last game, now when you release a game, as you can see with Curiosity, you don’t release it and move on to the next game. You release it and then change it and enhance it and improve it and adapt it and so you can think of a game lasting maybe years and what you shouldn’t do is get obsessed about something different. You should be obsessed with what you’re working on.
This what I want to try out; how can I change Curiosity to surprise and delight people. The experience we have now is at its most basic, you just tap and that’s it. How can we change that and adapt that and if we’re learning from that and experimenting with that is an amazing ability to see what works and what doesn’t for the ultimate game that we’re working towards.
You can download Curiosity for Apple and Android and be in with a chance of finding out what’s inside the cube.