Peter Molyneux (who is not from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, but is in fact from Guildford, in Surrey) is a bit of a whipping boy for gamers, many of whom think of him as all hat and no cattle (as the Americans would say). Is that reputation really deserved?
One of the things that Molyneux is, is engaging. He’s a lovely, and engaging talker, calling to mind a blend of Phil Collins, Douglas Adams, and a hint of Stephen Fry. He’s clever and passionate about what he does, and what he wants to do, and what he wishes was possible, and he positively glows with it. Screw the stand-up comics. For an evening’s entertainment, you could do far worse than listen to Molyneux kicking ideas around.
And there’s the core of the problem.
Few developers talk much about what they want to do. It’ll be ready when it’s ready. Get out of the kitchen. Even concept art usually only dribbles out of the development circuit once people are pretty sure that the concepts are actually going to make the cut.
When they do talk, they usually confine themselves to only things they’re certain will be in the final product. Molyneux’s not one of those guys. He likes to dream. He likes to wonder aloud. He listens to you when you talk to him or ask questions, and a part of his brain fizzes with ideas. Could we do this? How about if we did that? Would that even work? Wouldn’t it be awesome if it did?
And he talks about those notions as they come to him. When you’re talking to Molyneux about a game, you’re not just talking about the current game. You’re talking to him about all the games he’s going to do in the future, and a lot of games he’s not going to do, but would like to. It makes you glad to be a gamer.
Molyneux likes to tell you what he’s doing. What he’s thinking about. What he’s trying. Even if it won’t make the cut at the end of the day. Because what he’s doing excites him and it’s an exciting conversation he can have with us. He loves to come to work, and he loves to talk about work over a pint. He’s truly doing what he loves — making games — and why wouldn’t you want to talk about that with people who love games?
The problem with those maybes and might-bes and possiblys and wouldn’t-it-be-cool-ifs is that a lot of them get tangled up in our heads, and in the media. A maybe becomes a will-be. Something he’s toying with to see if it is feasible ends up getting mistaken for a promise.
And everyone beats him up afterwards because a lot of the really cool stuff that he’s talking about just isn’t in the game he’s currently working on when it comes out. Even Molyneux must bow his head to economics, finances, corporate management, SKUs and physics.
So, these days we don’t hear so much from him. He’s learned a lot of lessons about talking to us and finding out what we think and involving us in his creative process, and ultimately getting smacked around for it in the gaming press and on message boards for years after. Letting us in on his passion ironically leads to misunderstanding and misplaced disappointment.
So, when we see Molyneux abroad, it’s a quieter man who keeps most of his passion restrained.
And you know? I think we’re the ones who are poorer for it.