In Real Life

Peter Molydeux: The Games Industry's Refreshing Breath Of Twitter Air

It is one of the most followed Twitter accounts in the gaming world and it doesn’t belong to Miyamoto, Cliffy B, or Warren Spector. With almost 15,000 followers, Molydeux (with a D) is a parody account that draws its inspiration from the overly-ambitious ideas of veteran game developer Peter Molyneux (with an N), and while it is best known for its tongue-in-cheek commentary of the games industry, Kotaku discovered that there’s much more to it than 140-character hilarity.

The Parody That Packs A Punch

While many parody accounts are run by ordinary people with a joke to make, Molydeux’s creator is a developer with roots firmly embedded in the games industry. Working as a 3D environment artist, his portfolio boasts an impressive range of titles from Gears of War to Kinectimals and Saints Row, and he’s worked on a total of 15 games across studios in three different countries.

So what’s an established game developer doing with a Peter Molyneux parody account?

“There’s just something fascinating about someone so passionate and obsessed with creating an original game design without realising how impractical it really sounds,” he says, referring to some of the ambitious ideas that Molyneux announced but was never able to see realised.

The man behind Molydeux is a surprisingly private person who chooses not to reveal his identity in interviews so as not to distract readers from the character he has created. Molydeux is funny, sometimes irreverent, often hilarious, and always providing some kind of insight through his humourous tweets – an element of seriousness can always be found amongst the silliness.

His character is a refreshing contrast to the established industry that the character pokes fun at; the fictional Molydeux is employed by a well-known studio and is essentially “trapped” by the mainstream games he works on, and can only dream of executing his crazy, innovative game ideas. It’s a story that industry outsiders find intriguing, and one that people in the industry can empathise with.

“I actually get a lot of replies from people saying my game ideas can be genuinely exciting and interesting,” he says. “Some even suggest that a developer should hire me because I come up with so many ideas on tap.”

It’s those game ideas that keep his audience hanging onto every word he tweets. In two years, he’s built up a vast library of ideas that followers hope may one day come to life in mainstream gaming. Last week, an indie developer launched the first flash game based on one of Molydeux’s ideas, amassing over 1,000 views within an hour of it being announced. One of his most popular fan requests is a regular, weekend-long game jam event, where participants work to implement game ideas from the account.

The account has outgrown any expectations its creator had, and he is beginning to transcend his own creation — followers are beginning to want to know more about the man behind Molydeux.

The Birth of Molydeux

Molydeux came into being just days after Peter Molyneux proudly introduced Kinect demo Milo to the world at 2009′s E3. The Twitter account was at first going to be a short-lived joke that its creator thought would soon run out of steam, but he found himself getting more and more immersed in the character.

“In terms of humour, [Milo]was a goldmine,” he says.

Early tweets sent up Peter Molyneux’s pride in Milo and the then-titled Natal Project. He also started coming up with witty game concepts that characterised Molydeux’s self-proclaimed visionary dream for gaming, and these ideas kept coming to him even after the Milo gags had dried up. His newfound audience was hooked.

While he initially had no goals for the account, that’s slowly changed over Molydeux’s two years of existence, thanks to its growing audience.

“Once the account reached 10,000 followers, I started to believe that I could one day potentially end up with more followers than the actual person I’m spoofing,” he says.

He now considers this his “ultimate goal” — he’s only another 10,000 followers away from accomplishing it.

Pushing Boundaries With Parody

Molydeux’s game concepts all share the idea that the potential for emotional, creative experiences in gaming is not currently being realised. Some tweets play on Peter Molyneux’s famed 2009 E3 speech about interaction and player connection. Other concepts attempt to redefine staples in gaming, and ask followers to envision the blurred boundaries between interactive entertainment and real life. It’s some pretty creative thinking for someone who says that his ideas come only “naturally” while gaming, listening to game podcasts, or reading games news sites.

“I think that most game designers can think up ideas on tap,” he says.

“But actually making them work within the context of a video game is where the real skills lie.”

“If a designer in the industry has an idea, they have to keep it top secret in case it turns out to be the studio’s next project. That’s what I love most about this account — I can just think up any idea without caring if it works or not, and instantly put it up there for thousands of people to read…”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if some professional designers are really envious of this, especially if I’m just casually sharing an idea that happens to be the core of their current multimillion-dollar project.”

We’re pretty impressed with the ingenuity of his ideas, but in true Molydeux fashion, he asks us to consider just how innovative they really are.

Goodbye, My Love, the first Molydeux-inspired game, is based on the concept of having to bid farewell to 120 relatives before a meteor destroys Earth. He says that the game is intriguing because it asks the question: what exactly is innovation in gaming, anyway?

“Something I really find funny… is that even though the intention of the original tweet was to inspire an incredibly innovative game, Goodbye, My Love essentially used the most dated gameplay out there — just moving something around the screen touching other entities,” he says.

“It shows that just because an idea sounds original, it doesn’t automatically result in original gameplay.”

The Blurred Lined Between Molyneux, Molydeux, And The Man Responsible For It All

Molydeux’s creator simultaneously works every day to further develop his character in other areas, too. Molydeux even has his own inspirations and annoyances, just like anyone else in the industry. With such a defined personality, and a name so similar to his namesake, we had to ask: Does anybody ever mistake this character for the real Peter Molyneux?

“Oh, all the time, to a point where I’m questioning if they are being serious,” he jokes.

“My idea about killing someone in one game only to see their son crying in the audience of a soccer game was met with one guy explaining how he would refuse to buy two separate games just to experience such a minor detail, and what if he didn’t even like soccer?”

While the response to his game concepts are largely amusing, he has to tread more carefully when speaking about other industry figures. The detailed characterisation is a convincing form of satire, and he maintains a careful balance between remaining sensitive to industry politics while not watering down his material.

Molydeux’s creator says that the character should be viewed as a caricature: a comical commentary on the industry rather than one industry insider’s lofty opinions. His creator is quick to emphasise that he does not share many of Molydeux’s views.

“I like to think that I’m more sceptical when looking at game ideas,” he says.

“Though I do admire Molydeux’s childlike enthusiasm that allows him to even consider ideas that others would instantly disregard.”

Molydeux has a documented dislike of games like Limbo (“Would it be so well-received if it wasn’t for the colour palette?” he scoffs), and a long-running rivalry with Cliff Bleszinki.

“I see Cliffy B as the perfect nemesis for Molydeux as he is young, hip, has lots of fans, and is making popular games that are just about aliens, so Molydeux pins him up as the downfall of gaming,” he says. “To be honest, it sort of kills me, as I love Cliffy B. It’s almost tragic that Molydeux sees him this way when in reality, he is pushing boundaries and has created some of the most copied game design mechanics we’ve seen in recent times.”

The Future And Beyond

Molydeux has recently branched out into full video pitches in a bid to ‘save’ games from the repetitive titles that populate the shelves of game retailers. The first pitch, Co-Optopus, acted as an elaborate, hand-drawn metaphor for Molydeux’s plea to fans to support innovative game design.

Molydeux says it’s about expanding the character beyond 140-character tweet limitations.

“It’s not just videos,” he says.

“It’s pictures, topics, themed weeks, questions.”

Imaginary interns have guest-starred in Molydeux’s colourful world, as has his Farmville-playing wife. His most recent theme is “Retrodeux”, in which he pitches game concepts that seek to reinvent classic games like Frogger and Pac-Man. Mixing it up keeps followers interested, he says, and keep the account from getting too stale.

It’s the element of audience participation that has kept the account going strong for two years, and Molydeux’s creator finds followers’ feedback on his ideas particularly rewarding.

“Sometimes I do come up with ideas that I have some belief in, and it’s interesting to hear people challenge those ideas or come up with a twist on them. It adds a lot more depth.”

When we ask him about the future of Peter Molydeux — both the Twitter account and the personality — he echoes his own hopefulness for an eventual game jam based on his game ideas. It’s something he’s been thinking about for awhile.

“I’d love to find some that can perfectly impersonate Molydeux and do a thirty-minute keynote every event, based on my own written material,” he says.

“Sort of like an alternative, very cult stand-up comedian.”

He is also working on his next video pitch, which is due out within the next fortnight.

“In this game, you will actually play Peter Molyneux himself, rescuing Milo from a surreal world,” he says.

“By reinventing Milo, this pitch marks a return to the very roots of the parody, where Molydeux began.”

Katie Williams is a writer and blogger. More of her interview with Molydeux will be posted on her blog soon. She can be followed on Twitter @desensitisation. Molydeux can be followed @PeterMolydeux.