Peter Molyneux hasn't really had to worry about the money needed to make games before. Back when he was making games as a smaller operation, he'd starve himself until a project was done and kick the software out into the world. Then, in his later days as a Microsoft exec, he had access to the huge coffers and resources of the company's Xbox division. He may have had to lobby internally for the cash but it's not like it wasn't there.
Now, the accomplished yet controversial game designer has to rely on the generosity and goodwill of others to get his next game made. And if the Kickstarter campaign for Godus — a re-invention of the popular god-game genre he innovated decades ago and the next title from his new, 22 Cans dev studio — doesn't get fully funded, Molyneux says his marriage might be in trouble.
"God, it's hell," the middle-aged Brit growled out at me during a phone interview earlier today. "It's hell, Evan."
"I don't know what our marital status will be if I don't make our Kickstarter," he says through some muffled laughter. "That's probably as much a worry to me as anything else."
Molyneux says that his wife has been the counterweight against his worst behavioural flaw, a lack of focus that sees him get easily distracted. She's been the one to pull him back in line with what he says have been brutal criticisms. "She's so passionate about [Godus]. She's there on all the forums . She really wants it to succeed more than any other fan, because we've talked through the game so many times. She's brutally honest with me. I've had to go foetal [position] in the corner after some conversations. But she ask the questions that are so easy to ignore or forget, like ‘Why are you doing that? I don't understand that feature.' I know she'll be reading this interview, so let me say I love her very much. My wife's been an incredible source of good, of trying to get me to focus on one thing instead of 10 things."
Right now, that one thing is getting money for Godus. Fans and industry watchers may be asking one big, possibly invasive question: why do crowdfunding at all? Why not pay for Godus himself?
After all, Molyneux's sold two of his development outfits to large mega-companies. First, in the mid-1990s, it was EA buying Bullfrog, the company he made Populous and Dungeon Keeper with. Then Lionhead Games — where he led the charge on Black & White and the Fable franchise — got absorbed into Microsoft more than a decade later.
Isn't he rich, then? "I am not by any measure a hugely wealthy individual. I live in a nice house. I have two cars. My son goes to a nice school. We take one holiday a year. By anybody's measure, you wouldn't call me wealthy. I think the confusion is that for every game I've done, I have received vast, huge riches of royalties from. In fact, most of the royalties from my games have gone into continuing to fund the company. And then with every company I've sold, the philosophy has been the same, that I've shared the ownership of the company with the people who are involved in it."
Molyneux says that he wasn't even a majority stakeholder with his last company. "With Lionhead, I can't remember the percentage of my share but it was way, way less than 50%. I was just the front man and I believed that the talent was the people behind the scenes. So, I'm not saying that I'm out on the streets by any means but there's a lot more wealthy people in this industry. I certainly don't have enough money to fund 22cans for all time. I've used a lot of my money to fund the company in March of this year, and to recruit probably the best team that I've ever worked with and to release Curiosity but like all resources they're finite. I think the assumption that I'm richer than Mark Zuckerberg and that we both own Europe has hurt our Kickstarter campaign."
"A lot of people think that people like myself shouldn't enter into Kickstarter, that it's only for struggling developers. We are very fortunate that I had received money to found 22Cans and we're off to a running start. But again, those resources are finite."
The Godus Kickstarter currently stands at £343,528 of its £450,000 goal, with four days to go. What happens if they hit that target? Expect periodic updates on development and a playable prototype to emerge as soon as possible. "The absolute first thing is as soon as we can, in the new year, to get this prototype out to people who've pledged and get them to play it." Then it's sifting through user data to see what terrains are toughest to sculpt, which battles and god powers are being used.
"To make this a great game, it's not down to one of my…" Molyneux paused, trying to find the right words. Clichéd, I offered? Overblown? "Yes," he said, showing some self-awareness about the way he's perceived. "It's not down to one of my clichéd, overblown promises. It's down to this simple fact. We're going to have people playing this game for months and months and months and that's what going to deliver the promise of this being the ultimate reinvention of the god game." Molyneux talks up what sounds like a Minecraft-style release where a playable alpha is live and gets tweaked with updates. "The people playing will care because it's their money."
He says that 22Cans have learned from the crippled launch of their first game, the much-hyped social experiment Curiosity: What's In the Cube? The need to scale accordingly has been pounded into them and cluster server support will be in place if they need it.
So, Peter Molyneux doesn't just need your money. If Godus becomes a reality, he sees every person that plays it as a development resource as crucial as the British pounds he's trying to amass with so little time left. He needs your time, too, and your insight. Sure, the future of his next project depends on it. But his home life may need your support too.