I reacted with surprise at his precise clairvoyance... but apparently, everyone who'd been in the shop that day had been there to buy Populous, such was the must-have appeal of the pioneering god game.
Populous was Peter Molyneux's first big hit, and the game that put him on the gaming map as something of a visionary. 26 years on, he has seemingly become the most hated man in the games industry, a "pathological liar", a breaker of promises, and the crusher of a young man's dreams.
Just what the hell happened there?
I, like many, have watched the unfolding drama - if that's even the word for the slow-motion car crash that has surrounded the Godus debacle - with mounting horror. But before we go on, here's a very quick, very broad strokes, recap in case you don't know:
- Three years ago Peter Molyneux formed development studio 22 Cans.
- 22 Cans' first game is Curosity: What's Inside The Cube, a social experiment whereby players tap on squares of a giant cube to reach the prize in the middle. The prize is said to be "life-changing".
- December 2012, 22 Cans takes to Kickstarter to raise funding for Godus, a spiritual successor to Populous. Funding of £450,000 achieved, Molyenux predicts the game will be complete within 9 months.
- May 2013, Curiosity is won by 18 year-old Bryan Henderson, from Edinburgh. His prize is to become an all-powerful god within Godus, and share in the game's profits.
- Godus is released on Steam early access as a beta.
- August 2014, a version of Godus is released as a freemium iOS title, with an Android version released the following November. But still no completed PC title.
- February 2015 all hell breaks loose. Molyneux is hauled through the gaming press and held accountable for making promises he has failed to keep, not releasing Godus when promised and is accused of shifting focus away from Godus to a new game. Also, Bryan Henderson goes public over not yet receiving his prize and being "ignored" by 22 Cans, and Molyneux announces in a series of farewell interviews that he's never speaking to the press again.
That's the very simple version. The more complex version is this: it's starting to look like Molyneux is being torn apart for sport. Of course Molyneux's Kickstarter backers have every right to be angry, and he should be held accountable for his undelivered promises - or, at least, asked what's going on. So something has gone very wrong indeed when the man who caused all this actually starts looking like the victim in the situation.
Much as it pains us to do so, we have to lay a lot of the blame for that at the feet of the online gaming press.
Somehow, in all the years I wrote Digitiser, I never met Peter Molyneux. At least, not to my knowledge.
I was once asked to tone down one of my Biffovision columns for Edge, as it was felt to be an overly harsh criticism of the man's notorious habit of failing to live up to his claims. And, frankly, I dare say I was overly harsh - such is the nature of being a columnist, that you eventually find yourself trying to polarise and provoke, Richard Littlejohn-style.
Nonetheless, given some of the boundless vitriol thrown at Molyneux over the past week, it seems a bit ridiculous now that anyone would ever try to protect his feelings. He's a right bastard, yeah?
Not knowing Molyneux personally, never having met him, I can't comment first-hand on the man himself. Many of the interviews and articles that have blown up this past week have been written by those who have, and they call his vulnerability and sincerity into question. According to some, he has a habit of portraying himself as the victim and of crying in interviews, and in more than one article the writer has raised the question of whether he was playing them.
Others, however, have simply taken his public statements - and history of failing to live up to those statements - at face value, and used that as sufficient ammunition to make wholesale judgements on his character.
Some of the rhetoric surrounding the Godus debacle has verged on the hysterical (and not the funny sort of hysterical). Some of it has felt like shameless clickbait, some of it has felt like attempts at playing the hard-hitting interviewer, but a portion of it just comes across like The Day Today's jam festival interview - not being satisfied until the subject has been broken, and admitted some sort of culpability just to get the interviewer to shut up. It's journalistic waterboarding.
There's a slightly worrying trend in the games industry to react with hysteria over every little thing, as if the slightest misstep by those in the public eye is justification enough to tear them down. Whether it's buggy game releases, journalistic integrity, or - as in this case - letting down thousands of paying supporters and a young competition winner.
Regardless, who of us would want to be Peter Molyneux right now? Whatever we've done, does anyone deserve such a wholesale assassination of character, to have their career blown out of the water, to be accused of being a deliberate, manipulative liar? What we've seen over the past week has reeked of pack mentality - the brave gladiator gouges a chunk out of his weakened opponent, and the crowd roars for more...
I don't really want to comment on Molyneux's responsibility to Bryan Henderson or his Kickstarter backers - though given the nature of crowd-funding and competitions, it's arguably a moral obligation rather than any contractual one - but I do appreciate the anger felt by those directly affected.
However, much of the anger (if you can call it that) feels more like glee, like the snickering kid who hangs around with the bullies so that he doesn't become the next target. It feels like it's coming from the spectators, or those who want to be perceived as the crusading, righteous hero, not those with a real vested, emotional stake in the situation. As much as anything, it feels, sadly, like Molyneux's perception as a rich, famous and privileged individual - whooh! He gets to stay in hotels! - is marking him out as a justified target. Let's bring the wealthy show-off down to our level, right?
And that's a shame, because it's getting in the way of Molyneux's mistakes, and any opportunity for balanced, reasoned, reporting.
In a lot of the interviews with Molyneux this week he does seem to play the victim card a little too easily.
But, then, I'm sure most of us would struggle to do otherwise when it felt - as it must do for Molyneux - like the entire world is out to persecute him.
He's been pushed to talk about being depressed, of having his career destroyed, of being shouted at by his wife and letting down his son... it's heart-breaking, frankly. Even if we pledged £30, £50, £100 to the man - is it really payment enough, to push someone to breaking point? Is that what we want in lieu of a completed version of Godus, featuring Bryan Henderson?
Maybe Molyneux is a lunatic, maybe he is a deliberate liar, a player of the press. Or maybe he's just a man who gets whipped up by his own enthusiasm, is a terrible businessman, and has bitten off more than he can chew this time, by getting funding from his fan base rather than a faceless publisher.
He has been the first to admit his mistakes, the first to apologise, the first to call himself stupid. Yes, he's done that only when faced with the accusations first-hand... but when is he supposed to do it?
IT'S A WONDERFUL THING
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back, his "finished in nine months" claim seems absurdly tight, and his £450,000 funding goal - that's nothing in terms of a creative project, and is about the budget of an episode of Mrs Brown's Boys - is piffling, in the current climate.
We can all speculate as to why this has happened, and call Molyneux's excuses into doubt, but the short of it is... we don't know. We don't know what has happened behind the scenes to cause this - something pretty serious, I'd imagine - and we don't know the steps that 22 Cans and Molyneux have tried to take to keep the project on track.
Press/developer relations or not, Molyneux is not a politician - his decisions don't affect our country, or any of us individually beyond - say - the backers of his game, who took a gamble and fear being left out of pocket without a game to justify their investment.
And yeah, it's disappointing for little Bryan Henderson too, of course. I totally get his hurt at feeling shunned.
But Molyneux is just some guy, making games, who has ballsed up... and I just look at the debate and reporting, and think... get a grip. Get over yourselves. What are you trying to prove here? How important is it? How important is he? Is this situation really serious enough to risk hurting an individual to such a degree? Has this not become hugely disproportionate to the hurt and disappointment on the other side?
As I said at the start, Molyneux is in the wrong, and I understand the anger from his supporters. But as for the rest of us... if he's stupid enough to immolate his own career, let him do it. There's good, balanced, investigative journalism, and then there's adding petrol to the pyre. WHY are we getting so angry over this, so involved, if not for sensationalist entertainment? Why does this happen time and time again in the games industry?
Is this really who we want to be?
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