Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-06-01 17:35:26
Curiosity and Gaming Godhood
Was Peter Molyneux's Curiosity - What's Inside the Cube? (iOS) experiment worth all of that cube tapping? Now that a week has gone by since the prize reveal, we're in a position to reflect on the implications of Bryan Henderson's victory over Curiosity and what this will mean, if anything, for gaming. The short answer is: not a lot, unless you're one of the 18,000 or so people who funded Molyneux and 22Cans' upcoming title Godus. If you take into consideration all the people who will be playing the game who didn't fund it as well, then Henderson has the chance to play God to a fair few online denizens. It isn't currently known how much creative freedom he'll actually have in doing so, but if we assume that he'll have some considerable significance in the way the game is ultimately shaped for players then we can consider the Curiosity experiment to be a reasonable success.
There are, of course, limitations to this success. If Henderson grows bored of the game after a week of playing it and stops logging on, who will his God powers pass to? As part of the prize Henderson will receive a percentage of the profits made by Godus. Assuming that he doesn't actually have to play the game in order to get money from it, there is every chance that he won't log in every day, or even every week, which could be a genuine concern for his control over the game world. In addition, given that Curiosity was hyped up so much, if playing the God in Godus isn't all that fun (or if Henderson's abilities are still fairly limited in spite of his position) then it will be difficult to see the prize as anything other than a conceptual disappointment.
Furthermore, Curiosity doesn't really mean a lot for gaming in general. While putting a single player in control of an entire game world is a relatively unprecedented thing (although this kind of idea has been attempted in various other online games and MMOs before) whether or not it will be successful is currently under dispute. The value of this prize really depends on how good of a game Godus is. If the game isn't very good (which wouldn't be impossible, given how Fable arguably went downhill under Molyneux's control) then there is no point in being the ruler of it. If players quickly stop playing the game and the servers report low numbers, there won't be any online citizens to unleash divine hell upon. And, surely, unless there are limitations imposed on Henderson, he could abuse his God powers and make the game genuinely frustrating for other players? Being God maximises the potential to troll people, after all.
As a prize, we also have to consider how much effort some people put into Curiosity for zero return. Rumours that Henderson only started playing the day before the final deadline, if true, suggest that the players who started Curiosity months ago may have been short-changed. Assuming that at least some of them will also be buying Godus, they essentially put hours into one game only to be bossed around by another player in a follow-up game. This might bother some players - everyone knew the risks going into Curiosity (it was never a secret that there could only be one winner), and yet some people are clearly dissatisfied with the structure of the game that allowed people who had only been playing during the final hour to benefit from the hours of labour put into the game by other, more devoted players.
Most of the gaming world will watch the Curiosity/Godus experiment with semi-interest. It could be a monumental step in video gaming, allowing one person to influence hundreds of others, but it is unlikely to change anything in the grand scheme of things. Too many people will consider giving one person control over other player's gaming experiences to be unfair. While many online games go to great lengths to invite fairness and equality among players, making sure that everyone plays on a level playing field, Godus is actively giving one player significantly more power than everyone else. Whether this translates into a fun gaming experience remains to be seen, and the whole thing depends on if Godus will ultimately be worth sinking the time into. There is also the potential issue of misleading players who donated to the Godus Kickstarter - if these people had known that another player would become God, they may not have been so eager to donate. After all, having Henderson in control will definitely change the game for players, and it isn't entirely fair to introduce such a massive gameplay change without informing potential donators beforehand. I'm sure Henderson is enjoying himself right now, but as for the players he'll be bossing around...I dare say we'll probably be seeing some militant anti-theists popping up in the world of Godus in the wake of the game's release.