Curiosity besieged by hackers, but the secret remains safe

The secret at the center of Peter Molyneux's experimental tapping game Curiosity isn't really the secret. It's the secret to the secret.

In November, Molyneux's newly minted development studio 22Cans launched its first Android and iOS game, a sort of interactive thought experiment that asked the world's gamers to work together to peck away at the layers of a giant virtual cube floating in a white room online.

To remove a layer of the cube, players have to tap away the roughly 100 million cubelets that make up the six sides of the cube. Under that layer, another layer.

So far the nearly 3.5 million players have managed to work their way through 129 layers, totaling almost 11 billion taps. Molyneux won't say how many layers the cube has before the center is reached. And that is the ultimate goal: the center of the cube.

One lucky player, with one surprise final tap, will remove that last cubelet on the secret last layer. What's inside the cube, Molyneux says, is "life-changingly amazing by any definition."

But that's not entirely true.

What's inside the cube, Molyneux tells Polygon, is actually a video explaining how to receive that life-altering reward.

"The video explains how to get the thing; that was our safety net, if you like, to avoid it being hacked," Molyneux says.

From the start, developers at 22Cans knew they had to prepare for potential hack attempts on their game, people trying to crack their way into the center of the cube and find the prize without playing.

So they knew they couldn't put the actual prize on the servers.

"Thank God we didn't do this, but we couldn't make them put the center of what's in the cube in the device, on the client, because hackers would have easily been able to hack that," he said. "The cube has been attacked by a lot of hackers over the past few weeks and we've defended against that.

"The golden rule is: If you put something you want to protect on the device then it is going to get hacked."

And don't worry, Molyneux reiterated, the prize isn't just a video.

"Don't think the prize is just a video of me saying, 'You've won, chaps!' in a British voice with a big thumbs-up. It's definitely a lot more meaningful than that. It's amazing and it's life-changing and I'm happy to be judged on its worth and its value."

Now that 22Cans' Godus Kickstarter has been funded, the developers are planning to refocus their energies on Curiosity for a bit, Molyneux said.

"The cube has been attacked by a lot of hackers over the past few weeks and we've defended against that."

While he's happy with how the game's been received (it's been downloaded almost 3.5 million times and has an average daily user count of 300,000), he laughs out loud at the notion of it ever making money.

The studio just turned on some options to spend real cash on in-game tools earlier this month. Molyneux says that while that has generated a significant amount of money, it's not enough to even cover the cost of running the servers.

"It wasn't designed to make money," he said. "It was designed to be an experiment and get our tech right, which it did do at enormous cost."

He said with the Kickstarter backed, the studio is now considering telling people exactly how much longer they have to work to get to the center of the cube. The announcement would be a part of this bigger social experiment that seems to fascinate Molyneux.

"What happens to people's interactions if we start saying exactly how much time is left?" he said.

When I wonder aloud if he thinks more people will show up for that final layer and a chance at being the lucky tapper to unearth the prize, Molyneux starts interviewing me.

"What do you think of those people? Are they the equivalent of city traders, waiting for us poor worker ants to do all of the hard work and then coming in at the end and sucking up all of the goodness and eventually winning? Or are they simply people who want to join in at the very end?

"It's a very interesting psychological profile about how that works. I would hope that if we said that layer is whatever layer, there would be a lot of people sitting around to see what happens at the very end.

"That's our hope."

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