Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? is finally coming to an end. According to 22Cans studio head Peter Molyneux, the grand social experiment has been a "fantastic success" and an enlightening learning experience, and is a vital stepping stone on the way to the company's future projects.
In six months of touchscreen-tapping fun, Curiosity players have uncovered more than 270 layers of the titular box. Now, developer 22Cans has decided to bring the game to an end: From this point forward — 11:22 a.m. ET on May 1 — the next 50 layers of the cube will be its last. Once they've been tapped away, the "life-changing" secret within will be revealed to the world.
"Enough's enough, for crying out loud," said Molyneux in a phone interview with Polygon yesterday. "It's been six months, and some people's fingers are probably bleeding from tapping so much."
The studio's second reason for closing Curiosity is that 22Cans must transition to full production on Godus, the reinvention of the god game for which the studio raised more than £525,000 on Kickstarter last fall. Molyneux said 22Cans has been building an alpha version of Godus that will be released "within a few weeks," and the team feels it's too small to continue development on both games.
According to Molyneux, Curiosity has accomplished everything 22Cans had hoped and more. In terms of sheer numbers, Curiosity has blown away the studio's expectations — it has racked up approximately 5 million downloads, 100 times the number of users 22Cans anticipated, and its daily average user number reached a peak above 800,000. The numbers exceeded 22Cans' expectations within the first three hours of release, and the developers expect the game still has a few lessons left to teach them during the race to the finish line.
"Enough's enough, for crying out loud"
Aside from being a fascinating thought experiment in and of itself, Curiosity was designed as a trial run for 22Cans in the sense that the studio wanted to make mobile games but didn't know much about the mobile space. Molyneux rattled off a list of things 22Cans had no experience with when it began development on Curiosity, including the App Store publishing process, cross-platform and multi-device gaming, cloud technology and mobile industry terminology like DAUs (daily average users), MAUs (monthly average users) and ARPU (average revenue per user).
"Let's make all those mistakes with an experiment rather than a product, so that when we release Godus, we should have weeded out all those problems," said Molyneux, describing 22Cans' thinking process in launching Curiosity as its first game. "And in that sense, Curiosity has been a fantastic success for us."
In the financial sense, it has not been successful. According to Molyneux, 22Cans' Curiosity revenue is in the "tens of thousands" of dollars, not enough to make it profitable. But that wasn't the point, he said; it accomplished what the studio wanted it to do, and that was to serve as a social experiment, technology test and learning experience.
Molyneux added that 22Cans turned down sponsorship offers from companies such as Red Bull because the studio thought the idea "went away from the experimental intent or nature of the project." According to Molyneux, any microtransactions in Curiosity — including the controversial option, included in an update last month, to pay to add instead of remove cubelets (the pieces that make up the cube) — were meant as experiments in monetization. The studio wanted to implement them and see what would happen, not necessarily make money.
The other, more interesting side to Curiosity's microtransactions — specifically, to the aforementioned option to pay to troll the user base or accelerate the cubelet removal process — is that they act as a measure of patience.
"Patience is something that we deal a lot with in computer games," Molyneux explained. "Measuring how much patience [people] have, and how many people are willing to put money down to change that patience, is fascinating."
"Measuring how much patience people have, and how many people are willing to put money down to change that patience, is fascinating"
Perhaps the most amazing thing to come out of Curiosity, according to Molyneux, is its display of humanity's capacity for communication. In a game with no story or mechanics beyond tapping on a cube with the hope of seeing what's inside, players have connected with each other in ways that run the gamut of human emotion.
Molyneux pointed out that it takes a lot of effort even to tap out one's name in cubelets, and then recounted stories of cube communication far more impressive: five marriage proposals, political statements about events like President Barack Obama's reelection and some "totally inappropriate things," too. An early layer consisted of an image of New York City, including the Twin Towers. People tapped out planes crashing into them, and others drew people jumping out of the buildings; then someone erased it all and wrote out the message "death to terrorism."
"It's supposed to be the clearest, most [pure], most primitive form of gameplay," said Molyneux. "What we've learned is, if you give people even the most primitive way to do something, and you join them together, people will find a way of communicating."
According to Molyneux, 22Cans believes that's the heart of Curiosity's legacy.
"There is a huge gold mine of undiscovered gameplay in here that we can learn from that the e-world — the Facebooks and Twitters of the world — have been using, but us in the game industry really haven't used at all yet," he explained. "And that is the ability for people to express themselves within an environment which is interesting and entertaining."
"if you give people even the most primitive way to do something, and you join them together, people will find a way of communicating"
Curiosity is also important for 22Cans' growth because it's unique, Molyneux explained. He wants the development of unique experiences to be 22Cans' raison d'être.
"There's nothing quite like [Curiosity] — nothing quite like it in execution or in philosophical terms. That's the way I want people to expect and anticipate things from 22Cans, is that we're going to give you things that you've never seen before and that you've never interacted [with] before.
"And that's exactly what Godus is," Molyneux continued. "Godus is something that has never existed before, because it encapsulates everything that we've learned from Curiosity and all the dreadful mistakes I've made in the past."