Molyneux challenges developers to think differently in Unite keynote

Peter Molynex gave the keynote presentation yesterday at Unite 2012, in which he discussed leaving Microsoft and Lionhead Studios, thinking differently, and the challenges and opportunities in the expanding video game industry.

Peter Molynex gave the keynote presentation yesterday at Unite 2012, an annual conference for Unity Engine developers, in which he discussed leaving Microsoft and Lionhead Studios, thinking differently, and the challenges and opportunities in the expanding video game industry.

Molyneux began by talking about startups, something he learned about recently when he left Microsoft and founded the independent studio 22Cans. He both loves and is intimidated by the freedom that independence affords, and he believes that taking the next evolutionary step in development requires bold moves.

"Even 20 years ago, simplicity was important…"

"One of the reasons I really wanted to leave my … place at Microsoft was to have a single idea. For me, having one idea that I and my team utterly and completely and obsessively focus on is the reason that I left," he said.

Molyneux admitted that, although he always strives to build incredible worlds, those in the final product are often less incredible than they were in his imagination. He believes that being independent, focusing on simplicity, and using emerging technologies already make today's development landscape better suited to foster innovation that can reach a wider audience in ways he's always dreamed of.

"Even 20 years ago, simplicity was important when we thought, when we were developers then, ‘Well, we’ve got about 10 minutes of someone’s time before they get bored,’" he said. "Nowadays, we’ve got it down to about a tenth of a second. That’s how long it takes for someone to press that home button and to move to something else. That’s how long it takes to move from one browser window to another. So it’s got to be simple."

Molyneux then made his case for why video games offer more than their entertainment counterparts, and made a case for the best ways to connect with players through games.

Games should be "delightful," offering an "experience that makes you giggle, in a way." That emotion can come from a wide range of activities, from bouncing a ball around on the ground to blowing people’s heads off, he said.

"Surprise has got to be at the center of everything we do," he said. He’s bored with movies and TV, and believes that the video game industry is the last industry that can surprise through direct engagement with players.

Games should also be engaging to the point that they make the outside world "go dim."

"Surprise has got to be at the center of everything we do."

For Molyneux, these descriptions transcend genres and ages. "We can steal a little bit of people’s imagination," in real time strategy games and shooters and free-to-play games, he said.

"In today’s world of mass blandness, we can make things that are unique, that have never been seen before, never been touched before," he said to the audience of developers.

That potential means that developers need to rise to the self-appointed challenge to experiment and delight gamers from five years old to 50, and that's what he's trying to do at 22Cans.

"We — or me — need to think completely differently about the problem of making games today," he said.

Even the 22Cans team is an example of Molyneux's plea to think differently. He deliberately mixed diverse experiences and backgrounds. Many people he hired came to the studio without video game experience but with plenty of energy and "fire in the belly," he said.

22Can's focus is on innovation of that kind that Molyneux believes will foster the next generation of games. He wants to experiment with simplicity, new technologies, and new mechanics. He wants to go back to basics, even challenging decades old fundamental gameplay user input conventions, and he wants other developers to join him in the pursuit.

"So often I’ve found that mistakes that I’ve made have been because you forget — and this is a terrifying thing to say — that the date is not nearly as important as what you’re making," he said. "That’s so easy to forget. And that means going in at the alpha stage … or the beta stage and saying, ‘You know what? I’m not sure that works.’"

22Cans’ first game, the soon-to-be-renamed Curiosity, is the studio's attempt to put Molyneux's theories into practice. Built in Unity, it will work on multiple platforms, offer simple gameplay, and aims to delight gamers of all ages.

Molyneux is also self-aware enough to realize that the path he's treading seems odd, and he's well aware that many who've seen the Curiosity concept think it's crazy.

"If we’re going to do something different, man, we’ve got to be crazy," he said. "Just be brave, man. "

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