The staff at GAME in Guildford will serve a rather surprising customer on Friday, October 29th.
They may not know who he is, but you will. It’s development legend Peter Molyneux, and he is there to buy his own video game, Fable III.
Molyneux performs this ritual every time one of his games is released. The idea is to experience his latest title through the eyes of the consumer.
“I always do the same thing,” he says. “I always go into a shop, buy my retail copy and go back and play the game. Really it is the first time I play it without writing a long list of things. And it is the first time I think about the design going forward.”
THE TRIPLE-A CLUB
Molyneux is a surprisingly critical man. Fable II is a great game, it has sold over 3.5 million units at retail and has a Metacritic score of 89. But during our interview, Molyneux highlights elements of it as ‘crap’, ‘gimmicky,’ and ‘a terrible crime’.
And he invites criticism from his fans, too. He goes on gaming forums under a pseudonym, he tells us, to spark debate. Why be so humble?
“It’s not humility,” he insists. “It’s the reality and the truth.
“I am a designer and I shouldn’t stand up and say everything is wonderful and shiny and great and we made the greatest game ever, because we didn’t. Being inspired by your mistakes is one way of breaking into that triple-A club. It will always be my consistent dream to break into that club. I’ve made a lot of good games, but never a great game.”
Never made a great game? What about Black & White? Populous? Dungeon Keeper?
“I’ve never made a game that people will put in their Top Five list of all-time greats,” he says.
“You might consider one of mine, but I don’t think you’d put it in.”
Molyneux won’t rest until he breaks into that Top Five. He keeps referencing this ‘triple-A club’ – an elite group of games that includes the likes of Halo and Call of Duty, and he wants Fable to be a part of it. To do that the game needs to sell, a lot.
“That club is five million units,” he says. “Once you can sell that many, you can get into that elite group.”
It’s unusual to hear a game designer, even a Microsoft exec, be so commercially aggressive.
But Molyneux doesn’t necessarily see a disconnect between selling a game and creating one. In fact, he has used his design skills to help drive pre-orders.
“I think I always have a marketing hat on,” he says. “These marketing guys come to us and say ‘What are you creating for the pre-order campaign’. Just creating a big weapon isn’t exciting. Everybody does that. The idea of being able to put a character you design into the game, that’s something new.
“In a way it is a marketing thing, but it’s also a design thing. What will make me pre-order? A sword that is five metres long, six metres wide and can kill everything? Or is it something which I’ve never seen before?”
Fable III is shaping up to be another cracker. Molyneux hopes he’s fixed all the things he hated about Fable II, with a clearer story and new levelling-up, menu and weapons systems.
So does that mean when he buys his retail copy of Fable III, he’ll feel he’s done enough to get into the ‘triple-A club’? Is Fable III his best game yet?
“While I’m doing the PR, absolutely it is,” he jokes. “But I’ll probably still be slagging it off in a year’s time.”
Indeed, even if Fable III is his first ‘great’ game, it will almost certainly be the worst ‘great’ game ever made. That’s just Peter Molyneux’s way.