“What your article says is right. We were not prepared for the numbers that hit our app.
"I can be as proud as I like about how hard people have worked and how quickly they’ve implemented a completely new server system – it’s miraculous – but at the end of the day I have to put my hand on my heart and say ‘it’s not good enough’. And it isn’t good enough.”
That was the admission of a clearly quite horrifically tired Peter Molyneux on the phone to MCV this afternoon. It comes in response to this article, published by MCV yesterday.
But don’t be surprised. This is Peter Molyneux. He’s famous for his honesty, and that applies equally when critiquing himself. Moreso, perhaps.
So, horrifically tired then. Why’s that? That’s because Peter and his team at 22Cans have been working 20-hour days trying to fix Curiosity. The problem is quite simple – they severely underestimated how many people would in fact be curious. They hit the upper end of their long-term user expectations in the first hour.
“A tiny little studio from Guilford – how were we to know?” he asks. “20,000 people trying to tap simultaneously is a unique problem that I’ve never faced before. We’ve got to use the technology in this in another game and that’s going to be out very soon and we couldn’t get away with this level of service for sure. But we’ve learnt through a baptism of fire what we did wrong and that’s part of the experiment.”
MCV suggests that Peter Molyneux underestimated the appeal of Peter Molyneux. He doesn’t say anything, but we can tell he thinks we’re just being kind.
THAT’S Peter Molyneux. Outspoken, ambitious, visionary, but never ever arrogant. That imploring grin and those enthused hand gestures are completely genuine. That’s Peter Molyneux.
The 22Cans team are not working around the clock to fix Curiosity to try and save face. It’s got nothing to do with protecting, or even repairing, reputations. It’s purely because they want Curiosity to be all that it can be. And that starts with a working cube.
“Your piece was a fair article and it was a fair statement,” he reiterates. “It’s a question that has to be asked – how prepared were we for releasing Curiosity and should it have been released? That’s a fair and justifiable question. Ultimately I’ve had to say that it’s had a lot of problems and if I were critiquing myself I would say not.
“There are excuses, maybe understandable excuses, but it’s just not good enough, it really isn’t. And that’s one of the lessons we’ve learnt.”
Peter speaks slowly throughout our phone chat, but that’s not because he’s premeditating. This isn’t a damage limitation exercise. It’s because his burning desire to put everything right is having to compete with total exhaustion. But the Peter we know is alive and well.
“The original plan was to release Curiosity on Wednesday and have outbig super announcement on the Friday and we were just waiting for this huge announcement about what happens next but we can’t do it until we get this right,” he explained.
“We’ve got so many delightful charming moments coming up. I’m on the point of tears now just thinking about it. It is a magical thing. We’ve got all these plans – slight subtle rule changes, there are psychological experiments in there, we’ve got brand new features ready to roll out but it’s insane for us to do that while we’ve got this massive server issue. We’ve got all this stuff ready to go but we’re just not ready to go on it.”
Curiosity users today were prompted with a new pop-up telling them to re-log into Facebook to regain all of the coins that have been lost amongst the problems. But there’s he next problem – some of those who did so found that they had now lost all of their coins.
“It may sound strange to say but Curiosity is quite robust,” Peter asserts. “It doesn’t crash, per se. The actual client stuff works quite well. But the problem is all the server-based stuff. It’s really, really problematic.
“But we can solve the server issue. We had one server – we now have 15 servers. We can double, triple, quadruple – we could use every server London’s got. It’s getting a bit scary. You pay for the server and you pay for the data and we’re not quite sure how much that will cost us. We’re working on that now.
“We’ve got something like 2TB of information to trawl through. The big problem now is people’s coins. A percentage of people, and we don’t understand why, have lost their gold coins. It’s heart breaking. Your coins are in this 2TB of information. It’s so vast that even making a query on the information takes a long time. The coders are now starting to focus on this now. We’re pretty hopeful we’ll be able to get them back.”
Then of course there’s the issue of donations. When the extent of Curiosity’s server requirements became apparent, a donate button appeared on the 22Cans website. A studio struggling to meet the public’s expectations, turning to its fans for cash? MCV was one of many to question the decision. But, hand on heart, we admit our concerns were poorly judged.
“I was talking on Twitter and mentioned that we were probably going to need new servers. I didn’t ask for any money from anyone,” Peter explains. “Someone said ‘I really want to donate because I think you guys are doing a wonderful job’ and Dmitri saw my Twitter and said he could just put the donate button up right now.
“It was never part of the plan and we’ve never begged for money. We have a monetisation strategy. We’ve had £700 donated which is great but we haven’t promoted that in any way – it was just a reaction. It was maybe a slightly schoolboy thing to do.”
You know what? It really wasn’t. People wanted to help 22Cans realise its vision. And the studio was perfectly right to let them.
There’s one more sticky issue to face before Peter gets back to work, however: willies. Tonnes of them. All over the cube.
“I mean, the number of willies on the cube is enormous,” he tells us. “That’s something we didn’t think to count in the analytics. But what’s more incredible is that people turn them into these most incredible pictures. It’s amazing how creative people are in turning willies into something else.”
That’s just one of many incredible things about Curiosity.
It would be fine if the Curiosity experiment fails because people lose interest or don’t like it or decide it’s not something they want to partake in. But it would be a crime for such a unique vision and ambitious endeavour to be betrayed by the technology that powers it.
If there’s one thing MCV urges you to take away from this piece it’s this – Peter’s not going to give up on Curiosity. Special things do lie ahead. And we’re going to be there to see them.