Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Molyneux on RPG Evolution: Translated Into Old-School Gamer English

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 9, 2010

The contention that mainstream games are “evolving” immediately raises my hackles. Not that I’m against change and true improvements – not at all – but contending that the newest games are the product of evolution in gaming from past efforts  is about like saying reality shows are a product of evolution in performance media  from Shakespeare. Yeah, sure, they certainly make more money and draw bigger audience than Shakespeare would have ever dreamed, but is that evolution?

No, I’m not saying old classic games were Shakespeare. But there’s a lot of marketing time and money being spent to convince us all that the direction the mainstream biz is taking us is The One True Way. In spite of evidence to the contrary. Call me a nutcase, but I tend to think more variety, experimentation, and open-mindedness is the key to any real evolution.  I have the bizarre belief that the existence of Mass Effect 2 doesn’t preclude my enjoyment of Eschalon: Book 2.

So my comment on Twitter was that this interview with Peter Molyneux brought up some good points, but it made me feel kinda greasy afterwords. I couldn’t figure out why, other than that “evolution” thing, until I ran the interview through a Marketingspeak-to-English translator. Tuned to the snarky old-school gamer dialect. Here are the results. Errors are the fault of the translator, not me. Really:

Gamasutra: Not only is Fable “evolving,” but we’re seeing the RPG genre as a whole changing.

Molyneux: It is, it really is. We feel like the entire industry’ s kind of evolving, itself. Assuming a definition of “evolving” meaning “chasing the most profitable fad.”

Suddenly, there’s a lot of money in social gaming, and we really want to make the kind of money that Zynga is making. The new motion controllers are great gimmicks that help people forget that they are mostly playing the same re-processed games that they’ve been playing for the last decade. I think that’s all evolution. And since much of the gaming media isn’t old enough to remember anything before the Playstation 2 anymore, they aren’t complaining about lack of innovation anymore. As far as they know, this is the way it’s always been!

You know, if you don’t suck up to the lowest-common denominator as much as possible, you won’t be able to sell your game in quantities that justify these gigantic development budgets that are needed to make lots of bloom effects and to pay my bar tab. And then you die.

So we need to push ourselves and change the RPG genre and the industry. Just like eating a fine meal at a fancy restaurant, it’ll be fascinating to see what comes out the other side.

Gamasutra: So is this change because of the kewl technology in today’s hardware?

Molyneux: I think everyone is beginning to understand that it’s not about fancy graphics or better gameplay – it’s about getting players to fork over three times as much dough online as they’d ever pay for a game by itself. With out last two games, we knocked ourselves out trying to figure out how to get every XBox 360 owner in the world to buy the game twice to justify our production costs, but now we’ve hit on the secret. Make ’em keep paying for the game they are already playing!

We’re calling this a “digital relationship.” You pay us money, and we’ll have a relationship with you. Yes, I know, there’s another word for people who do that kind of thing, but we’re calling it a “digital relationship.” The best part is that we don’t even have to make it all ourselves – we can let players create the content for each other, and pay us for the privilege!

This is all Evolution. Games aren’t even going to resemble games in a few years. We’re turning these consoles into Skinner Boxes that better allow us to treat our customers as wallets with legs.

Gamasutra: You are talking about things that sound complicated. Isn’t your goal to dumb down games more so they insult everybody’s intelligence?

Molyneux: Well, yeah. So we’re making room for all this new stuff by getting rid of complicated things like “gameplay” and control schemes. It’s all about getting people into the virtual shop to spend more money. They already know how to do that, at least.

Gamasutra: Oh, yeah, learning how to play a new game really sucks. Remember when we had to do that, back before all games were identical?

Molyneux: Totally! We’re working on a control scheme that’s pretty much, “Push button to do things. Push button faster to do things more quickly.” Anybody with a pulse can do that, although we’ll dumb it down more if that proves too complicated for the imbeciles who play our games.

Gamasutra: Good, because the industry has always assumed that “complexity equals depth.”

Molyneux: Hah! I spent a ridiculous number of years making classic games that have proven the test of time and garnered tons of praise for their depth and awesomeness. And now I finally realized that there’s not nearly as much money in making those games as the ones like this that basically amount to pushing a feeder bar over and over again. Silly me!

Gamasutra: This seems to be the direction a lot of mainstream games are taking right now.

Molyneux:  They all stole the idea from me – from my Fable games. But it’s Evolution!

Gamasutra: I love the changes that dumbed-down Final Fantasy XIII that fans and many critics are complaining about. Did you do the same thing?

Molyneux: Maybe. I used to love the old Final Fantasy games, but I hate them all now. I’ve evolved. I haven’t played the new one, though, so I couldn’t possibly be stealing any ideas from it.

Gamasutra: It’s extremely simplified. You can pretty much play it in your sleep. It’s all very Evolved, you see. Except the turn-based combat. Turn-based is not on the approved Evolution list. But they make up for it by doling out the gameplay at a lethargic rate.

Molyneux: Oh, you know, that’s interesting. That reminds me of World of Warcraft. Those guys make craploads of money, too, did you know that? I want to make craploads of money like them.  But in World of Warcraft, I discovered that gameplay didn’t matter – it’s all about that feeder bar of rewards.  That inspired me.

Gamasutra: You said, “I don’t care how tedious this is; I just want the reward.” Chris Hecker spoke about the fact that, that if we keep giving rewards for actually tedious gameplay, we’re going to create a situation where gamers expect rewards and slog through tedium to get to them.

Molyneux: Yeah. Grinding is good, but you have to disguise it so people won’t realize they are totally wasting their time with your game.

Gamasutra: Didja know that sometimes RPG fans like different things at different times? And, like, we RPG fans like to explore and see new stuff while we’re grinding, just to mix things up.

Molyneaux: Duh.

But, you know, we’ve just barely figured all that out. It’s New and Evolved. Back in the old days nobody understood those things. Really!

Gamasutra: It’s like … you need some dull parts to make the action more exciting. Like how good can’t exist without evil and stuff.

Molyneux:  Did I mention we have a really evil bad guy in Fable III? No shades of gray! But then we have a twist at the end. It’s cool. It’s Art.

Gamasutra: You talked about how dumbing down games makes you sound more commercial.

Molyneaux: Duh.

I want to sell more games. I want to make it easier for anybody to play ’em so they’ll buy more of ’em. What’s wrong with that?

Gamasutra: I think people have a knee-jerk negative reaction to commercial impetus.

Molyneux: People are stupid that way.

Gamasutra: Probably because much of the time being more commercial means pandering to the lowest common denominator and in so doing scrub out the very things that made games cool and unique and loved by gamers in the first place. But, uh…. we’re totally not doing that as an industy as we Evolve. No way.

Molyneux: Oh. Right. We’re totally not doing that. Because we’re Creative and stuff.

Gamasutra: Yeah. Creative is cool.

Molyneux: Um, yeah. We’re not totally governed by market research and trend following. That would suck, right? Heh. Heh.

Filed Under: Biz, Interviews, Mainstream Games - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Milkman Dan said,

    “You pay us money, and we’ll have a relationship with you.”

    Oh God, I lost it right there…

  • Calibrator said,

    “Grinding is good” – Gordon Gekko speaking?
    If it weren’t so true I would haved laughed the whole way down.
    Oh, and I missed the trees…

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    Har, har, har! I couldn’t read the original interview because plain and lame, but now, thanks to you, I have all the meaning straight, clear in all his deep trurh. Thanks a lot!

  • Xenovore said,


    Yeah, Peter and his games used to be cool (20 years ago) but now… meh. I’d rather go take a nap than play any of his stuff; a nap’s guaranteed to be more fun.

  • Demiath said,

    While this post was an undeniably entertaining read, it also strikes me as a bit unfair and relying on assumptions I no longer share.

    In the same way that the existence of Mass Effect doesn’t preclude the Rampant Coyote’s enjoyment of Eschalon, I personally think it’s really awesome that we both have a supremely accessible, great-looking action RPG like Fable 2 and a hardcore old school turn-based RPG like Knights of the Chalice on the market at the very same time. That’s genuine diversity of a kind that simply didn’t exist 10-15 years ago.

    I currently look forward to games as different as Lionhead’s Fable 3, Spiderweb’s Avadon, Blizzard’s Diablo III, Spellbound’s Arcania, Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey III, the next Puzzle Quest title and whatever sequel Gearbox develops to Borderlands. With the exception of the inexplicable popularity of a few dreadfully boring subgenres (such as the Elder Scrolls/Fallout III type of open world games and the more shamelessly derivative MMOs out there), I’d say the RPG genre in particular has never been in better shape…

  • Demiath said,

    As a side note, I always hate it when Shakespeare is used as an example of a comparatively less commercial, money-making entertainment mogul than whoever the writer is trying to criticize. Shakespeare was the Stephen Spielberg or Michael Bay of his day; not the Berthold Brecht or Edward Albee. As a playwright the guy was obviously far more talented than the former two, but Will definitely wrote for the masses just as much as they did (the crucial thing was getting bums on seats to pay the bills, after all). To that end, he always made sure to focus on sex and/or violence as his major themes, and produced far more intentionally silly comedies and history plays (essentially glorified costume dramas in the style of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator) than he did tragedies.

    In a sense, good old Shaky’s lasting achievement is shameless populism done exactly right – something which the hopelessly obscurantist and supposedly “provocative” modern/post-modern artists of the current century would do well to remember…

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – Demiath, I share your opinion on Shakespeare. There’s an essay on Grand Text Auto that I’m particularly fond of that describes Shakespeare as the “Aaron Spelling of his day.” I wasn’t implying he was in any way less commercial – I was simply pointing out how silly it is to measure quality by commercial revenue alone.

    In most entertainment media, there’s an acknowledgment of this. Most publishers understand that there are great books, and books that allow them to keep publishing those great books. It’s not that great books can’t sell – it’s a delight when they do. Or that a movie that didn’t follow the “Hollywood Blockbuster!” formula can’t be a surprise break-out hit. It can and does happen.

    But the attitude in the mainstream gaming industry is still that EVERYTHING has to be that Hollywood blockbuster. That revenue = quality. There is definitely some truth to that idea, which is probably why it’s been so hard to shake. All other things being equal, the better-selling game is generally the one of higher quality and more universal appeal.

    As I stated – I thought there were some very good points brought up in the interview, some of which I agree with. It’s not that what he’s saying is all wrong — just that when you strip away the marketing hype, and give it the right twist, some of it sounds pretty dumb. (And yea, I have my own marketing hype I give which could be twisted the same way. I just generally try and be more generous to those giants whose shoulders I stand upon). If he was simply saying, “Wow, here’s what we’re doing, and we’ve got some really awesome ideas that are going to make this really stand out,” I’d not have had a problem with it. It’s the attitude of superiority over all that has come before and the contention of “Evolution” and is that always gets me, so I decided to have some fun with that.

  • Hajo said,

    Evolution is often pictured as a bush or tree, with many branches. Some branches end early, other grow long, some branch a lot.

    Maybe evolution is not so bad as a word, since it includes dead ends, endangered species, highly specialized species, and species which have split into hundreds of sub-species.

    That is much as we experience games today. Some big and dominant branches, some endangered ones, extinct ones, and some highly specialized ones.

    Evolution is only linear if one travels back one branch, but it splits into many branches if one starts at the root and looks forwards.

    Applying Darwins idea of the “survival of the fittest” to the companies need to earn money, their evolution branch is indeed the one to make games mass-compatible to sell as many as possible. The dumbing down and streamlining is just their response to their environmental pressure.

    But there are indie and hobby game developers who work in different environments and can follow different evolutions paths with their games.

    It seems though that the word “evolution” was taken over by marketing, and just means “one step forward” in their minds, which is good for selling stuff. But the word can cover a wider view as well.