Broken Promises: Peter Molyneux, Godus, and the Pitfalls of Crowd-Funding

Broken Promises: Peter Molyneux, Godus, and the Pitfalls of Crowd-Funding

Giving your money to a developer early isn't always the best idea.

People are pretty mad at Peter Molyneux today.

It started a few days ago when Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker noted that the development of Godus wasn't heading in the right direction. The game was promised as a spiritual successor to Populous, a game Molyneux himself had designed long ago. Godus was Kickstarted at the end of 2012 and at the time, developer 22Cans stated that the game would require "seven to nine months to complete." Fans pushed the total funding to £526,563, just above the original goal of £450,000.

A current look at Godus, via the Steam Community page.

Fast-forward to 2015 and Godus is still on Steam Early Access. There are 4,275 reviews of the Early Access version and only 38 percent are positive. Key developers have left the Godus team and the game is now in the hands of designer Konrad Naszynski, who slowly worked his way onto the 22Cans team simply to fix Godus. In Naszynski's frank estimation, many of the features promised on the Kickstarter page, like multiplayer mode or the persistent Hubworld, may not ever come to pass.

In an article today, our sister site Eurogamer talked to the player for whom Godus was supposed to be life changing, the winner of Molyneux' Curiosity. That young man has seen nothing from the game and 22Cans stopped contacting him only a few months into Godus' development. To cap everything off, Molyneux has already turned his attention to another game, The Trail. The veteran designer admitted recently that he wouldn't do Kickstarter at the beginning of the development process again.

A community update with the new designer of Godus.

"What I've learned is that doing Kickstarter and Steam Early Access, before you've got something which is defined and playable, is a hugely risky undertaking that can be very destructive to the final quality of the game," Molyneux told TechRadar. "There's this overwhelming urge to over-promise because it's such a harsh rule: if you're one penny short of your target then you don't get it. And of course in this instance, the behaviour is incredibly destructive, which is 'Christ, we've only got 10 days to go and we've got to make £100,000, for f**k's sake, lets just say anything'. So I'm not sure I would do that again."

Business As Usual

Project Ego didn't deliver what was promised.

What that statement doesn't cover is this is pretty standard for Molyneux. Back when Fable was Project Ego, Molyneux and Big Blue Box promised a sprawling game in which every choice mattered and was reflected on your character and the world. With other heroes are also vying to complete the quests you were undertaking and the ability to carve your name on any tree and come back years later to find your ancient writing. What we got was ultimately a great little action RPG, but it was far from what Molyneux promised. He acknowledged that himself when the game launched.

He's made similar promises with Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Syndicate Wars, and The Movies; pretty much everything he's worked on. That's Molyneux' standard operating procedure. Why? One theory put forward in a Kotaku interview with Molyneux and former co-workers is he simply dreams bigger than he can build.

The difference with Godus is Molyneux made those promises using the money of potential players.

Their Vision, Your Money

Crowdfunding, whether through Steam Early Access, KickStarter, IndieGogo, or direct funding, is a risk. Game development is a crazy risk and in the past, that risk has been borne by large publishers or the developers themselves. This is why EA, Ubisoft, and Activision stick to sequels and established names. They're safer than jumping into the deep end with a brand-new project.

Kickstarter and Early Access can deliver.

Crowdfunding has been a plus for game development, allowing smaller projects and lost genres a seat at the table. Pillars of Eternity is Obsidian's love letter to the old Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games; it's releasing in March. Larian's Divinity: Original Sin is already out and aims at a similar niche. InXile's Wasteland 2, Hardbrained Schemes' Shadowrun, Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight, Subset's FTL, and Failbetter's recently-released Sunless Sea are all a testament to the power of the Kickstarter and Early Access. The Oculus Rift wouldn't exist without Kickstarter. Crowdfunding connects developers with fervent fans, sometimes to the tune of millions in cases like Chris Roberts' Star Citizen.

The problem is using backer funding doesn't change the reality of game development. It takes time, ideas fall by the wayside, and some projects simply don't cross the finish line. Here's the cold, hard truth: only one in three Kickstarter games and one in four Steam Early Access games are delivered as promised. That's the gamble publishers have had to deal with for years, passed on to the player. Making a working game and fulfilling the promise of a specific vision can take years; not every developer is cut out to make it happen.

Yogventures, the Kickstarted title based on the popular Yogscast, was cancelled last year. Clang, a sword-fighting game made with input from author Neal Stephenson, never materialized. One Early Access title, Under the Ocean, was removed from Steam after the only programmer left the project.

Double Fine has left Spacebase behind.

Even solid developers can trip up. Double Fine released Act 1 of Broken Age, the resulting game from its Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, as promised, but Act 2 was delayed until early this year. The studio launched SpaceBase DF-9 on Steam Early Access with big plans behind it, but a year later it moved the game to full release. Fans were angry about the game moving from alpha to release without promised features, and in response, Double Fine's Tim Schafer simply stated that, "Spacebase spends more money than it brings in, and that's just not something we can afford to do any more."

Protect Yourself

In response to high-profile failures, Kickstarter updated its Terms of Use and Valve updated the developer guidelines for Steam Early Access. Even with these changes, you're still gambling with your money when you back a project on either platform. You're stating that you have enough faith in a developer or idea to potentially see that money burned away in a puff of smoke. This is the same judgment call you make when you pre-order a game.

When you pony up that $5, $10, $20, or $60, make sure you're ready to take a chance that the final product may disappoint. Until you've read a review, seen a Twitch stream of the final product, or watched a YouTube look, you have very little idea of what you're getting into. A developer will say things during development that they may not deliver on. Sometimes development gets ahead of them, sometimes they embellish features, and sometimes they're simply lying. We here are USgamer will do our best to prevent you spending your money on tilting windmills, but you need to protect yourself as well.

Before you click that button, ask yourself if you're willing to part with that money for good. If not, you might be better off waiting.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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