Last Tuesday saw the iOS and Android release of Peter Molyneux's latest project, free-to-play Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? Significantly, this is the first product to come out of Molyneux's new studio, 22 Cans. In its first day of release, Curiosity saw over 150,000 users, a figure which shocked even the grandmaster of hype himself. But what's it all about? And is this high-concept initiative as innovative and exciting as its creator would have us believe, or will Molyneux's trend of diminishing popularity amidst unfulfilled promises continue?
Whilst the man's big-budget, AAA game releases have fallen short of the mark in recent years, we gamers just can't stop listening to the ramblings of gaming's equivalent of a mad scientist, and we allow him wind us up a lot more than we'd like to admit. Whatever you think of Molyneux, the man's sure to get us talking. Curiosity: What's Inside the Cube? is no different.
More social experiment than computer game, Curiosity sees players (read: lab rats) collaboratively tap away, in real-time, at a giant virtual cube, à la Pikmin. The goal is to chisel away all the layers until the centre is reached, at which point some sort of rewarding information will be revealed. Molyneux himself has promised a “life-changing experience” . Colour us cynical.
Destroying the cube's individual building blocks, or 'cubelets', nets you in-game currency to use on bombs, more effective chisels, and access to a slew of statistics. We all love stats, and the analytical side of the game is what the experiment was designed for, but the one piece of information that has so many people manically tapping at their smartphones is simply, what's at the centre? Popular theories include cash prizes, pictures of cats, and even a Half-Life 3 reveal. I can only imagine the nerd rage at the prospect of Peter Molyneux, gaming's most polarising personality, being the one to lift the lid on Valve's phantom hit. Right before we put our pre-orders in for 2020's GOTY.
But there's a creative aspect to the 'gameplay' of Curiosity too. Individual cubes can be removed to create patterns and shapes, which can be seen by other players. Interestingly, what we've seen over the past week is the conception and growth of a self-policing artistic community. Inevitably, there's been a lot of penis-drawing. We're certainly showing our childish side, and it's great. After all, the experiment's a study of human behaviour, and acting the knob is a pretty big part of that. What's more interesting, though, is that some users have taken to combating what they perceive as cyber-vandalism, changing words like 'fuck' to something less offensive. Ah, do-gooders, making the internet more cuddly, one 'puck' at a time.
Ultimately, people are playing to unmask the big secret, but just what is it that Molyneux is looking for in this blind gold rush? It's no exaggeration to say that every statistic is being tracked, ALL of them. Fable's creator wants to see what makes us tick, or rather, tap. It's an endurance test: Only one person will see the cube's contents, so why and for how long will users continue to tap away at the cube, given that it's so unlikely they'll be the one to see what's inside? Will the secret be shared on its discovery? After how long? Through what platform will the individual divulge the 'life-changing' centrepiece? And more pragmatically, will they charge for the privilege?
Incentive seems to be at the heart of the project, and it's for this reason that Molyneux and 22 Cans have been reluctant to monetise the experiment. Molyneux has been keen to stress that Curiosity, and the studio's subsequent 21 titles (yes, 21), are aimed at the study of singular elements of behaviour, and charging to participate in the experiment at the wrong time could mean risking their findings, due to financially restricting access. Interesting then, that players have the option to buy a £50,000 chisel.
As things stand, however, the studio may have little choice but to monetise the project. The team's servers have had to deal with much more traffic than anticipated, which have struggled to bear the load over the past few days, with 22 Cans' coders working marathon shifts to cope with demand. Donations are being accepted but it's unlikely to bring in enough money to finance any major server upgrades.
Business aside, there's something we care about a lot more than what's inside the cube. These 22 experiments will influence the development and design of what will allegedly be the studio's only full game. Whilst we can only guess as to what the nature of the game will be, I'm thinking some sort of physics-based cube manipulation game set against a backdrop of scientific experimentation? Oh wait...
Regardless of the gaming community's tentative attitude towards Molyneux, regardless of any feigned disinterest in his products, it's hard not to be intrigued by what will inevitably be a long, tumultuous journey, full of twists, towards a new game release. Whether or not it'll live up to any of the expectations set out by Mr. Molyneux remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure: We're all curious to find out.