Peter Molyneux: The Man Who Promised Too Much

Calling him "the man who promised too much", Kotaku has published a lengthy article that chronicles ex-Bullfrog and Lionhead Studios designer Peter Molyneux's controversial comments over the years and features an assortment of quotes from a number of recent and previous conversations they've had with him. They cover a lot of ground, but I'll focus in on Syndicate and Fable since they're the most pertinent:

In October of 2004, just after releasing the role-playing game Fable, Peter Molyneux posted an apology on his game studio's message boards. "If I have mentioned any feature in the past which, for whatever reason, didn't make it as I described into Fable, I apologise," he wrote. "Every feature I have ever talked about WAS in development, but not all made it."

In interviews leading up to the game, Molyneux had made ambitious promises that Fable would let you have children; that the game would span your hero's whole lifetime; that you could knock an acorn off a tree and slowly, over the course of the game, watch it grow into a tree of its own. None of those things happened.

It isn't just promises Molyneux's 20-year career in the video game industry has been a whirlwind of quotes ranging from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous. "I'd have sold my children for multi-player versions of Railroad Tycoon or Civilization," he said in a 1993 interview. "[Fable is] amazing for a role playing game, because most role playing games are shit," he said in 2007. "I don't know what [my] marital status will be if I don't make our [Godus] Kickstarter," he told Kotaku in 2012.

These statements make for splashy headlines, but to some gamers, they diminish what Molyneux has actually accomplished. Every new Molyneux quote is met with a chorus of comments from angry fans who are sick of the grand gestures, tired of the promises that never materialize. It makes you wonder: in 50 years, is that how Molyneux will be remembered? Not for his smart, critically-acclaimed games, but for the things that come out of his mouth?


"I particularly remember when [Molyneux] was talking about Syndicate, saying that the whole city is alive and everyone's got jobs," said Cooper. "And of course it wasn't that. But it was the fantasy of that. So I think that's what he's doing, is he's just creating a fantasy for the person he's talking to."

Could that be it? Could this be the explanation for Molyneux's long history of extraordinary promises? Is he just trying to evoke powerful images in our brain create the idea of a video game in hopes that the real thing will live up to that?

Video game fans do not buy ideas, of course they buy products. If someone were to purchase a Molyneux video game based on his promises, they might find themselves spending $50 or $60 on something that doesn't actually exist.

But who is buying Fable because of an acorn, or because Molyneux said it'd be the best thing ever?

"I always say, 'This game is gonna be the greatest game of all time,' because I believe that's how you should approach game development," Molyneux told me. "If you say to the team, 'Let's make a good game,' that's not enough. So do I regret those things? Yes. Should I never do them again, should I never be passionate again? In a lot of senses I'm the worst PR person in the world, because all I do is I just sit there and I just get unbelievably passionate about what I'm showing off because I love it so much, and I end up saying these things, and you know, they come across as promises or features."