Curiosity – Killed the cat?

Curiosity went live on the smartphones a few days ago. It is a well named free app/game/art installation/research project from Peter Molyneux’s new company 22Cans. The company name refers to the 22 gaming experiments that they intend to create.
I was intrigued as to what the team was going to come up with and how they would strip things right down to gaming basics but apply it to the dynamics of the devices and of social media. Being an entitled an experiment is also good because it does not set the expectation that anything will work or not, merely that it is worth a try.
Curiosity is basically a giant cube, a shared cube, a cube that each client sees in the same way. The cube is covered with millions of smaller pixel like cubes. Each player can zoom into the cube surface and tap a piece of the surface to chip it away. Underneath is another layer of the cube surface. Everyone has to join in to remove an entire multimillion piece surface with their own efforts to collaboratively clear the level and be able to start on the next one. In a giant social networked version of pass the parcel there is a secret final layer at the centre of the cube, hence the title Curiosity. There is to be one and only one winner of the information in the cube, the person to click the last ever surface cubelet on the last layer. Each layer on teh way down is a different texture and coloured picture. The first layer from Day 1 was black and shiny but was soon replaced with a green blobby type of laval lamp picture.

The basic game mechanic of tapping away with your finger tips for ages and ages, emptying areas or randomly dotting around is certainly not the most taxing game idea. It does though have the pure elements of gaming grind that you find in any RPG and in particular in MMO’s. The visuals are of course basic, a textured cube covered in deliberately wonky tiled cubelets, which you only appreciate close in.
Curiosity day 3
The game lets you play completely anonymously with your fellow tappers, or you hook to Facebook for the usual friend spamming and tracking. Each tap produces a score in the shape of coins. These coins can be amassed to use special tools like bombs to remove the surface more quickly. Save up enough and you get a range of chisels.
So all in all this seems almost completely pointless as a game, it does appeal to a certain compulsion to join in, not so much to expect to be the last person discovering the end point but to see why it is worth bothering at all. This is an intriguing introspection on Curiosity, as I am curious as to how the experiment is going and peoples motivations to try it.
This is where it is very interesting as to what 22Cans are going to find out. No doubt lots of people will try it, like any free game and have a little go. They only have to tap one cubelet away, if enough people do that the cube with be cleared. The number of layers of the cube is obviously just data, so 22Cans can do what they want, unlike pass the parcel this is not a static wrapping.
How people try and maximize their scores is interesting too. A bonus multiplier builds up as long as you are tapping and clearing at a regular rate, stop and its reset, miss and its reset. So zooming in with precision to get a large enough view of the cubelets for fingers not to miss and systemically clearing a screen offers one type of reward, zooming out and fast random scattering an area also works. I am assuming that the context and usage of each player is the sort of data being collected.

I have often pointed out that many games companies do not understand true high volume sites, with the exception of the big MMO guys. The focus on 3 player shards in games is not prepared for the massive influx of small packets of information from hundreds of thousands of people at a time. The launch of Curiosity will certain level up some sys admins. The initial experience was one of the servers being all over the place. It’s free and it’s an experiment remember, so no one should be up in arms at this.
22Cans now have some detailed massive scaling experience, assuming they did not have some already. It is also a game that is both social and anonymous, something that is in my particular area of interest. Pseudo anonymity is always intriguing and Social media can be used to provide ready and willing game players so you can work as a team despite not knowing one another well. This is sort of lacking from the cube world. There is a sense that we are, to quote a much mis-used phrase “in this together” but the sense of others is an occasional server refresh and lots of your cube face disappearing as someone else clears it. You can pay a few of your chip coins to look at friends Facebook stats, but that is mostly buried away. Again this is an experiment so I am guessing they are looking too at how many people are bothered at looking at one anthers stats 🙂
You can of course theorise as to the depth of experiment that this actually is. The fact I am bothering to write about it, to have even downloaded it may itself form a small part of some massive data gathering. The cube has the #curiosity hashtag and other text messages floating across its surface so engagement outside of the game is certainly being explored.
I will certainly be following the next 21 experiments with interest. I suspect many of them will start to cross over into some of the work I have been doing and even one of the patents 😉 as Peter and his team look at how social media can be an operating system for gameplay rather than a conduit or portal for games to be delivered into. I may have to offer them some consulting time 🙂
So get tapping, even if it is just to say how pointless it all is. Of course not tapping or bothering will be valuable data too. Yikes I am wrapping myself in a knot!
UPDATE 9/11/12
This video has appeared which is a great, and honest, behind the scenes admission of the size and scale of dealing with massive amounts of users and data with a small team. It is not a grovelling excuse or a press release it is genuine frustration and indicates the hard work and passion of the team. Keep going 22cans 🙂

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