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[Interview] General: Raph Koster on the Past, Present, and Future

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe Land of AZPosts: 16,583MMORPG.COM Staff Uncommon

As the MMO gaming world moves into its middle aged period of existence, it's refreshing to talk to those who were "there when" and who can offer a unique perspective on the past and the future of online games. We spoke with Raph Koster about all of that and much more in an exclusive interview opportunity. Read on before heading to the comments.

Raph Koster started his career with LegendMUD before moving onto Ultima Online. His work has helped characterise the MMORPG genre, with Star Wars Galaxies refining the much desired “sandbox” style of play, and his frequent talks and writings on game and world design keeping even the most ardent player weak at the knees. Over his vast career, now spanning over two decades, Raph has greatly influenced the online genre: today we get to speak to him.

Read more of Adam Tingle's Raph Koster on the Past, Present, and Future.

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Associate Editor: MMORPG.com
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom

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Comments

  • falc0nfalc0n Lubbock, TXPosts: 374Member
    Wonderful interview. It was great hearing some of the behind the scenes conflicts with SWG. This man is a pioneer. Hopefully mmos can get back tothe way they were 10 years ago.

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  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,187Member Uncommon

    Excellent interview. Thanks Adam and Raph (if you even read this).  I like Mr. Koster's perspective on virtual reality and how the internet is sort of our new "mmo".

    I do agree strongly that mmos have been left behind, in a manner of speaking, in leading the virtual world experience.  I also think they've become confining and restrictive. I remember the early days, before most graphical mmos, when playing with this sort of stuff felt really "cyber punk" and cutting edge.  It did feel special.

    I would really like to see Mr. Koster engage in a new project.  I can understand why he wouldn't want to or why it might not even work the way he would want to build it, but I would love to be a part of that sort of virtual world.

    Thanks again for a great read this morning.

  • DenambrenDenambren Montreal, QCPosts: 320Member Uncommon
    <holding up a candle in the crowd to pay homage to the MMO genre's most legendary designer>
  • ZydariZydari Fort Worth, TXPosts: 84Member
    Nice article. Hope he does make another MMO someday cause he made some of the best I played.

    Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.

    Thomas Jefferson

  • GrixxittGrixxitt New Orleans, LAPosts: 543Member

    "I am unsure that if I showed up with a new MMO idea, but done in less-than-AAA graphics, that many would bite. Not for the “main” MMO audience, that is – I am sure that there are indie fringes, the kids’ market, etc, which are still open to that sort of thing. But I worry that the barrier of entry to make something is just too high. Like, I got asked a lot if I would Kickstarter a sandbox MMO. I worry I’d have to have the most successful Kickstarter in history to get enough funds for what is needed."

     

    Part of the problem with MMO's today is that they ARE made for an all-encompassing target market. When you try to please everyone you may sell plenty of boxes but your end product will always be sub-par. 

    Embrace "THE FRINGE"!!!

    In a perfect universe Mr. Koster would be able to create the game world he envisions without having to deal with all of the AAA hype and marketing crap, or dealing with the business side at all. 

    It truly is a pity that we have people with his talent waiting in the wings unable to practice his art.

    The above is my personal opinion. Anyone displaying a view contrary to my opinion is obviously WRONG and should STHU. (neener neener)

    -The MMO Forum Community

  • ignore_meignore_me Apple Valley, CAPosts: 1,987Member
    /fistpump

    Survivor of the great MMORPG Famine of 2011

  • kevinjrkevinjr Calgary, ABPosts: 20Member

    With respect for Koster and his great history of making games, his issue is (and has been) he over-thinks the industry.  

    The issues with SWG wasn't Jedi grinding or pre-generating terrain.   It was a failure to recognize the IP and build a game that appealed to that audience.  SWG was a great game if you remove the expectations of Star Wars from it.  Don't complain about pressures to be main stream when you accept to work on a main stream IP. 

    I also disagree with his issues re the barrier of entry.  He himself identified the appetite for games and a willingness to tolerate indie projects when he pointed out Minecraft.  There is a huge appetite for the type of game that Mr. Koster wants to create.  He just has to have the balls to create it.  

    Reading this (and other) articles you get a sense for how he would struggle leading a large team.  He has his way, and he almost has a disdain for the other ways.  When you are working with a big team you need to have your big principles that everyone is working towards (the non-negotiables)  and clarity to the team that they need to be bought in to those ideals or not be on the team.  But that list is the exception.  The team (and community) needs to be able to influence the rest of the game.  It is a creative process after all and the people attracted to it are creative people.  Nothing kills that type of team more then someone lacking flexibility or someone that won't listen.  

    I really hope he gets it together and does develop a mid budget quasi indie MMO.  I think the industry really needs what he brings to the table.  But less excuses, a more open mind, and a more practical approach are needed before he will be successful.  

  • VincerKadenVincerKaden Edison, NJPosts: 457Member
    Interesting interview. Hearing him say that the holocron grind from that Christmas was the start of the decline for SWG is something I subscribe to. My small squad slowly grew apart as everyone pursued their own individual goals. There was less "giving" and more "taking". SWG kept going after that, arguably stronger (but different). I stayed around for most of it, but it never could get that initial magic back for me. For all it's faults, bugs, politics and challenges, SWG - in any incarnation - is still better then anything since.

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  • NadiaNadia Canonsburg, PAPosts: 11,866Member Common

    MMORPG: Where do you think the genre should go in the future?

    Raph Koster: I took a lot of flak years ago for saying that MMO stuff was swallowing everything. But Minecraft is also a personal MMO, and Xbox Live is an MMO, and Twitter, and so on, it’s everywhere now. I think that the traditional virtual world is in a tough spot. A lot of the things that made it appealing are available in other formats now.

    So it really has to retreat to doing what it does best, doing the things that Xbox Live or a MOBA and so on can’t do. And that probably means losing audience, because the things that MMORPGs do best are more time consuming, slower paced, more immersive, than what we have gotten used to.

     

    sounds like a catch-22 image

  • tixylixtixylix gfff, TNPosts: 1,208Member Uncommon

    I haven't played an MMO I liked since Nov 15th 2005. 

    Sadly I'm still waiting.

     

     

  • FoomerangFoomerang Portland, ORPosts: 5,564Member Uncommon

    Ironic that Jedi killed a Star Wars game. I think that is testament to both the uniqueness of SWG and the oversight of Koster. Im sure he has learned his lesson.

  • ScotScot UKPosts: 5,757Member Uncommon
    Reading this article will give posters the answers to many questions they ask about; like sandbox and themepark, what's happened to MMO's, where did the innovation go and so on. Maybe I will just link them to here rather than give an individual answer from now on. :)
  • achesomaachesoma Portland, ORPosts: 1,000Member Uncommon

    Gimme a break. This is like interviewing Jim Kelly on how to win a Super Bowl. Why do people keep referring to Raph Koster as some wise, mmo prophet?  He hasn't done anything in the past 10 years.  If he's so smart why isn't he heading a dev team of a multimillion player base mmo?  

     

    As if Jedi is what killed swg lol. Yeah, the buggy, unbalanced game with lack of content had nothing to do with it. The Jedi grind was the only thing keeping a majority of the players playing.  

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  • ariestearieste toronto, ONPosts: 3,308Member Common
    Originally posted by kevinjr

    The issues with SWG wasn't Jedi grinding or pre-generating terrain.   It was a failure to recognize the IP and build a game that appealed to that audience.  SWG was a great game if you remove the expectations of Star Wars from it.  

    I disagree with you on this.  I think he's right in saying that Jedi should never have been playable in a "current timeline" star wars MMO.  I was a huge Star Wars geek at the time of SWG, having read most - if not all - available SW literature and knowing quite a bit about the world.   The way they had build the Galaxies world was much closer representation the world of Star Wars than something like SWTOR.   The fact is that there was exactly ONE Jedi in existence during that time, allowing many of them in-game would break the world - especially given that this Jedi wouldn't be balanced with the rest of the player classes.

     

    Having some Jedi as NPCs (or bosses) would have easily allowed them to incorporate them in the game without breaking the way the world works.

     

    SWG suceeded in creating the Star Wars Universe, it failed at creating the "Star Wars Movie Experience", but that wasn't (and shouldn't have ever been) the goal.    TOR succeeded in creating the latter, but created no world, it's a game that makes absolutely no sense when looked at from a multi-player perspective.  

     

    Anyhow, it's nice to hear back from Raph and to hear that he still has all the right ideas.  Hopefully the era of indie MMOs that don't suck is not far off :)

    "I’d rather work on something with great potential than on fulfilling a promise of mediocrity."

    - Raph Koster

    Tried: AO,EQ,EQ2,DAoC,SWG,AA,SB,HZ,CoX,PS,GA,TR,IV,GnH,EVE, PP,DnL,WAR,MxO,SWG,FE,VG,AoC,DDO,LoTRO,Rift,TOR,Aion,Tera,TSW,GW2,DCUO,CO,STO
    Favourites: AO,SWG,EVE,TR,LoTRO,TSW,EQ2
    Currently Playing: EQ2, Firefall

  • VincerKadenVincerKaden Edison, NJPosts: 457Member
    Originally posted by arieste
    SWG suceeded in creating the Star Wars Universe, it failed at creating the "Star Wars Movie Experience", but that wasn't (and shouldn't have ever been) the goal.    TOR succeeded in creating the latter, but created no world, it's a game that makes absolutely no sense when looked at from a multi-player perspective.  

     ...

    That is very well said. I agree completely having played both games extensively and being a fan of the IP.

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  • ariestearieste toronto, ONPosts: 3,308Member Common
    Originally posted by achesoma

     If he's so smart why isn't he heading a dev team of a multimillion player base mmo?  

    Because he's smart.    How many multi-million player base MMOs have been built in the past 5 years?

     

    Or perhaps it's because he'd rather build a good MMO than a popular one and at the moment it isn't quite possible.

    "I’d rather work on something with great potential than on fulfilling a promise of mediocrity."

    - Raph Koster

    Tried: AO,EQ,EQ2,DAoC,SWG,AA,SB,HZ,CoX,PS,GA,TR,IV,GnH,EVE, PP,DnL,WAR,MxO,SWG,FE,VG,AoC,DDO,LoTRO,Rift,TOR,Aion,Tera,TSW,GW2,DCUO,CO,STO
    Favourites: AO,SWG,EVE,TR,LoTRO,TSW,EQ2
    Currently Playing: EQ2, Firefall

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,187Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Nadia

    MMORPG: Where do you think the genre should go in the future?

    Raph Koster: I took a lot of flak years ago for saying that MMO stuff was swallowing everything. But Minecraft is also a personal MMO, and Xbox Live is an MMO, and Twitter, and so on, it’s everywhere now. I think that the traditional virtual world is in a tough spot. A lot of the things that made it appealing are available in other formats now.

    So it really has to retreat to doing what it does best, doing the things that Xbox Live or a MOBA and so on can’t do. And that probably means losing audience, because the things that MMORPGs do best are more time consuming, slower paced, more immersive, than what we have gotten used to.

     

    sounds like a catch-22 image

    I think the genre is in a sort of catch-22 like condition.  Look at "innovation and something different" as opposed to "another wow clone".  People want different, but they want it to feel familiar.  There is a lot of those types of circular problems in our genre.

    One of his points I really feel central to the stagnation of the genre is that loss of being on the forefront of something unexplored and unknown.  Logging onto an mmo or any sort of massively multiuser virtual reality had a real cyberpunk futuristic feel to it even in a fantasy setting because we were all online together.  We had never experienced that before and it really was new and amazing.  Now it's just common which is okay, but like that cartoon villain said, "When everyone is special, no one is."

    One thing I think many long time mmo vets want to experience again is that feeling of boldly going where no one has gone before; that pioneering experience of forging into the unknown.  I really don't think people are looking for the shallow old school trappings as much as they are that experience.  The problem is that the genre has left that to newer forms of social interaction and instead adopted rules and constraints about what an mmo should be.

    This is why some new games, like Destiny, where you can interact through various devices, or EQ:N where players are actually building some of the world bits, have more in common with the first mmos and muds, than any current "sandbox" or "themepark". MMOs need to find a way to push the experience to a new level. Consider why snapchat is so popular, outside of the obvious sexting angle, because people are interacting (texting, chatting, pictures) in a different way, that pushes how we traditionally thought of instant messaging.

    So it's not just that mmos have lost their slow leveling curves or the hunt for the rare item.  They've lost a big part of what drew people to logon in the first place.

  • NC-JohnNC-John burlington, WIPosts: 113Member
    Until they create a virtual world that removes all the training wheels and force the player to use creativity to survive and progress, we will see virtual treadmills that perpetuate redundancy and stagnation. We need a true virtual world, that was designed to be virtual even if we are not logged in. The problem with MMO's these days is, they're limited in scope because designers are limited in creativity.

    "Not even a cray super computer can make this game run well. Thats what happens when you code an MMO in pascal. " - miglor

  • AmarantharAmaranthar OhioPosts: 2,425Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by NC-John
    Until they create a virtual world that removes all the training wheels and force the player to use creativity to survive and progress, we will see virtual treadmills that perpetuate redundancy and stagnation. We need a true virtual world, that was designed to be virtual even if we are not logged in. The problem with MMO's these days is, they're limited in scope because designers are limited in creativity.

    I agree.

    Once upon a time....

  • ArclanArclan Chicago, ILPosts: 1,494Member Uncommon
    Thanks MMORPG for getting this interview with Raph!  Great questions, too.  Hoping Raph makes another MMO.  I agree with another poster who said Jedi should have been a select few NPCs in the game; and not a playable class. 

    Luckily, i don't need you to like me to enjoy video games. -nariusseldon.
    In F2P I think it's more a case of the game's trying to play the player's. -laserit

  • Beatnik59Beatnik59 Chicago, ILPosts: 2,225Member Uncommon

    Excellent interview with an excellent designer.

    I don't always agree with what Koster has to say, but I always respect what Koster has to say.  He's thought about this form of entertainment more than anyone.  He's in that league with Bartle and Castronova.  Thank you for doing this!

    __________________________
    "Its sad when people use religion to feel superior, its even worse to see people using a video game to do it."
    --Arcken

    "...when it comes to pimping EVE I have little restraints."
    --Hellmar, CEO of CCP.

    "It's like they took a gun, put it to their nugget sack and pulled the trigger over and over again, each time telling us how great it was that they were shooting themselves in the balls."
    --Exar_Kun on SWG's NGE

  • AmarantharAmaranthar OhioPosts: 2,425Member Uncommon

    If Raph were to do a Kickstarter, I hope he doesn't do what Richard Garriott did and start building the game based on "pay to win" from the get go.

    I'd rather see something like a subscription credit. No in-game bennies.

    Once upon a time....

  • RaphRaph MMO Designer San Diego, CAPosts: 139Member Uncommon

    The team (and community) needs to be able to influence the rest of the game.  It is a creative process after all and the people attracted to it are creative people.  Nothing kills that type of team more then someone lacking flexibility or someone that won't listen. 

    Usually, the knock is the opposite, that I listened too much to the forums while making SWG. Thanks for the variety! :)

    He hasn't done anything in the past 10 years.

    I wrote a paragraph here and deleted it :)

     

  • ClattucClattuc Alphaville, DCPosts: 163Member
    Raph is a legendary genius, but the gaming world has moved past his limitations.  The next wave of revolutionary games will come from a different direction.  I wish him all the best.
  • ajax7ajax7 Lewisville, TXPosts: 363Member

    I'd like to see Ralph make the Wheel of Time MMO simular but with improvements like he did with SWG mmo.

    Do it Ralph !!!

    Ajax

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