55: Raph Koster on Fire

"Unlike some high-profile thinkers, Raph Koster actually ships product. 'I do all this writing to clarify things for myself,' he says." Allen Varney interviews Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies designer, Raph Koster.

Raph Koster on Fire

I have been waiting a long time to hear what Raph had to say on the "frankenstein's monster" that SWG has become. I always felt that considering the stance he takes in many of the blogs/texts I have read of his that he is constantly striving to create the unusual, the testing, the intriguing....SWG had echoes of these ideas in it's first year.

I'm so pleased to see that his thoughts reflect what myself, and many other ex SWG players, thought. Right or wrong, SOE went for the lowest common denominator in terms of target market.....except they waited until the game was already established. I still get the feeling that SOE management didn't really think of what kind of game SWG would be....just that the greatest licence in the world would rake in the cash. Sorry to say it, but if that's the kind of game they wanted then Raph should never have been involved. Leave the basic, no-brainer games to EA, it's what they're good at!

SWG should have been the star wars playground that all us 30+ gamers wanted it to be. I look at my friends list of ex SWG players....lawyers, government workers, company directors, software designers. We were all grown ups playing at being kids again, and gladly paying our subs to do so. We were the players who, as Raph describes, had the rug pulled out from under us.

Raph, if you're reading this....thanks for speaking up on your feelings about SWG and how it's been handled.

I've played both games, UO and SWG, and now I know why they went down the drain after he left. I LOVED both those games and truly miss them, but I don't like the directions they're turning. They (Devs) seem to be listening to the vocal minority vice the silent majority. After all, why would the silent majority speak up if they're happy w/the game. I kept my subscription to SWG longer than I should have because it was Star Wars, but finally had to realize that it wasn't the game I loved from day one any longer. Same with UO. I played that one from launch as well and played that until they were ready to release the oriental version...samurai, etc... That was the straw that broke the camels back for me and most of my friends.

Ralph, if you read these replies, thank you for telling how games have been handled. I hope that future developers/designers read it as well and LEARN to not jack w/something so drastically if it's not broke. Let us know what other games/MMOGS you'll be releasing, I'll definitely try them out...as long as they're not Sony. That company has now made a habit of doing what they want vice what their customers (that pay them) want.

One consequence of wanting more innovation in games is that we have to accept that sometimes the results might not be perfect. In fact, given how life tends to work, most of the time they won't be. Both UO and SWG were like this from the beginning - risky and imperfect. Contrast this with WoW, which has about as little risk as one could take in the arena, and was executed in about as flawless a manner as possible.

In the end, I'm still more impressed with UO and SWG, and played those games for longer. But WoW is unquestionably the bigger success, and I think it shows what the 'public at large' prefers. It also shows why both UO and SWG have been trying to move themselves in that direction, as much as they can.

Personally, I look forward to seeing a game from Raph that isn't constrained by a license, and isn't aiming for multiple hundreds of thousands (or millions) of subscribers. I'm sure there's room somewhere for a game where the dragons really do eat the people because they ran out of sheep, even if we weren't ready for it at the time.

The depth of difference, between "sandbox" type MMOs (of which Raph seems to be a prime exponent) and the WOW style content-tastic MMOs, needs to be bridged by a game developer....and that game will rule the world. Since SWG I've tried WOW and loved the grind up to 60, then dropped like a stone. I've also tried EVE, and been initially stunned by it's lack of programmed direction.....I love it now, but alsmot gave up after the tutorial when I realised I was on my own.

SWG certainly had the background material and depth of scope to pull off the hybrid MMO and clean up. But several issues led to it bleeding accounts shortly after January '04, and this was noticeable in game. With the war of the films as a background, PVP should have been a persistant to-ing and fro-ing within the SWG persistant world; instead it was a mess of laggy base battles, bugs and tine consuming "rules" to win. Who wants to be a "bio-engineer" crafter class, just to blow up a rebel base? The jedi wars should have been seperated from the mass of the rest of the game, a kind of gentleman's club for the veterans, instead it became an easy way to win PVP battles leading to the ordinary player giving up through sheer frustration at their dominance of the imperial/rebel war.

WOW has been the success it is because not because it's won over the standard net-gamer crowd, but because it caters to the non-dedicated portion of the computing community. Led by the emergence of cheap broadband, suddenly everyone is becoming a net-gamer. And what better introdution to the worl of MMOs than a game that is polished, has no bugs, is fair to all....and most importantly leads you by the hand all the way to level 60. All the hardened gamers I know have left WOW at 60 as the challenge is gone and there's no variety to distinguish yourself from the other 2000 Night Elf Druids at ironforge. But as long as the casual players get their nightly fix of WOW action, Blizzard will dominate.

To bridge the gap between the dedicated, entrepreneurial players who make an MMO interesting, and the casual, fun-seeking players who make it profitable.... If you were to ask me, I'd say that the way to do it will involve tools whereby players or guilds can create quests for other, unaffiliated players. Thus, those who want to just go do their own thing can, but you make many tasks so big that even the mightiest guild needs help. So they set up a quest, and suddenly everybody in the zone is working for you. Meanwhile, you have your players creating an infinite supply of quests to keep your other players happy. Then set it in space or throw in some algorithms to make fractal-based terrain, and suddenly it becomes much more affordable to attempt to satiate the player base's demands for new content. Put in new abilities, equipment, enemies, and animations, and keep a large and active events team....

People who play open-ended (let us call them EVE-like, as opposed to WoW-like) MMOs play by working. Put them to work for you.

Sorry, I can't find it in me to give Raph Koster much credit for anything.

Count me among the overwhelming majority of Star Wars Galaxies players that, one hour after installing, thought.. "what the hell is THIS? THIS isn't Star Wars - THIS feels like EverQuest with Star Wars skins and textures." The balance was horrible, skills were broken, the game was shipped beta, bug-ridden, and the title was overall a joyless mind numbing grind.

The infamous developer's conference powerpoint presentation discovered on Koster's website years ago was the icing on the cake for me. Treating your customer base like cattle or errant children? I can understand why the document was never meant to be public.

 

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