A Look Back at Metaplace


Raph Koster’s Metaplace was an original idea to tie user-created content together – but as it closed down at the turn of the New Year, was it ahead of its time?

It’s hard to say that Raph Koster didn’t have a vision when he created Metaplace back in the distant wilds of 2007. One of the original architects of games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, Koster championed the cause of user-created content in his games, and he envisioned Metaplace as a glorious utopia of user content that could be linked together – a network of virtual worlds.

In a way, it was Koster’s Meta-MMOG. But sadly, it did not connect with people in the way that Koster and his employees had hoped, and the service shut down at the beginning of the year. But what had the aim been in the first place?

“It’s really kind of the equivalent to Blogger, but for virtual worlds,” Koster told The Escapist back in Issue 134. “The pros tend to get access to money and the good guys tend to gravitate toward being pros, but it doesn’t mean that an amateur cannot make good content. Maybe they’re just a hobbyist, maybe they’ve never had tools that were good enough, maybe they’ve never been given a chance. There’s plenty of examples of this sitting out there.” For an example, he pointed to the wildly acclaimed Portal, which had started as a student project from graduates of DigiPen.

In the end, why Koster and his crew made Metaplace so open was so that, in his own words, “we make content so that it can be stolen.” Given the industry’s feelings towards piracy in this day and age, this seems silly to say, but Koster maintained that stance as a springboard for others to leapfrog off.

“We’re going to make games, and we’re going to make them nice, and they’re going to be fun games in their own right, and hopefully people play them, but we’re also going to open source them so they can be used as starting points, so people can build on them … For all we know, you may be the next Tim Shaffer or Richard Garriott and not be able to express it. We think it’s really important to have lots of starting points at different levels so people can pick up the ball and run with it.”

Metaplace may be down, but the site swears it isn’t out – and maybe Koster’s next venture will have more success. Games like LittleBigPlanet have demonstrated the popularity of user-created content, after all. Maybe people will be more receptive to the idea these days? One can only hope.

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