Outside of Blizzard, there are few recognizable names in MMOGs. One of them is Raph Koster. Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies; Koster's resume reads like a who's who of seminal MMOGs. Chances are, if you play MMOGs, you've played a game in which Koster has had his hand.
Yet for all his creative success, Koster's name is most frequently associated with a great MMOG failure, one he's reluctant to speak on, tired of hearing about and not even responsible for. In 2005, Sony Online Entertainment, the company behind Star Wars Galaxies, the MMOG based on the films, drastically revised the game, deleting character classes, reworking the combat system and literally erasing much of what had made the game so popular. Players revolted, and the "New Game Enhancements" or NGE immediately became an internet buzzword, synonymous with betrayal. Koster remained with SOE for a short time afterward, but recently suggested the NGE debacle ultimately led to his resignation.
These days, Koster is creating worlds, not destroying them. And he wants you to join him. Koster's new company, Areae, is preparing to launch a bold new project called Metaplace, designed to be the first game where you can make your own game and link it together with games made by other people, even Raph Koster. Koster, who claims to have created his new game in his bedroom, just like the old days, likens it to the world wide web and hopes it will some day become as ubiquitous, as democratic and as powerful.
The Escapist: Can you briefly explain Metaplace? What is it and what are you trying to accomplish with it?
Raph Koster: The idea of Metaplace is to really make MMOGs work the way the web does, and what that means is making it so that it is very easy for people to set up their own MMOG. It's very easy for these MMOGs to link to one another, it's very easy for these MMOGs to interact with anything else out there on the web, to provide kind of a technology platform that doesn't assume they're making DikuMud version 27, and that it doesn't cram all of these people into one world in the way something like Second Life does. It's really kind of the equivalent to Blogger, but for virtual worlds.
TE: One argument some professional game developers have against user content is that it is simply not as good as professional content. How do you react to that?
RK: The answer is yes, because all professional game developers were once users. It's not like some magic switch gets flicked the minute that they become a pro that makes their stuff good, and we've all played pro stuff that wasn't that good. There's just a spectrum, from good to bad, and whether or not people are pro or amateur has nothing to do with that quality line. 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.