Raph Koster is an author, long-time MMO developer, and most recently president of Areae, a new virtual world development company dedicated to making something “fresh and new” out of the “tired and old.”
Koster's career has spaned a number of highly visible online titles, including Ultima Online, on which he served as the lead designer on both it an its Second Age expansion. He also worked as the creative director on Star Wars Galaxies. At GDC ‘07, Koster spoke about the future of MMO’s and the intersection of video games and the internet.
Gamasutra: At GDC you gave a talk called “Where Game Meets Web.” That seemed to be the focus of your comments on the MMO panel, too. Is that the big issue on your mind right now?
Raph Koster: “Where Game Meets Web”: that's the one where I basically said that everyone in the industry is doomed because the web is stealing their thunder. This industry isn't working with the web very well at all...Basically, the talk was kind of a tour through some of the products that are games from outside this industry, games that are doing spectacularly, games that we don't even pay attention to because we don't think of them as being part of our industry.
GS: But it seemed like the other panelists, for example Mark Jacobs, disagreed with you about the big impetus for future games coming from out outside the industry.
RK: That's because those people aren’t looking. Consider the statistics. Webkinz, 2.5 million uniques in December; you buy a plush toy. Runescape: we still don't think of Runescape as being part of our industry, but it's probably the most popular MMO in the world, more popular than WoW.
Toontown is up to more than 2.5 million uniques now. We never talk about Toontown because it's web deployed. Then of course there’s was Club Penguin, with 4.5 millions uniques in December alone...When you compare the numbers, all of those are larger than the number two MMO in the western world, every single one of them. So yeah, I think people are missing something.
Similarly, there’s something up with the ways we do our development practices. The web principles are release often and fail fast. We don't do that. We plan for two or three years, putting something together and then dumping it out there. With the web guys, it's just a whole different method of operating. Flickr patches every half hour.
I think we have to look at the current game industry as being a subset of big media, and big media is running into some issues lately. It's not that they're going to go away, and it's not that they're going to have less power. Well, maybe they will have less power in some ways. But what's happening in the other industries, like film, TV, music, publishing, is we are seeing a radical redistribution of power--where the money is going and where the eyeballs are going.
Some of the industries have adapted better than others. We're seeing TV reach a decent accommodation pretty quickly, whereas as music, music just sort of flew head long into a wall and threw up its hands and now it's cringing in the corner dying, melting like the Wicked Witch of the West. They're in the position where the industry is suing its own customers because they like its product. Something is completely wrong there.
We shouldn't kid ourselves; we're in the exact same boat. The only reason that isn't happening even more with us is that our industry isn’t relying on proprietary record play. Can you imagine if there was a standardized platform games, if PC were it, what would happen to the games business? The answer is, we'd be screwed.
GS: Wouldn’t there also be more room for creativity since the medium would be open?
RK: Absolutely. My warnings aren't about games. They’re about the current industry. Through all this, games will actually thrive.