Raph KosterMMOFringe was recently honored by Raph Koster when he decided to answer a few questions our members had posed. For those who don't know, Raph Koster is a gamesmith and one of the creative minds behind such MMO classics as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. He's also an accomplished author and his book A Theory of Fun for Game Design is about to have its tenth anniversary edition come out.

Raph is probably best known around these parts as the man behind the plan for Star Wars Galaxies and as a champion for what he calls "worldy" games or virtual world sandbox MMOs. His recent Q&A at MMORPG.com sparked a spate of questions and comments from our own community here at the Fringe. When asked, Raph was more than happy to drop by and answer any and all comers.

Here are all of the questions and answers in the order they were asked and answered:

kefkah wrote:
Good afternoon, Raph.

You had mentioned (somewhere in a video interview a few years back) that sandbox games were expensive because of having to constantly plan and develop against the human element. This lead to the rise of more "theme park" games and any number of features that funnel players into pretty much contained and repetitive content. We kind of see this playing out now with most MMOs that have been publish in the last few years.

Raph Koster wrote: 
It's funny... they are somewhat more expensive on the front end, but cheaper on the back end, I think, since they don't need the same sort of ongoing content hose pointed at them...


kefkah wrote:
1. Do you believe the MMO industry has become stagnant due to rising development costs, playing it safe features and fear of failure? This is, of course, if you believe the industry has hit a lull.

Raph Koster wrote:
That one is easy: yes. Chasing after the conservative model is what people see as a way to maximize their return. With the exception of folks like Jake Song and Smed at SOE, of course, both of whom are instead chasing stuff that seems a lot more ambitious. I can only speculate in Jake's case, but I know Smed is doing sandboxy stuff because he does see it as the future.

kefkah wrote:
2. Have we seen the end of the monthly subscription based mmo model?

Raph Koster wrote: 
Just about. It likely will not go away completely, ever. But yeah, as the basic assumed model, yes, it's dead.

kefkah wrote:
3. Do you think the next evolution of multiplayer online gaming will come from an indie upstart or a AAA title? And what do you think that next step will be?

I think it is most likely to come from someone targeting Oculus Rift, or the supposed system Valve is doing, or Glass (very different, probably an AR play), or something else of the sort. Possibly something on tablets.


kefkah:
4. Will there ever be something that will bring together the visuals and benefits of online MMOs with the continuity and immersiveness of Pen and Paper gaming?

Raph Koster:
Have you seen the CastAR Kickstarter video yet?

Shayde wrote:
My questions are...

You mentioned before that sandbox games were "too expensive", but was that in a world before TOR spent 200 million to develop?

Raph Koster:
Well, yeah, but the $200m was also an outlier aberration, you know? I don't think most will cost THAT much...

That said... look at how much GTA5 cost. And it isn't an MMO. But I do think that expectations on sandbox play are up there with GTA5 in a lot of ways. At a minimum with Minecraft but with AAA graphics.

The end run around this is highly stylized graphics. Do you think that the audience would go for a sandbox world with 2d or pixel art or something of the sort?


Shayde wrote:
Has anyone gotten a clue developing MMOs today and realized that our personal attachment to our character is what keeps us coming back long term to an MMO? That long term players want the "uncle Owen" experience, and short term gamers all want to be Luke Skywalker? Personal Housing, character uniqueness, those are what keeps us attached... not the same lame-assed dungeon run to finally get the armbands to complete my armor set that makes me look like every other asshole out there... but I digress.

Raph Koster:
Well, ArcheAge does seem like it gets that. Landmark does too. So yeah, I would say that there are folks who get that to some degree.

There is a LOT of potential for more in-depth sandbox stuff though. The voxel stuff is way underused right now, for example...

Temploiter wrote:
1) I have a related question to Kefkah's intro. If sandbox games are more expensive to develop up-front, are they cheaper to maintain over the life of the game? I have always assumed this to be true, since in a Theme Park MMO there is a constant regular need to develop new content, where in a Sandbox, that may not be true.

Raph Koster:
Yes, I think so. I have heard that they cost more to manage in terms of community management, but I think the evidence is there that they are cheaper in terms of content releases and ongoing development.

I also think that sandbox is scalable in terms of upfront costs in a bunch of ways. Remember, the biggest driver is graphics engine costs -- not just the tech, but the sheer volume of art needed...

Temploiter wrote:
2) Are you interested in getting back into creating a 'worldy' MMO?

Raph Koster:
Yeah, at some point here. I do want to get these puzzle games and small games out into the world too. It's a big part of what I do, and I have never gotten to ship any of them. So this is a chance to do that. I've never been JUST an MMO person.

Temploiter wrote:
2b) Kaz and I believe if you said you wanted to do it you'd get the financial backing you needed, do you agree?

Raph Koster:
Well, it's not as simple as that. A lot of the "heat" has moved off of MMOs in terms of investment money. I could probably get a deal from some of the Asian companies.

Temploiter wrote:
3) With Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites going strong, do you think this could allow for more creativity, and perhaps viable deviations from the traditional Theme Park DikuMUD AAA MMOs (I'm thinking along the lines of Star Citizen and The Repopulation here)?

Raph Koster:
Yeah... but let's face it, most MMO Kickstarter pitches are doomed. What's the completely implausible one that just came out, with a team with zero experience?

The biggest issue with KS is you need way more money than the typical KS can raise. Star Citizen really broke the curve there...

Temploiter wrote:
Real question to that is if the statement is really true these days. I bet a sandbox game is cheaper to develop than TOR was, or Tera, probably even Secret World.

I think that statement may be a bit dated.

Raph Koster:
The biggest reason they may be more expensive is that with the standard model you can just take off the shelf pieces at this point. Lot of folks have modded Unreal to do an MMO now, for example. But if you want to do something like voxels, like dynamic terrain in SWG, etc, you start getting into the realm of new graphics engines. You can't use the regular DB models and start having to do R&D in order to solve problems -- like, in WOW and other games, content is filling out simple templates with a rigid format. There might be no simple templated content in a sandbox, depending on how you design it...

So it's just riskier up front. I couldn't build a sandbox on top of the WoW tech base, for example.

Shayde wrote:
Hey Raph.. wouldn't happen to have a pre-CU SWG backup laying around somewhere, would ya? The EMU is taking FOREVER! :D

Well on that joking note... what do you think of the EMU and how it has come along? It must be a real tribute to your work, trying to revive it.

Raph Koster:
I'm happy to see all the emus for UO and the SWGEmu too. I don't have any code to give, though. :) As I told those guys, it's weird watching them argue over what it was like exactly, because I remember what i WANTED better than what we GOT. You know?


Temploiter wrote:
Do you think a sandbox MMO could work on a smaller geographic/spatial scale? We've seen worlds, we've seen galaxies of worlds, we've seen galaxies. We haven't seen a town. A town can be populated with thousands of denizens living their virtual lives.


Raph Koster:
That's a very cool idea. It is an interesting question... I'd have to think about it. It might need MORE small picky stuff (to furnish with, you know).

One reason why I have thought about a Metaplace-meets-Sandbox idea is because you could make a sandboxy world, have the MP level of tools, and let players expand the world. Depending on how you set it up, you could make it so that, for example, they couldn't create a monster outside the bounds of the game's design, but could add fresh art and behaviors. That same notion might apply to this town idea. Let people build, but only within the township's municipal regulations. ;) Or pile in more people, and they'd start connecting skyscrapers, etc, because of lack of space...

It's a cool idea, now it is stuck in my head.

suske wrote:

even though you dont have any code to share with the emu teams have they contacted you for advice or tips?

Raph Koster:
Heh, someone from the emu forums pinmgs me at least once a month asking something or other. I have posted over in their forums a few times...

suske wrote:
what do you think of games like the repopulation who are in some way trying to bring back some of what SWG was?

Raph Koster:
I haven't looked at that one very much. I think the last "bring back old days" MMO I tried was Wurm. It was pretty rough at the time.


Thanks for stopping by Raph, we enjoyed your honest and quick answers.  

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