Quote of the Day – Empty Vision

Yes, today’s world is a magical place. But our online alternatives have gotten kind of… mundane. Predictable. Kill some blues, collect some purples, fetch ten of whatever. They don’t have to be that way.

-Raph Koster, The Future of Online Worlds

I enjoy a good Raph Koster post.  He can bring a lot of insight into the history of online games, especially MUDs and MMORPGs.  So I was anticipating something good, something with some heft, something that would leave me thinking when I saw a new post pop up in my feed from his blog.

That turned out to just be a “go look at the thing I wrote elsewhere” post, directing people to a new item over at Playable Worlds, his current venture.  So I went and read that.

The future is somewhat vague

And it was a whole lot of nothing.

I mean sure, he invoked a some nice ideas, which I will sum up with bullet points that are the phrases he highlighted in the text:

  • We dreamt of living worlds
  • A lot of those big dreams did not come true
  • It’s time
  • yes, worlds can feel alive
  • fits into your life
  • it shouldn’t matter what device you have or how much time you have free
  • playable worlds

And in between those phrases is a lot of empty filler.

Seriously, I got to the final sentence of the whole thing…

We can dream big again, together. It’s time to turn those dreams back into playable worlds.

…and wondered where page two was.

The whole thing reads like the opening of an investor pitch or a GDC talk… throwing in the name of the company as the final words is almost too trite… that will then proceed to get into the meat of the topic.  But there is no meat.  That is all you get, a vision so nebulous that one hesitates to call it a vision.

Of course, the mere fact that he posted even that vaporous tidbit will get some people worked up.  This is Raph Koster, who has Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies on his resume, both of which stand out as special in the long line of online worlds.  Part of me gives him the benefit of the doubt just based on that.

But another part of me, the somewhat more abrasive and cynical part that has been nurtured by the industry over the last 20+ years, wants to shout out, “But what have you done for us lately?”

Because those two titles were also from a long time ago in the current technological timeline.  And, after leaving SOE in 2006, his sole public venture was MetaPlace, which had a similar open vision, and which shut down rather suddenly, taking with it any work that those who invested time with it had created.  And even that happened more than eleven years ago at this point.

It is almost a tech industry genre, the young designer with vision who has a huge impact early in their career, and then never has similar success afterwards and ends up on Fitzcarraldo-esque journey to relive and even top their youthful acclaim.  Their names alone generate interest and a following… think Richard Garriortt, Chris Roberts, Brad McQuaid, Mark Jacobs… and set expectations that their new vision, which is generally their early vision reinforced and revised upwards, will deliver.

The next time that pans out will be the first time so far as I can tell.  The jury is still out.

Of course, I might commend Raph for not going too deep or too grandiose with his vision, though it still feels too light to drum up any enthusiasm in my jaded heart.  At least he didn’t lay out a bunch of specifics that we will later hold against him when they fail to appear.  But I remain confident that we’ll find a way.

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8 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – Empty Vision

  1. bhagpuss

    I posted a short, sharp comment to the Massively thread, the even shorter gist of which would be “stop talking about making games and just make a damn game already”. But of course he’s not in the business of making games. Like most of the game developers whose names we’d recognize from their past glories he’s in the business of making a living. And good luck to him.

    I’m just not sure why all these old warhorses feel the need to trash everything that’s popular now what they’re known for isn’t any more (If, indeed, it ever was. SWG, for all its cult success, was deemed a significant failure in its relatively brief life. That’s why Lucasarts forced the NGE refit on it). There’s always an assumption that the mmos we have now are inferior to those we had two decades ago or, if not that, then (and so much harder to dispute, this) inferior to those we might have had, had we not strayed from the path of righteous game development.

    I don’t buy it. Success doesn’t equal quality, true, but it seems hard to argue that players in general feel short-changed by the shift to mundane predictability. On the contrary, it seems to be precisley what the players demanded and finally got. And most of them seem to like it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – In thinking on this, I am also a bit dubious of Raph’s philosophy, which seems like it could hold him back. He has said that the client is in the hands of the enemy over and over and thus likes to keep all data secure on the server end. He wants to hold the world for others to play on. He speaks of freedom, but that will only ever be on his terms with his rules and he holds all the data. This will be more like MetaPlace 2.0, where if he decides an NGE is needed, you’ll have to lump it, or if it goes down you’ll have nothing left, rather than something like Minecraft, where you have some control. Not that that concern separates him from any MMORPG, but it also means that his ability to offer anything new and different is limited.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pallais

    Koster has talked many times about “Hamlet on the Holodeck” and I feel he’ll never be happy until he can be the DM for holodeck-based worlds. The technology just won’t be there in our lifetimes (if ever) to recreate that once popular niche in modern gaming.

    I sometimes think many of these early figures should imitate Ken and Roberta Williams (of Sierra fame) and just retire from games. Give retrospectives, but stay out of trying to rebottle lightning. Richard Garriott tried that, but while he’s produced results those results haven’t been compelling. (Chris Roberts is currently failing, as well, just on a much more expensive scale.)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @arhanta – The only surprise is that I hadn’t created it sooner. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the phrase before here.

    @Pallais – Successful second acts are rare. Thinking on it, the names I threw out there all had second acts that feel short of expectations… Tabula Rasa for Garriott, Freelancer for Roberts, Vanguard for McQuaid, and Warhammer Online for Jacobs… so we’re talking third acts for them really, save for Brad who passed away before getting Pantheon to market.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. XyzzySqrl

    I don’t know why he’s talking about Second Life like nobody’s invented Second Life.
    At this point, we’re on Second Life 2: VR Chat.
    Maybe he doesn’t consider those “Worlds”, in which case I’m befuddled by the definition he’s using.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. potshot

    I’m just not seeing anything there. I mirror your cynicism. Of course, in my ignorance, I’m not sure I’ve ever really felt he was deserving of the fawning obeisance that the gaming community seems to give him. What HAS he done for us lately (or the true cynics would say, at all)?

    Seems there are at least two primary roads to validating your gaming ideas– players play your game and/or investors invest and make money on it. Note neither of those require any objective measure of quality (oxymoron), but if you are truly in the games business (and not just the talking about games business…) then your prime directive is to create something that can sustain itself– which ultimately means that the only definition of success is whether people play your games, a prerequisite of which is actually making one from time to time.

    I like you interact with far too many people who are focused on and conflate “getting funded” with success rather than the actual making and selling the thing for which you are seeking the funding. The entire Kickstarter ecosystem has created a business model around selling business models… Where’s Terry Gilliam’s tech company film anyway?

    As Bhagpuss says, he’s in the business of making a living, and good luck to him. Just don’t mistake that for actually building something people use and enjoy. I grow weary of these vaporous meaningless “OPM” (Other People’s Money) pitches. Not waiting for the Godot of Gaming, I’m leaving but I do not move.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. mbrady5329290

    Thank you for giving a voice to reasonable and rational criticism of Raph’s latest attempt to sell us Second Life 2.0. Even Linden Lab hasn’t had any success with it’s follow-Up and intended spiritual successor Sansar, and even LL founder Philip Rosedale is struggling with High Fidelity. Quite frankly I’m tired of people like Raph telling us about his vision for a Ready Player One World. These are my thoughts after 18 years in SL since Open Beta Dec 2003.

    Liked by 1 person

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