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.
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.