Quote of the Day – The Passenger and the Sailor

A player-driven economy isn’t about the money. It’s about having every way to play the game serve a role in the ecosystem. It’s about all the wonderful and weird ways we choose to live and play, and how we find out that our silly hobbies are vital necessities to someone else.

Raph Koster – Player Driven Economies

Last week’s nothing ball of a vision message, which sounded like the intro to an actual presentation rather than a presentation on its own, left me wondering left me wondering if Raph had anything actually up his sleeve.  It is unlike him to be so empty of depth in a post.

But he is back, so maybe that past post was just the intro, and this time there is some actual meat to chew on. He jumps right in on his vision of an MMORPG player-driven economy.

Raph on the economy

Getting to the end of the post and that quote above brought Guy Kawasaki to mind and his book The Macintosh Way.  I still have a copy sitting on my book shelf, which I never managed to get him to sign even though he used to roll into the computer store I worked at for a while during a low spot early in my career.

The book is a tale of his time at Apple and after, and the vision of product development and marketing that came of his experiences.   When in comes to product, he was a proponent of DICE, products that are deep, indulgent, complete, and elegant.

It was an era when companies shipped complete products because they couldn’t assume you could update.  Imagine that!

But “deep” gets to what Raph is going for here, which is that a it should have appeal for a wide range of users, from the passenger to the sailor, as the metaphor in the book puts it.  And that range of users, or players, from casual to hardcore, should be able to provide something to the greater economy of the game and benefit from their contribution.

Seems solid enough and certainly evokes some of the Star Wars Galaxies player economy, which I have no doubt will rouse the keepers of that sacred flame.  That Bree, one of those keepers, used an image from SWG featuring the entertainer profession in the post about this over at MOP was no accident I am sure.

Raph loses me a bit when he writes “OK, enough lofty theory stuff. Let’s get concrete” and then presents a diagram of the macro economy he has planned, which has been obfuscated into a meaningless flow chart, then carries on as though he has delivered actual support to his assertion.

Playable Worlds and their unreadable macro economy chart

I get why he doesn’t want to show the details, but give me 30 minutes with Visio and I’ll crank out something that looks meaningful if you zoom out far enough too.  That chart is just as empty as his last post.

So it is all philosophy.  Not that philosophy is a bad thing, and Raph is very good at philosophy.  Have you read his book?  But the translation from philosophy to mechanics is another thing altogether.

And it is clear Raph, despite the earlier empty virtual world vision, is making a game.  But we knew that almost a year ago.  It will be a sandbox game, and not a “gankbox” (which, following the usage of the term, means no non-consensual PvP I guess, that being the only consistent defining metric of the term), but will have constructs in it that will give people purpose and frame the mysterious macro economy almost pictured above.

Overall, a more worthwhile read than the previous post, and you can lose quite some time diving into the linked post about trust relationships and game design, but it is all still just vision.  Vision can get people excited and keep people going, but execution is where the rubber meets the road.  And this is still the MMORPG genre, which has a history of being long on vision and short on execution.  Promises abound, delivery not so much.

Finally, in my experience over the years, any system that allows more casual play styles to thrive or be competitive or add value tend to be abused by the more hardcore end of the spectrum and end up being nerfed into oblivion.  So I remain skeptical.

4 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – The Passenger and the Sailor

  1. bhagpuss

    My ultimate problem with almost everything he says is that the kind of games he appears to want to make just are not the kind of games I want to play. I was so deeply uninterested by the core philosophy of SWG as it was explained in the pre-launch publicity that, even in an era when new mmorpgs were few and far between and when I was already committed to SOE’s ecosystem, I didn’t even bother to buy the game at launch. What’s more, even after it got added to the All Access Pass and I was able to play it for free, I still didn’t bother. It just did not appeal to me at all.

    I get his conception of a virtual world but I feel it’s too literal. He seems to want an analog of the world we live in, with all of the interdependencies and interactions that entails. I play games to get away from all of that. I know when I write about how much I enjoy the nuts and bolts of low-level gameplay in mmorpgs that it sometimes sounds as though I love all the tedium and repetition but the big selling point to me is when all of that feels very fluid, fast and easy, with all the boring bits you’d get in real life left out. It’s something that’s fun for a relatively short while and then you get past it and move on. I think Raph envisages a game where you just sink in and keep on doing it. That doesn’t sound so much like a virtual world to me as a virtual treadmill.


  2. arhanta

    If you already have a diagram for it, then it still has a static factor.

    It might be “player-driven”, but it is not “player-designed”. You assume someone will want to mine as much minerals as your design needs, someone will want to transport as much cargo your design needs, etc.

    Nothing wrong with this. But, if you rally want to be a visionary, you have to change the paradigm. “Player-designed”, as in, do our own blueprints, compute our own material use, come up with our own shipment matrix – organically evolve that base diagram into something else – now that would be something new.

    Otherwise, you are just rehashing the gathering-crafting-consumption loop from WoW, just over-complicated.

    (I might sound too demanding, but one can dream, right?)


  3. SynCaine

    Wasn’t/isn’t Raph involved in Crowfall or the other ‘forever in beta’ kickstarter MMO?

    At this point, seeing how the genre has gone and everything, until there is a solid beta out and within the first few hours its awesome, I’m not interested. If a few people can make a game like Valheim, which hits so many of the PvE MMO notes perfectly, I don’t care for the words and promises of a new MMO anymore.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – I recall he was listed as a consultant for the Kickstarter, but ignoring what a consultant tells you is only second to a consultant framing their pet ideas to force fit them into your current situation in common consultant transactions. Probably a bit of both in this case would be my guess. Raph has clearly moved on, though the Kickstarter was over six years ago now, so that isn’t a surprise.


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