Tag Archives: Raph Koster

Facebook, the Metaverse, and John Carmack

The metaverse is honey pot trap for architecture astronauts.

-John Carmack, Consulting CTO for Oculus VR

The metaverse has been much discussed in our little corner of the world here in 2021, largely due to Raph Koster and his Riffs by Raph columns over on the Playable World site where he has been writing about virtual worlds, multiverses, and the potential for a metaverse.  While he is clearly selling a vision as much for investors as for us, his self-promotion contains plenty of valuable insight.

There has also been something of a wave of NFT and blockchain proponents hyping their favored tech as the key ingredient for some future metaverse, though they can hardly drag themselves away from destroying the planet and scamming people with the virtual goods version of the property flip scam to be taken seriously.  They are are just modern incarnations of those who would sell the Brooklyn Bridge or investment opportunities in perpetual motion machines.  George C. Parker would be very much at home among them.

Steam went so far as to ban all titles that have NFT or cryptocurrency ties. (Scott Hartsman has a Twitter thread about why Steam might not want the liability that comes with those titles.)  Epic went the other direction immediately because Tim Sweeney’s idea of an argument is the automatic gainsaying of whatever his opponent says.  But Tim Sweeney says a lot of things, and he carefully caveated his statement to give the Epic Store an out.

But the big bombshell this week was Mark Zukerberg announcing his intention to create the metaverse and being so invested in the idea that he has changed the name of his company to Meta.

The memes based on this image are quickly becoming meta

My gut reaction to a Facebook owned metaverse requiring me to strap their Oculus hardware to my face and let them watch and exploit everything I do in their Horizon virtual world sim is a pretty strong negative.

The pitch has been put together in this 20 minute video which features Zuckerberg himself explaining how he wants to co-opt the metaverse idea and make it something he controls.  He isn’t so much promoting a metaverse so much as a “Zuckerverse” where he’ll be king.

Part of me sees evil based on what Facebook has become, but part of me also sees somebody who peaked in their 20s with an astounding success, becoming a billionaire over night, who now wants to top that.  Oh, and I also see somebody who has no idea what real people want or need… and maybe a bit of distraction from the bad odor Facebook is in right now as well.  Lots going on here.

And I am one of those people who read Snow Crash in the late 90s and have been hearing about the idea of VR since the mid 80s, so I am still in the target zone for online world ideas.  But Facebook driving it… well, a lot of people were annoyed/dismayed when Facebook bought Oculus back in 2014, and we were only angry because Facebook hosted crappy spammy social games and harvested our data. (Some fun links in that post. I think the Raph Koster one might be the most on the money, which doesn’t surprise me.)

More interesting and refreshing though has been the take by John Carmack, Consulting CTO for Oculus, which Facebook owns (and which is also losing its name), who gave the keynote speech for Zuckerberg’s event.  He seems much less convinced that the metaverse is an achievable objective in the way that is being presented.  The video of his presentation is embedded below, dialed up to just where he begins to speak about the metaverse idea.  He is a strong proponent of the idea, but not so much of the path it is on, and is keenly aware of the complications it faces.

The “architecture astronauts” he mentions in the keynote, from the quote I have at the top of the post, are those who like the big picture ideas of the metaverse while skipping over the details of how to actually make those big picture ideas work.

Carmack is very much about those details and points out quite a few issues with the idea of an Oculus VR based metaverse, not the least being the problem of the headset itself.  He compares it to the ubiquity of our phones and the challenge of reaching that level with hardware that you have to strap to your face and which blots out the real world, not to mention the whole motion sickness thing.  I mean, he still seems all in on a Facebook metaverse, he just just comes across as skeptical that they’re going about it the right way.

Anyway, there is a bunch there to digest and news stories abound about the Facebook announcement, so use your favorite search engine to find them, though if you want the best headline to come out of this, Vice has you covered.

Ars Technica also has a summary of the Carmack keynote if you don’t want to watch it, though I think watching it has much more impact.  There is also a nice Twitter thread that brings up key Carmack statements which is a quick read.

As for Facebook changing its name to Meta… does anybody actually call Google “Alphabet” now?  And what happens to The Meta Show, the weekly EVE Online Twitch show?  Does this help it or hurt it?

We’ll see what this looks like a year from now.

Addendum:  The Meta Show rebrands in light of the changes over the past week.

Fountain Frank announces The Facebook Show

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.

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.

Related:

Friday Bullet Points about Playable Worlds and ManaWorks and Other Things

Another Friday with just some tidbits to share.

  • Playable Worlds

Raph Koster announced his latest venture yesterday.  Called Playable Worlds, it got $2.7 in seed capital to start making it a thing.

As jaded as I am, $2.7 million doesn’t seem like a lot of money.  Thanks Star Citizen!   But it is seed capital, so the team has to make some progress before they will get any more I suppose.  At least it is not being crowd funded. The description though… that is wide open.

As you might guess, with the online world, we are going to build a massively multiplayer world where all sorts of players can come together and find ways to regardless of whether they like exploring or adventuring or socializing or player-versus-player (PvP). It’s a sandbox world that supports many ways to play.

-Raph Koster, VentureBeat interview

All things to all people much?  It won’t be a themepark I guess.  But what will it be?  Possibly` another MetaSpace, Raph’s previous venture, where you got tools and had to make your own content.  That did not end well.  But there is a solid team signed up to give it a shot, and Bhagpuss has run down the backgrounds of some of them already.  Massively OP also has a post up about it.

As for when it will show up, you had best find something else to occupy yourself for a few years, this is going to take some time.  But you can sign up for the email list on the Playable Worlds site.  Or follow them on Twitter or Instagram or whatever.  You can also apply for a job there.

Also another article over at Games Industry Biz about MMO lessons learned that may be applicable.

  • ManaWorks

Another new studio was announced this week, ManaWorks.

Good for those looking for something from a new studio, but perhaps bad news for fans of GuildWars 2.  As Kotaku notes, the lead of the new studio is Mike O’Brien, who was up until now president of ArenaNet and quite possibly involved in whatever would come next from the studio.  With his departure, along with other members of the GW2 team, the future of ArenaNet projects is very much a matter of speculation.  There are posts up about this at Massively OP, Inventory Full, and Nerdy Bookahs that are worth reading if this topic is of interest.

  • EverQuest Show Daybreak Teaser

The EverQuest Show traveled to San Diego to talk to the Norrath team and has promised to share the interviews in the next episode of the show.  Until then there is just a teaser video up featuring a short chat with executive producer Holly Longdale.

  • Norrath Soundtracks

Daybreak has announced that the original soundtracks for EverQuest and EverQuest II are now available for purchase from Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, and maybe Pandora.

Sound Tracks for Both

I’ve not been a big fan of the Norrath music myself.  It tends to run between too brassy and too few strings on the lute for me.  But I barely like anybody’s soundtrack and generally turn the music off and listen to my own while I play, so Norrath is hardly an outlier for me.

  • Skywalker Speculation

And, completely off the video game topic, a new Star Wars movie is coming this December, the third film of the third trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker.  I am sure it will make many people angry and/or happy, while making Disney just that much more wealthy.  Not a lot is known about the story, or even the meaning of the title.  Over at How it Should Have Ended on YouTube they have put an episode of Villain’s Pub that speculates on what is really coming for this entry in the saga.

It is as least as good as any of the fan theories you’ll find on Reddit.

Quote of the Day – Prescience at GDC 2007

…because of wow, and all the dumb money and all the publisher pressure, there’ll be lots of games that shouldn’t have been MMOs but would have been great boxed products. Lots of publishers are pushing for that subscription pie, but they’ll fail.

-Rob Pardo,  MMOs Past, Present, and Future Panel at GDC 2007

Back in early March of 2007 I wandered up to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  I grabbed an expo pass to go up and meet up with Brent from VirginWorlds and a couple of other people, as well as scouting around to see what I could see on the expo floor.

GDC2007Logo

It wasn’t a great expedition on my part.  I was coming down with a cold or something.  I spoke to a few people, but did not hang around very long.  It wasn’t a GDC where I hung around to have dinner with anybody.

But on the way out I happened by the booth where they were selling what was essentially a pre-purchase of the audio from various panels.  There were a couple of different career tracks that you could order, and one looked particularly interesting, so I put down my credit card and ordered it.

Some time later I received it, ripped it to iTunes, and listed to the whole thing.   And then I forgot about it.  My iTunes library has more than 7,000 various items in it, so things can get lost.

Last weekend I was running through a list of tracks, looking for something interesting when I came across the audio I ordered for 17 panels on the whatever track it was and started listening to bits of it.  There was a panel on Korean MMOs and how they succeed and rant session that really laid open some astounding day one problems with Windows Vista.

And then there was the panel titled MMOs Past, Present, and Future.

Just looking at the list of names on the panel… Raph Koster, Gordon Walton, Mark Jacobs, Rob Pardo, Mark Kern, and Daniel James… and you have to marvel at the breadth of  experience and influence thay have had on the MMO world.  All that was missing is somebody from SOE to represent EverQuest.  And they were there to talk about lessons learned and the future of MMOs at what was something of a transition point in the genre.

Right then, in March 2007, Blizzard had recently launched their first expansion for World of Warcraft and sales were booming.  Star Wars Galaxies had launched a few years back and had done well, but had not eclipsed EverQuest, a crime for which it was then was put through the NGE. Vanguard was faltering, but still wasn’t part of SOE yet.  The Wii was still a big deal.  Lord of the Rings Online had yet to launch and was just in open beta.   It was that age of expectation I wrote about the other day in reference to Vanguard, where we were getting a new top dog every few years.

And this group of heavy hitters who all influenced the genre in their own ways, chose to wade in on the subject, leading to some great quotes.  The Rob Pardo quote at the top seemed the most prescient, though Daniel James seemed to have a good sense of things as well.  There was also a lot of focus on polish, echoing what Rob Pardo said six months before at the Austin Game Conference. (I remembered off the cuff that Brent had transcribed that 8 years back.)  And lest you think Rob Pardo was the only one hitting that note, there is this:

I don’t think big media companies will be able to execute their way out of a paper bag. A lot of people will lose their shirt in this space.

-Daniel James

and:

Here come the mass media, and they’re shouting, omg we wanna be just like World of Warcraft. Here’s a lot of money, make a great game, but there’s only a handful of people who know how to make it really well. I’m predicting disaster.

-Mark Jacobs

Though that one might be a bit mitigated by his statements that there will be another WoW, that an MMO will come along and beat WoW.  And that could still happen, but I get the sense that Mark had a shorter time frame in mind.  At least he said that he didn’t think Warhamer Online would be the game that beat WoW.  And there was Gordon Walton on the panel, listening to all of this, who then went off to Star Wars: The Old Republic which at one point EA said was going to hit 11 million subscriptions. a clear “beat WoW” number financed by a dump truck of money.  SWTOR has been a success in the long term, just not by any metric EA chose in advance.

All and all it was a good panel to listen to, both back then and seven years down the road.  But how to share it with people?

If you are a GDC member, which costs a hefty $500 a year, you can find it in the GDC Vault.  There are some free sessions available, but this one is a members only selection.

So I dug around for transcripts, and found a pretty good one over at Wonderland Blog, which covers most of the key quotes.  It is missing some of the intro and clips Raph’s quote about how people keep just remaking Diku MUD and Lambda MOO, but most of the meat is there.

 

 

Star Wars Galaxies to Close in December

As noted over at Massively, where they have an exclusive interview with John Smedley of SOE, Star Wars Galaxies is slated to be “sunsetted” (read “shut down”) on December 15th of this year.

In the interview, Smed gives the reasoning:

The decision to shut down SWG is first and foremost a business decision mutually agreed upon between SOE and LucasArts. LucasArts has a new game coming out, and the contract would be running out in 2012 anyway, so we feel like it’s the right time for the game to end.

And here we see an issue inherent in working with a popular intellectual property for an MMO.

Vanguard, which SOE own outright, may run for years yet, so long as it makes just enough money to justify its existence.  But there is always overhead from the owner of an IP, like there was with The Matrix Online.  And so that closed, no doubt in part because Warner Brothers was owed money every month for the use of the IP.

And Star Wars is a valuable IP owned by Lucas and guarded jealously.  Any licensed Star Wars product that is not a sterling success reflects badly on the IP, and SWG has had its share of troubles. (Rooted mostly in requirements laid down by Lucas after the fact, or so goes the tale of the NGE.)

And so the contract with SOE is coming to an end conveniently at about the time EA and BioWare should be close to launching Star Wars: The Old Republic.

As I said in a past prediction:

We will find out in 2009 is that LucasArts is only willing to sanction a single Star Wars based MMO running at any given time.  SOE has known this all along and this is part of why they did not bother going to LucasArts with their Station Cash idea.

Seeing that BioWare is set to launch a Star Wars: The Old Republic… well… some day… the sense that time is running out will grip Star Wars Galaxies.  There will be a resurgence of subscriptions as a wave of nostalgia washes over the old hands while along with an equal surge of tourist who want to see the game before it goes away.

This enthusiasm will not last as long as SWG remains on the scene, thanks to BioWare’s creeping pace, and Galaxies will go quietly into the night a few months before SWTOR launches.

And while I was not right on all the details, including the date when we would find out, the central truth remains:  Lucas will only sanction a single Star Wars MMO in the traditional EverQuest, 3D virtual world, monthly subscription sense.  SWG is clearly out because SW:TOR is coming online.

(And no, Clone Wars Adventures does not count, it is clearly a different sort of gaming, lacking that whole virtual world aspect for a start.)

So let the rush to nostalgia begin!

You have less than 6 months to go before Star Wars Galaxies is no more.

See the sites.  Take your screen shots.  Get ready to say “Good-bye.”

Maybe I’ll hold an SWG “Farewell Screen Shot” contest rather than another such contest for EVE Online.

But what would I give as a prize?  A SWTOR game card?

Raph Koster, who was on the team that created SWG, has his own thoughts on the end of SWG.