Q&A With Raph Koster

Raph Koster has worked in the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game business for quite some time and has been the lead designer on such games as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Recently, he and John Donham started their own company. Koster, President of Areae Inc, and very popular guy, took a few minutes to chat with me today and answer some quick questions.

GG: Coming from a long line of MMO design, what inspired you to start on something new in the same field instead of branching out?

RK: I’ve been wanting to do something a little bit different for a very long time now. In some ways, the MMO development world moves very slowly, because it takes so long to get a single title made. I do make single-player games, puzzle games, and so on as well – but they never get released, I just do them for myself and for friends. One year I made a little arcade game that I gave out as a Christmas present to people.

But I’m fascinated still by the amazing things that people accomplish in online communities, and I still love online games. So that’s what I decided to focus on.

GG: You guys are being pretty tight lipped, is there anything else you can tell us about the company?

RK: Not really. We launched the site mostly in order to get our name out there and to be able to hire more effectively. You’ll be hearing more from us about what we’re doing sometime next year. That said, there are plenty of clues just with what’s there already, and we’re enjoying watching the blogosphere kick around ideas and speculate. There are a lot of smart folks out there.

GG: I read somewhere that there’s going to be an intersection between MMOs and Web 2.0, any comment on that or your particular thoughts on the crossing of the two?

RK: I’ve been saying this for a while – in fact, my talk at GDC this year is actually on the topic of the intersection between games and the web. I’ve blogged a little bit about it in the past.

MMOs and virtual worlds today work like the old AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe – closed services. Even though they have lots of community interaction and participation, they’re still usually broadcast systems. Even the more social, open frameworks like Second Life are still monolithic servers, and don’t work like the web does. I think there’s little doubt that the way the Web works, which has already had a huge impact on other content industries, will affect the way the games business works.

GG: What are you hoping to see from Areae?

RK: Other than a paycheck? Heh. I hope we really do open up a new way of doing things as far as online worlds are concerned. I also hope and plan to make us a model for how to deal with end-users, customers, and so on.

GG: What’s your favorite part of any game you’ve ever designed? Think you’re going to trump it with your new company?

RK: I don’t really have a favorite. There are too many things that I have enjoyed doing, and sometimes it can be something as small as getting just the right sort of UI for a given small feature.

I think my favorite part overall is seeing the wonderful things that players do, the amazing accomplishments they pull off, and just the sheer fun they often have. As far as trumping that… I hope so. One of the luxuries of being the one in charge is that I can hold onto things until they are really the way I want them, which isn’t a luxury that most developers ever get.