Welcome to Raph Koster's personal website: MMOs, gaming, writing, art, music, books.
Welcome to Raph Koster's personal website: MMOs, gaming, writing, art, music, books.

The whole Web
Raph's Website

These are full-blown essays, papers, and articles.

Slideshows and presentation materials from conferences.

Interviews and Panels
Reprints of non-game-specific interviews, and transcripts of panels and roundtables.

Excerpts from blog, newsgroup, and forum posts.

The "Laws of Online World Design" in various forms.

A timeline of developments in online worlds.

A Theory of Fun for Game Design
My book on why games matter and what fun is.

Insubstantial Pageants
A book I started and never finished outlining the basics of online world design.

Links to resources on online world design.

The following was written on the Ultima Online newsgroup in late June of 2000 as part of a lengthy thread where much about the development of UO was debated. A few paragraphs of it have come to be widely quoted, so I am reproducing it here, despite some hesitancy in that the post makes UO out to be much worse than it actually was--chalk that up to my harsh self-criticism, if you like.

So this (really long) thread really made me think tonight (and not just because Zaphkiel made me look like a math-impaired idiot, either. :) It made me question a lot of assumptions. Forgive this rambling post as I dissect what my thinking is on all this--I welcome the feedback.

First off, I have no patience for harassers, assholes, etc. They make my physically very angry when I see them, and during my whole time at OSI I was continually frustrated by the lack of action against them. I know many of you will not believe this statement, or will think it hypocritical, but I ask you to take it at face value.

When we started up UO, we were very naive about some things. For one thing, the game design was originally for a MUCH smaller world. We were asked to change it from a 300 player game to a 3000 player game around nine months before ship. All of our expectations were for not only a smaller simulatenous population, but also for a smaller playerbase in general--forecasts for sales were not very high, and the most successful online game to date at that time was Meridian 59. We expected to do better, but not by an order of magnitude.

A lot of the things we wanted to do were different from how muds had done things. We had both played and worked on muds with switches, and our experiences were universally lousy. Loopholes, ways to 'pk' without actually pk'ing, artificial restrictions on grouping and equipment use--all sorts of things that damaged immersion and physics and led to a lot of special-case code. We wanted to make a game that was more immersive, and that meant putting in a lot more freedoms into the game. We wanted to challenge players to act ethically, in the spirit of the Ultimas previous, without making it a set of quests that would be 'gamed' and up on a cheat website within a couple of weeks--and we didn't want that to happen not because it meant extra work making new quests all the time, but because it meant that ethics themselves were being "gamed" and were therefore meaningless. We were not prepared for the audience we got--this was evident not only in the game design, but if you recall, in the hardware infrastructure we had at launch.

We also wanted to get away from levels, believing that levels were a) an addictive but shallow game mechanic and therefore not good for overall game longevity, b) divisive of players in that you have to create level restrictions on stuff all over the place, c) poorly suited for other forms of gameplay, such as questing, social achievement, etc, and therefore restrictive of player experimentation with other things to do. There were other things we wanted to do to change things from the typical mud pattern (which is today best exemplified for all of you by EverQuest, since its design is *extremely* close to that of a standard well-evolved Diku mud).

Things that I have changed my mind on:

Things that I still believe today:

In an odd sort of summary... Being safe from evil is, in my mind, an uneven tradeoff for the fact that you don't get to be heroes anymore, in that you can just opt out of fighting evil. It may be nobody wants to be heroes except when it doesn't count, when it isn't challenging, that people would rather fight "pretend evil" than the real thing, but I don't personally believe that. I still think people are better than that. I know this is an odd and probably controversial (perhaps even stupid) position to take, but it's how I feel. I think that the greatest value of interactive entertainment is when it engages you for real, and teaches you things for real. It is what made the Ultima series great. For me, the struggle to be good, to be one of the good guys, is where people were really challenged in UO, and it's not really a challenge that exists elsewhere. Sure, you can choose not to use ShowEQ, or choose not to auction spawn points in AC on eBay, but these are not as immediate and direct as dealing with people "virtually" face to face. Being safe from the only real evil in the game, and choosing not to fight it is, well, just fine, but it's also nothing that is going to teach you about where you stand. It's the difference between living the Virtues and, well, playing them in a computer game.

It kinda saddens me and scares me to write the above paragraph, because I know that many will misread my intent in writing it, will take bits out of context, will feel insulted. But I don't mean any of that by it. The failure was ours in setting up the game, for not making it possible enough to live the Virtues and establish by consensus a better place, a better society. This is why I proposed elsewhere in the thread letting people fall back on the code crutch of a safe zone once they had done it once, at least. You still get the experience of actually building a society, but after that the hard part (keeping it going) is handled for you. (Yes, townstones are at the top of my "wish we had gotten it into the game" list).

I can't think of any better experience to have in ANY game of ANY sort than for real people to work together against antisocial activity, selfish people, and other forms of creeping insidious evil, and WIN, and build something lasting and good. To work together and have fun together with types of people they never would have considered worth speaking to otherwise. And yes, to convert a few selfish jerks into better people along the way. If having this experience in a game means that they are more likely to dare to do it in real life instead of living in passivity, then I'll feel like something really important has been accomplished.

My greatest worry is that instead, we've inadvertantly taught people to be bad as far as they can get away with. Or, far more troublesome, that Daddy will solve it for you and you can feel free to just complain about the problem from time to time, and ignore it. Right now, I have to believe that enough people learned the right lesson, because I DO see it every day in players of these games, and *especially* in players of UO, whom I have watched grow to a much greater awareness of social issues and community formation issues over the years, and become far better able to engage in high level discourse about the tough questions in MMORPGs.

But there's no doubt that it can be done better, and though giving up and just entertaining the "good people" may be better business or may be enough to bring in the money, it's not enough to make me feel like this is a field worth being in. It's about the other people. Dani Berry said, "At the end of the day, nobody ever regrets not having spent more time on the computer." That's why she made multiplayer games, so that the computers would be other people. That's why I want to make this sort of game too.

Hopefully this lengthy post puts some of my replies in this thread into context. Flame away.

Child's Play

A Theory of Fun
for Game Design

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After the Flood

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Gratuitous Penguin 2006 Wall Calendar

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