Apr 272015

logowhiteRead the other posts in this series:

This is the last post on SWG for, well, a while. I am sure there are plenty of other things to say and more questions that could be answered, but… it feels like a natural stopping point. I must say, the response to these essays has astonished me. Here’s hoping you’ll all care as deeply about the next game I make…

Why now?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions as to why I am writing this series of posts about Star Wars Galaxies now. Do I have something to sell?

No, I don’t have anything to sell. This past week was the fifteenth anniversary of that small SWG team first forming in Austin, refugees from Origin. We were a bit over a half dozen. It’s also ten years since the NGE, and in the last few years, we have seen a lot of changes for a lot of parties involved. I was asked some questions by a former player, and for once, it just felt like the time to answer them.


So, was it a failure?

Well yes, of course. And also, no. It depends how you ask the question. There are a lot of assumptions out there about how the game did, particularly in its original form. So, let’s start by tackling some of those:

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Nov 212014

500px-WOW_logoTen years of World of Warcraft. Well. So many thoughts.

WoW has always been a contradiction of sorts: not the pioneer, but the one that solidified the pattern. Not the experimenter, but the one that reaped the rewards. Not the innovator, but the one that was well-designed, built solidly, and made appealing. It was the MMO that took what has always been there, and delivered it in a package that was truly broadly appealing, enough so to capture the larger gamer audience for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a knock on it. If anything, it’s possibly the biggest game design achievement in all of virtual world history. After all, we’re talking about taking a game skeleton that was at that point already almost a decade and a half old, one which had literally had hundreds of iterations, hundreds of games launched. None of them ever reached that sort of audience, that sort of milestone, that sort of polish level.

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Game talkImaginary Realities is back!

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Dec 172013

And here’s the link to Imaginary Realities vol 5 issue 1!


For those who don’t know, Imaginary Realities is the mud-related journal originally published by David Bennett. It disappeared way back in 2001, but Richard Tew has resurrected it. I’ve already glanced through the first new set of articles, and there’s some interesting stuff there for both MUD devs and non-mudders, I think.

All the original issues are mirrored, so if you want to look at the stuff that ran from ’98 to ’01, it’s there too!


Mar 202012

Once upon a time, there was a game set in a science fiction universe where the economy was very important. Its name was not Eve.

In this game, players could, if they so chose, run a business. They could

  • designate a building as a shop
  • hire an NPC bot to stand in it
  • give the bot items to hold for sale
  • specify the prices at which those items would sell
  • customize the bot in a variety of ways
  • make use of advertising facilities to market the shop
  • decorate the shop any way they pleased

With this basic facility, emergent gameplay tied to the way that the crafting system worked resulted in players who chose to run shops being able to do things Ike build supply chains, manage regular inventory, develop regular customer bases, build marketing campaigns, and in general, play a lemonade stand writ large.

The upshot was that at peak, fully half the players in Star Wars Galaxies ran a shop.
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Jan 132012

“I feel a sense of loss over mystery… I feel a loss over immersion. I loved… playing long, intricate, complex, narrative-driven games, and I’ve drifted away from playing them, and the whole market has drifted away from playing them too,” Koster says. “I think the trend lines are away from that kind of thing.”

— Gamasutra interview of me by Leigh Alexander



Games didn’t start out immersive. Nobody was getting sucked into the world of Mancala or the intricate world building of Go. Oh, people could be mesmerized, certainly, or in a state of flow whilst playing. But they were not immersed in the sense of being transported to another world. For that we had books.

Even most video games were not like worlds I was transported to. Oh, I wondered what else existed in the world of Joust and felt the paranoia in Berzerk, but I never felt like I was visiting.

Then something changed. For me it started with text adventures and with early Ultimas. I could explore what felt like a real place. I could interact with it. I could affect it. And with that came the first times where I felt like I was visiting another world. It came when I first played Jordan Mechner’s Karateka and for the first time ever, felt I was playing a game that felt like a movie.
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Game talkNotes on game feedback

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Dec 082011

I was mentioned in a comment on Google+, and ended up writing a little bit about game feedback as a result. So here it is.

The discussion was on the absence of combat logs (scrolling text windows showing you exact numbers for combat actions) in the new SWTOR MMO. Some folks regret the absence, because they use the logs to optimize what they are doing, and use it as a learning tool. Other players find them a legacy of the text mud days, or a feature that hastens the deconstruction of the entire system and therefore damages the fun factor.

Both sides are right, really. Combat logs are just a form of feedback. The more feedback the system gives you, the more information you have for the process of figuring out how the system works. This then makes the process of optimizing play easier (read that as “getting the results you want from a given input”).

The first thing to realize here is that everything the game shows you, really, is a form of feedback. The locations of chess pieces on a board, the “game state,” is a type of feedback. Numbers floating off the enemy are feedback; the glowy effect trailing a swinging sword is also feedback.

Some forms of feedback are better suited for certain types of information than others.

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Game talkGangs and Guilds in MMOs, again

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Sep 142011

A long while ago I posted about some research that showed that gangs and guilds seemed to have mathematical characteristics in common.  A few days ago, I got this sent to me by someone at the department of CS and Engineering at the University of Minnesota:


I saw a previous post on your blog about similarities between MMOs and street gangs. Me and my research group (VWO) recently published a paper which contradicts the previous results. We thought you may find it of interest.

Thanks, Muhammad

The blog post about the paper can be found here, with some conclusions, and you can also read the pre-print PDF of the paper. It looks like this is based on the the same set of Everquest II data that many researchers have been using for a while now — I am unsurprised to see Dmitri Williams credited.

Game talkNew Bartle video interview

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Aug 152011

Got this in the mailbox:

Hello Mr. Koster,

I’m a big fan of your work and reader of your blog. You probably don’t remember me but I briefly met you at GDC Online last year. I was looking for Dr. Richard Bartle, who I did find and conducted an interview with.

A few months ago I released the interview on my Youtube Partner account but forgot to mention to you that I had done so. I thought you might be interested in it.


It’s divided into multiple parts because it was so long and I felt this would be a good way for people to keep track of each segment. Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy!

I should be at GDC 2011 so perhaps I’ll see you there?


Interested indeed, and I am sure that others may be as well, so I’ve embedded them below the fold:

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Jul 212011

Title slideThis was my talk delivered yesterday at Casual Connect Seattle — somewhat shorter than my usual, as it was a 25 minute slot. The topic was designing for games-as-a-service; a lot of folks are migrating from casual games into social games right now, and need to know more about what the design best practices are.

I ended up reaching back to the Laws of Online World Design and many other older materials both mine and of others, on the grounds that it was likely to be new and perhaps educational for many who have been doing fire-and-forget software in the casual space.

I am fairly sure that the conference will be posting video of the presentation — they normally do — so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, here’s the deck in a few formats:

I did try uploading it to Slideshare, but boy, did it mess up the fonts. I take a lot of care with the graphic design of my decks, and it was just too ugly to tolerate. :) I am sure I could figure it out given time, but I don’t have said time. So if someone else wants to take the PPT and get it uploaded in a way that actually resembles the PDF, go for it.

The slides should be pretty self-explanatory, but the core message is not unlike the much more detailed version of things I put forth in my recent blog on on Marketing.

Jun 162011

GDC Vault – Social Mechanics for Social Games [SOGS Design] is a link that takes you to the GDC Vault where you can watch a full video of the presentation, with the slides side by side, for free.

Of course, you didn’t need that, right? Because you already paid to get access to the utterly awesome GDC Vault. :)

There are a couple more free talks released today as well, including the AI rant and an inside look at the Humble Indie Bundle. You can check out all the free talks here.