On getting criticism

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Oct 142013

Lately I have been working on multiple new games. And whenever you are working on games, of course, you get people to try them, and a lot of them don’t like what they see.

I’ve gotten a lot of criticism over the years, and I haven’t always taken it the right way. These days, criticism comes from all directions, and work is often shared before it’s really done. It can be hard to know what to listen to and when to stick to your guns.

Ultima Online is a Hall of Fame game. It averaged 6/10 in reviews. Star Wars Galaxies got a famously mixed reception, and closed down a while back; I still get fan mail.

So here’s my takeaways from all those years of being told that my work sucks:

Everyone who dislikes your work is right.

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GDCNext: Playing with ‘game’

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Oct 112013

I’ll be speaking at GDCNext on this, in the future of gaming track.

Playing with ‘Game’

Raph Koster  |  Designer, Independent
Location: Room 515 B
Date: Tuesday, November 05
Time: 11:15am-12:15pm

Never mind the future – the present of games is quickly carrying us well beyond the classic understandings of what a game is. We’ve got gamified restaurants, psychological self-help tools, immersive narrative experiences, quasi-gambling experiences, political statements and more. Along the way, we’re seeing conflicts between subcultures in our audience, and within our development community as well. Players get mad when a title isn’t what they expected. Developers watch the encroachment of business practices they dislike. Designers try to apply the tools of one genre to another, and find they don’t always work. Is “game” even a thing? And if it is, in what ways do these varied approaches relate to one another? In this lecture, we’ll take a look at a craft-centric approach to the question: what do we make, who do we make it for, and how can we best make what we want?


Attendees will learn about a framework for thinking about varied types of interactive experiences and the four types of problems that make for compelling play. They will also take away practical design checklists and techniques for these different approaches: top five tips for narrative experiences, ludic experiences, coercive experiences and so on.

This isn’t the same thing as the blog post of the same name — though some of that material will be the first few minutes. Instead, it’s an attempt to synthesize understandings coming from different quarters about what games can be and what they can mean, and how they can be and mean. I am sure that there will likely be some stuff in there to annoy people from every faction! 🙂

Most importantly, though, I want to focus back in on craft. Craft seems like it is often the forgotten root of all these approaches. Whether you are trying to make games that are personal, pure experience, narratively centered, systemically driven, emergent, linear, abstract, or Dadaist, there is always the how underlying it all. And “how” is interesting, because there’s what works for you the creator, and what works for a given audience, and in a very real sense, as creators we don’t get to quarrel with what the audience likes or accepts. It is always up to them whether to listen to what we have to say.

So this talk is going to be about how as much as I can make it… about the raw tools that might help a designer in their goal of making either a polished AAA experience or a raw emotional outpouring.

Hope to see you there!

Upcoming AMA on MMORPG.com

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Oct 032013

This is an early heads-up that I will be doing an Ask-Me-Anything over at MMORPG.com on the 16th at 7PM Eastern / 4pm Pacific. What about? Honestly, just about whatever people want. I can’t break NDA’s, of course, but I expect there will be hefty doses of nostalgia, a lot of discussion of worldy MMOs given the audience, and who knows, maybe I will talk a little about the games I’ve been working on lately.

I’ll post again to remind everyone once we’re closer, of course. 🙂

This should be fun; I haven’t been out there talking with players very much lately, and I miss it.