Year in Review

 Posted by (Visited 5730 times)  Game talk
Dec 312013

CASlide6I didn’t write that much on the blog this year. It has had the lowest traffic in years, as a result. I only know this because I actually bothered to go look at the stats, for the first time in ages. I used to track this stuff every month, adding it into a big spreadsheet, so I could keep track of what people wanted to read about. Of course, I was also spending an hour a day or more writing stuff here, back then.

With the big blog revamp, it occurred to me to do an oldschool “this is what happened on the blog this year” post like I used to. So… here we go:

The most popular posts I wrote this year:

  1. On getting criticism:
    A post I wrote about how to deal with inbound criticism of your work. This was the most read thing on the site all year, and has popped up in all sorts of incongruous places; I’ve found it reprinted in Reddits about fitness or about stand-up comedy, in countless game forums, and on websites for self-published writers, artists, and so on.
  2. A Letter to Leigh

    I want to believe that despite the political layers that adhere to the discussion of this topic, that we are all craftspeople who care about the carpentry of what we do. We all need to reach our own accommodations and understand our own aesthetics.“A Letter to Leigh”

    A close second. This post was prompted by some tweets by Leigh Alexander, and resulted in a giant cavalcade of posts from many sources, many full of vitriol, kicking off a months-long discussion in many quarters. It was one of the first things I wrote after leaving Disney, at a time when I wanted to engage more freely and deeply with the many currents swirling about in games, and is basically about the lack of agency in many of the art games and AAA games today.
  3. Yiynova MSP19U: A Cintiq Alternative
    A lot of artists out there want a lower cost alternative to Wacom, apparently! I have in fact since upgraded to the Yiynova MVP22U(V2),which is larger and has a better pen and tracking, an IPS screen, and alas, font rendering that is flawed.
  4. Playing with “game”
    This post was an attempt to better reconcile “formalism” as it had gotten called, and the current critical discussions that mostly centered on personal expression and subjective reactions. Honestly, I don’t think they actually needed reconciliation — there was never a conflict there in the first place — but it seemed to me that by changing some terms on the formal crfat side, we might be able to avoid misunderstandings. I later reused this title for my GDCNext talk, about which more later.
  5. Programming languages for aspiring designers
    This came from a Quora answer I gave, and the short form of the post is “learn whichever one you will actually stick with,” because giving up is a far bigger problem than whether you picked the “right” language for an ephemeral moment in the industry.
  6. On personal games
    This post was about three things: a) my own games have not tended to be autobiographical b) even though I have quite a lot to mine there and c) that sometimes one’s artistic goals can be about things other than personal expression. A lot of the subsequent discussion became about the experiences of Third Culture Kids and those of similar backgrounds.
  7. Windows 8 tablet, part two
    Another post caused by my leaving the paid-for tools of corporate life behind and having to buy all new gear for myself. This one, I suspect, drives traffic because it is actually just a helpful list of things to adjust or change in a new Windows 8 install.
  8. Moving on from Playdom/Disney
    The defining event of the last year for me, of course. Though I have trouble disentangling it from events in the previous year. The events leading up to departing were massively stressful and occurred in slow motion, and smack in the middle of them came getting the Online Game Legend Award, which basically came as a massive vote of confidence in my career and work right when everything was pushing towards the opposite.
  9. On choice architectures

    …the question of what makes systems richly interpretable – as opposed to their dressing in the form of words, art, and music – is an interesting and important one.“On choice architectures”

    This is effectively another post in the large conversation started by “Letter to Leigh.” In it, I attempt to break down and analyze the different ways in which designers present choices to players in games. A lot of folks don’t think there are any choices in games. They’re wrong, and I think it’s because they haven’t played enough kinds of games.
  10. Requiring online for single-player
    This was written in reaction to the debacle around the online connectivity requirement in the latest iteration of SimCity. Basically, it’s a reiteration of the fact that requiring connectivity for everything and renting you everything is just the way market forces are pushing everything.

That said, the commonest topic on the blog was of course the new edition of A Theory of Fun for Game Design.

Older posts that were popular:

These posts date from earlier, and yet people keep reading them.

  1. ARPU vs ARPPU, from 2009.
  2. The Fundamentals of Game Design, which actually dates back to 2007 but was published on the blog in 2010.
  3. How to hack an MMO, from 2008.
  4. Narrative is not a game mechanic, from 2012.
  5. Project Horseshoe: Influences, from 2006, likely because Jon Blow links to it.
  6. The best game design articles on the site, from 2012.
  7. How well can indie games do?, from 2009.
  8. Ultima Online is fifteen, from 2012.
  9. UO’s resource system, the first post in a series of three about this topic, from 2006.
  10. F2P vs subs, from 2012.

Shame on me

I only posted one piece of music.

I also only posted one poem, “Descending to the Airport at Night.”

Search terms

Just a selection of the non-boring ones from the top results.

  • arppu comes in at the top.
  • yiynova msp19u & cintiq alternative
  • ultima online or uo
  • ralph koster, raph coster, or rapk koster, because my name is so hard
  • how to hack mmo games, how to hack mmorpg, hacking mmos, how to hack an mmo and many other variants
  • “raph koster says tetris would be a different game if:” (someone assigned this as a class question maybe?), raph koster tetris, and more along those lines

My thoughts on the year

This year should have been defined by going indie and publishing a lot of stuff, both games and writings. (And indeed, I have a lot of games in progress. Just none of them are done yet). I had many many things I wanted to write about: the evolving definitions of the medium. The techniques of rhetoric used in experience-centric games. The cultural problems we face in a world of services and clouds. The fact that we are slipping inexorably into a world where the work that is noticed will increasingly be the most exploitative on many levels.

And of course, about the games I am making. The card game, about which I hope to have exciting news in the new year, and which tested so well while I was in Argentina. The board/puzzle/story game that is the first time I’ve tried actually doing a “personal story.” The new fantasy world I’ve worked up, and the turn-based strategy game set in it. The other little boardgame that I don’t know what to do with. The casual puzzle title with the potentially supercute characters.

Instead, if I am honest with myself, the year was defined by the incredibly contentious critical discussions on blogs and Twitter. Every time I wrote anything at all about games, I pressed the “publish” button with a combination of apprehension and hope. Sometimes, actual fear, and the fear won. This was the year that for me, the illusion of collegiality in the field was shattered.

As a result, I ended up never writing literally dozens of posts. I thought about commenting on various industry trends, and shrugged and didn’t. I didn’t push hard enough to finish my games. People started to ask me if I had retired. Insecurity piled on insecurity.

My attitude towards this during the year was to tell myself that by not writing, I was avoiding fanning the flames of pointlessly personal contention. That I was taking the high road in not responding to personal insults. Sometimes I reminded myself that I do have lots of privilege and standing in the industry, and that the slightest remark I make can potentially carry a lot of weight.I looked over everything I had said, and apologized (or tried, anyway) multiple times for perceived slights that were not intended. I feared for the reception of any game I made, because the thoughts I was thinking could not help but influence how I made them… and that paralyzed the work.

In practice, I saw that when I made what I believed to be substantive points, they usually got ignored in favor of seizing on single words or phrases that could be selectively quoted. And of course, by not participating I was simply leaving that response as the final word. I would click on a link and (I am not exaggerating here) read it and then be able to measure a 20 point rise in blood pressure with the cuff I keep by my bed. That queasy sick feeling in the middle of the chest, and how the sweat breaks out on the forehead.

It happened to me this morning. I feel it right now.

Even as I write this, I can imagine the derision that will come from some quarters. Some might actually say “good, now you know what it feels like for us all of the time.” Some might actually have disbelief that this was what it felt like.

But this was the year when an editor at a games publication actually said to me “stop writing.” This was the year that the metaphors of violence were the most popular way to describe what we should be doing to each other’s life work and passions. Burning down. Destroying. This was the first year in my career where I have had multiple conversations with people at conferences about the fact that they actively feared what others in the field might do to them or say about them. The advice I got in private conversations was “don’t let it get to you,” was “let it just burn out,” or the paradoxical “just focus on the work” …when both the games and the writing about games are the same work, and so is the interacting with others who also do the same work.

There has always been an ugly side, don’t get me wrong. There have been plenty of revolting personalities in the industry. There has been lots of sexism, plenty of racism, unsavory business practices galore.

But for me, this was the year the bad stuff tipped over. And it tore at me precisely because it happened as we as a field, as a community, had victories. Of inclusion, self-awareness, and artistry. Another reminder, I suppose that bad people, or good people behaving badly, can do good work.

So, I have a New Year’s resolution. It’s to ignore the fear as best I can. (I can’t make it go away, of course). Not just the fear of making, or of putting work out there. But also the fear of not being liked. There’s only two ways I know of to help improve the overall tone. One is to try to be a positive model and evangelize the good. But I think I need to not be afraid of calling out what I think is bad. I need to be less nice.

And now, before I second-guess myself, I need to hit Publish.

  13 Responses to “Year in Review”

  1. For what it worth my (admitted self-inflicted) run in with the critical community resulted in 50 to 80% of my essays being killed due to self-censorship. It is easy to start fearing the angry mob that does not listen or compromise. Simple words trigger a lifetime of rage.

    We aren’t all trying to push games forward together. And many voices began using forms of rhetoric that are not about building or improving, but being noticed or pushing polarized viewpoints. Interesting, entertaining, witty but a poor environment for the pursuit of science or craft.

    I see no solution here. The tiny trickle of craft writing must now find purchase amidst the vast wash of emotional expression and critical “performances”. Expect little honest reciprocation and instead brace yourself for your most heartfelt work to be treated as a mere launching point for someone’s long festering rant. πŸ˜‰

    Onward into this once more new frontier.

    All the best,

    (Looking forward to you games!)

  2. I suppose I am not surprised to hear that you also found yourself self-censoring. It makes me sad though, because I want more of your articles.

    FWIW, Tadhg may have persuaded me to get off my butt and start actually writing down all the grammar stuff that is only in my head. I was telling him at GDCNext I was thinking of self-pubbing a collection of the old blog essays, and he said “I want to see something NEW from you. We need something NEW.”

    I suppose putting heartfelt work out there for ravening wolves has ever been thus, right? πŸ˜‰

  3. Thank you so much for writing about this. I’m encouraged to see a conversation emerging about peer hostility. Hopefully we can all move forward in 2014!

  4. Thank you for reading it! And for always being so willing to engage constructively. Getting to know you was a highlight of the year, in fact. πŸ™‚

  5. One of the benefits of being slightly less well known is I don’t get quite the hate when I post something. Not that I post much controversial anymore; I’ve mellowed in my middle age and as I’ve not been running a PvP-focused game, i guess.

    I think there’s a definite lack of respect and understanding in a lot of discussions. People are equally happy to lash out at people with toxic ideas as they are at people who simply disagree on a point, like what defines “a game”. A shame, because these are the discussions we really need to have if we want to move forward. And, more importantly, I think it’d be nice to get a better grasp on how to define experiences like Gone Home or Dear Ester, instead of lumping them in with the masses of FPSes and RPGs and expecting them to still thrive and flourish as unique creations.

    Anyway, looking forward to a more productive 2014 on more fronts. Hope to read more of your writing, too. πŸ™‚

  6. Oh Raph, this was a heartbreaking post to read. But one I understand, deeply. Thank-you for this, and for all that you do. I’m thinking 2013 was the trough, right? Here’s to a less fearful 2014, and the courage to talk about what matters.

  7. Keeping following your muse Raph!

  8. […] It was bad. Not just business wise but as Raph Koster points out in his blog post: […]

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