The following are slides from the many presentations I have given on game design, online communities, and so on. In some cases, there’s just slides; in others, there is video, audio, or a transcript.


Online World Design Patterns

A Powerpoint presentation that goes over the standard design patterns for avatars, online game mechanics, persistence models, spawning, map structures, advancement models, PvP models, narrative in online worlds, and lastly, communications systems. Much of it (but not all) was presented at GDC 2001 jointly with Rich Vogel.


Community Design for Large-Scale Gaming Worlds

These are the slides for my portion of an all-day tutorial on this topic presented jointly with Rich Vogel and Amy Jo Kim.


Two Models for Narrative Worlds

The transcript of a speech, and associated Powerpoint presentation, for a speech I gave as a panelist at the Annenberg Center’s conference on Entertainment in the Interactive Age.


What Does It Take to Make a Successful Persistent Online World

The presentation on production for massive persistent worlds given jointly by Rich Vogel and myself at GDC 2001.


How to Manage a Large-Scale Online Gaming Community

The joint GDC 2002 presentation done with Rich Vogel. This is basically a Machiavellian guide to viral marketing, stealing someone else’s community, politicking to keep the community calmed down and happy, and similar tactics. If you’re a player of online games, please skip reading it. 🙂


Storytelling in the Online Medium

The joint GDC 2002 presentation done by myself and Rich Vogel. This is basically an expanded version of the “Storytelling Cube” found in the Design Patterns presentation above, but it includes case studies and techniques.


Running Massively Multiplayer Games

This Powerpoint presentation formed the backbone of the all-day tutorial run by myself, Gordon Walton, and Rich Vogel at the Game Developer’s Conference in 2002.


Small Worlds: Competitive and Cooperative Structures in Online Worlds

This is the expanded, complete version of the talk on graph theory, social networks, game theory, and Pareto’s Law that I gave with Rich Vogel as an advanced design talk at GDC 2003. If you were at this talk in person, here’s the key differences: a bit more explanation of graph theory, some ancillary discussion of social network stuff, and a very long Conclusions section that sets out in written form all the “concrete advice” that the mathematics seem to offer for online world designers and managers.


A Theory of Fun

This is the keynote speech I delivered at the Austin Games Conference in 2003. It eventually turned into a book with its own website. It’s trying to be about cognition, media, and the place of games in society, as well as trumpeting a call to arms regarding games as socially significant, and yes, even being art. Mostly, though, it’s about my doodling.


Online Worlds: The Forms of Things Unknown

Local IGDA chapters often host presentations by local guest speakers. I did one of these talks for the San Diego chapter on March 11th, 2004. These are the slides that accompanied the talk.


Passion’s Tender Embrace

It’s become a tradition at GDC to host a “Game Design Challenge.” I participated in the inaugural one at GDC 2004, on the theme of “Love.” This was the result…


Sci Fi MMPs: Lessons Learned

These slides were shown as part of a panel on sci-fi MMOs at GDC 2004, alongside a presentation by Chris Klug on Earth & Beyond. There was then a panel session moderated by Jesse Schell.


The Past and Future of Online Worlds

This is the talk I gave at ChinaJoy in 2004. ChinaJoy is the equivalent of E3 in China.


A Grammar of Gameplay (Game Atoms: Can Games Be Diagrammed?)

This talk was given at GDC 2005, and was the follow-up to A Theory of Fun. It attempts to derive an atomic theory of game design, based on breaking down core common elements of games.


Why Games Matter

This was a keynote speech at Training Fall 2005, and is essentially the same material as A Theory of Fun, recast for training and educational purposes.


Moore’s Wall: Technology Advances and Online Game Design

In mid-2005 I participated in a webcast conference organized by IBM, called “Games on Demand.” This is a transcription of what I said, and a copy of the slides. The talk centers on the ways in which technology is curtailing our creativity rather than assisting it.


The Destiny of Online Games

This was my keynote delivered at the Korea Game Conference in 2005, which is basically like GDC in the US, a conference for developers.


The Medium That Ate The World

These are the slides to the PARC Forum I gave in January of 2006. There are also links to MP3 audio of the talk and a streaming video hosted at PARC.


The Age of the Dinosaurs

This was my lecture at the 2006 Austin Game Conference. It’s about the way in which the games business is changing from a business perspective, along with some speculations about what the future holds for those publishers and developers who adapt.



This talk was given as a keynote at Project Horseshoe. It is about what the core nature of games is, as mathematical structures, and whether that limits or enhances our ability to create art.


Games for Change closing address

This little talk was delivered as spoken word only, no slides, to wrap up the Games for Change conference held at the New School in NYC in June of 2006.


Where Game Meets the Web

A lecture delivered at the 2007 Game Developers Conference about how the Web 2.0 techniques for interacting iwht users and building services are affecting the media landscape, and particularly, may up-end the ways in which we make games.


Immersive Design: Lessons From Game Designers

This talk given at Web 2.0 Expo in 2007 was described this way: “Nominally it was about how many of the lessons learned by game designers can be applied to Web site design but really it was a talk about human behavior.” It loses a lot without the audio. Note that my laptop crashed in the middle, so the audio doesn’t even match up to the slides!


The Core of Fun

This talk was given as a keynote at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in 2007. It is about the core elements of “deep structure” that go into making something fun — particularly web apps and social media.


Designing for Everywhere

This was my design talk at the Austin Game Developers Conference in 2007. The talk is about key design elements involved in making truly mass market interactive entertainment experiences.


The New Gaming Landscape

This talk was delivered at CEDEC 2007 in Japan. It is similar to “Age of the Dinosaurs” and “Where Game Meets the Web” in terms of its content.


La Estructura Profunda de los Juegos

A version of a Theory of Fun talk given in Spanish in Ensenada at CICOMP ’07 as a magistral conference (aka, keynote). Slides and a video are available.


What Are We Missing?

A talk given at GDCPrime 2007 about transmedia, audience broadening, budget crunch, and whether or not consoles are doomed.

High Windows

A keynote given at the Worlds in Motion Summit at GDC 2008, about whether or not we are setting our sights high when designing virtual worlds.


Reinventing MMOs: A Metaplace “Antemortem”

A fairly technical talk covering how the architecture of Metaplace worked, and why we made it.


Putting the World in the World Wide Web

This was the SIGGRAPH Sandbox and Web3d joint keynote in 2008. There’s a video of it with the audio attached, since slides alone do not get it across.


Virtual Worlds Are (Not) Folk Music

This was a keynote presentation at Living Game Worlds IV. It’s a complicated narrative involving opera, virtual worlds, train yards, an old folk song, and indie games.

Worlds in Motion 2009 Kickoff

This was a fifteen minute introduction to the 2009 Worlds in Motion Summit at GDC, giving an overview of the trends in the previous twelve months in virtual worlds.


Games Are Math: 10 Core Mechanics That Drive Compelling Gameplay

My 2009 GDC Austin talk on using NP-complete problems as the core mechanics for games. It’s crunchy. 🙂

SyndCon 2010 keynote

This short talk was delivered at SyndCon in San Diego in 2010. It was celebrating The Syndicate’s 14th anniversary.


Social Mechanics: The Engines Behind Everything Multiplayer

Many have accused social games of not really being social. But they are underpinned by many classic social mechanics that drive interaction and community-building. Some of these have been proven to work in other genres such as MMOs and are beginning to filter into the social games market; others are easily visible and quite familiar in real life, but have yet to be seen in the design of social games. In this talk we will draw from both proven game design and from anthropology and sociology and explore the social potential of social games. Delivered at GDC Online AND at GDC.


10 Game Design Lessons from Games-as-Service

This short talk was given at Casual Connect.


It’s All Games Now: The Convergence of Games and Social Media

This was the design track keynote at GDC Online 2011. It is about the ways in which gaming culture has evolved, and what the implications are for our daily lives. The GDCVault has a free video available.


Good Design, Bad Design, Great Design

What makes a design good or bad? And more importantly, what makes it GREAT? And even more, does greatness even matter, when the goal is to make money? This was a talk given at GDC 2012 in the Social and Online Games Summit.


A Theory of Fun: 10 Years Later

This is the design track keynote for GDC Online 2012, the final GDC Online. It is basically a brief retrospective of Theory of Fun, followed by a discussion of the intellectual journey since. The GDC Vault has put up a video available for free.


Classic Game Postmortem: Ultima Online

At the final GDCOnline, members of the original UO team got together to swap stories of the original development process for Ultima Online.


How Games Think

This talk was one of two keynotes at GDC China 2012, and continues the vein of thinking about how games affect our cognitive structures and therefore our culture. It is presented here in both English and Chinese.


Playing With “Game”

Delivered at GDCNext 2013. It begins with a discussion of semiotics, and from there leads into exploring the notion of “play,” specifically in two senses: freedom of interpretation and freedom of movement within a system. This then leads to a rubric for games that fall into one of four quadrants, and an examination of common techniques each quadrant uses.


El mundo de sistemas

In Spanish. Sorry, no translated subtitles or anything. The talk starts out talking about systems and games, how there are many sorts of games but that a large proportion of them have what I call ludic systems underlying them. I talked a little bit about what some of the implications of systems are, how we learn from them and what sort of lessons they teach. And, of course, also how flaws in systems (or even emergent properties) can cause systems to really run amok, or enable players to really break everything. That then leads to some anecdotes and postmortem thoughts from Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies.


A New Formalism

A microtalk presented at the first Critical Proximity conference. This talk discusses the potential value of different sorts of formalisms as approaches to game criticism, drawing links to other media’s use of tools such as music notation or prosody.


Retention Tips for Free-to-Play Building Games

This talk was presented at the 2014 Game Developers Conference Free to Play Summit. It was only six minutes long, part of a larger session of microtalks that covered different genres.


Wikipedia is a Game

I was invited to speak at Wikimania, the annual gathering of Wikimedians, in the “social machines” track, which is about systems wherein the code and the people are inseparable — as in Wikipedia itself, social network systems of all sorts — and of course, multiplayer games. I decided to analyze Wikipedia as a broken game design.

Practical Creativity

It’s a world of clones, of derivative ideas, of repackaging games in genres. It can be hard to be creative. And all too often, creativity is treated as a magical talent that few have, when it’s actually a skill that anyone can learn and that improves with practice! Come learn what science tells us about creativity, and practical straightforward steps that any game designer or developer can make use of in order to get more creative.


Una carrera / A Career

This talk was a “life experience talk” given to a group of aspiring game designers in Peru, at an event launching the first ever game design program in that country. It goes over my career in a very light way, mostly touching on the importance of auto-didacticism and always working on your craft.


Community Management in the Culture Wars

Presented at the GDC2015 Community Summit, this is a talk on the ways in which social media is poorly designed for community formation and healthy growth, and how game community management needs to adapt to this new reality.


Game Grammar

This talk was the closing keynote at PAXDev 2015. It is an overview of game grammar, touching on all the different formal elements that go into making a game, how they can be diagrammed and analyzed fruitfully from a craft perspective, etc.

Teaching to Fish

The joint keynote for the Sweden Game Conference 2015 and VS-Games 2015, this talk gives a light overview of game grammar, mostly challenging designers to think about what they are making so they can choose the right design tools for the job.


GDC16 FlashBackward: MMOs

As part of celebrating GDC’s 30th anniversary, there was a special FlashBackward keynote looking back over 30 years of changes in the game industry. This five minute talk was one segment of twelve in that keynote.


Cycle of Life: The Future of Mobile Gaming

This talk was presented in Helsinki, Finland, as part of an event held by Next Games. The topic was to look back at the past years of mobile gaming and to think about the future, particularly in terms of how cycles often bring back past trends.


The Limits of Formalism

This brief “seed talk” was delivered at the BIRS Workshop on Computational Modeling of Games in 2016. What leverage does a formalist approach to game design give you? What might it leave out? What are the broad contours of the landscape of formalist game design theories? What intellectual commitments are formalist game designers making? What are the biggest holes in our current understanding of formalist approaches to game design?


Gritty Systems Design for Retention

We all know game systems can have a huge impact on your game’s popularity, retention, and appeal. But are there ways to know in advance whether what you’ve designed will have particular results? Why yes, there are, and they are proven methods from decades worth of different online service games. Come prepared to think about math as we dive deep into the nitty-gritty of systems game design for retention. We’ll cover XP curves, Monte Carlo modeling, multi-opponent balancing, and more. This talk was delivered at the Austin Game Conference in September 2016.

Digital Bards: Interactive Media and the Evolution of Storytelling

Print media was itself a revolution of earlier oral storytelling practices, and today we see digital media and videogames in particular challenging traditional notions of what storytelling even is. New paradigms have been developed over the last few decades of game development many of which have not filtered back into academia, and new interactive structures are causing debate within games themselves as well. In this talk we will discuss how games have approached storytelling in a variety of frameworks ranging from linear narratives to telling massively multiplayer stories for tens of thousands of interactive participants simultaneously, and we’ll look to the future that is rapidly taking form on a tablet or phone near you. Writing will never be the same — again. This was a talk given as a Distinguished Speaker at the University of Alabama Huntsville in October of 2016.

Still Logged In: What Social VR and AR Can Learn from MMOs

Games are networking the world. Titles like ‘PokemonGO’ are showing the industry how the world can be an MMO. Hardware coming from major companies is promising goggles and lenses and magical graphical overlays. But… if gamers are living in an MMO, doesn’t that mean they’re suddenly also the NPCs? The avatars? How do they call customer service? And who’s community managing Earth? In this session, Raph talks about the social and ethical implications of turning the real world into a virtual world, and how the lessons of massively multiplayer virtual worlds are more relevant than ever. Delivered at the 2017 Game Developers Conference.

Reconciling Games

This was the opening keynote at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in 2017, held in Hyannis on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. As digital literacy has risen, more and more people – practitioners, academics, critics, scholars – are comfortable moving across fields, and having consilient discussions.  In this talk, I discussed the cross-disciplinary approaches that have become my personal lodestones, as a practicing designer who is fascinated by systems and yet also regards the game designer’s actual canvas as being the human mind. Oh, and fish tanks.

(Dis)Assembling Experience

The confusion is always there, as are the turf wars: what falls under user experience design? What is game design? For that matter, what about narrative design, UI design? All these disciplines work towards fundamentally similar goals, using oft dissimilar tools but very similar principles. In this talk, we will make a journey into the tiniest moments of interaction, and see these commonalities—and differences—laid bare.

Industry Lifecycles

Here we go again – “________ are dead! ______ is the new hot thing in videogames!” Whether it’s Indiepocalypses or E.T. carts in Alamogordo, haven’t we been here before? Why yes, yes we have. Some things march forward – like costs – and some spiral around the same familiar patterns. In this talk Raph will describe general patterns of platform shifts in the game industry, the inevitable logic of maturing markets, and how that impacts what the audiences look for.

Depth and Design: Contrasting AI and Human Understandings

This invited talk for the AAAI-18 Workshop on Knowledge Extraction from Games is a heady mix of Backus-Naur Form grammar for a universal game system, the notion of depth as a concept, games as ternary decision engines, and other similarly dense and geeky topics.

Rules of the Game: Five Further Techniques from Rather Clever Designers

How do you make your games work? There’s no sure-fire way to design great games, but over numerous successful projects the best designers develop techniques that help them craft compelling experiences. Returning for GDC 2018, the Rules of the Game session takes five renowned designers and asks them to go into detail about a rule they’ve used in their work. Each speaker has ten minutes to dive into their technique and provide detailed examples about how they have used the rule in past projects, honestly sharing the pluses and minuses including where their rule works well and where it may be less applicable. These are personal rules that you may not always agree with, but they’re guaranteed to provide interesting fodder for your own game design thoughts and help you build your own design rulebook.

Ultima Online at 20: Classic Game Postmortem

September 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the launch on Origin’s ‘Ultima Online’, the pioneering massively multiplayer RPG that changed online gaming forever. Join three key members of the team as they talk about the things that went wrong and right: Richard Garriott de Cayeux, the legendary Lord British and producer on the game; Starr Long, the original director; Rich Vogel, the executive producer on Live; and Raph Koster, the creative lead.

Tabletop Game Grammar

This talk was given at Tabletop Network in Utah in June of 2018, and is an overview of game grammar principles for an audience of boardgame designers.


From 1 to n: Multiplayer Game Design

As we design games for our connected world, we have to take into consideration the ways in which our designs work or don’t work for multiple players. In this talk Raph will go over known design patterns for social play ranging from simple head-to-head matches to co-operative games involving trust, all the way up to large-scale online service games and their unique social dynamics.

Ten Lessons Learned

25 years making games has given a lot of hard-earned lessons. Here are ten of them, spanning a range from design tips to teams to business advice, drawn from real-world game development situations. This talk was delivered at Konsoll 2018 in Bergen, Norway.