Raph Koster’s new MMORPG will be more than ‘just hack and slashing your way through levels’

    
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Yesterday, we reported on something pretty thrilling for long-time MMORPG fans: Raph Koster, one of the brains behind classic MMORPG sandboxes Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, not only announced a new MMO and studio but revealed that he’d secured a hefty chunk of seed funding to bolster the unknown amount he’d already raised.

Down in the comments under our article, there was a hearty debate over the type of MMORPG it would be, especially after interviews and the game’s description was a bit vague, focusing on multiple playstyles, diverse experiences, and potentially short sessions of play.

A new interview with Koster up today on GIbiz sheds even more light on Koster’s planned direction with the new title – and where he thinks the MMO industry went wrong.

“There’s this craving for alternate worlds that are richer than just hack and slashing your way through levels. So that’s what we’re out to build.” -Raph Koster
“When I look at what has happened with MMOs, it feels like it’s really fallen into a template, and it’s a pretty old template,” Koster told GIbiz. “Let’s party up, let’s kill some monsters, we’ll level up, and then rinse-repeat. And we know from seeing how sandbox-y play has evolved over the decades that online game players want to do way, way more than just that. And those other ways to play really not only broaden the audience, but they make the alternate world really come alive.”

In other words, don’t be setting your hopes on just another themepark MMORPG – that’s just never been what Koster does. You might, however, take note of Koster’s opinion on abusive monetization and how it wrecks trust between communities and developers.

“It feels to me like everything we do in a game-as-a-service needs to be driven around the idea that you’re building a community, building for the long haul, and building a relationship of trust between the operator and the player. […] The fact that we’ve landed some place where there are lawsuits or legislation around loot boxes tells me we took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.”

Source: GIbiz. In the absence of pics of the new game, the header image is from SWG.

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Akagi

That’s gonna Kost investers a lot…. xD

But seriously, I’m way too skeptic and jaded to even get excited anymore. Since the last time I was excited, around 2013, it has been roughly 6 years of great disappointment, I simply can’t be bothered to care anymore about anything. xD

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mysecretid

I’m interested to see what arrives. Given his background, and his recurring commentary on the state of the MMORPG genre, I’m hoping Raph will be able to bring us something a little different — and a little more detailed in its design — than what we’ve been offered as new MMORPGs lately.

I don’t expect miracles — I don’t have any set expectations — I’m prepared to look in X years, when the game is ready, to see if it’s a game I might enjoy.

Good luck, Raph!

Celestia
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Celestia

Excited to see what he’s got cooking up for us!

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Hoping for some good and significant crafting :)

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thalendor

Will wait and see what this game ends up being. What little I’ve seen is already throwing up some PvP warning flags, though. Beyond that, to be honest, at the end of the day, I think all I really want is a place to group up with friends and kill some monsters.

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Jo Watt

It all sounds great and I hope this gives us a new and fresh type of mmo to play… however I must admit I’m getting a little tired of hearing…. “x.x” of Ultima Online and such such great game from decades ago is now here to save us all only to be reading or watching guys sitting on a couch in a video years later talking about…”we are working on this and it’s going GREAT.” Or “we got all this cool tech and server going on to handle destruction and all these amazing class abilities.” Yet we never see any game play or actual visual progress.

Pretty much I feel done hyping on words and promises and Kickstarters.

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Arnold Hendrick

Reading the GIBiz article interviewing Raph, it is clear (and unfortunate) that the project is partly financed by esports money (from Bitkraft). Raph tries to conflate players following esports teams with in-game player communities. I fear that will prove more difficult in a year or two. Eventually the esports money will want in-game action translating into esports venues, or they’ll want their money back.

Nevertheless, I am cautiously hopeful in thinking Raph has learned many lessons from the past, including tempering creative ideas with practicality (ecological niches for creatures in UO? Social-only professions in SWG?). He should also know that you cannot count on gamers to produce attractive content. He should especially know that PvP won’t carry an MMORPG – they so complicated you cannot guard against all the edge cases. Never underestimate the desire of some to grief others.

To my mind, the great lesson of mobile gaming is the importance of customer LTV (Lifetime Value). If he’s not a student of Lloyd Melnick (author of the book “Understanding the Predictable”), I urge that he check it out.

Attacking the formulaic “party up, kill critters, level up” is way too simplistic. The problem is that it assumes the critters are no challenge. Fights without risk cease to be fights at all. Using all that server horsepower to create more challenging combat environments for both solo players AND varied party sizes is important. Disaster and defeat should occur just enough to keep players on their toes.

There ARE many things that MMORPGs could include. Some interesting ideas about crafting have appeared in other comments here. Letting players learn and make personally meaningful choices among factions has huge possibilities. Picking a setting other than bog-standard fantasy has great potential. There are multiple low-cost licensing opportunities in various science fiction universes, from M.C.A Hogarth’s “Pelted” (probably too furry for mainstream) to Nathan Lowell’s “Golden Age of the Solar Clipper” universe.

Personally, I feel historical settings have the best opportunities: Arthurian “Dark Ages” England, Carolingian Europe, Viking Raids & Kingdoms, Arabian Nights, Italian & Portuguese global explorer-traders, Spain’s 17th Century bankrupt Empire v French Traders v English Settlers, “Musketeers” early modern France, or even the British Empire from Africa to India to Asia – provided you don’t sell the game as history. Sell it as a great game, with great features and a novel setting. Only mention history as a sideline. Get inspired by some historical novels.

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Witches

In the end it will be another pvp game.

The only game with this sentiment that isn’t a pvp game is Shroud of the Avatar, and that game still shot itself in the foot by trying to cater to the demographic of people that love subscriptions.

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Jo Watt

I like good PvE mmos but the added PvP helps to change things up. It seems with the latest Astellia vs AAU more interest was in AAU (a more PvP based mmo) than the mainly PvE Astellia.. although over all you can argue WoW and FFXIV still being the top mmos.. which leads into the Sub vs F2P/B2P models.

F2P hasn’t exactly been the best. Imo it’s made things worse. B2P is ok. But both models have to rely on ridiculous high priced cash shop items or P2W methods that trash the game. Sub games bring a steady income on top of a fair cash shop that allows a constant flow of updates progression of actual in game content. “Almost” all F2P/B2P have maybe… 1 big update a year but every week you get a new $25-50 cash shop item.

tldr; I feel sub just gives a more stable supply of content vs f2p/b2p weekly cash shop content.

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Witches

That’s only true when you have a lot of content at launch, plus neither WOW nor FFXIV are sandboxes, so you know you will have raiding once you reach max level, which many people will do as quick as possible since raiding is their preferred activity and they want to get to it as quickly as possible.

If you don’t have that at launch you will have people that are max level and from their perspective have nothing to do.

Even WOW Classic who could’ve easily been a sub game decided to just bundle both subscriptions, so where are people seeing this large market for subs puzzles me.

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Baemir

Yeah, except that demographic seems to be fairly large, and they didn’t stay in the game. Maybe it was just a bad PvE game, of which there are plenty.

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Witches

Can you really name a recent game that was more popular because it had a subscription? Plus most games have a sub option they just give it fancy names.

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Bruno Brito

FF14.

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Robert Mann

I’m all for actual simulated world aspects. I want some deeper systems, some reasons to care about the other people around me (although I’m fine if those who don’t want to just run through, pay for an item placed on a vendor stand without any talk, and move on, as an example).

I just want to see more aspects of play than combat, more depth of systems outside gearing, and all that can follow. Because that is what I find interesting in the idea of virtual worlds. Something that has many aspects of life to it.

That’s not everyone, and we all know that. I just cannot wait for games to stop all aiming at the same mark so frequently, and instead take a little audacious confidence in doing something different very well. It works frequently. Some of the biggest games in the last few years have done exactly that, within a genre that is well defined otherwise. Meanwhile, we have plenty of ‘success clones’ that are failing yet again… and somehow publishers tend to see those as a safe bet? I don’t get that at all, seems more like it’s a great way to throw away money (but then again business in our nation rewards failure on the executive levels with large cash payouts and bidding wars for the next company to be run into the dirt).

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Arnold Hendrick

I agree with your hopes, Robert. In principle I also want to see dev efforts deployed in more creative ways. I consider new groups, like Raph’s, the best hope.

Publishers do throw away money, and often the long-term future of their business, by putting their money on “safe bets.” However, John Riccitiello proved that you can throw money away much faster on daring moves (see his tenure at EA from 2007-2013). The reason for these failures is that NONE of the decision-makers who deploy money have any experience in actually designing games, and almost never play a game for more than 15-30 minutes. It’s like a book publisher who never reads more than the book jackets.

Your comment about compensation for these idiots is spot on, but alas, I’ve seen how sitting on corporate boards becomes a game of mutual, financial back-scratching that is justified as “valuable insights and influence.” Nobody dares rock that gravy-boat.

An example of an executive who is also a gamer is Frank Gibeau. Since 2016 he has successfully steered publishing behemoth Zynga off the rocks and into increasingly blue waters. He now buys studios and helps them succeed with new titles as well as milking their cash cows. I may not play many of their games regularly, but I admire his achievement at Zynga. (Note: I do not now, and have never worked for Zynga, not even as a consultant.)

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Anstalt

More good news :-)

I love the virtual world idea for MMOs so I’m really happy this project is happening. One thing I’m curious about is lessons learned from the industry as a whole. It always bugs me when I start playing a new game and find out the devs have made the same mistakes we’ve been seeing for years. If I see the same mistake early on (for example, vertical progression in mmorpgs) then it immediately turns me off.

One of the things Raph said elsewhere is that one of the lessons to learn from mobile gaming is that players enjoy games that keep going when they’re not actively playing (like farmville or clash of clans, where players just log in, collect resources then set things going to run in the background whilst they continue their lives). I’ve always been curious to see this implemented in MMOs. SWG did it a little bit with harvesters but we’ve not really seen it taken further.

This is something I thought SWTOR was going to give us. When we were initially told about the crafting system and companions, we were told that we could just assign our companions tasks and they’d continue to do it whilst we were offline. Essentially, turning crafting into a management game, rather than a gathering game. Ofc, it never ended up this way, but I’ve always thought it’d be a great thing to do.

I can imagine in a virtual world setting, being able to hire NPCs to carry out the more boring tasks in game so we could focus on the fun. For example, if I’m a blacksmith, I would want to spend my time making swords and armour, not out in the world mining. So, perhaps I could hire a bunch of NPCs to do the mining for me, or perhaps hire an NPC buyer who would wander around the local area purchasing and delivering resources to me. I think this sort of system fits with Raph’s goals of learning lessons from other genres, as well as reducing the requirement to have to be logged in for hours in order to achieve things. I also think that player-hired NPCs would help give the virtual world a much more living feeling, as presumably the NPCs would change regularly as players hired and fired their helpers.

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Robert Mann

I’ve been a fan of the idea that NPCs could be used to make things work in many places for a long time. They remain mostly static, though, and part of that is making the instructions for them simple enough for most people to use.

We can hope to see such things, but I figure that the AI components will likely be a while in showing up just yet (at reasonable cost from both fiscal and technological/connection standpoints).

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Anstalt

I don’t even think it’s that hard, or at least not for the most common things.

We already have “AI” to cover combat – we fight the computer all the time. We already have the “AI” to cover pathing, though I admit pathing in games is not always that good. So, beyond that we just need to think up an instruction set for our workers that makes sense. We already have a lot of that stuff for NPCs in general, so it’s just a case of extending it. In fact, this is an idea that has been experimented with in the past (by Raph himself).

The main issue is one of processing power. All those extra functional NPCs having to make decisions can take up a lot of power.

But, I think that’s where Raph’s comments about harnessing the power of the cloud comes in. You could create a simple server program that powers these hired NPCs. So, the main game world servers would remain the same, but then you can spin up / shut down additional servers for controlling the NPCs as required. This would give you a lot of flexibility and prevent the game servers keeling over having to calculate what all these hirelings are constantly doing.

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Robert Mann

Yeah, that’s certainly part of what will be the difficulty.

The thing I think will be most challenging overall, though, is moving beyond very simple sets of instructions. Not because it cannot be done, but because the more complex the desired actions the more work that needs to be done (and the only current success in that is custom coding the desired actions).

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Adam Russell

We do not have AI for combat. What we have is scripted combat. The mob never makes decisions, he just runs on a preprogrammed list and the closest thing to decision making is pathing.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Not just Harvesters in SWG but factories using schematics. Ran a lot of them as near to 24×7 as possible. Ex-Master Architect :)