Raph Koster argues MMOs are much more than ‘a series of kill and fetch quest pellets’

My name is might have been.

As many of us know, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be the only leavings we may ever see of 38 Studios’ ambitious MMO Project Copernicus after the studio famously burst into flames so hard that Rhode Island got hurt. And now that the game has released its remaster, it’s back on the minds of many, including one piece on Vice that remarks about the MMO-like whiffs in the otherwise single-player RPG.

“As I played the first few hours of Re-Reckoning, often listening to podcasts at the same time, it dawned on me that I was playing Destiny 2. I was playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare and completing my daily missions. I was playing The Division 2 and helping out the civilians who always seem to need something every few hours. I was performing rote tasks, spread out thinly but constantly in front of me, seemingly stretching out into eternity. I was playing something that was harvesting my attention and energy, only offering back the most generic plot details, with very little of it paying off into broad narrative movement forward.”

It’s this implication of what MMO gameplay is that (finally) brings us to the headlined point of Raph Koster’s opinion, which he shared as a subtweet of the write-up on Twitter, remarking, “To me the most fascinating thing about this article is the way ‘MMO-ness’ has been reduced down to a series of kill and fetch quest pellets. It doesn’t have to be that way, and won’t be if I can help it. Alternate worlds are a bigger dream than that.”

That dream is indeed being chased by Koster, as readers will recall he’s the head of Playable Worlds, a company that’s managed to raise nearly $13M (that we know of) to build an MMO where gameplay is more than ticking off to-do list boxes.

The article from Vice is a fair one and a good read, but its assertions of what constitutes MMO gameplay and Koster’s opinion of what an MMO can or could be are interesting nuggets of conversation. We suspect our commenters will agree.

sources: Vice, Twitter

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while Kostners critique is rational, it still is deficient to an almost antiquated degree. its neither constructive, nor sophisticated, cuz MMOness grew viral years before WOTLK (and invaded SP too, never played Dragon Ages? those quest structures have been constant element since Wasteland1, Ultimas, Bards Tale etc.) and still has some memorable peaks like TSW questing.

cuz playable worlds is a buzzword like meaningful choices, class fantasy and EMERGENT GAMEPLAY.
yet Kostner misses the opportunities provided by technological evolution – like procedural generation (which would allow for a (at least more) personal narrative, world (see Remnant, minecraft etc)), deep learning (unfortunately WoWs Island Expedition AI and PvP AI were kindergarten)

btw Eve Online is a persistant world MMO – where the players decide at least the power structure, economy etc.

also Kostners reduces MMOs to repetitive quests, although gameplay isnt generally questing, esp. endgame also is more than the diverse activities beyond (questing), but overall: social is the surpreme directive of any MMO-design.

rpg systems r simply a frame to provide opportunities to engage in social interaction, even in MMOs for misanthropes (like KoA): emergent gameplay is the prime parameter for any MMO design.

the next meaningful evolution of emergent gameplay sandboxes and also themeparks is individual personalisation via new tech (procedural gen and deep learnin:
a personal narrative, a world, where everyone has their individual storyline, which will influence the others narrative (and gameplay) experience.

/edit Kostner ever played Kenshi?

Raph Koster

I think you may have confused what I said with what the article said.

FWIW, I very much agree with you on several of your points. :)

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Schlag Sweetleaf



they can be but they never will be.

because its

2:untested because there is no WoW type game that says this works so nobody will do it until someone else does.
3:because its not easy to do something different


MMORPGs can definitely be more, and should be more than just a “New World” (whatever it is now in its current stage, not what it was initially planned to be). Unfortunately companies will continue making “New Worlds” regardless of anything, even companies with plenty of money to create good games, such as Amazon.

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I’ll say this…Cameron Kunzelman ain’t necessarily wrong. In a large number of MMO’s, especially the ones they reference, that’s an accurate depiction of what goes on. Having played a lot of Destiny 2, playing Division 2 still right now, but having not played CoD, and having played the OG version of KoA…yeah, kinda sorta accurate.

Though there’s a bit of a secondary layer to this, in that it’s also NOT accurate as we have MMO’s with fantastic quest lines, engaging and meaningful quests, and worlds that react to our actions. Not all the time, not all in one game, but they’re out there.

But this largely remains the PERCEPTION of how MMO quest design works amongst general gaming media, and the gaming audience writ-large. The first thing they think of with a MMO quest is killing 10 boars in WoW, not an investigation mission in TSW that requires you to translate Morse Code, reference historical texts mentioned by an NPC, and then go to a website for an in-game company to look for clues to solve a puzzle.

And there’s even a mini-third layer to this which is non-MMO’s cribbing bad, very dated design from old MMO’s. Daily quests and whatnot in CoD? Ripped straight out of MMO’s and mobile games to RPG-ify it a bit and improve retention. The boring missions in the looter-shooter psuedo-MMO’s? Again, largely studios with little to no experience working on MMO’s (or that struggle to do so like with Division 2…man Summer is looking like a bummer but whatever) or who feel that these things are “necessary” parts of the game.

Speaking of Division, look at the raids in the game. Why are there 8 player raids when all the rest of the content is based around 1-4 players? Why? Because older MMO’s used to have bigger group content, and they clearly looked to them for inspiration without understanding them. Because this is the quality of design and decision making that we’re still seeing despite studios having access to a wealth of experience and expertise from designers who have spent decades working on MMO’s.

And I hope Raph and others are successful. I’d love to break the old stereotypes of MMO’s, but without a fresh infusion of some major titles that ain’t happening any time soon. Amazon seems to be the “latest best hope”, but by the looks of it based on Crucible and New World…they’re not quite ready for that task yet.


I mean it’s all very well and good in theory right up until you involve other people.

Like many sandbox games start out with that kind of mentality and thinking. For example New World gave players the freedom to design their own forts/bases and they expected players would build big public towns people could visit and use their crafting stations. If anyone caused them trouble then surely the courageous people who lived in that town would defend it and of course the people would persevere. Then they invited people to the Alpha and of course none of that worked out.

More over eschewing things like combat/tasks entirely (to be clear, not just combat) can just make for bad games. Most successful games that avoid those kinds of combat/task oriented mechanics are extremely story driven. Like people can rag on Destiny 2 as the bottom barrel of game content as it’s basically 95% all daily/weekly repeatable missions but the game play is super fun. Ever hear that saying about someone with an amazing voice you could just listen to them read a phone book? Well I can just play Destiny 2 doing boring ass daily repeatable quests because it’s just fun as fuck.

Bruno Brito

So, D2 is the new Firefall.


I recently went back to Guild Wars 2 – where I never got far earlier – after two years absence, and recognized that the main problem I had with the game is that to a certain degree lacks the standard questing. It seems chaotic in comparison, compared to the organized nature of the standard questing.

I’m not saying that Guild Wars 2 is bad because of it, it’s just that after 30 years of gaming I have a very hard time of getting myself to adjust to different kind of way of doing quests.

I think this is one of the major problems developers trying to break the standard way of doing things in MMOs face: A kind of culture shock when people are forced out from their familiar comfort zone.

Bruno Brito

Raph, be welcome to change it, but right now, that’s exactly what it is.

And it’s also a couple of overgeared players telling others how things should be, and devs embracing it.


With the way businesses are trying to run things nowadays, they are just creating more and more things to boycott.

Considering a lot of my time was spent playing a sandbox game, I’m more than content entertaining myself doing what I want in their games and don’t need your directions (quests)…just give me the tools to have that fun in your game…(I don’t mean literal tools to thwack at a node either…because that’s just more of the same nonsense…I mean the ability to skill up loads and loads of various things.)

I love games where you can choose to do EVERYTHING, but can focus into various specialties and create the interdependency of you trade your services for that thing you love doing/have a passion for, for someone else’s services in their beloved craft…not ‘Give me money, and I do this.’. Actual bartering.

I love blacksmithing in games, sitting there for hours hammering out a piece for someone else to use. Not the ‘Sit down and watch a timer’ version of it either. Being able to have your creation tag on it, so people who find it on their dead carcass can look you up and find your services too…that kind of stuff used to be meaningful. You don’t find it in most games nowadays…

Jim Bergevin Jr

Because a lot of people nowadays just don’t care about that kind of stuff. I’ve played a few games that have crafter tags on them, and couldn’t tell you one name that was on any item. It’s meaningless to me in terms of world exploration and content consumption.


Raph Koster, take my energy.