Another post with Raph Koster in

June 19, 2007

I finally got round to listening to Raph Koster’s talk from this year’s Game Developers Conference. As usual I felt like 50% of what he said made sense while the other 50% was a bit off. I always feel like an arse when I say stuff like that, after all he is Raph Koster, but sometimes, well to be honest a lot of times, I think Raph does get carried away with an idea, without really thinking about it too carefully.

There’s some great stuff in there, particularly his debunking of ‘the games industry is like the movie industry’ comparisons. While both have blockbusters and huge budgets, the money making process is very different for the studios whose products make alot of money well beyond their launch date. And his insistence that the big players in the games industry need to take note of the ‘open-ness’ of the web and the business models it employs is spot on.

But there are several arguments he make that just don’t ring true for me. Firstly he compares innovation in the games indutsry unfavourably with the web, games he says have become about making ‘better aliens’ rather than coming up with truly innovative ideas. Clearly he isn’t being literal here, and to be honest this probably is true for lots of games, if not all. But more to the point, most web 2.0 start-ups are based on previous innovations, look at how Slashdot’s approach has been adopted by Digg and Reddit, the latter may not be wholly original, but they are still considered very successful. I’m assuming Raph is deeply immersed in web 2.0 apps, and is familiar with this, but he fails to mention that web 2.0 is based on certain persistent ideas.

Secondly, Raph was back on his ‘low-budget, casual games are the future’ crusade, again. Undoubtedly the casual gaming market will be the major growth point in the games industry for sometime and sites like Kongregate and Club Penguin have proven you can make a lot of money out of this. But was Raph suggesting that big budget games should no longer be made? Sure, there are loads of crap games made with huge budgets, but there are also lots of very good games with big budgets, and many of these games are adopting business models that incorprate paid for add-on content. One book Raph didn’t mention (and he mentions quite a few) is Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, I think if he’d read this he’d be better able to understand that new media doesn’t replace old media, but that the two operate togther.

Thirdly, using some rather reductivist logic Raph claimed that the way games look is pretty much irrelevant. Here goes: so he begins by claiming single player games are a historic anomoly, which is probably something of an exaggeration but I know what he meant. Then he states that games are therefore inherently social, again I can agree with that, but then jumps to the conclusion that games can therefore be stripped down to ‘player A vs player B’. From this logical extreme goes on to imply that big budgets can be abandoned because ‘A vs B’ is all that matters, better aliens are not important, ‘games are systems’. This ties in with the whole ‘story/mythology’ angle I’m always going on about. Sure, I can get hooked on a flash game for a few hours (the last one being the game on the BBC’s Robin Hood site ), but I’m probably not going to go back there, I’m certainly not feeling that this site is going to encourage any ‘love marks’ (see further down) or loyalty out of me. Whereas a well crafted game like WoW, LotRO or Oblivion will make me far more passionate because I can see the amount of care and attention that has been put into bringing a world to life for me.

Fourthly, his remark that Blizzard killed the MMORPG genre because they spent a lot of money on WoW is a little unfair to say the least. Maybe Blizzard are guilty of reinforcing the ‘fantasy’ setting stereotype, but their investment has benefitted the genre as a whole because WoW actually grew the potential MMORPG audience. Many of the new and forthcoming MMORPGs may not be revolutionary, but then as I’ve already discussed neither are most web 2.0 apps.

And finally (one day I’ll write a short post, promise), and this is a bit of a persoanl bugbear of mine, Raph used the term ‘love marks’ – a marketing term I hold in even lower esteem than ‘touchpoints’ or ‘insight’. ‘Lovemarks’ is a term dreamed up by Saatchi & Saatchi (the ad agency who gave us Tory Britain [sorry, that was below the belt]) and refers essentially to the degree of emotional engagement consumers have with a brand, if consumers are passionate about a brand that counts as a ‘lovemark’. As an example Raph states that EA aren’t as ‘cuddly’ as Apple, fair enough, but Microsoft isn’t cuddly either and neither is Myspace, but plenty of people talk about Blizzard with that kind of passion. True, Blizzard get a lot of stick (see the WoW forums) but so does Apple (see these Apple forums): passion goes both ways. Myspace used to be the darling of web 2.0, now it’s an orgy of spam and browser-crippling profile pages and Facebook is the new beau. Web 2.0 isn’t perfect and the games industry can learn from its mistakes as much as its successes.

Hmm, I’ve just realised that I disagreed with considerably more than 50% of what Raph said…



  1. Have you tried Desktop Tower Defence?

    This: http://www.handdrawngames.com/

    This is what Raph is referring too really. There’s been an explosion in the popularity of online flash games. This one has lots of stickyness and a good social scoring system. And to be honest, good game design….

  2. It’s a fun game, I have to be honest I’ve spent a few hours on it already, and I know flash games and casual gaming are the new growth avenue for the games industry, but that doesn’t mean traditional games will cease to exist, surely?

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